Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of startups launch, thanks to lower than ever barriers to entry in terms of both technology and investors. Meanwhile, the more established startups have fumbled (Facebook), hit it (Pinterest) and created all kinds of drama (Instagram).
The factors that will make for a standout startup in the next year are totally dependent on the landscape. Facebook’s meager IPO means when investors look to fund a Series A, they’re going to look for a solid business model — especially on mobile.
The best startups meet a really clear pain point. One of these is education — people struggling with unemployment and underemployment are looking to pick up new skills. Last year, we highlighted one such startup that provides a platform for learning: Skillshare. There’s still much room in the digital education space for more players. Payment is another key pain point, but not in the way you think. Lastly, some trends will continue to climb — along with a rise in mobile, we’ll continue to see products with a unique take on social or visual content.
Check out the following startups we think will stand out in the next year, and let us know your picks in the comments.
In the past year, Pocket was rebranded from Read It Later and became completely free, further encouraging scale.
The December newsletter from Pocket hints where the service might be going and how it could make money. The company explains that now, you can Pocket paywalled (premium) content on partner sites. Pocket is already the default way to read longform content — the type of content you want to be sure to spend time with and fully enjoy — just one step away from the type of content you might pay for.
Other services, including Atavist and Narratively are charging for quality longform content, but selling it in one ecosystem, like Pocket has the potential to do. That finally may be the right vehicle for consumers who like to pick content a la carte from a variety of authors and publications.
Regardless of Pocket’s strategy, it’s become a household name and gained traction in people’s reading habits, which makes it one to watch next year.
Users can access its library of educational videos for $25 per month (for the basic plan), and the number of videos continues to grow, with topics that range from web and mobile developing to design and business. Right now, Treehouse has both individual and group rates and has gone after companies to sign up their entire teams. It’s possible Treehouse could begin to match students with jobs, or streamline the process, since user profiles offer a summary of the person’s accomplishments.
Duolingo holds a strong position as an educational startup, while also appealing to leisure learners, who perhaps want to learn the basics of another language for a vacation or semester abroad. The interface is intuitive (you can see a word translated on hover), but the service is built as a whole ecosystem, since the people learning a new language are actually translating web pages for paying customers
The explosive rise of Pinterest proffers one question: We desire a lot of beautiful things, but how can we purchase them? While Pinterest hasn’t launched a holistic ecommerce platform (yet), other sites are beginning to offer similar interfaces built for buying.
Storenvy allows brick and mortar stores to create web storefronts and present their goods, which can be purchased or favorited (i.e., „Envy’ed“) by users. These actions influence what items users see on their next visit.
The browsing experience is great. It’s like having access to boutiques all over the country at once. Possible limitations include the return policies of individual vendors and ensuring users enjoy a consistent buying experience. If not Storenvy, a similar service will take off in 2013.
Snapguide capitalizes on a second shortcoming of Pinterest — some of the most popular pins deal with how to create or make something, from DIY crafts to hairstyles. Some of these pins link to a blog post, but oftentimes links are broken.
Snapguide aims to become the default space for tips and how-tos. In their libraries, users upload guides from recipes to tech. Even better, the community is active — if you comment on a guide with your question, it’s likely the maker will reply. The popularity of how-tos on Pinterest suggests that as Snapguide gains exposure, it will become very popular, as well.
Branch attempts to enhance the types of discussions that start and often get drowned on Twitter. Each discussion is invite-only, so users don’t need to worry about trolls trying to force their way into the mix. Also, if one reply sparks another discussion, you have the option to “branch” off of it, hence the name.
So far, Branch is in beta, so most people can only participate if invited by someone who has access. The interface and notification emails work well, though, just in case a discussion spans a couple days — it’s easy to jump back in.
Even better, a branch can be a solid source of information, even if you didn’t participate in it. It’s almost like a group Q&A. In the future, I can see these being referenced in blog posts as a way of quoting experts.
Also in beta, Medium takes a stab as a blogging platform, but from a different angle. Instead of listing posts by author, reverse chronologically, the posts are organized by topic — and a Recommend button allows the service to track what users like, in order to surface the best stories. The concept is reminiscent of some of the more narrative threads on Quora (see „What was it like to be a user of TheFacebook.com in 2004?„). Meanwhile, Quora is thinking of getting into the blogging space, too.
Medium is an attempt to solve a familiar problem: the „24-second news cycle.“ Content loses reader attention the same day it’s published and gets pushed out by newer content. There’s a need to keep track of quality content and uncover the very best stories. Medium aims to be the place to find timeless stories, whether written by industry experts or newcomers, and most likely will span informative to creative prose.
But it’s still in beta, so in the meantime, check out what’s already posted by beta users.
What startup opportunities do you predict for 2013? Name some contenders in the comments below.
Image courtesy of Treehouse