I thought several of the finalists for Techcrunch Disrupt 2014 SF had compelling value propositions, but I was expecting to see more oriented toward work.
PatternEQ is a clear business play: using data analysis and predictive insights to support better decision making without having to program anything. This is the tool I thought should win, since the market for better decisions is infinite.
Partpic is a service that allows users to identify parts — like the hose under your sink — in order to replace them. This has business application, but is more likely to be used by individuals. The argument against this service is the logistical complexities in getting the world’s billions of parts registered into the database.
Shipstr is a cloud service that streamlines the commercial shipping labyrinth, and that is a business issue, albeit a fairly tightly focused one.
Stack’s Alba is a smart lightbulb that adjusts itself based on ambient readings of its sensors. Might be used by businesses, I suppose.
Vinli provides technology to make almost any car smart. Vinli is a bluetooth device that connects to the car via the ODB II port — the data port on all cars made since 1996 — and a smartphone via bluetooth. Numerous apps are available, like a safe teen driving app and a OnStar clone. Could be used by businesses, in car fleets or trucks, but seems like it’s oriented toward the individual.
This Disrupt’s winner was Alfred, a consolidation service that coordinates a variety of on-demand and local services for house cleaning, food buying, and dry cleaning. The premise is that individuals would much rather have a single service managing all these personal services rather than dealing with each individually. I buy that reasoning, but it doesn’t seem very disruptive: it seems obvious, and nothing more that a baby step away from the various services themselves. I’m not even sure that a housecleaning service or dry cleaning delivery is disruptive, for that matter. At any rate, the winner is not work related.
There were only a handful of work-oriented companies at the show. I wrote about one — Rallyteam — in Can we consumerize everything inside businesses? saying this:
Imagine if everything in a company were managed as open marketplaces. First to get them funded, and second to make a marketplace to connect employees with projects, basically providing an internal platform that is something like what Elance-oDesk does for freelancers.
Strangely enough, yesterday at TechCrunch Disrupt I found a company that is trying to do that, called Rallyteam, although the financial side — payment for the services — isn’t taken to the logical conclusion. Rallyteam assumes that employees have a salary, and the work that flows through its platform doesn’t change that. But my vision is that in the future employees might have a base salary for a core job, but that other compensation could be dynamic, based on the internal work market. But obviously we have a transition before that comes to be.
I guess the flurry of interest in building work technologies is waning, and the consumer side is becoming 80% of the Techcrunch Disrupt companies.
Perhaps that shift is due to other factors rather than the attractiveness (or unattractiveness) of work technologies to the judges and crowd at Disrupt. Perhaps the initial selection weeds out work technologies, or work technology start-ups go elsewhere, like Y Combinator and other incubators, or directly to Vcs and angels.
But I have an alternative theory. The Dropboxes and Yammers of the near future are coming, but we need to get past the current state of the practice. My bet is that in the near term the traditional model of ‘collaboration’ and enterprise social networks will increasingly be viewed as out of step with the way work is actually being done. This will provide new incentives and new opportunities for established players and startups alike. We’ll see both market shake-ups — like the consolidation going on in the file sync-and-share market — and the mainstreaming of tools that the early adopters have glommed onto ahead of the majority, like contextual conversation tools like Slack.
So maybe next year’s Disrupt may have more grist for my mill, and the winner could be a breakthrough in work tech. Lord knows, we need more of them.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.