The pandemic has given us a whole new perspective on consumer technologies, as many solutions have risen up to fill our critical and unexpected needs. I recently caught up with Ashley Brasier, a Partner at Lightspeed Ventures, to discuss how she’s thinking about investing during this time. Lightspeed Ventures is a multi-stage tech VC fund investing across the US, Asia, and Israel. In April, the firm announced over $4 billion in new funds for early stage, growth stage, and international investments.
Ashley shared, “Overall, I’ve been really impressed by our portfolio companies on how quickly they’ve responded to ongoing changes. Lightspeed has portfolio companies in Asia, so we were able to get data early on about how the pandemic affected demand in retail for grocery, apparel, etc. That proved very helpful with Covid scenario planning for our US and Europe-based companies. We’re working with our companies to continuously re-forecast on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.”
She says, “As for follow-on and new company investments, I’m still remaining active and optimistic. There’s a lot of consumer businesses that are doing well right now, and I think the key to investing during this time will be isolating the long-term winners from the short-term fixes.”
Below are my top 5 consumer tech trends and representative companies, which were inspired by insights Ashley shared with me.
Top 5 Global Consumer Tech Trends
1. At Home Fitness. The closure of gyms due to the pandemic has forced us all to find innovative ways to exercise at home. Incumbents for at-home fitness are ClassPass’ online classes and players like Peloton and Mirror that sell connected equipment plus content subscriptions. We’re seeing newer players in both the “online classes” and “online plus smart equipment” business models gain traction. The success of these companies will depend on their ability to scale while keeping content high quality, adding social networking, and improving user interfaces.
OmPractice partners with studios to provide at-home live yoga classes for consumers and corporate employee wellness programs. Users can sign up for single classes, monthly subscriptions, or annual subscriptions. The company has raised about $1 million in seed funding.
Tempo has been called “Peloton with barbells”. It sells a 6-feet-tall “mirror” screen for at-home weight lighting that uses motion sensors (scanning 30 times per second) to help correct your form. The company last raised a $17 million Series A.
Keep (China) wants to become the “solution to exercise” by creating a one-stop-shop for online and offline fitness. Its online presence includes in-app classes and social networking, and its offline presence consists of Keep’s at-home connected bikes and physical gyms. The company last raised $80 million at a $1 billion post-money valuation. Take a read here for my full analysis of the company.
2. “Business-in-a-Box”. (Check out Ashley’s article on Medium on the topic). This refers to companies that provide a software layer of front and back-office functions enabling business owners to quickly start up operations. These solutions are inspired by the idea that business owners want to leverage the resources of a larger platform but still maintain independence. One prominent player in real estate is Compass, which connects real estate agents to a marketplace of customers and provides management tools to help build out an independent practice. Vertical specific solutions make the most sense here, and if successful, can become the new norm for entrepreneurs starting up their businesses.
Wonderschool helps individuals set up daycares in their homes and assists with licensing, marketing, and student recruitment. Wonderschool’s app also allows daycare owners to engage with parents through photos and messages. Daycare management softwares are especially valuable given there is currently a massive shortage of child care providers in the US. The company last raised a $20 million Series A.
Dumpling helps people start their own grocery delivery business in which deliverers set prices and build their own clientele. Waycook helps home chefs turn their house into a take-out restaurant, connecting home chefs with hungry local eaters. Dumpling recently raised a $6 million Series A and Waycook has not raised any funding.
KhataBook (India) is a software that allows small businesses to record transactions and accept digital payments. India has over 60 million small vendors, most of which don’t use any technology but can benefit immensely from digital payments and extending credit to customers. KhataBook recently raised a $60 million Series B in May 2020 at a $300 million post-money valuation.
3. Gaming and eSports. During shelter in place, we’ve seen a meaningful uptick in gaming, as people need to pass the time at home but also want to interact with friends. Global online gaming is a $70 billion market, with China being the single biggest country of consumption. Globally, game development is dominated by Tencent, Sony, Microsoft, and Activision. Live-streaming is dominated by Twitch in the US and Huya and Douyu in China. However, new players are still finding room to squeeze in because online gaming as a whole is experiencing double-digit market growth. Their success will be dependent on continuing to define their niche from competitors.
Nifty Games is developing quick session, head-to-head mobile sports games that users can play with friends. The company is partnering with the NFL, MLB, MLS, and NHL to create games centered around your favorite sports teams and players. The company recently raised a $12 million Series A.
Cardboard Live provides a platform for card and board game streaming. It gives prominent players the opportunity to earn commissions through viewer in-stream purchases. The company is currently raising a $3 million Series A at a $17 million post-money valuation.
Reworld (China) is a mobile gaming platform that allows users to design their own games, similar to Roblox (USA). The company recently raised a $40 million Series B in May 2020.
4. Digital Conferences and Events. Digital conferencing has been critical during Covid, and we should also expect to see more hybrid online/offline events in the future as hosts learn to value their affordability and accessibility. The key to success for emerging players will be the ability to provide full feature sets for interactivity, hosting capacity for thousands of participants, and ease of use across all devices.
Run the World is a platform that allows companies to host many types of online events including webinars, fundraisers, and happy hours. The company recently raised an $11 million Series A.
Hopin (UK) wants to offer a better solution to large online events with the mission of reducing carbon footprints and increasing accessibility. The company recently raised a $40 million Series A. HeySummit (UK) is a similar platform for online summits across multiple industries, and has not raised any funding.
Airmeet (India) is working to pick up contracts for large conferences that have been canceled. Users don’t have to download an app to use it, and it can reportedly host up to 1 million concurrent users per conference. Airmeet recently raised a $3 million seed round.
5. Grocery and Food Delivery. Grocery and food delivery is very crowded and players are largely undifferentiated, but the pandemic has created enough demand for several niche companies to share in the upside. Food delivery is currently dominated by Uber Eats, GrubHub, DoorDash, and Postmates (Uber is in talks to acquire GrubHub), and grocery delivery is currently led by Instacart. New players with a differentiated enough offering are gaining attention, and if they scale meaningfully or reach profitability, will most likely get acquired by one of the incumbents in the space.
Yumble Kids delivers healthy meals for children aged 1 to 12 and primarily serves the East Coast. The company last raised a $7 million Series A.
Dingdong Maicai (China) is a grocery delivery service in Southern China that guarantees delivery within 30 minutes with no delivery fees. It is able to do this by operating hundreds of small warehouses instead of large ones. The company has been successful amidst the pandemic despite fierce competition from Meituan, JD, and players backed by Alibaba and Tencent. Dingdong recently raised a $300 million growth round at a $2 billion valuation.
About the Partner
Ashley Brasier is a Partner at Lightspeed Ventures focusing on early stage consumer tech companies. Before Lightspeed, Ashley was a Category Manager at Thumbtack (consumer marketplace for professional services) where she was responsible for growth and customer experience in both the Events and Weddings categories. Prior to that, she served as a Consultant at Bain & Company. Ashley received her MBA from Stanford GSB and Bachelor’s degree from Duke University.
Fun Partner Facts
1. Virtual Group Yoga is Ashley’s favorite indoor activity during shelter-in-place that keeps her connected with friends.
2. Co-Star, a personalized astrology app, is a mobile app that she uses frequently.
3. Rusty’s Southern is her recommended SF restaurant for North Carolina style BBQ, a nostalgic food that reminds her of home.
About the Author