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In my unexpected free time I have had a chance to read, relax, think, and strategize more than I am normally able to. Throughout our lives we may encounter a handful of seriously significant life-changing events. I am not talking about market downturns every 10 years or so. I am talking about events such as the great depression, Vietnam War, the 9/11 and now, Covid-19 pandemic. These events not only test and challenge our resolve and resilience as individuals but also as a human society as a whole. The challenges are proportional in complexity and magnitude for each society and country’s unique situation. But they are transformative nonetheless.
Here in United States, retailers and service providers were quickly able to adapt to the situation and deliver groceries, prepared food and other essential supplies relatively easily. For some, transitioning to work-at-home was as easy as going to the office and grabbing your laptop, charger and a few things. For others it involved signing up for home entertainment service. As I settle into my new normal of being gainfully employed during the day and being a daycare teacher in the evening, I can’t help but wonder what changes in our life are going to be permanent or partially different. What part of our lives are going to go back to pre-Covid-19 normal. In other words what types of changes and therefore what industries are going to be impacted in a significant way. In this article I contemplate how in our post-Covid-19 world, what our new normal may look like.
As you guessed, this is a tremendous opportunity to innovate and come up with new solutions for some old and some new problems. If you are a creative entrepreneur, you’re putting Pavlov’s dog to shame. If you are an investor, you’re excited beyond belief.
Its clear that many companies, under the forced work-from-home situation, have realized the benefits of more employees working from home. Minimal loss of productivity, saving of commute time, cost of operations of maintaining a brick-and-mortar office, and much more. Employees are realizing that this work-from-home thing could actually work. Employees are more relaxed and more productive. They get to spend more time with their family. It’s the best of both worlds. Companies and executives who were on the fence about this are re-thinking their position. May be start a home-office allowance from the savings elsewhere.
Automotive: People will drive less so cars will last longer and the next purchase will be delayed more. People may buy a slightly more expensive car but they won’t switch cars every 2 years. Recreational vehicles may become more popular. Some segments like millennials may not even buy a car and use ride share services instead. This is already happening in Silicon Valley and other popular cities.
Business Air Travel: Although you can never replace a proper hand-shake and the human-to-human connection when it comes to business deals, I suspect more lower-level business deals will be closed via web conferencing. I better pick up my green screen for my virtual Zoom background.
Oil and Gas: If we drive less we fill up our cars less. This is a perfect setup for eventually saying goodbye to major oil and gas automotive play and prepare for a more rapid widespread of alternative fuel powered cars.
Grocery and food services: I can’t imagine ever stepping into a grocery store or going to pick up Chinese food. Between Walmart, Amazon, Costco, and DoorDash, I am all set.
Experience Purchase: I am not leaving my house for the essentials. I am leaving my house for experience. The more unique and fun the experience a business offers the more growth opportunity it has.
Home Space: A 4-bedroom house for a family of four is no longer enough. People who work from home now need one whole bedroom to be dedicated to the home office. Does that mean the future homes are going to be bigger? More rooms? We call out office as a separate thing like bedrooms and bathrooms? We will get a lot more use out of our kitchen and therefore see a lot more technology in there.
Internet Service: This pandemic is also stress testing our internet service at home. The provider that is going to deliver faster, more secure, and more reliable service is going to win. We may be willing to pay a little more for that. The money I save by not driving to work every day, I can put some of that towards my Internet service and beef up my home office technology.
Home Internet and Information Security: I won’t be surprised to see that home-based firewalls and tighter security protocols become mainstream. Today our personal information is totally exposed. I feel that companies who’s employees work from home will be the catalyst for more robust VPN and firewall technology at home.
Software: This is a personal favorite of mine and the most challenging. I feel that there won’t be much room for the mediocre product. As late Steve Jobs used to say, “its either insanely great or its shit.” There will only be room for the insanely great. Sure, the not-so-great products will coast along with mediocre sales and profits but runaway success will be awarded to those who are serious about innovation, building new things (Thanks Marc Andreessen), and are meticulous about customer experience. In a commoditized market where we have so many choices, there IS NO customer loyalty and brand advocacy, especially when the products and services and mediocre. Therefore I think building blocks such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Machine Learning, Data Science, Neural Networks, Mobile devices, IoT and IIoT, and Speech Technology are going to become the core ingredients of the software of the future. The likes of Apple, with their tight integration of software and hardware are going to prevail.
Shift from Digital-First to Digital-Only: The smart phone war is over. Its table stakes now. The successful solutions will have seamlessly integrated technologies working together to deliver a very smooth and amazing user experience. No more manual anything. If I can’t sign a document electronically, I am not doing business with you. If I can’t close a mortgage virtually within 3 hour, I am finding some other lender who can do that. I want my grocery list to prepare itself, I want my car to drive me, I want my computer to summarize my news for me, I want my drivers license to renew itself, I even want my speeding ticket automatically deducted out of my checking account with a click of a button. I’d be complaining to my self-driving car manufacturer to find out why my car was speeding but I would expect a refund and a correcting software update within minutes. The bookshelves won’t be holding books anymore (8 Industries That Will Be Extinct By 2025) and my housekeeper will be Robin Williams (Bicentennial Man). And finally the only reason I will be stepping into a classroom is because there is a happy hour after the class. The smart cities, which is a whole topic that requires a separate treatment is a part of this digital transformation.
I must however suggest that drones and robots don’t replace humans but rather augment the workforce and make us more efficient and smarter. I’d trust a human being delivery person more than I will ever trust a drone with a camera. That’s just creepy. I don’t think the robots will take over the humanity. I do fear that humanity will turn into robots and I don’t mean human body parts replaced with robotic components. Here, I am reminded of a still banned booked called Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.
These ideas are purely speculative, of course but they are not far-fetched. You can see traces of many of these changes already such as digital drivers licenses. Do you feel there are industries or ideas that belong in this list? If you do, please send me a note.