A People-First View of Investing in Innovation

By Navin Chaddha, Managing Director, Mayfield

Navin Chaddha, Managing Director, Mayfield

As an alum of IIT, serial entrepreneur, venture investor, and lifelong tech enthusiast, I’m always excited about innovation. However, while there are plenty of emerging technologies I am keeping a close eye on—from the projected end of Moore’s Law, to fog computing, to microservices, to blockchain, to machine learning and AI-enabled applications, to conversational interfaces, voice as a platform, and the autonomous transport ecosystem, I recently stepped back to think about what 'automation' means for humans. What interests me more—and what I think investors need to think about more—is the human angle: what is the impact of these emergent social changes?

"It is as if humans are standing still while technology just happens to them"

Some questions I was considering include:

- What does it mean for a person to interact with a robot?;
- How do people respond to an Alexa device on the kitchen counter?
- How do you communicate differently with a bot when you shop online?
- How will humans navigate around self-driving cars?
- How do we protect a business from hackers when they are inside the perimeter of the business?

These are just some questions, but my thinking can be applied to just about every aspect of businesses of the future. All of these realms involve humans—and far too often, humans are taken for granted.

Technology isn’t the only thing changing, society is also changing. These things influence each other. By looking ahead to those behavior adjustments—not just “millennials don’t like owning stuff,” but deeper, wider swaths of pan-generational change—we should be looking at the road ahead in a far more complex manner than is the norm today.

Most entrepreneurs spend time talking about competitive white spaces and breakthrough innovation and the like. It is as if humans are standing still while technology just happens to them. I believe strongly that reality is far more dynamic. I think taking the people-first approach results in a fresh view about people, not just as consumers, but also collectively as the society that shapes technology just as much as technology shapes society.

The six major social opportunities ahead:

What follows is a list of six fundamental human behaviors that will change the very landscape into which we are launching new products. If you don’t consider the impact of these (and other) trends on society, then by the time you get to market, you won’t recognize society.

The post-ownership economy: Preferring to lease rather than to own isn’t just about saving money or maximizing personal space, or being concerned about the environment. Everything you rent rather than own comes wrapped in some sort of experience, and smart companies, like our company Lyft, are benefiting from this trend.

From e-commerce to me-commerce: Amazon may have changed retail, but the war of minimizing margins is only going to take companies so far. People aren’t focused just on the bottom line. They are looking to connect with brands, and for the stories that fuel the products they buy and use daily. An era of e-commerce is emerging where vendors are delivering highly curated and personalized products and services to their customers. Our company, Poshmark, the leading social-mobile marketplace for fashion, is a good example of this.

The future of work: Full-time employment continues to decline, not because of rising unemployment, but because of the growth of independent contractors, also known as the '1099 workforce'. Changes in how people work—for themselves and together—are changing the very nature of society, from insurance, towork/life balance, to commutes, to city planning. Our company Workspan has built a marketing network, which enables people to easily collaborate across companies, countries and other boundaries.

The right to attention in the social age: Everyone complains about declining attention, but what are they doing about it? From multitasking to depending on automation when making decisions, it’s becoming ever more difficult for businesses to measure attention and engagement in a meaningful way, especially in an era of social media, where the metrics have evolved beyond clicks and views. “Viewability”—a metric measured by our company Moat, which was recently acquired by Oracle—demonstrates that content that’s tailored to users in engaging formats will rule, and the storytellers who create that content will continue to be the kings of the hill.

Democratization of financial services: The government isn’t the only institution facing a historic level of disrespect. Incumbent financial service companies are also held in low regard, and in turn the financial world is being democratized by startups with an eye on access for all. This often means an emphasis on mobile-first experiences and on marketplace models that connect supply and demand, such as pools of financial capital and home-buyers, or loan-givers and student borrowers. Our company Stockpile allows anyone to buy and sell stock, with no minimums and using a delightful interface.

Personalized health and wellness: And finally, with advancements in computational biology and genomics, society is entering into an era of precision health and wellness. People will soon know more about their bodies, at a molecular level, than has ever been imaginable. Our company, Mission Bio, delivers unprecedented single cell DNA analysis, which one day will bring us close to a cure for cancer.

As a result, of all these societal changes, being driven by technology innovation, we believe that the way people work, live, and play will change for the better.

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