11 Consumer Tech Investment Trends in 2014

At a high level, I believe that much of consumer tech trend-spotting and prognostication revolves around consumer / behavioral psychology.

There is no one “right” way to think about consumer technology trends and what’s next, but my thought process is as follows: First, discover fundamental psychological insights about what our product direction and use shows us. Then contemplate about you can invest either 1) in direction of this trend (advancing the current secular momentum) or 2) in reaction to it, as most secular trends have an accidental counter impact that must be addressed (and humans naturally demand balance in the other direction). For instance, a fundamental insight is that we are living an increasingly digital life, and each day man and machine grow more intertwined.

As such, investment opportunities can be 1) to further this increasingly digital existence, such as by creating a discreet non-wrist wearable, potentially along the ear that measures your body vital stats or 2) in rejection of this trend, noticing that people crave balance, and therefore creating more music festivals, races, or guided outdoor tours that satisfy our need to be a whole person who leads a physical life (music festivals and races are both booming industries).

And with this short context on my trend-spotting and extrapolation framework in mind, I give you a list of consumer technology investment trends in 2014!

2014 Investment Trends

1) anonymity — apps that enable people to maintain privacy in their lives while still living fully, honestly, and taking risks (secret, snapchat, etc). This is the “other side of the coin” for big data — the sudden realization that the mic is on and we want privacy.

2) experiencing the physical world — as people are forced to spend more time indoors and at computers, there has been a secular movement to go out and experience life. Gym memberships surging, exercise trends growing and changing, introduction of various races like toughmudder, and new music festivals.

3) complexity management — as info grows exponentially and hours in the day doesnt change, many tools for complexity management are being introduced. These fall into different startup genres such as productivity apps, file sharing, and even big data

4) singularity of human + computer — as ray kurzweil and others have long forecasted, humans and technology are merging. As of now, this is manifesting through “internet of things”, especially wearables that go on humans. As Mark Zuckerberg recently noted at Stanford, tech used to be around us, now its on us, and eventually will be in us

5) outsourcing of tasks — while this initially meant outsourcing from humans in developed countries to developing ones (eg, call centers), this now is evolving to outsourcing human tasks to robots, such as drones to protect us and self-driven cars to transport us. Beyond manual tasks, we are even outsourcing knowledge economy jobs to algorithms, as evidenced by wealthfront putting asset managers out of business

6) sharing and on-demand economy — we are sharing our houses (airbnb), cars (uber), and providing on-demand goods such as groceries (instacart), prepared food (door dash), and package pickup (shyp). This trend is more 2010-2013 than 2014, but we will continue to see innovation

7) brevity and concise comprehension are king — our attention spans are shrinking and our ability to be distracted is increasing. Short news sites are thriving (Twitter), and publications with long articles are struggling. Expect books to get shorter.

8) accountability through user ratings — why do uber riders show up on time and why are uber drivers so friendly? Transparency makes customer service providers accountable, and user ratings enable this transformation. That is uber’s bigest perk, and a key reason as to why taxis are going out of business (not just lower cost, that was a perk that came later with scale). Increasingly, our tech is enabling this increased accountability, and this trend that Yelp! galvanized a while back is just getting going (hint on what’s next: more individual accountability, not just organizational)

9) social capital + the desire to share — I wont take photos for me. But for you? Yes, I will. People crave connection and admiration, and increased visibility through photos is enabling this. Most of us never took many photos before other people could see them so freely.

10) humanizing digital communication — we want the efficiency of technology, but want to communicate more authentically as people. fewer text messages, more pictures, videos, and video chats. imoji, a personalized emoticon app, just released to fanfare due to its ability to personalize a “smile”.

11) we are keeping score — we want to count our footsteps on our wearable, and see how many “Likes” our photo got. Companies are increasingly creating internal scoreboards to measure your stats in a friendly way against coworkers (see the company Ambition in the latest YC class of startups). Remember when you were 5, and your mom would “time” you to see how fast you could get her groceries? Some things never change 🙂


How you can find happiness (with or without religion)

The big question: Why are religious folks, on average, happier than those without religion? Good news for non-believers — Drawing from research, I assert that the answer lies in something that each of us can achieve, with or without religious leanings.

First, the facts on religion + happiness: Several studies by Gallup, Pew, and others have shown a strong positive correlation between religion and happiness (read all about the various studies here). This research conforms to my own experiences, as I have found many (but not all) of the most fulfilled and positive individuals in my own life to be spiritually-committed.

What drives happiness, anyways? There are many different factors that are linked to happiness. Carl Jung has a list of 5 attributes, Daniel Pink has a 10 step list, and other theories are abound. However, it is the field of positive psychology that has been gaining significant credibility around a simple concept: gratitude drives happiness. This is a key finding —  happiness does not drive gratitude, but instead the other way around.

The emotional consequence of religion: Religion typically provides a framework that does many things, ranging from providing purpose for one’s existence to immorality through an afterlife. And what is a primary emotional symptom of these benefits? Immense gratitude for these gifts — gratitude which often takes the form of daily prayer for religious individuals.

A structural solution for non-believers: In short, embed gratitude into your own life. Make your own “daily prayer” by thinking of 5 things you are grateful for while you are walking to work or class, and capture the positivity that comes with this simple act.

That’s it? No doubt — there are some other important happiness-inducing attributes of religion beyond gratitude. There is a community of supporters that can come from a church group, and mitigated anxiety during hard times from having a clear personal code of conduct and raison d’etre. However, community can be built outside of religious groups, and one can create a meaningful personal code of conduct without it being drawn directly from any one religious text. As such, I believe the biggest missing piece for many purpose-driven + community-oriented non-believers is generally gratitude, and that is wonderful news, as it can be fixed.

What am I grateful for today? Today, as I walked from my summer rental in Cambridge to a Starbucks in Davis Square, I created my daily list. I am grateful for (in no particular order) 1) being alive right now (billions of humans can no longer say the same), 2) my loving family, 3) an incredible, kind hearted, and eclectic group of friends, 4) the ability to exercise, and 5) the opportunity to study at a great school.

What are you grateful for? I’d love to hear it.