What Listening To 124 Startup Pitches In Two Days Taught Me About What’s Next In Tech
Twice a year, a new cohort of startups takes the stage at Y Combinator for Demo Day. The presentations follow the same cadence: a two-minute pitch on why their startup will be the next billion-dollar business.
It’s not a total fantasy that some of the companies could end up as the next Facebook or Amazon—or at least as the next Airbnb, Dropbox and Twitch. Those three multi-billion-dollar startups all got schooled at Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s premier startup accelerator.
It’s impossible to tell which company will be the next billion-dollar startup from the two-minute rapid fire pitches alone, but after sitting in the audience for two days as 124 companies pitched their vision of the future, here’s what I did learn about what’s next in the tech startup world.
Every company will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to
make it smarter.
Artificial intelligence is the new mobile and will be a part of every startup going forward. Right now though, AI is a competitive advantage and changing how businesses work. For example, Standard Cognition wants to use AI to help grocery stores catch up to Amazon’s vision of the grocery store of the future. Its software can identify what a shopper is holding in their hand—down to distinguishing between a bag of Cheetos vs. a bag of Doritos—and automatically charge them from what they take off the shelves. Other companies are trying to apply AI to everything from ranking applicants by culture fit to classifying skin conditions.
Robots are coming for your jobs.
The increase in automation means a lot of repetitive work will be taken over by machines or algorithms. Modular Science already has robots out in the field in Petaluma, Calif., picking vegetables. An autonomous flying plane from Pyka Robotics is leaving soon for New Zealand to do crop dusting over farms.
Tech isn’t just for the western world - and developing markets aren’t just waiting for U.S. businesses to expand.
Take Helium Health, for example. The startup wants to bring digital health-records to Africa, starting at the high-end private practices with doctors trained in the West and comfortable with the systems, before making it commonplace in African hospitals. Other startups are trying to take successful business models like ondemand food delivery and apply it in other countries with a local twist.
Hiring is still a headache.
No matter the job type or the location, startups are trying to make it easier. For example, Fastpad is an applicant tracking system tailored for India. Other companies, like Gustav
and 10by10, want to change how businesses, staffing agencies and potential candidates find each other. Software is about to eat medicine.
The doctor visit and the trip to the lab are on their path to extinction—at least in a lot of situations. Startups are trying everything from early disease detection to the use algorithms to better predict drug interactions. Caelum Health wants to entirely replace prescription drugs that treat irritable bowel syndrome with an app that instead helps patients change their behavior.
Instead of connecting the world, social apps now want to connect you to where you are now.
Facebook may be great at helping you keep in touch with far-flung friends and family, but the next generation of social apps all seem to be about connecting you to what’s happening around you. Wildfire for instance sends out push notifications for breaking news happening nearby whereas Goosebump sends you notifications in Facebook Messenger when there’s a live music event near you. To add to the FOMO, or fear of missing out, FriendSpot lets you message friends when you’re going out, pressuring them to join you.
While those might be industry-wide trends, the 124 startup pitches highlighted one other major shift: the idea of who a startup founder is and what they look like is changing. While the Mark Zuckerberg-esque, Ivy-educated stereotype persists, Y Combinator is pushing harder to include a more diverse set of entrepreneurs. Of the 124 companies, 21% had a female founder. Founders from 16 different overseas countries made up 28% of the class.