The Future of Digital Health with Paul Veugen of Human

Paul Veugen is co-founder and CEO of Human, an award-winning all-day activity tracker for iOS and Android that gives context to your everyday activity. Previously, Paul founded Usabilla, a SaaS company focused on visual feedback on websites, helping customers like Virgin, Booking, The Economist, Nike, and thousands of others to continuously improve their online presence. Paul now combines his passion for health & fitness and his focus on people, technology, and data to create an environment that inspires people to get active.

What does the future of digital fitness look like? Where are things headed?

The current story we’re told about health & fitness stems from an unfortunate side-effect created by old generations of step counters and activity trackers. Their technical limitations defined the product affordances and their monopoly in the space cemented this idea that a plastic band will improve your well-being and overall happiness — that more steps is more health. Looking at the Health & Fitness sections of current app stores, one quickly realizes that everything is a variation on the same theme: metrics, bars, charts, goals. Maybe a timeline.

If health & fitness was about counting steps or generating stats, we’d have a clear winner in this space — a single company that provided products which undoubtedly improved its users’ well-being. This isn’t the case, and the unidimensional focus on weight loss or single purpose exercise tracking will sink the ones pursuing these objectives. Sensor data and full-day tracking is readily available, the same is true for infrastructure tools to analyze this data in real-time. The tools to create rich, contextual features will render step counters obsolete, and just like anything that lacks context, will feel strange in retrospect.

What are your digital health predictions for the year ahead?

There has been very little innovation in consumer-focused products recently. App Store charts are currently dominated by an aging first generation of products. There’s no break-out company that turned health & fitness into a real lifestyle category yet. After the over-promise of the first generation of wearables and the lukewarm reception of the Apple Watch, the market cooled down. At the same time there’s a great undercurrent of fun and exciting new products that understand how to turn the ever-growing stream of data into amazing experiences. With consumer interest lagging behind and distribution challenges inherent to different platforms, it’ll take more long term bets to crack the category.

Location and activity data give us the context of our life and is one of the first layers that’s getting commoditized, and other layers of sensor data will follow. With sensor-packed connected devices, the infrastructure to process & interpret data in real-time, and early consumer interest, we have everything we need to start building truly engaging experiences.

We’re moving from a very functional approach of displaying data, into a new generation of products that turns it into engaging experiences. Products like Strava, Lark, and of course Human are designed to increase value with every user on the platform. By virtue of connecting the data to the real world, this new generation of products become contextual and engaging.

How is Human adapting to the needs of consumers?

We use data to give you context about your daily activity and create a world around you that inspires you to get active. We built a passive feedback loop that runs in the background of your phone and shares real-time data with Human. With every minute on Human, we learn more about you and the world you live in.

We help people to understand their everyday activity and answer the question “Am I doing enough?” Instead of just throwing stats at people, we give you context. We let you compare yourself with similar people and map out your world. Every minute that you run Human in the background, we learn more about you, the environment you live in, and the people around you. With over 100M activities a month and about 3B location updates we’re shaping a world that inspires everyday activity.

Any insights people might miss when thinking about the digital health landscape?

Most of the first generation of products either focus on the promise of weight-loss or on exercise specific tracking. With about 150 million total downloads for the biggest player in our space, focusing mostly on the promise of weight loss, there’s no winner yet.

The infrastructure to collect, analyze, and exchange data from different sources is improving and adoption rates are pushed by players like Apple & Google, focusing on our phones as the central hub to collect and exchange data. The biggest challenge is that most of this data is not real-time and locked-in on individual devices. Centralized, real-time data gives us superpowers to build amazing contextual experiences and engaging social features.

Turning digital health into a real lifestyle category means we have to make this less about health & fitness and changing behavior, and more about providing context to our day, connecting people, and enjoying everyday life.


If you’re interested in Human or the future of digital health, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Paul directly at paul@human.co.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Brian Scordato (Tacklebox, General Assembly)

Brian Scordato is the founder of Tacklebox Accelerator and Tacklebox Beta Shop, tools for early stage founders to evaluate, build, and launch the first version of their product. He writes here and teaches at General Assembly. Previously, Brian worked at JJDC (Johnson & Johnson’s internal venture group), and founded Find Your Lobster, a mobile dating app. He has an MBA from UNC and loves competing in triathlons. Go Heels.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

A lot of verticals excite me. Taking liberties with the term “vertical,” one idea I love is simplification by curation — the “Wirecutter for x” model.Benedict Evans tweeted the other day that “all curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.” When I search Yelp/Foursquare to find a place for lunch or Netflix to find a new series my life gets more complicated rather than less. Search has grown across a bunch of verticals the past ~10 years and it’s time to start curating aggressively. Helping people with “discovery” is sexier and feels less risky than saying “here’s one option, you’ll love it,” but the latter is the more relevant use case 90% of the time, so pursuing the first is probably the riskier play.

I also love Slackbots. There’s going to be an app store-like gold rush as the Slackbot infrastructure materializes. We’ll have an opportunity to reboot classic apps treating Slack as the OS. Scale comes instantly within organizations, so everything from re-thinking LinkedIn for the freelancing / project-based generation to CRM’s will be fair game.

Last, as always, babies/pets/weddings/baldness. No one knows what they should cost and everyone spends money on them / talks / thinks about them constantly.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Huge strides in VR. Not exactly a unique opinion, but after playing with some of the devices that will launch in 2016 it’s hard not to be a believer. Games will lead, but people will get creative with the tech quickly — education VR will have a big year.

Along with the verticals answer above, I think treating chat as an OS in general (not just Slack) will be huge. AI will seep into chat apps, and the core features of other apps will as well (seeing this with Uber already).

Content shakeout. There’s a lot of great free (ad-driven) content out there but that pricing model is wonky. Classpass for content with a bundle of providers (ex: NYT, Wash Post, WSJ, Economist) might make sense.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

Hiring has made big strides the past few years, but I think one huge gap is for people switching industries. Getting into a BD or PM role at a startup coming from a ~5 year career in finance/consulting/law is tough, but a lot of people want to do it. Each side is flying blind when the candidate hasn’t done the exact job they’re applying for. A platform that allows potential hires to work with the company they’re applying for before any hiring decision is made would be interesting to me.

The other piece is internal training. There is the internal Stack Overflow-type product (I know they offer this on a limited basis), as well as continual training. Investing in employees is something companies are starting to recognize the value of, but the methodology and metrics / measurement of success is unclear. Training before a hiring decision is made could also make sense.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Three and a bonus:

1) Unlimited battery on iPhone / mac. Sad but true.

2) Biometrics with respect to personal diet, exercise, work, and meditation to maximize output — what I should do and when.

3) Blog editing as a service — quick turnaround from a professional writer/editor.

BONUS: Do something creative with scaffolding in NYC. I don’t know how to “solve” scaffolding, but it’s everywhere, looks awful, hides businesses, and is not going anywhere.

What are your key learnings you’d like to share as a past founder and current instructor at General Assembly?

Here are a few things I’ve learned watching lots of people try to start businesses:

1) You can’t fix market. You need to start with the customer funnel flipped upside down and seek out the customers that desperately need what you’re doing. If you can’t reach those people, if they don’t talk to each other, or if they can’t succinctly communicate and pass along your value, you’re in trouble. Early customer acquisition will be through word of mouth, so the above characteristics of a market segment are mandatory. This segment can be tiny, but it needs to be there.

2) You can’t do what everyone else is doing — if everyone else is getting customers through Facebook ads you can’t do that, you need a channel that makes sense, is differentiated, and is supported by your product.

3) You need a secret weapon — a reason why you’re the best and the only person that can start whatever you’re starting. Very hard.

4) Initially, you can get people to switch gyms. You probably can’t convince someone to start exercising (your successful initial users will do that).

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Separate yourself from your startup idea. Too many founders take things personally, myself very much included. If you can’t find people that really want what you’re going to build, that’s not a reflection on you. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad entrepreneur. You just misread something about your customer, so go back to your assumptions and try to find a small group of customers that you can build something great for.


Share on Twitter

If you’re interested in Tacklebox or General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian directly at brian.scordato@gmail.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Eileen Lee (Venture for America)

Eileen, a born and raised New Yorker, graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics. As VFA’s first official employee and founding team member, Eileen has been actively involved in defining VFA’s mission,core values and culture. Overseeing operations, she ensures that VFA runs smoothly and communicates effectively while fostering a healthy, yet competitive, team spirit. Eileen also heads up the VFA women’s committee and diversity initiative — VFA Rise, it’s goal to engage more women to better support VFA’s growing number of female entrepreneurs.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Artificial Intelligence — I’m just as fascinated as the next person. I use an A.I.assistant to schedule meetings (I might have refused assistance from someone/a human otherwise), and it is a big time saver. I’m excited to see what comes next with tools and in medicine.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build?

Improving the hospital stay experience. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and caring for loved ones at various hospitals and think there’s got to be a better way for patient care — how patients are kept informed with what’s going on, wait time, response for needs and care…

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

A problem we’re focused on at VFA is the fact that entrepreneurship is at a 24-year low and most young people are not starting businesses. Startup ecosystems are emerging across the country but there are factors working against the next generation who are opting to not take the risk to start companies. VFA hopes to help push the needle in the right direction and support aspiring young entrepreneurs to build innovative and meaningful companies. We’d welcome any help to accomplish our mission.

What are some of your favorite startups that VFA Fellows are currently working on?

The awesome companies that our Fellows are founding: Banza, Castle,Compass — all are solving real problems they see in their communities. They are continuing to grow and are building their teams with other VFA Fellows. It’s a beautiful virtuous cycle that we always hoped for at VFA. 🙂

Shameless plug: if you’re interested in our Fellowship program, visit ventureforamerica.org!


Share on Twitter

If you’re interested in VFA, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Eileen directly at eileen@ventureforamerica.org.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Suraj Kapoor (Lerer Hippeau)

Suraj Kapoor is the Director of Product at Lerer Hippeau Ventures, a New York based seed stage venture capital fund. He is a self-taught programmer, Hacker School alum and co-founder of LookLab, an online platform for fashion stylists. Previous to LookLab, Suraj worked in marketing and public relations and is a graduate of NYU.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Augmented Reality is really interesting, although it is currently beingovershadowed by Virtual Reality. AR will infiltrate many verticals (SaaS, gaming, shopping, etc.) with practical use cases, whereas VR will most likely have a focused impact on media and entertainment. The next few years should see significant advances across both technologies, I am really looking forward to seeing how this shakes out.

The blockchain outside of bitcoin. I’m a believer in Bitcoin, but if we really believe the blockchain can be a thing, we need to put it to the test in as many verticals as possible. The underlying tech still needs to evolve and be more accessible to the public at large, with education and proof of concept being concrete first steps.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I think a startup out of Asia will impact a US vertical in a noteworthy way.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

ISPs in America need a change. The quality of broadband in the US is poor compared to other countries and the lack of competition is hurting consumers. What Google is doing with Fiber is great and an encouraging first step. I would love to see the technology underlying service providers improve e.g. wireless routers that can power a city block vs a household.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Authentication drives me crazy and I don’t think the solution is browser plugins or passwords. TouchID on the iPhone is a really cool doorway into biometrics for the average consumer, there could be more there. I can imagine Apple, or a 3rd party, creating a service that uses the TouchID on your phone (or Apple Watch) in order to log you in to services on the web. There might even be an extension here that could open the door to your home or car, but let’s solve one problem at a time!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m excited to see how technology impacts government. I think social has created some awareness here but there’s much more to do. I’m interested in anything that empowers people to have their voice heard and create transparency around political decision-making, and I’m excited by organizations that are promoting innovation in this space.


Share on Twitter

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Lerer Hippeau’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Suraj directly atsuraj@lererhippeau.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan.

Requests for Startups: Andrew Weinreich

Andrew Weinreich is a serial entrepreneur, social networking pioneer, and active presence in NYC’s Silicon Alley for 2 decades. To date, he’s founded 7 startups and has been awarded 2 software patents. In the past few years, he has sold 2 businesses, including Xtify to IBM in October 2013, while advising 5 tech startups. He is currently the co-founder and Chairman of Indicative, a data analytics startup.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Big Data, Renewable energies, Transportation, HealthCare, IoT

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Robust funding for early stage businesses will continue. NYC will continue its growth as the clear number 2 in startup activity behind Silicon Valley.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I’ve thought about all the healthcare improvements brought about by the smartphone and specifically the opportunity for early diagnosis of curable diseases. I know there’s been some work in building hardware that attaches to a smartphone from which you can conduct a sonogram. I’d love to see someone work on perfecting that device and bringing the cost of the hardware down to $100. Much like the companies using artificial intelligence to recognize differentials in moles to recommend you visit a dermatologist, differentials in pictures taken from a home sonogram of organs (pancreas, kidneys, etc.) could mean the difference between life and death in visiting a doctor.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Every coworking space should come equipped with a professional studio for making videos. I’m assuming that a majority of blogs in the future will be video-based, and while you can make a great video with a smartphone and Apple editing tools, the demand for professionally shot videos will increase, and not decrease over time. We’re working on a startup video series where entrepreneurs make videos for us to incorporate into our blog. Almost all of the entrepreneurs work from coworking spaces and none of them have access to professional equipment. We’d love to see the cost of outsourcing film production go down so that more people could have access to making videos, whether it’s a promo for their startup or a blog series.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

After building startups in NYC for 2 decades, I’ve created a boot camp for startup founders in order to give them all the information that I wish I’d known when I was just starting out. The course lasts 2 days and it’s a great opportunity for founders to get perspective on their companies and meet other founders who are at similar stages. You can learn more about Andrew’s Roadmaps here.


Share on Twitter

If you have a startup or you’re interested in Andrew’s Roadmaps, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Andrew directly at aweinreich@andrewsroadmaps.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.

Requests for Startups: Alex Lines (Notation Capital)

Alex Lines is an engineer and hacker and has been building products and companies in New York for the last 10 years. Prior to co-founding Notation Capital with Nick Chirls, Alex was an early employee at Betaworks, helping to build and scale many companies that came out of the studio.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

We’re most interested in companies that demonstrate not only capital but operational efficiency — the ability to scale quite far with a small, primarily technical, team. These are companies that can leverage their engineering resources and can achieve exceptionally high user to engineer ratios. These tend to be pure software companies but the business model can take many forms — marketplaces, api-driven businesses, software infrastructure, some consumer apps, etc.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I predict most predictions will be wrong, including this rambling set.

Consumption will continue to be the default way to kill time (for-ev-er), but I think free-form creation canvas apps could be a nice mini-corrective in favor of more creation.

Speaking of wasting time, whoever creates a great time waster app for the Apple watch will not only have a huge hit, but will help rescue the device from the purgatory of “productivity tool” and make the platform attractive to developers again.

I hope and believe that password-based logins will continue to go away.

While there will continue to be some shakeout among on-demand companies, I expect the influence of the model to spread in the sense of seeing more companies where removing choice is a feature. Instead of DeliveryApp providing 200 restaurants and 6,000 menu items, something like Arcade texts you a single lunch menu item at 11am and your choice is limited to yes or no, or instead of browsing and evaluating hundreds of listings and reviews to choose a service provider (lawyer, babysitter, tutor), you get a single match based on your needs and schedule.

I hope and expect the proliferation of new open source databases and stream processors will continue, inspired by interesting work and research in distributed systems.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I can’t speak to funding, but there are a few areas. We need more providers of high quality, original mapping / GIS data. I also continually hope for an effective alternative to the slash and burn of the recruiting industry. Security companies that don’t feel like they’re selling snake oil and are actually useful are cool. While we’re just making shit up, maybe even alternatives to the funeral industry.

Generally speaking though, I would love to see more highly technical infrastructure companies being built in New York.


Share on Twitter

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Notation’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Alex directly at alex@notationcapital.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas to share, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan.

Requests for Startups: Leo Polovets (Susa Ventures)

Leo is a software engineer turned venture capitalist. He was the 2nd non-founding engineer at LinkedIn, where he worked on core products like LinkedIn Groups and LinkedIn Jobs. After LinkedIn, Leo spent 3 years working on payment fraud detection at Google, followed by 4 years at Factual working on large scale-data cleaning and entity resolution. In late 2012, Leo left Factual to start Susa Ventures, a 4-partner seed fund that’s focused on companies building valuable datasets. Leo’s writes about startups, data, and investing at www.codingvc.com.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m interested in a lot of verticals. I rarely ask myself, “what verticals do I want to invest in and what are the most exciting companies in those verticals?” Instead, I like to look at companies one by one and think about whether each one looks like a great business model that addresses a large market. I am especially interested in areas that have been relatively untouched by modern software: convenience store management, expense auditing, food sourcing for restaurants, you name it. I think businesses in those areas have a lot of potential because customers are excited about becoming much more efficient with software, but the efficiency play is often a Trojan Horse for building up valuable, proprietary datasets that can be used to create very innovative, defensible products.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I’ve seen a lot of products that help you explore and run analyses on large datasets. What’s gotten me really excited is that I’m starting to see companies that are trying to generate predictive insights. That is, instead of giving you tools to explore data, they explore the data for you and give you actionable recommendations. I’ve seen this for specific types of problems, like churn prediction, but I’d love to see a company build a generalized product that can work for many different use cases. I think this is where the future is for a lot of data science: tools that empower non-engineers to figure out what their data is telling them. I’ve been working on a prototype of this on and off for a year or so, but I don’t have the bandwidth to take it as far as I’d like.

If you had to leave VC to start a company, what space would it be in and why?

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how to connect experts to people who want their advice and are willing to pay for it. There are many jobs where experts’ salaries are much lower than what their expertise is worth on a task-by-task basis. For example, a college admission officer might make $20/hour, but I bet there are a lot of high school students that would pay $50 for 30-minute reviews of their college essays. There are obviously some kinks to work out (e.g. it would be a conflict to have a Harvard officer review an essay for your Harvard app), but there’s also a great opportunity to connect experts and clients and take a small fee. I’m interested in the problem because it seems like a great financial opportunity, but also provides a great social benefit by connecting people who want help to experts who can help them.


Share on Twitter

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Susa’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Leo directly at leo@susaventures.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac MadanShaurya Saluja, and Jeff Morris Jr.

Requests for Startups: Brian Sheng (Fresh VC)

Brian Sheng is a partner with seed stage firm Fresh VC and focuses on consumer technology companies. He is particularly interested in marketplaces, technology-enabled services, and digital healthcare. Previously, Brian worked with China’s largest venture capital firm, Shenzhen Capital Group.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m very interested in the intersection of on-demand, big data and digital healthcare. We have two infrastructure level investments in healthcare (Aptible and Akido Labs) and are looking for more companies making it easier to innovate in the space. There are already companies that are leveraging data to provide more personalized and timely healthcare services, and I think there will be a lot more exciting companies to come. I’m also very interested in companies that are cheaply and widely enabling experiences or services that were not available before (Note: This can be, but often is not simply making an existing service / experience on-demand).

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

2016 will be a big year for cannabis related companies. We are already seeing some investors make bets in the space, but most big investors have still shied away. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for investors because most funds will have LP issues with investing in cannabis related companies. The cannabis industry is a $52B dollar industry of which there is no need to create consumer demand and legislation is rapidly moving towards legalization (Medical is already legal in 23 states). There will be a big need for capital without a mature funding ecosystem in place.

I also think we will start seeing some well funded on-demand companies start to fail. There are a lot of services for which the on-demand model either doesn’t work, or the approach certain companies are taking is unsustainable in the long run. A lot of money is being invested in on-demand companies, and some companies are using too much of that money for marketing pushes and expansion to increase revenue and raise even bigger rounds. Throwing money at expansion doesn’t solve fundamental flaws of operating on-demand companies (unit economics, CAC, stickiness, etc.).

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

Studying abroad is a big opportunity and popular life choice for many students from Asian countries. Yet, there is a tremendous lack of transparent resources and services for consumers (students and parents) to use to facilitate this process. Middle-man agencies charge exorbitant prices (anecdotally, upwards of hundreds of thousands) to facilitate simple processes such as visa applications, school discovery, tours, college applications, etc. It is a highly fragmented market with complete lack of transparency, and there’s room for great businesses to be built along every step of the process.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

I often help my mother call service providers (phone company, utility company, credit card company, etc.) and spend hours talking with customer service and getting transferred left and right. With so many human/software combo concierge companies being started, there should be one that targets the aging baby boomers and helps deal with these kind of daily life problems.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Fresh VC’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian directly at brian@freshvc.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, and Andrew Jiang.

Requests for Startups: Christina Bechhold (Samsung GIC)

Christina is a Senior Associate with the Strategic Investment team at Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, focused on early stage investments in software and services startups. Christina is also Co-Founder and Managing Director of Empire Angels, a member led, New York based angel group of young professionals investing in tech enabled startups with a focus on supporting young entrepreneurs. She is a Regular Contributor on the Accelerators, the Wall Street Journal’s startup blog, serves as a Venture for America mentor and is a member of VFA’s Women’s Initiative Committee.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m particularly excited to look at companies focused on taking the vast streams of data coming out of connected and wearable devices and transforming them into actionable insights. We are surrounded by sensors, and all carry a smartphone full of them in our pocket, but what can we do with the data being collected that changes behavior or improves efficiency? I’m also fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, particularly content that moves beyond first person gaming and entertainment into consumer areas like wellness and enterprise applications like design.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I hope to see early stage investors pushing back on valuation and encouraging companies to show real proof of product before taking on outside capital. There’s too much money being poured into non-businesses and most of it will ultimately be lost. The continued shift by enterprise into cloud and BYOD (bring your own device) is creating a lot of opportunity for software and service solutions, particularly with respect to cybersecurity. I’m also keeping an eye on what’s coming out of foreign markets like India, East Asia and Western Europe — the combination of growing, vibrant startup ecosystems and increasingly connected populations is fertile ground.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I most love companies that I would never imagine, but make me wonder, “why didn’t I think of that!”

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

I’ve not yet found a perfect tool or collection of tools for tracking, analyzing and leveraging my personal and professional networks to help myself and others. Apps like Refresh and add-ins like Evercontact are great, but it’s still a disparate process that ultimately requires a lot of searching through emails, calendars and notes.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley or New York to be a successful entrepreneur — there are great, supportive communities all over the country and world that can help you get started.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Samsung’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Christina directly atc.bechhold@samsung.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, and Andrew Jiang.

The Future of Work with Jonathan Matus of Zendrive

Jonathan Matus is CEO of Zendrive, a venture-backed startup focused on re-imagining transportation through mobile driver analytics. Previously, Jonathan was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Redpoint Ventures, a top Silicon Valley VC. Prior to Redpoint, Jonathan spent six years at Facebook and Google, focused on various mobile and speech-recognition projects. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University with an Honors thesis on Artificial Intelligence. Jonathan lives in San Francisco.

What does the future of work look like?

When you think about the future of work, what is clear is that we are at the beginning of a massive disruption of the way people will work, of the types of jobs that will drive our economy and the type of workers needed for that new economy. This disruption will occur at every level of the workforce, from blue collar workers to physicians. It’s both exciting and daunting. This change is happening in stages. Let’s start with the far future — 15 years and further — because it’s really interesting and perhaps controversial.

Moore’s Law predicts exponential growth for the output of computing power per dollar spent or per inch of microchip. Many futurists, technologists and scientists see similar exponential growth curves for other technologies — for instance solar power, nanotechnology, the cost of energy, and so forth.

When you think about the last 6 or 7 years with the rapid rise of mobile, we see how this one technology and new paradigms resulting from it can disrupt the world and very quickly changed the way we do many things. The on-demand economy, advanced Robotics and AI are all increasingly important to how we think of jobs and the workforce. So when you ask about the future of work, Ray Kurzweil and other futurists are predicting that human labor is going to be less and less common. As a result, there’s going to be massive job destruction in most roles that can be well defined. For instance, being a driver or being a burger flipper or even a doctor — jobs that can be well defined and then picked up by artificial intelligence — will start being disrupted 15 years hence. When you think of the future of work in the long distance future — 15–20 years and beyond — the concept of the traditional working class will change radically.

In the near future, 3–5 years out, I think there are two segments you want to think about that’ll pop up and play an interesting role. The first one is the rise of the “1099 workers” of the on-demand economy, and the second one is proliferation of the “1099 entrepreneurs”. I’m intentionally creating a distinction here between 1099 entrepreneurs and the 1099 workers of the on-demand economy. Think of the first category as the “blue collar” 1099 worker — this is the fastest growing 1099 segment right now. The Uber partner drivers, for instance. The reason it’s growing very quickly is because these jobs are immediately available, highly flexible, and there’s a low hiring bar — people out of college, people between jobs, people with low levels of education — can pick up these jobs and immediately start making money. Consequently, the blue collar 1099 worker is a segment that will grow quickly and become an increasingly large population in the world. These are also the workers who are going to be replaced by AI later on. Thinking of the Uber example as a case study — they’ll be replaced by the autonomous vehicle. Of course, the 1099 economy extends beyond driving — a lot more people will be doing on-demand work; this is just an example of how disruption over the longer term will play out.

The second type of on-demand economy workers is the 1099 entrepreneur. These workers are more like what we traditionally think of as entrepreneurs — they own their customer relationships and they own their business, they are using enabling platforms and technologies to solve problems that previously required them to have a small business office operation. For example, they’re using the App Store, Kickstarter, Shopify, and Square to replace marketing costs and enabling them to focus on the things they do well — their craft, art, service, and passion. I think this segment is going to continue growing, and it’s much less likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence until much later on.

These are the two large segments I think are growing — both are part of the on-demand economy — and in the short term both will grow very quickly, but blue collar segment will grow more quickly. In the longer term the 1099 entrepreneurs are the ones who will survive the introduction of AI.

What are some of the big challenges in the near 3–5 year future for both aspects of the workforce — the blue collar segment and the 1099 segment?

The blue collar segment and the 1099 segment have similar challenges, for the most part. I’m going to focus on the things that are common to both of them. The first thing is, this is a new type of employment structure, so most of these workers are new to 1099 work. The entrepreneur class has not been as lively and fast growing as it is now, ever. So, they’ll need to deal with issues such as filing taxes, if they’re contractors, calculating their costs, creating budgets. They’re going to need to deal with all of those things for the first time. There are a variety of services that are now popping up to help. Some of our customers, like SherpaShare or Zen99, are dedicated to helping the 1099 drivers deal with the financial aspects and analytics of running a small business.

The other aspect is the rapid growth in both the number of drivers and the companies that are offering jobs for 1099 employees. There are literally hundreds of on-demand companies now that you can work with. Choosing which company to work with is becoming more and more complex. If you like working with kids, for example, you can work with Shuddle; if you like pets, DogVacay; if you like meeting new people, you prefer Lyft versus Uber. There are thousands of these decisions you need to make. Navigating this for the 1099 employee is really difficult. First of all, there needs to be a way for those new employees to search for those type of jobs and understand the differences between them. Right now, the job search websites are not optimized for the 1099 employee. Secondly, these workers need to be able to differentiate themselves to be more competitive. They’ll need to show they have certain skills, or they’ll need to have certain backgrounds or tendencies in order to unlock better paying gigs that fit their aspirations or interests. They may also need to be better certified. For instance, in the 1099 driving economy, drivers who have a good Zendrive score will eventually be able to earn more. Why? Because companies that move people around (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Shuddle) are willing to pay a premium for safety.

Related to that, there’s going to be all sorts of training as well as training programs required for the best paying gigs. Workers won’t be able to just go and pick up any gig when they have the time — they’ll need to prove how they are different from millions of others that are looking for these types of roles.

How is Zendrive adapting to the needs of the 1099 workforce?

Our vision is to enable the 1099 workforce. The on-demand economy represents the biggest disruption to the traditional fleet economy and to personal car ownership. We are helping those fleets ensure that their drivers are as safe as possible. We believe that using the data that we collect and the insights that we extract from the data those drivers won’t just improve their driving, but also improve their earning power. So in the future, drivers will be able to use their Zendrive scores to get more opportunities and better pay.

If you think about it, while everyone cares about safety and wants to cut down insurance costs, some services will inherently want the safest of drivers on board. So if you’re moving people, then you really care about speeding, aggressiveness and distracting phone use of your drivers . We directly help monitor and mitigate that and we help drivers improve their driving and earnings.

Another aspect of the 1099 economy, and particularly for the driving subset, relates to the regulatory issues around risk and safety. Regulators around the states and around the globe are basically saying: ‘Hold on a second, you’re growing so fast, we’re not sure how this thing will work out in the long term, and we’re not sure if all these drivers, who aren’t professionals, are safe.’ So, there’s a real need for a reliable third party to prove, without bias and without doubt, that 1099 drivers are as safe, if not safer, than other drivers.

We ran a study — comparing driving safety for a rideshare ride versus a taxi ride — and data shows that in SF rideshare drivers are not as likely to speed and use their phone while driving, making them safer. While we don’t take sides and simply report the data we collect, we hope that our technology can be an enabler for safer roads and can help on-demand companies make a data-based argument when challenged by regulators.

Any insights people might miss when thinking about the 1099 workforce?

I think there are a couple of things here. First of all, just based on my own personal experience — not based on Zendrive’s data — as a consumer of these services — I ride a lot with Uber, Lyft, etc. I meet people from all walks of life: I meet students, new immigrants, retirees, ex-taxi drivers, musicians. It’s just amazing what kind of enablement and mobility this allows. This mobility is really a phenomenal social benefit for these type of jobs and for communities that host them. They allow people to follow their passions — if you’re an artist or musician, you can go and drive for Uber a few hours each day and at night build the rock band that you dreamt of. You wouldn’t be able to do that with a traditional job — this flexibility is unique and makes for a better world.

The second thing, which is a little more related to the insights and technology that we pull, is that insurance is actually a big issue in the on-demand economy, and it might be something that regulators step in and try to fix. At the moment, specifically in the driving vertical, there’s a gap, where insurance doesn’t cover some of the time when drivers are seeking to pick up someone but do not have a passenger yet in the car. There’s a blind spot there, and it’s unclear how to best fix it. Insurance companies, for the most part, are relatively slow to adopt new technologies and business models, so they’re slow to react to this new reality. We believe that insurance companies will over time reconsider how they do business with the on-demand economy. And we believe that driving data will be key in making this transition.

There’s a need for both regulators and on-demand companies to require or request that insurance policies for on-demand fleets be priced based upon data. Our data shows drivers for rideshare companies happen to be as good or safer than most drivers, whether professional or personal. It makes no sense for them to pay more for insurance. But that’s what happening now. In the future those decisions and business models will be data driven. Helping make this transition is a part of our mission and business model.

The final point I’d like to share with you is this: You often hear in the media and even some regulators say that 1099 companies are exploiting their workers, or they’re being draconian, or they’re using 1099 status because they don’t want to pay for benefits. I just came from the Collision Conference in Las Vegas. Both the Handy CEO and Postmates CEO were asked about this onstage. They said that this is far from true. The rules defining who is a 1099 and who is a full-time worker are pretty old and strict. So these startups are in a situation where if they gave workers/drivers some additional benefits, it would force-trigger a shift from 1099 to full-time employee status, which would make it very difficult for them to run their business.

They said there needs to be a third way — a new definition of what it means to be 1099 worker — so companies can give them better terms and benefits, but still allow these 1099 workers to be the entrepreneurs and have the flexibility that’s so attractive. On-demand companies would like to give more benefits, but they’re afraid to do so because the rules will then trigger transformation of the status of their workers.

My hope is that regulators and legislators will consider creating a new model for 1099 workers that is more in line with today’s on-demand economy. If you think about the competition between all these new on-demand companies, it just makes good business sense for these companies to want to attract the best workers. But their hands are tied because of outdated work models that create a binary decision between a 1099 or W2 workforce. We need new models that give workers the flexibility they want, give companies options for creating benefits that attract the best workers, and provide the protections and fairness that regulators and legislators are concerned about.

The people in the 1099 economy actually love their jobs. They can use 1099 work in a clever way to grow their businesses. There’s an interesting story about a guy who has built a diamond distribution business on top of his Uber gig. You’re going to see more of this. You meet 10–20 people a day and you make small talk with them. This allows for a lot of entrepreneurial endeavors, and we’ll see more of that in the future.


If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, Andrew Jiang, and David Choi.