Founder's Guide
14 min read

5 Startup Trends to Watch in 2020

Share this article!
TwitterLinkedInFacebookPocketBufferEmail

In a previous post, we shared that our Fundraise Concierge team has been fortunate to work, interact, and learn from more than a thousand startups in 2019 and we’re excited to interact with even more in 2020. As GM, I speak to at least a hundred different startups monthly. From those conversations, we’ve summarized the 5 key startup trends from 2019. More importantly, we’ve also observed 5 startup trends that are worth keeping an eye on in 2020.

1. More startups are building tools for flexible and distributed workforces

The growth of the gig economy, digital platform economy, and freelancing have increased the variety of options in today’s job market; and 2020 will continue that shift towards more flexible and distributed roles.

An estimated 56M Americans, roughly 35% of U.S. workers, freelanced in 2019 and that number is expected to grow in 2020 (Forbes). Popular freelance platforms like UpWork, Toptal, UpStack, and Fiverr already cater to high-demand tech roles but several startups that specifically target the software development space saw continued growth in 2019:

  • Gigster: build dynamic teams of global talent to create industry-changing custom software
  • Crowdbotics: the fastest way to build business-ready apps, features, integrations and more
  • Hatch Apps: global enterprises cut software development costs and get to market faster
  • Turtle AI: messaging app with everything you need for remote software development, including the most coveted software developers in the world
  • CodeMentor: find a developer for live mentorship & freelance projects
  • Koder: a new way for startups to build and scale their software engineering departments using the gig economy

More platforms are being created to extend beyond tech roles; including hospitality, food and beverage (Qwick, Pared, Instawork), manufacturing and factory workers (FactoryFix), and even clinical work (DirectShifts). Global companies also continued to connect their workforce to these new opportunities, with startups like Kalibrr (Philippines), Alana (Latin America), and Vahan (India).

As more “solopreneurs” build their brand and earn a living from freelancing and the gig economy, we’re seeing enterprise tools dedicated to their continued success. Companies like PocketSuite (Mobile app for solopreneurs to manage their clients, payments, and business) and Honeybook (Empowering the creative economy to rise together) are two great examples.

Along with these tools, the idea of remote and distributed teams working together has also led to new communication and collaboration tools like Tandem, Taskade, and Loom. Tandem was one of the most sought after companies to graduate from Y Combinator’s S19 batch and Rajiv Ayyangar (CEO of Tandem) said during his pitch, “Every company is a remote company. You have salespeople in the field, [companies with] multiple offices, people working from home. Tandem isn’t just building the future of remote work, it’s building the future of work.” As our workforces become more distributed, the range of companies and teams that remote tools provide value for will only expand.

By Founder For Founder startups (BFFFs) are also focused on providing services to the distributed workforce:

  • SafetyWing: travel medical insurance for digital nomads
  • Starship HSA: health savings accounts for gig economy workers
  • Zippi: helps gig economy workers get loans in Brazil
  • Stoovo: mobile application that helps users find more gigs and manage finances
  • Jones Insurance: provides contractors with affordable liability insurance
  • AppAcademy: first coding school to base the student’s tuition on the first year’s salary after graduation
  • MasterClass, Udemy, and Learn Monthly: education platforms for this new workforce to grow their skill sets

2. Creators/influencers are getting more control over monetization

In February 2019, a study showed that being a Social Media Influencer was one of the most popular career options among British children, with 17% of participants 11-16 years old selecting the job as their desired occupation. Following closely behind at 14% was Youtuber (Telemedia). By November 2019, 86% of young Americans said that they, too, wanted to become a social media influencer (CBS News). And, can you blame them? When you see 8-year-olds making $22 million a year on YouTube by opening up toys, it doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see the appeal (Fast Company). That’s why it’s no surprise that we’re seeing social media influencers and creators capture the attention of new and existing startups.

Enterprise SaaS companies have been built to automate mundane tasks and connect creators/influencers with brands to better monetize via influencer marketing. Companies like ChannelMeter provide a platform for removing the headaches of managing over 2,000+ contracts per influencer and processing mass payments that could take 40 hours/month to complete. At the same time, they connect the 370K+ creators on their platform with brands seeking the right social media influencers. Though ChannelMeter isn’t the only company making these connections. Several other startups want to provide tools to help creators/influencers with monetizing via marketing, including:

  • Aspire IQ: leading influencer marketing platform for producing branded creative at scale
  • Octoly: reach a community of 10,000+ influencers with over 1 billion collective subscribers
  • Sideqik: integrated influencer marketing that scales
  • #Paid: quickly build, launch, and scale content and media produced by creators
  • BloomJoy: turnkey platform for monetizing your brand
  • Viddyad: makes it easier for creators to create, share, and publish video ads online

Companies are also looking to help creators/influencers sell products, services, and experiences as well. BasicSpace is an example of this and Founder/CEO Jesse Lee believes that this creates a win-win dynamic: “The next time Nike wants Diplo to promote a new shoe, instead of paying him $25,000 to post about it a few times on Instagram, the company can, in theory, send 500 pairs to BasicSpace for Diplo to sell through his page. He can make 50% of the retail value of the shoe,” (Bloomberg Business). Kathy Kuo, founder/CEO of DesignBar, believes in a similar future but applying influential designers to the sales of furniture and interior design products. And Justin Sacks, founder/CEO of Chrono.gg, sees something similar with influential Twitch gamers selling games via their newly launched Creator Stores.

More startups are focusing on giving the power back to the content creators themselves. Platforms like Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, Snap, Instagram, and Facebook currently allow ordinary users to become influencers but, once a fan base has been established, many influencers want more control over the interactions they have with their fan base. That’s why we’re seeing startups like Beacon AI (Get paid for short video interactions with your community) and Takko App (The video app that pays) attracting strong interest. Takko Founder/CEO David Choi knows this all too well, as a Youtube influencer with ~1M subscribers, and he sees 2020 as the year that creators and influencers assert their power to regain control over their audiences.

3. Fintech-as-a-Service adoption is ushering a boom of applications

Fintech-as-a-Service is the bridge between banking processes and consumer applications. Roy Ng, Founder/CEO of Bond Financial Technologies describes this in a post as a, “layer for technology companies to plug-in to the backend of banks, removing the friction of them trying to do this on their own,” like “Twilio for banking,” as Michael Gilroy of Canaan Partners puts it.

According to the World Retail Banking Report (WRBR), 78.3% of banks are counting on APIs to help them improve the customer experience. And in Visa’s recent announcement to shareholders of its Plaid acquisition, they mention that fintech adoption is growing at a 43% compound rate with over $120 billion in additional capital going into this space over the last 5 years. Simplifying the fintech layer to allow more apps to be built can lead to amazing product innovation, as we saw when Mint originally used the Yodlee platform to create an intuitive and simple financial management tool.

Recently, we’ve seen more FinTech API services that connect to banks and data:

  • Bond Financial Technologies: accelerate the pace of financial innovation and access to capital through AI-powered infrastructure ($10M raised, Yahoo Finance)
  • Envestnet Yodlee: financial innovation through data aggregation
  • Plaid: enables applications to connect with user’s bank accounts (recently acquired by Visa for $5.3B, TechCrunch)
  • Xignite: back-end data integration providing accurate historical financials, fundamentals, earnings, and more across 170 global exchanges
  • Tink: best way to connect to banks across Europe and quickly build smart, personalized, and delightful financial services
  • Finicity: platform that enables developers to securely and easily integrate customer financial data into their apps
  • BancBox: lets non-financial institutions collect, store, and send money in a simple, secure, and compliant manner
  • Pinch Technologies: banking and financial data provider
  • Go Cardless: allows any business or individual to tap into the direct debit network and take debit payments
  • Currency Cloud: provides access to a global banking environment that allows for services that move money internationally
  • Yapily: offers an open banking based API platform to enable financial services providers to connect to banks (raised $5.4M in May 2019, TechCrunch)

There are also plenty of Fintech-as-a-Service companies that focus on payment processing, billing, and movement of money:

  • Square: merchants can use Connect API to retrieve activity reports for processed payments, refunds, and deposits
  • Stripe: lets developers integrate payments within their website or apps and supports more than 130 currencies
  • Braintree: provides an integrated way to start accepting payments
  • CardConnect: secure acceptance of a wide range of credit, debit, and alternative payments
  • Dwolla: interface to integrate the Dwolla payment platform into a software application
  • Marqeta: open issuer processing payments API
  • Adyen: offers businesses an outsourced payment solution
  • Card.io: offers an SDK for developers and coders to input credit card information
  • CardFlight: permits app developers to easily take in-person payments within their own iOS and Android apps
  • Fortumo: lets app and game developers monetize their users through mobile operator billing
  • Judo Payments: secure in-app payments to leading companies globally
  • Zuora: launch and manage your subscription-based services
  • Bitpay: accept bitcoin for online payments anywhere
  • Ripple: instantly move money to all corners of the world

An interesting new growth area for payments is mobile payments. Chuck Huang, Founder/CEO of CITCON provides a gateway for merchants to integrate Alipay, WeChat Pay, and mobile wallets. With over one billion Chinese consumers already using mobile wallets and adoption growing in the US (NY subway started accepting mobile payments in May 2019, CNN), this seems to be an area to keep an eye on. Rehive is another startup seeking to address mobile wallets/payments with blockchain technology.

Both fraud detection/protection and identity management were areas that received a lot of attention in 2019.

  • Bolt began with a focus on simplifying the checkout experience for eCommerce websites and has now branched out to fraud and payments (raised $68M in July, VentureBeat)
  • Civic is giving businesses & individuals the tools to control and protect identities
  • Ping Identity: identity security done right
  • Bouncer wants to add security and fraud detection while reducing churn
  • TRM Labs built a cryptocurrency compliance and risk management platform
  • Alloy wants to be your complete identity operating system
  • BloomCredit wants to leverage your customers’ credit data to deliver insights through a developer-friendly API
  • Human API wants to use the consumer health data for insurance underwriting

Providing a cleaner and simpler solution to the growing financial needs of millennials has also been a huge opportunity. Robinhood in investing (commission-free investing), Acorns for saving (invest your spare change), and Affirm for loans (financial lender of installment loans for consumers at the point of sale) are just a few well-known success stories and more are on the way.

  • Robo-investing has been simplified with Betterment and Wealthfront
  • Bank Novo wants to provide you smarter business banking solutions
  • Chime Bank quadrupled its valuation to $5.8B in early December 2019 (CNBC) by providing a new breed of branchless banking offering no-fee accounts, free overdrafts, and early direct deposits on paychecks for consumers
  • BankJoy is addressing this slightly differently by offering the flagship banking experience for regional banks
  • BillTrim wants to make it easier for you to reduce your monthly bills
  • Brigit and HoneyBee want to provide you with short-term loans when you need it
  • Sakura Credit wants to provide your small business with short-term loans
  • Brex is the smartest corporate card in the room
  • Plastiq wants to maximize your cash on hand by putting any expense on your credit card
  • GradJoy is managing your student loans, helping you save money and be debt-free faster
  • ScholarMe wants to fund your entire college education with one website
  • Blair created student financing via income share agreements

In some cases, the simplest option is to take what already works and apply it to an international market. At Y Combinator’s latest S19 Demo Day, this was abundantly clear as 4 startups that highlighted this point presented on stage:

  • GreenTiger (Robinhood for India)
  • TradeID (Robinhood for Indonesia)
  • PayMongo (Stripe for the Philippines)
  • Tranqui Finanzas (SoFi for Latin America)

Providing foundational FinTech capabilities internationally has been a trend for some time now. In Africa, the FinTech industry is not only growing but thriving—raising over $320M and growing 60% in two years (Forbes). This is largely due to hot startups like:

  • Aella Credit: short term loans for individuals and businesses
  • Flutterwave: complete payment solution to thrive in the global economy
  • Paystack: modern online and offline payments for Africa
  • Branch: mobile financial services across emerging markets to spur human potential
  • Bitpesa: re-defining how businesses make payments to and from sub-Saharan Africa
  • Numida: TrackApp provides small businesses with access to the funds they need at the competitive rates they can afford
  • Cellulant: digital payments service provider
  • Paga: Nigerian eWallet that allows merchants to collect payment from shoppers who don’t have bank accounts
  • Yoco: Square for South Africa
  • Zoona: mobile technology company developing money transfers, electronic voucher payments, and agent payments
  • Lendable: growth debt for non-banking lenders
  • Lidya: online lending platform for Nigeria-based SMEs and individuals
  • PiggyVest: the better way to save and invest
  • Jumo: full technology stack for building and running financial services

In India, we’ve seen startups like:

  • LendingKart: small business loans made easy
  • PaySense: get a personal loan easily and quickly
  • Credy: mobile app based credit line for India
  • RazorPay: accept payments from customers and automate payouts
  • FamPay: payment app for families in India
  • ZestMoney: Affirm for India
  • InCred: non-banking finance company that provides loans
  • Capital Float: finance for all your business needs

In Latin America:

  • Apurata: small loans for the middle class
  • Flux: payment network for mobile wallets
  • Valiu: sending money to Venezuela without banks

And for the rest of the world, Hover wants to provide Plaid’s functionality and Tua Financial (a Canadian-based startup) wants to offer Affirm’s functionality to more verticals.

4. The future of food is doubling down on child, personal, and environmental health

Health and wellness got a boost in 2019 with startups finding new ways to bring healthier food and self-care products to wider audiences. A child’s diet during the first 1,000 days of their life can have lasting impacts on their long-term development. So, you can imagine the reaction when CNN released a report finding that 95% of baby food contains toxic metals. Startups tackling the $76 billion global baby food market include:

  • Yumi: baby food reimagined (recently raised an additional $8M in strategic funding, TechCrunch)
  • Once Upon a Farm: organic, cold-pressed baby food for all stages
  • NurturMe: organic baby food and all natural toddler snacks
  • RaisedReal: real food for your baby
  • Sprout Organic Foods: a meal is more than nourishment
  • Plum organics: baby food made with organic ingredients

We also saw more of a focus on health and wellness for adults with startups like:

  • Thryve Inside: personalized probiotics targeted for your gut health
  • HVMN: health via modern nutrition
  • Ample Meal: real-food nutrition made for real life
  • FatSnax: world’s best keto and low-carb snacks
  • Boost Biomes: engineering microbiomes for a sustainable future
  • Pepper: an API helping health, food, insurance, and tech companies build better user experiences
  • Remrise: personalized sleep formulas using herbal alternatives (emerged from stealth with $8.2M in funding, Forbes)

Undoubtedly, the most interesting future of food trend is the boom of plant-based foods, with a major focus on not just personal health benefits but also those to the environment.

  • Beyond Meat went beyond all expectations when it soared 163% in the best performing public offering by a major US company since 2000 (Marketwatch)
  • Impossible Foods raised additional venture capital (Crunchbase)
  • JUST, Inc and their JUST Egg ramped up production to roll out to 5,100+ stores and sold the equivalent of 10M eggs to date (outselling 29/60 egg SKUs at a top 3 retailer nationwide)
  • THIS, a meat alternative startup which makes pea and soy-based products secured £4.7M in a funding round led by London based fund Backed (Standard)
  • Hungry Planet provides premium plant-based meats
  • Spero is a revolutionary new type of cheese
  • Hooray Foods offers up a plant-based bacon
  • Shiru is leveraging computational design to create enhanced proteins that feed the world sustainably
  • Prime Roots offers a super protein which is an all-natural whole food source of protein that they grow using the age-old process of fermentation
  • Emergy Foods is a whole muscle, plant-based meat that is better for you and the planet
  • Ecovative Design offers up alternative meat products, biodegradable packaging materials, and animal free leather
  • Quorn is a delicious, nutritious protein source
  • Sustainable Bioproducts is building the future of food with nature’s technology
  • Vitro Labs is the world’s oldest material made new
  • BlueNalu wants to rethink seafood
  • Finless Foods offers up sustainable seafood without the catch
  • Fork & Goode has developed a new approach to growing food, creating pure animal proteins and fats that are clean, traceable, and delicious
  • Memphis meats is growing sustainable cultured cell-based meat

Even pet food has its own plant-based option in Wild Earth, a technology startup that developed clean protein dog food and was featured on Shark Tank. It will be interesting to see what 2020 has in store for what we eat and its impact on our health and the health of the planet.

5. Autonomous vehicles are still years away, so mobility is the near term focus

The race is on for the first fully autonomous vehicle and 2019 saw all the major players working hard to make this a reality. What has become clear, though, is that we are still a few years away from full commercial deployment. Elon Musk promised that Teslas will be capable of self-driving by the end of 2019 and self-driving robo-taxis will be on the road in 2020. He also said, “if you fast forward a year, maybe a year three months, we’ll have over a million robo-taxis on the road.” It’s clear that those aggressive timelines won’t be hit and my guess is that they won’t be hit in 2020 either. However, we’ll be carefully watching how startups in this space make autonomous vehicles a reality.

Other forces besides time that are working against startups in this industry are the additional regulatory and technical challenges that require companies to be nimble and well-capitalized.

  • Tesla acquired DeepScale, a computer vision startup that could help it develop fully driverless vehicles (CNBC)
  • GM Cruise raised another $1.15B in new equity at a post-money valuation of $19B from T.Rowe Price Associates, Honda, SoftBank Vision Fund, and GM to push for a commercial self-driving vehicle service (TechCrunch) but had to delay its launch indefinitely
  • VW Autonomy (VWAT) plans to bring robot taxis and cargo vans to 3 continents by 2025 and invested $2.6B in Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle software startup that Ford has also invested in (The Verge)
  • Alphabet’s Waymo launched its autonomous taxi service to a limited audience in Arizona in 2018 and is still the only self-driving company carrying paying customers on public roads (Fortune)
  • Didi Chuxing also announced that the local government in Shanghai awarded them a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads and they plan to expand beyond that district starting in 2021 (Verge)
  • Zoox raised a $200M Series C round to build its own self-driving car and says that it will launch a robot taxi service in Las Vegas using Toyota SUVs to test its self driving hardware and software (Axios)
  • Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has largely kept quiet on its self driving car program but invested $500M in a joint self-driving project with Uber last year. In October 2019, they mentioned that they will be conducting a limited ride-hailing pilot in downtown Tokyo that will coincide with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo with its fleet of Level-4 automated vehicles (Verge)
  • Hyundai and Aptiv, an autonomous driving technology company, formed a joint venture to develop Level 4 & 5 production ready self-driving systems for commercialization by 2022. Hyundai will provide $1.6B in cash (TechCrunch). They also partnered with AV startup Pony.ai and ride-hailing service Via to provide a free taxi service that will be launching in Irvine, California (Verge)
  • Apple showed that they are still interested in their own autonomous vehicle (Project Titan) by acqui-hiring Drive.ai in June (VentureBeat)
  • Ford is looking to launch its autonomous vehicles in Austin, Texas in 2021 but joins the other major automakers in saying that fully self-driving cars won’t arrive as soon as some had forecasted (Wired)
  • And Fiat Chrysler is partnering up with autonomous vehicle startup, AutoX (backed by Alibaba) to roll out a fleet of robo-taxis for China and other countries in Asia (TechCrunch)

Startups without the deeper pockets of a major automaker have focused on tackling other elements of autonomous driving or utilizing autonomous capabilities for other sectors:

  • Phantom.ai developed key solutions for autonomous vehicles but found that their flexible technology platform can actually be deployed in existing L1 and L2 vehicles that are on the road today
  • Kiwi Bot and Robby Technologies are two companies seeking to take autonomous technology and applying it to last-mile delivery
  • Embark, Ike, Kodiak Robotics, Tu Simple, and Starsky Robotics are startups working to commercialize autonomous truck systems
  • Maidbot wants to provide safe and cost-efficient automated solutions to the hospitality industry
  • Enway is seeking to deploy autonomous industrial sweepers

Since autonomous vehicles are still a few years away, mobility is still the area of more immediate traction. Ford has also been trying to make a name for itself within the mobility space; having invested in ride-sharing, bike-sharing, and even scooter-sharing. They acquired scooter startup Spin for a reported $100M last year (Ford). Scooters remain a prominent part of the mobility ecosystem as major players sought consolidation or received additional funding. The 2020 focus for all these players will be on unit economics and continued growth:

  • Bird acquired Scoot in June 2019 (TechCrunch)
  • Lime raised $310M earlier in the year and was reportedly seeking another $500M in funding (Silicon Angle)
  • Bird raised $275M in new funding in October (Forbes)
  • Wind Mobility raised an additional $50M as well as unveiled a new e-Scooter hardware specifically designed for mobility (TechCrunch)

A few startups are also finding ways to address the mobility ecosystem in unique ways including Rally which created a bus ridesharing platform for on-demand routes and FleetPanda which helps mobility startups and on-demand companies with a fleet management platform for refueling, maintaining, and washing their fleet of vehicles.

To summarize the topmost trends we’ll be following closely this year; the future of work platforms have extended beyond traditional technology jobs and we’ve seen new enterprise tools, communication and collaboration tools, and BFFFs (By Founders For Founder startups) catering to this growing workforce. Several startups are working to reduce the time creators & influencers spend on mundane tasks and increasing their autonomy over monetization. With pioneers in the FinTech space having laid the foundation for FinTech-as-a-Service, we’re seeing more APIs for developers, better fraud detection/protection and identity management, and startups capitalizing on millennials and international markets. The future of food space is continuing to innovate and focus more heavily on the environment. Autonomous vehicles are still not an immediate opportunity due to regulatory and technological barriers, so we’re seeing more concrete traction in the mobility space.

These are the five trends we see as gaining the most ground, having the widest implications, and being important to follow throughout 2020. What trends will you be keeping an eye on in the year ahead?

Share this article!
TwitterLinkedInFacebookPocketBufferEmail