"2020 was the year the internet actually began"
“Historians of the future might write something like: 2020 was the year that the internet actually began.” – Balaji Srinivasan
Before World War II, most American women served one role: housewife. But when the United States entered World War II, American women were called on to serve the nation in many ways.
With Rosie the Riveter as the standard bearer, movies, newspapers, posters, photographs, and articles stressed the patriotic need for women to enter the workforce—and they did, in huge numbers and in more types of jobs than ever before.
Women were critical to the war effort. From 1940 to 1945, the female labor force grew by 6.5 million. By 1945, women comprised 36.1% percent of the civilian labor force and the percentage of married women working outside the home increased from 13.9% to 22.5%.
When the world ended, some women started slowly going back to house life. But many decided it was a good time to stay. Here’s a quote from a paper titled The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Work.
"By 1950 the portion of all women in the labor force was down to 32%, but married women had joined in extraordinary numbers over the previous decade, with most age groups increasing their labor participation by an unprecedented 10 percentage points."
Why am I rambling?
A single event – World War II – accelerated a trend – women entering the workforce – that was going to happen anyway, just many years down the line.
I believe that COVID-19 is the single event that accelerates multiple social trends that we’ve been discussing for a while, but never became mainstream.
I wrote in my last post:
"There’s going to be a step change where something that would have taken a long time to happen is now going to happen much more quickly."
What are those changes? How will they impact technology and society? And what about Europe? There’s a chance that the second-order consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak are so vast that, as Balaji Srinivasan said, “historians of the future might write something like: 2020 was the year that the internet actually began.”
Let’s dive in.
The remote economy
Remote work has been around for a while – Basecamp was founded in 1999, Automattic in 2005. But up until January, remote work was reserved to a select number of lucky tech workers (including me).
The COVID-19 outbreak flipped that around. With the global workforce coerced by the virus to work from their living rooms, remote work became (albeit, temporarily) the new normal. Millions of workers and thousands of companies are, at this very moment, coming to the sudden realization that working remotely is not only possible, but beneficial.
The real opportunity is in companies like Remote – building the layer that powers distributed startups – or Zoom – building ancillary tools for communication – who are perfectly positioned to ride this new paradigm.
Even the markets agree with that.
But “remote work will rise” and “Zoom is a good stock to buy” is too obvious. You are not here for the obvious.
So let me entertain you.
The societal change that’s going to be accelerated by the outbreak is not just remote work, but a remote economy.
There are many, many ways this idea could evolve. But three of the most interesting ones are telemedicine, teletherapy and remote fitness.
Telemedicine & teletherapy
My dad owns an assisted reproduction center in Argentina. We were having dinner on Wednesday night, discussing the implications of the outbreak on his business. When I raised a concern around lower foot traffic, he responded: “I had 2 consultations on Skype today.”
A considerable percentage of doctor-patient interactions don’t require an in-person visit. The only reason we jump on a car and go to “the doctor” is because we are used to it, and the placebo of getting to a hospital is reassuring.
In the future, hospitals and health centers will be open for specific, in-person consultations or specific procedures.
The same goes for teletherapy. Mental health professionals and their patients need a stretch bond and unbreakable trust between each other. The common assumption is that building trust with another person without multiple in-person interaction might sound ridiculous right now, but as more and more friends are finding out right now, it’s not.
There is an incredible opportunity for someone willing to build niche software to schedule, manage and deliver medical treatment online.
Remote fitness classes
We’ve all seen that terrible Peloton ad (and Ryan Reynold’s hilarious response), those apps promising to get you fit in 15 minutes per day. and that $3,000 wall robot that’s supposed to act as your home gym AND personal trainer.
At-home workouts have traditionally been a hard nut to track in the fitness industry. It’s hard to get it right at a cost-effective rate, and motivation decreases over time as the monotony and the lack of external factors sets in.
Now, thanks to COVID-19, everyone’s only possibility is to workout from home. My CrossFit gym in Barcelona (shout out to Distrito 080), and thousands of gyms worldwide are streaming workouts as classes, with stuff you have at home, at specific times during the day. Just like a regular CrossFit class.
But here comes the fun part – participants are streaming their own workouts half-naked workouts back for everyone else to see, including other participants. Again, just like a CrossFit class.
Peloton, Tandem, Freeletics and my favorite, an olympic barbell, are still very valid options but they will remain just that – options – and not the new normal.
The real opportunity (and what has the possibility of actually becoming the new normal) is finding ways to mimic the community and motivation of live, in-person classes without spending the equivalent of a small car on a stationary bike.
Esports goes mainstream
I’ve been saying that Esports is the biggest industry no one is talking about. Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote almost a year ago.
The global Esports audience will grow to 453.8 million worldwide in 2019, a YoY growth of 15%.
Consulting firm Activate projects that by 2021, US Esports will have more viewers than every professional sports league except the NFL – 84 million Esports viewers versus 63 million NBA viewers.
But growth is not only happening in viewership numbers, the audience is insanely engaged as well.
The 2019 global audience will consist of 253 million occasional viewers, but most importantly, 201.2 million Esports Enthusiasts (that’s a 16.3% YoY growth).
Sorry for the long excerpt, but I wanted to give you some context. So what’s up with Esports? Esports will leverage the rise in gaming and the lack of professional sports generated by COVID-19.
In the midst of the lockdown, people with nothing to do are flocking to gaming – from CS:GO all the way to the single best game ever created, Age of Empires II. The Steam numbers are just one piece of evidence.
#Steam has just reached a new concurrent online user record of 20 million, with 6.2 million currently in-game, likely due to many people staying at home due to the #coronavirus.
People aren’t playing alone, they are playing with friends. And when you play with friends, you want to win. Right now the way to win is to learn from other players, and the best way to watch those players is streaming. As expected, streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming are reaching all-time highs in terms of viewership. Here’s the Washington post:
"Twitch declined to provide any figures around a change in viewership, but Sensor Tower, a research firm, shared data which showed sharp increases in first-time Twitch app downloads in Europe. Greece, Italy and Spain saw increases of 50 percent, 41 percent and 26 percent week-over-week, respectively, over the past seven days, according to Randy Nelson, Sensor Towers’s Head of Mobile Insights."
When you couple this with the fact that stadiums are empty, famous athletes are also streaming and engaging with fans, and there are zero real sports right now, you have an explosive cocktail.
Esports leagues know it, and aren’t afraid to jump on the opportunity. Here’s the Washington Post again:
"A number of esports leagues, which over the last decade have increased their mainstream visibility and legitimacy by repeatedly filling legendary arenas like Madison Square Garden and Staples Center with fans, are continuing their competitions by returning to their online roots. Streaming matches online via sites like Twitch and YouTube, pro leagues for games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and Call of Duty are now faced with an unasked for opportunity to broaden their audience by showcasing its competitions to consumers who may have previously preferred watching the NBA, NHL or NCAA basketball tournaments. Similarly, as live event programming falls by the wayside and schools shut down, content creators and streamers broadcasting themselves playing video games are faced with an influx of viewers."
Kicking your friends’ asses is the gateway drug that leads to becoming a streaming/Esports fan. Sports provide people an escape from everyday life, some bipartisanship action. And now Esports now has the opportunity to fill a gigantic void, from the safety (and comfort) of your couch.
Video dating becomes acceptable
In early 2019, sociologist Michael Rosenfeld released a study called Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting, which describes that heterosexual couples are more likely to meet a romantic partner online than through personal contacts and connections.
On the contrary, since 1940, traditional ways of meeting partners – through family, in church and in the neighborhood – have all been in decline.
A decade ago it was unimaginable that most people would be meeting their life partner (not a one night stand!) by swiping right. Now, in the middle of this insanity, people are getting together and drinking.
The next logical step is that the first interaction after successful chat flirting moves to video. With one tap, you can jump on a quick conversation to figure out whether you are a good match, akin to a first phone interview in a hiring process.
What’s not to like? Filtering the first round of candidates makes it faster, safer (particularly for women), and more fun since the in-person match ratio will increase the in-person match by an order of magnitude.
Dating won’t ever be video, but the first “screening” might be. And here’s where exciting apps like Hinge can leverage their existing user base and test this as a beta feature in a matter of weeks.
It's 1am over here. COVID-19 is still expanding (Argentina just announced a countrywide full lockdown), and what I write tonight might be obsolete 48 hours from now. So I don't have anything else to say than: are you not entertained yet?