It’s been the Age of Unicorns for a hot minute now, with some of our everyday go-to services coming from the minds of creative unicorns that saw an opportunity to fulfill a need, and deliver immediately. They’re disrupting conventional industries as we once knew them, riding the momentum of new technology, smartphones, and users like me who wouldn’t be able to hail a cab if their life depended on it. They have us meeting strangers off the Internet and getting into cars them and sleeping in their treehouses all over the world. When I asked around the office, some of my coworkers were unaware that a lot of their favorite apps, companies, and services began as a startup. It wasn’t really a shocker that old faithfuls like free instant messaging, Uber, Air BnB, Waze, and Tinder made the top ranks. Whereas technological big ideas risk being flashes in pans, failures, or just weird, as the technology that made them possible advances and grows outdated, good ideas (ideas that matter) have a tendency to transcend.
The bottom line: Disruption is in, distraction is out. The survey has spoken and it’s safe to say we no longer want to be glued to our smartphones. The apps we use the most have some common top qualities and goals: Efficiency, User Control, and Community. Their endgame is to get us to the present real life moment as efficiently as possible, even if we are just endlessly swiping right (left?) to find that perfect someone to experience that aforementioned moment with. They’re putting the user in control; letting us “rate” our meal, our driver, our host. The best ideas are disrupting old ways of doing things, making life better, taking the hiccups out of everyday inconveniences, and connecting us easier and faster.
After all, there’s always US in USER.
Below is a list of our favorite startups of all time. Give us a tweet if you think we’ve missed some gold ones.
I use Venmo to transfer funds between my social network. I really believe in it and think the greatness of the app is that it takes the drama away from having to owe someone money. (I even made a spec ad campaign about it!) Venmo lets me enjoy a night out with my friends without the stress of splitting the check, and I can use it to pay my half of the rent or utilities or whatever else I want to send money for. It’s more user-friendly than PayPal and doesn’t charge a fee.
Etsy is an online marketplace where artisans, collectors, designers, and craftspeople can buy and sell their goods. I peruse my favorite shops on here daily, always looking for vintage treasures. It’s also a platform where I sell my own indigo-dyed pieces and garments I sew. There’s something rewarding about buying directly from the artist, it supports community and economy.
Jess drives the most out of anyone in the office, I would argue. To deal with her crazy commute, she relies on Waze. Waze began as a free community project in Israel in 2006, and has since been acquired by Google in 2013 to be the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. It’s powered by other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info. And in LA, it really helps when we can just all be in this together. Especially during rush hour.
Jo loves Slack, probably because it keeps the developers from killing the creative team on a daily basis. I kid, but it really does streamline communication when projects get intense. Plus the /giphy feature never gets old! Group conversations are organized into channels, meaning we can say ADIOS to endless email threads. Private conversations lets us share files with individuals so things get done faster and better, even when the copywriter has her headphones on and is IN THE ZONE, leaving more time for the pizza parties and Nerf gun battles. Believe it or not, I’ve never used Slack until I began working here, and I’m wondering how I ever multitasked without it. /giphy HECK YES
Though we have yet to try this app, Heal is an app that brings a doctor to wherever you are, in under $60 minutes, for a flat rate of $99. It’s basically Uber for doctors, kind of like in the olden days when doctors made house calls. The doctors are provided through an independent medical practice called Heal at Home Medical. Though I was super skeptical at first, if I’m going to get in a car with a complete stranger, I should certainly be able to invite one inside my home and listen to my heartbeat, right? According to the New York Times, the average waiting period to see a doctor is about 20 days, and an urgent care visit can take hours, and who wants to sit in LA traffic with flu symptoms? Most customers are parents of young children who want to save a trip to the ER, which is another nightmare on its own, and can be complicated with new healthcare regulations and insurance situations.
Another example of meeting a simple need in an efficient way is Medium. Medium is an online publishing platform that is something between the 140 character limit micro-blogging style of Twitter and of long-form journalism. With a core belief in great storytelling and community, Medium lets users write, annotate, read and recommend content in a simple magazine like interface, so it is optimal for sharing. We love to use Medium to discover new voices and content.
But what if you’re not a writer or blogger? How can you tell stories? Storehouse encourages users to use their smartphones to create stories visually. Storehouse bridges the gap between storytelling/communicating apps like Instagram and Snapchat, which rely on “streams of consciousness,” and other publishing companies that might not be optimized for tablets or smartphones. Short-form blogging and storytelling seems to be covered and catered to our shorter attention spans and personal devices, but for those of us like Boris who crave longer streams and richer stories, Storehouse lets the visuals do the telling. Users import photos, images, or videos to the layout, arranging them into a narrative and accompanying them with captions or text, optionally. Sharing photos becomes more about sharing a story, or an experience, versus uploading them all to a static album or grid of thumbnails.
Flo and Jeff went to Comic Con, so I wasn’t able to get their favorite startups. It wouldn’t be farfetched to assume, however, that they would be staying in San Diego with a local they met off of Couchsurfing. I say that because Flo is wild, adventurous, and free, and always seems to be graciously hosting travelers on her couch. The website claims that couchsurfing envisions “a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.” Couchsurfing emphasizes and promotes the “global neighborhood,” but unlike Air BnB, the only exchange is “cultural.” I’m still hesitant to jump on board with this one, but we’ll see.