These companies are really thriving right now
In 2008 we didn’t have jobs and we didn’t have money, but we had extra space in our homes and backseats in our car. So we started Airbnb, and we founded Uber, and we created with what remnant we had left something that would change the way we travel forever.
That’s about to happen again.
As I write this, I am quarantined in my home. Our schools have moved online and our offices have sent us home. The stock markets have fallen and the layoffs have begun. And yet, if we’re being honest with ourselves, haven’t we always known this moment was coming? We’ve forecasted the next bear market with conviction, we’ve said “the next crash is just around the corner” more times than we can count. We just never knew it would come about like this or play out in this way. We never have. We never do.
But there is always a correction and right now we are correcting. We are reorienting our lives―not around our businesses―but around our homes. Instead of living in two places part-time, we are occupying one place full-time. Our million-dollar school buildings sit empty and our shiny office spaces remain closed as we attend classes online and work from our dining room tables.
There are trials, sure, but there are also good things that are happening as a result. Pollution around the world has plummeted. LA traffic has dissipated. And even if we hope we might be able to eat once more at a restaurant or attend the theater, we can also see clearly that there is some extra fat that can be trimmed, extra excesses we can do without.
Perhaps there’s a future where we attend schools, not based on the Greek programs they offer or how aesthetically pleasing the dorm rooms are, but because of the professors we want to learn from. Perhaps we’ll take classes not because they fit into our liberal arts requirements but because they teach a valuable skill we need to learn. And perhaps, that will allow students of all backgrounds the flexibility to work while they are in school and to enjoy equal opportunities when it comes to education.
And maybe we don’t need to put our businesses in New York City where our employees can’t afford their rent, or in San Francisco where our employees spend half their lives on the commute. Maybe we can take advantage of that extra money we are paying our employees for their rent and that extra time we are asking our employees to commute, to give our employees more time and space to do the work we want them to do.
Maybe, as a result of our remote schools and our remote jobs, we will open up the candidate pool to the entire nation, not confined to where they live or how much they spend. And maybe that will allow employees and students to live where they want to live, or where they can afford to live, and that will result in less sprawl, less congestion, and less health risk.
It takes discipline to be able to study and work from home, sure, but then, our degrees and our paychecks will depend on that quality so we will adapt. We already have. We set up home offices and downloaded Zoom, Slack, and Asana to our computers. We’ve become beacons of productivity and look forward to the day we get paid not by the hours we work, but by the projects we finish.
Forgive me for taking a utopian rather than dystopian route. I know that is not what’s expected of journalists during this time.
I fully understand there are perils to this climate and I do not wish to make light of that fact. Our health and wellbeing are a concern. There are people who are losing their jobs and who do not have the money to pay their rent. There are small businesses who no longer have customers and may not be able to weather the storm. And there are plenty of places you can find articles about all of those things.
But as with all disasters, I believe we will see diamonds emerge from the ashes. That we will find a more sustainable way of being and that there are companies who will help us do that. In fact, we are already seeing the silver lining. The innovation that is coming from a need to do things differently.
Hanes and American Apparel have started using their resources to manufacture masks for hospital workers. Ford, GM, and Tesla have all started using their facilities to manufacture more ventilators―as has Dyson. LVMH is using its perfumeries in France to make hand sanitizer and Five Wives Vodka is doing the same.
Even small businesses have pivoted to the times. Local restaurants are offering food delivery, the garden store Cactus & Tropicals is allowing customers to purchase plants online and have them delivered. Local delicatessen Caputo’s moved their upcoming chocolate and cheese tastings online, Pilates on Seventh now has online classes, and Ballet West is continuing to offer ballet instruction for all levels with the launch of their new virtual academy.
Some of these pivots are probably temporary solutions but I expect there will be some lasting influence. Especially as we start seeing the success of some of these alternative initiatives.
Not only have companies pivoted to the times but several industries are seeing major upswings. Despite massive layoffs in the retail and hospitality industries, for instance, Amazon, Walmart, Papa Johns, and CVS are each hiring for hundreds of thousands of jobs apiece.
Many tech companies have given employees home office stipends to spend on things that will help them work from home such as desks and monitors and as a result, the sales of home office equipment has been on the rise. Big tech is also booming, Microsoft, Netflix, Facebook are all seeing usage rise as we opt online, each standing to emerge from the abyss unscathed. Childrens publishing companies are also doing well as kids start learning from home.
Home fitness is on the rise with companies like Peloton benefitting from massive sales of their spinning bikes and treadmills―even if they struggle to keep up with demand, and to ship those purchases safely. The Nintendo Switch has completely sold out online and the company is raising prices to meet demand in the hustle to get new consoles to a thirsting market. Also puzzles, apparently, are big business right now.
Some of it seems to be panic-driven. Bottled water, toilet paper, and diapers have been scarce thanks to fear-driven hoarding. Freezers have started to sell out at Home Depot and Lowes as consumers start to hunker down in their homes. Firearms and ammunition are all the rage right now, and in many places, firearms dealers have been able to stay open as “essential” businesses.
Though much is said about the businesses that are currently struggling, the ones that are thriving can tell us a little bit about our current state, and where we will be when we emerge from this moment in time. Will we suddenly start selling our treadmills when this epidemic has finally come to an end? Or will many of us cancel our gym memberships and permanently adapt to a new way of movement?
I expect there will be a little of both.
Not only have companies pivoted and adapted but we’ve also started to see entirely new industries emerge, especially as it pertains to the environment around us.
Where global climate change should have occasioned our better behaviors, the coronavirus forced them. All at once we have become less consumerist and more essentialist, and though those very tendencies are what is causing our economy to tank, perhaps this is the opportunity for our economy to evolve. To be based, not on how much we buy, but on how we live.
We are not losing the life we had, we are creating a new one. A new normal. And that has the possibility to create something even better―for the earth, for our countries, for our businesses, for our lives―than we had before. And businesses are already preparing for it.
During the same period of time that many startups began to shut down prematurely, a small contingent of startups were able to raise millions of dollars, especially in healthcare. Olive, a healthcare automation tool for healthcare administration raised $51 million during the coronavirus epidemic. Bright.md, a telehealth startup that uses AI to screen patients before doctor visits, raised another $8 million in funding for a total of $20.5 million.
Energy is also seeing investment. Though most of the traditional energy sectors are down, in China, solar is seeing a 12 percent lift. A Bill Gates-led fund raised an $11 million round for Natel Energy, a hydropower startup based in California. Twaice, a Munich-based startup that supports battery management in electric transportation (think cars, bikes, scooters) raised €11 million in Series A fundraising in the middle of the crisis.
Even crowdfunding site Indiegogo saw eBikes, indoor farms, and portable power stations far surpass their fundraising goals in a manner of minutes. Bace’s Rotofarm, which allows customers to grow food in their living rooms, was funded in just eight minutes and, as of our press date, had more than doubled its investment goal.
It’s clear that we are reimaging with our dollars, a more sustainable future. One in which we are more reliant on ourselves and less reliant on foreign powers to live our lives. I, for one, would love to see a future in which we ride our bikes with our own manpower more than we drive cars fueled by foreign oil. Where we buy more vintage clothing from Etsy than we do new clothing from China. Where we grow more food in our own backyards than we buy from Mexico. Where we use bidets to clean our bums more than we do toilet paper from the rainforests.
That future is happening now. We’re already requesting it.
Pretty soon, each of us is going to receive a check to help us out during this strange and uncertain reality, I hope that we use that money to help ourselves during a time of need, to help others in their time of need, or to help a future that could be much brighter due to our own participation in it.