Is it Christmas yet? Let’s talk eCommerce tools

Honoring the tradition of talking about Christmas too early, I’d like to share some eCommerce tools. In all seriousness, if you’re selling D2C, you should be starting to think about how to take advantage of the first and hopefully last COVID Christmas.

Want packaging? Lumi. Need help with ops and fulfillment? Take a look at Airhouse or Outerspace. Then, ship faster with Shippo or EasyShip. Bringing stuff in from abroad? Look at Terminal 49. Managing supply chain risk? Use Alloy or Calico.

Hyloq is for running geo-fenced hyper targeted ads. AutoOptimize and Privy are for increasing conversion rate on your site. LiveRecover is for recovering abandoned carts. Increase referrals with ReferralCandy. Power up your product search with Constructor. Make post-purchase offers with CartHook. If your items are expensive, make sure to offer financing with ViaBill. Sales Tax compliance can be done with TaxJar.

One-click no log-in check out? Fast.com. Shop with Hashtags? Use Boost.

Don’t have any merch to sell? Merch38 is a tool for doing this with No-Code and no inventory.

Ayo for Productivity

Every few months, a new tool increases my productivity so much I can’t wait to share it. It was Superhuman a few months ago, increasing my email speed by more than 2x. This month, I started using Silent Inbox: a simple gmail plug-in that holds all of your newsletters and delivers it once a day.

Seems email is something on top of everyone’s mind. That’s why the Basecamp team launched Hey, which honestly is a bit much for me. Want to clean up an already messy inbox? Take a look at Mailstrom or LeaveMeAlone. Want to make sure it stays clean? Use Mailbrew to create your own digest of multiple newsletters. Want to write emails quicker? Check out AI-based writing tools like Compose.aiLavender, or Otherside AI. Take that one-step further and you’ll have Kriya auto-writing mass emails for you.

Maybe it’s not emails, but DMs that are driving you crazy. The newest tools to manage all of your messages in one inbox are: TextsComposeFranz, and Nova Chat.

Want more efficient Calendaring? CommandDot is Superhuman for calendars (shortcuts galore!). Calendar.com gives you analytics on your schedule (kind of like Email Meter for email). Reclaim is great for syncing multiple calendars or making sure you save blocks of time to do work. Workomo will show you relevant info about people you’re meeting with, right in your browser.

Looking for a personal CRM? Check out Dex for something powerful, and Clay for a minimalist one. Folk is for organizing contacts with your team.

Other new productivity tools include Command E for searching across all your cloud apps at once, Mighty for speeding up Google Chrome, Motion for organizing tabs and browser short cuts, and Akiflow for shortcuts that work with all of your web apps.

While there’s a ton of task lists out there, Centered caught my attention due to it’s focus on helping you achieve Mindfulness. (In case you’re curious, I use Todoist).

New & Interesting Startups: September Edition

For the uninitiated, I like to ramble about interesting startups I’ve come across recently. Sometimes there’s a theme, but other times it’s random.

Let’s start with the “unbundling of colleges”, since Lambda School recently raised a $74M C round. You’re starting to see this model across a wide range of skillsets. There’s OnDelta* for marketing, Reforge for growth, ProductSchool for product, Skillfull for strategy & ops, Uvaro* for sales, Insight Fellows* for data science, Microverse* for becoming a remote developer, Acadium offers apprenticeships, and Talent Accelerator is for leveling up freelancers. The ones with an asterisks allow you to pay only after you get a job. The impact of training people for practical and in-demand jobs for no upfront cost will be great for the ecosystem (and hiring managers).

Two projects that tickled my geekier side are Wolfram Physics, tackling the fundamental laws of physics, and Hugging Face, democratizing NLP research. I’m also pretty excited about tele-operated machinery like Reliable Robotics (cargo planes), Einride (trucks), Phantom Auto (forklifts and delivery robots), and Mira Robotics (butler robots).

I saw a handful of health related companies that peaked my interest this month. Soter Technologies has a suite of tools helping places (like schools) open up. Ready is helping restaurants go contactless. Pathspot makes sure employees are washing their hands correctly. Patient Orator and Medcorder help patients communicate with doctors. Levels is a constant glucose monitor for athletes. Ghost Pacer let’s you race yourself with AR glasses.

On the crazier side of things, I’ve been interested in DNA for data storage like CatalogTwist, and Helixworks. Then there’s these guys at Pipedream Labs building technologies for an underground network of tunnels for physical delivery of things.

Voice is Hot

Likely because of the recent Clubhouse investment, I’m noticing a lot of activity in the voice space. I’m seeing more of Chalk, which is similar to Clubhouse but open to all. Clubhouse feels more like a media play, where they focus on courting influencers to become what I’d call the Twitch for conference calls, where as Chalk feels more like a virtual Meetup tool for voice.

Another cute new comer is Cappuccino, which they call a “a daily personal radio show”. It’s kind of like Twitter for audio with the rule that each person can only post one 3 min clip a day. Gossip is another brand new one that’s in beta that’s similar to Cappucino. Eternal is a slick looking game that’s also in beta (download Testflight from mobile) where you jump and fly through a beautifully designed world as an avatar and communicate amongst friends via voice. The closest thing like this for events I’ve seen is High Fidelity, which drops attendees on a 2d map and you can hear people’s voice based on your proximity to them on the map.

On the more professional side of things, there’s a great tool for Podcasters called Descript. It let’s you edit your audio clips simply by editing the auto-transcribed text. For the workplace, Voxer has been around for a bit with their voice messaging app, and Yac seems like a promising update to that concept.

Opening up the Workplace and the Future of Work

We’re starting to open up the workplace. Are self-reported health symptom tools like Tamarin Health and TeamSense enough? Maybe your workplace won’t reopen and you’ll go full remote. You might negotiate a work-from-home office package through Firstbase, and get better home security through Clario. Maybe use Avvinue to relocate to another country. Now that all the meetings are on Zoom, perhaps you’ll use tools like Navigator to plan the meetings and ask FirefliesOtter, or Symbl to take your notes. Even web-based customer support could move to video with LivewebLoom is a recent favorite for avoiding unnecessary Zoom calls.

In hiring, you can go the AI route and use Seekout to find candidates and Humanly to screen and engage them. Alternatively, you can lean in on remote and use Symba to find and manage your remote interns and Pangian to connect with 2M workers seeking remote jobs. Tools like RemotePanther, and Deel make hiring international employees and contractors easy (they handle employment laws, insurance, etc.). Speaking of insurance, should your health insurance be tied to your job? Catch handles benefits for gig workers, but I can see use cases beyond that.

It would be a miss to not mention GPT-3 announced this month, there’s Debuild that writes code and Otherside AI that both summarizes and writes email for you. (Lavendar also helps you write better emails, though not with GPT-3).

Startups Tackling the Future of Education

As we look to opening up schools, I’ve spent an increasing amount of time thinking about the future of education. Within 5-10 years, I believe parents will be able to move anywhere in the world and provide world-class education for their kids at any age. We’ll start below with startups supporting more traditional schooling, and then move onto more disruptive solutions.

Roughly 56M kids in the US go to school K-12 (50M public, 6M private). Tools like ClassDojo and Clever have been helping these schools digitize and it will be important for them to understand how to leverage these as they try to manage virtual learning. Schools should also look at tools like Panorama that help collect and analyze data to understand what’s working vs not. As we adjust to remote, we’re suddenly in need of tools like ProctorU for remote proctoring. High school students are finding ways to study for AP courses online with friends new and old on Fiveable. Parents are supplementing their kids education with Outschool, that provides live in-person classes for kids – and also supplemental income for teachers.

Personally, I’m more intrigued by solutions turning education on its head, allowing families to move anywhere in the world while (hopefully) receiving equal or better education. On the homeschooling side of things (~2M kids today in the US), you have exciting communities and solutions like Prisma (4th-8th grade), Primer (age 7-12), and Galileo (age 8-18). For parent’s who want a more intimate school setting for their children, maybe even in their backyard with a few friends, there’s a growing trend of micro-schools like Prenda (k-8th), Wonderschool, and a new comer called SchoolHouse. You also have fully virtual schools like Sora (high school). Combine these with Winnie that helps parents find day care and activities or the increasing number of coworking spaces that also offer childcare.

I’m loving No Code

I recently migrated a custom CRM from code (MySQL/PHP/HTML/CSS/Javascript) to No Code, so I naturally look at a lot of these tools. For those unfamiliar, there are an increasing number of tools that allow people to create full blown apps without writing a line of code. Webflow is the king today, they provide both front end and back end functionality for creating an app. You can integrate this with Memberstack or Memberspace to add user functionality to this. Parabola is like Zapier, but for large swaths of data at a time – it can grab a MySQL table, merge it with your Mailchimp data, add columns, do some math, and spit out results in Google Sheets. Use these piping tools to add functionality like enrichment (ClearbitNorbertSnov) and machine learning (Intersect LabsObviously AIColabelLobe AI). For building internal tools, there’s also NotionCodaClickUp, and Retool. It’s probably worth noting that Amazon jumped into this space with Honeycode. You can educate yourself at Makerpad or hire a no code agency like 8020.

Is Shelter in Place Political?

Following the news cycle, it seems Shelter in Place is driven politically, with conservatives itching to get out and liberals sheltering in place (I’m overgeneralizing). We also know that urban environments help spread the virus, so it would make sense that these people would support shelter in place. Finally, we also know that urban areas tend to be more liberal. So is Shelter in Place really a political issue, or are we seeing urban areas hit hard, and therefor people in those areas (who happen to be liberal), support sheltering further?

If you know me, you know I like to play around with data, but to all of you a warning that I am not a data scientist, and this is really just me playing around. Please share any and all thoughts and resources to further this thought if of interest.

First thing I did was pull together some data around Shelter-In-Place, for this I used the SIP index provided by Safegraph, followed by political ideology, and urbanization. For ease, I did this by state as opposed to county, which would likely show more granular results. What I have looks like this:

The first thing I looked at was deaths per 100k and plotted them against the SIP index:

Not surprising to see a clear trend where the more deaths you see, the more likely you are to stay at home. The correlation coefficient we’re seeing here is 0.645.

Then I looked at % of conservatives in a state vs SIP Index:

Again, not surprising to see, but it’s pretty clear that the less conservative a state is, the more likely they are to shelter in place. Correlation coefficient here is -0.804.

Taking a look next at liberal % vs SIP Index:

Again, not surprising to see that the more liberal states are sheltering more. Correlation coefficient here is 0.658.

Now, let’s look at urbanization rate vs SIP Index:

Again, not surprising to see that the higher percentage of people living in urban areas show a higher shelter-in-place index. Correlation coefficient here is 0.788.

If you want to see these combined, it looks like this:

It looks very similar to when you compare against deaths/100k:

Of course, that’s because we saw that SIP Index and Deaths/100k are correlated.

Here’s where I get a little fuzzy. Can I normalize the percentage of people who are conservative against the percentage of people who live in urban areas and compare agains the SIP index to see a correlation? A high correlation would suggest that SIP index is driven by conservative values (or media) beyond simply their exposure from living or not living in urbanized places.

For this, I multiplied the percentage of conservatives against the percentage of people living in urban areas and compared against the SIP index.

What you see here is the correlation disappearing, with a correlation coefficient of -0.076.

This shows that perhaps Shelter-In-Place isn’t based as much on political values as the media might suggest, but just as much a function of people’s exposure to the virus due to proximity to urban areas.

Four Deltas: a framework for communicating the impact of coronavirus on your business

I’ve received a lot of communication from founders about the impact of the recent epidemic on their business – some informative, some lackluster. Based on what I’ve seen, I created a rather simple framework to help founders communicate the key pieces of information that an investor (current or prospective) would want to hear.

I call it the Four Deltas.

The first two Deltas are the impact of the market on your business (outside of your control) in the short and long run. The second two Deltas are the impact of your actions on your business.

The First Delta (Δ₁) you need to communicate is the immediate impact of the current environment on your business – either positive or negative. This should start with hard numbers that can be measured. For example, you could start by looking at global (or local) changes in consumer spending specific to your industry, and then highlight the changes in your own KPIs. Each of these Deltas is multifaceted, and an important exercise is considering what few key numbers are most important to an investor.

The Second Delta (Δ₂) is the expected bounce back as things open up and return to “normal”. This is your opportunity to communicate your expectations around the future market dynamics of your business, including how long you expect this to last (should be a range), and relevant behavior changes that you expect will stick. Investors are thinking especially hard about the Δ₂ of business that are seeing sudden growth. For example, the Δ₂ of toilet paper should be equal to Δ₁ – meaning people will buy the eventually buy it at the same rate as they did before. For many industries, the Δ₂ is debated, such as for travel (will people travel the same as they did before?) and remote work (will people go back to the office?). I like Fred Wilson’s suggested baseline of expecting Δ₂ to be 50% of Δ₁ (article). Communicate to your investor your viewpoints on the Δ₂ of your business.

The Third Delta (Δ₃) is the impact of your actions on Δ₁. If your Δ₁ is positive, what are you doing to take advantage of the sudden growth? Considerations around this include the robustness of your infrastructure to handle growth, managing increased burn with fundraising expectations, and sensitivity in communicating positive news. If your Δ₁ is negative, what are you doing to survive? This should include everything from your cost cutting efforts to your fundraising plans. Don’t forget – people are here to help, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

The Forth Delta (Δ₄) is the impact of your actions on Δ₂. This is an opportunity to communicate your ability to strategize for the long-term. If your Δ₁ is positive, you want to communicate to investors how you are planning for the inevitable bounce back, and what you are implementing to minimize this – such as measuring and improving stickiness of your product. If your Δ₁ is negative, this may not be as important – people just want to know you’ll survive – but this is a great opportunity to paint a picture of what you’re doing today, to be one of the few survivors that sees an explosion in growth as things open back up.

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Take a moment to review how you’ve communicated to your investors thus far and make sure you’ve touched on each of these. This is your opportunity to show investors your thoughtfulness as a founder.

If you liked this, maybe follow me on Twitter @yoheinakajima.

What’s your mission statement

The importance of a mission statement to an organization is taught in business school and written in countless number of books (eg. Built to Last), but I was thinking about it today and its role in a time of crisis, so I thought I’d jot a few thoughts down.

When you navigate through the wilderness without a compass, you’re not staring up at the sky as you walk. Rather, you look for the North Star when you’re lost. I think this applies to mission statements.

A mission statement is the “why” of the organization.

When times are tough, thinking about your mission a little more than usual should help motivate you. If a strategy shift is necessary, the mission statement should help drive some of these difficult decisions.

For those who are experiencing rapid growth, especially if you are hiring rapidly, culture is something you’ll want to keep an eye on. The mission statement helps here as well.

For all startups, remembering the mission statement is helpful in communication with all stake holders, including with current and future employees, customers, and investors. In a time where the entire world is reflecting on priorities, starting with the “why” (Simon Sinek’s thing) is increasingly important.

What’s your organizations mission statement? How is it helping you through this time today?

Some food for thought.