All eyes are on remote work. A field that was growing slowly but surely within a small group of products and advocates pre-pandemic, is now a full fledged industry.
Everywhere we look it seems there’s a new remote solution hitting the market, and a slew of investors who have finally seen the light. “A few of us knew that remote work was the future, none of us could have predicted how fast it would all play out, but we knew it was on the horizon”, says Joe Blair, Principal at Cota Capital and Founder of Distributed Valley’s Remote Startup Expo. Investor at Remote First Capital, Andreas Klinger says, “The most important change that happened in the last months was the shift in investor attitude towards non-bay area companies. Top-tier Sand Hill Road investors now started taking Zoom calls from founders who are not based in one of their few neighborhoods around them, programs like Y Combinator and On Deck started doing remote cohorts. This is a unique change that basically allowed leveling the playing field for international founders, and I’m excited for it.”
Those of us who have been pioneers of the industry, advocating for solutions and sustainable adoption for years pre-pandemic, are glad to see so much innovation in the space, but in this new gold rush, there are many startups who will fail due to quick pivots and strokes of opportunism. Partner at Jack Spades Startup Studio, Rustin Coburn, shares their focus on human centered solutions, “While we move quickly to get a product to market, we take a longer term approach to the problems we want to solve. We are not interested in another video conferencing tool, project management platform, or home exercise product. Instead, we are focused on products that improve our unique human skills, such as; leadership, communication, behavior change, and adaptability. I think more entrepreneurs and venture builders need to be focused on how we solve these underlying human problems.”
So what are the problems that need to be solved? Which types of products are catching the eye of eager investors as they solve the problems affecting human experience in a digital world? Here are three remote-product startups that have recently made impressive funding announcements because they are reimagining the way we work and easing the painpoints in our new work-from-home world. If their backing is any indication of growth potential, these are three categories where we can expect to see significant innovation next year.
Type 1: Consolidated Project Management and Team Collaboration
The problem: Project management tools are dime a dozen these days. There are some good options out there, but many of them fail to connect the projects and tasks to the big picture, leaving out the reason we do the work anyway – the company, team and personal goals that drive us to succeed, grow, and live a balanced life. When visibility is limited for teams, the result is siloed people, information, and projects. What’s more, companies try to solve these foundational problems in access to people and information by just adding another tool, making for a complex tool stack that varies from team to team, leaving teams without an intuitive system to navigate work.
The solution: With a powerful digital work hub that brings all of your tools under one easy to navigate roof, investors saw that Qatalog was able to thoughtfully breaking down communication and tool silos, which was reflected in their $15 million series A round. Wise supporters know that putting people at the center, helping workers wherever they are to navigate their digital workplace with ease, context, and automation is critical to the future of remote work. Qatalog Founder, Tariq Rauf encourages companies to carefully consider their tools, “In order to break through these information silos, companies need to rethink the interplay between their tools. So the question becomes less what new functionality we need, and more how can our existing investments join together to foster new levels of collaboration and productivity.”
Type 2: International Employee Payroll Solutions
The problem: the globalization of work presents unique challenges for remote employers in a complex system of employment and taxation laws that vary country to country and state to state. Failing to get employment contracts or compensation correct, puts companies and employees at a huge risk. What’s worse, in many cases, regulations don’t exist yet, so there isn’t a source of truth that we can all just study up on. Being compliant regardless of where your employees choose to work practically requires a law degree and a full time review of developing taxation and labor laws and regulations at a state, national, and global level. And that’s just to get someone hired and paid legally.
The solution: Heavy lifting and advanced degrees specifically for virtual teams are being pioneered by Remote, who recently announced a $35 million Series A for their extensive Global Employer of Record solution, encompassing a global network of on-the-ground labor attorneys, HR specialists, and payroll providers who bring it all together so you can hire, onboard, and pay legally, with ease. Due to extensive experience as a remote manager himself, Founder, Job Van Der Voort, warns investors and founders of the changing industry of people operations teams, “Everyone has to understand that we’re in the baby years of remote work. We don’t know yet how we’ll work in the future. It’ll be different from what we’re doing today.”
Type 3: Virtual Events
The problem: In a Zoom-fatigued society, we all know the pain of stale virtual events, but alternatively, in-person events and conferences can be cost-prohibitive, are intensive to plan, and cater to people who have the time, money, and flexibility to travel, leaving out the opportunity to bring together more diverse audiences and speakers. These issues were true in a pre-pandemic world, and will continue to be true when it’s safe for crowds to gather again and events begin to adapt to a hybrid model, much like the majority of the workforce will do with a goal of blending the best of both worlds into a richer experience.
The solution: Proof that our society is hungry for a robust all-in-one event platform that translates the in-person event experience online that will optimize for human connection for groups of all sizes, regardless of location, Hopin was just awarded a whopping $125 million Series A for future growth and development. Head of Marketing, Dave Schools, credits the tool’s success to their “Focus on the whole experience, built to replicate the in-person event experience, putting everything together in one seamless platform.”
There’s no doubt that the remote industry is here to stay. “This is clearly a future-proof sector that will see many more unicorns to come”, says Joe Blair. Jake Hurwitz, Partner at Jack Spades Startup Studio sees an opportunity for investors to better leverage location-irrelevance, “Having a strong brand presence and being the “nucleus” of a community is key for having optimal deal flow. Traditionally, “community” has been defined by geography, like Boulder Startup Community, New York Startup Community, Sand Hill Road. Now, communities are based on ideology.” The players who are investing and building to sustainably streamline our lives and enhance human connectedness in an increasingly digital world will continue to be indispensable. Andreas Klinger says, “I honestly think that remote teams are the future of hypergrowth. The founder of Hopin famously said ‘I don’t think we’d have been able to grow this fast without remote.’ Once VCs are used to this ability of quick hiring of people and acqui-hiring of companies, this will become the new norm towards exits and initial public offerings.”
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