On the macro impact of COVID-19, the future of work, and what to expect in the coming months. An interview with Brianne Kimmel.Featured
I spoke with @BrianneKimmel, founder of Worklife, an early stage venture fund building a better work life through new tools, services, and income streams. She is an investor in companies including Webflow, Tandem, Voiceflow, Command E, and 30+ other startups. Investors in Worklife include Marc Andreessen, Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit and Initialized Capital), Eric Yuan (Zoom founder and CEO), Arianna Huffington, Sophia Amoruso, and early builders from Spotify, Slack, and YouTube. Brianne’s vision for Worklife began while she was building Zendesk for startups and partnering closely with product leaders at other SaaS companies such as Dropbox, Airtable, and Notion. In the evenings and on the weekends, Brianne built a track record as an angel investor in Webflow (Webflow was recently named the World’s 2nd Most Innovative Company in Design after Nike and raised a $72 million Series A in August 2019). She also continues to be an active part of the Y Combinator ecosystem (W16 alum). She regularly hosted community events for early stage companies and launched what later became SaaS School. The quarterly program helps product founders develop early go-to-market strategies and move beyond self-serve product into scalable sales strategies with a lean engineering team. When Brianne left Zendesk to start Worklife, she wanted to build a modern firm that was neither consumer or enterprise but truly reimagined work for all people. In discussing her inspiration in founding Worklife, Kimmel said in our interview, “People spend over 1/3 of their lives at work, and for many of us it's actually much more. Our skills and passions give us purpose and inspire others, so there’s no separation between work and life. When you find your life’s work, it’s creative, all consuming and contagious.” Worklife is especially interested in new ways for anyone to learn new skills and find creative ways to make money. While some portfolio companies help traditional offices become more flexible and inclusive such as Tandem, a virtual workspace for remote teams, others help individuals make extra money outside of traditional workplaces, such as next generation Shopify and Etsy-esque platforms for anyone with a professional skill or creative interest. More specifically, Worklife’s portfolio includes Pietra (a new platform where anyone can launch their own jewelry line), Podia (a suite of tools for launching your own course to educate anyone with a shared interest or skill), Heroes (a TikTok-style application for customer-facing roles at companies like H&M and Sephora), and new platforms like Dev.to and Girlboss for professionals to build a portfolio, develop a new skill, and ultimately find their dream job or ways to monetize their expertise. In the interview, Brianne and I discussed the future of work and the macro impact of COVID-19 and what to expect in the months to come. How have you seen remote work evolve before and after the pandemic?When I started Worklife, I discovered that the new American Dream isn’t keeping up with the Joneses, it’s individuals using creative expression, online influence and extreme optionality ie: remote work, calendar flexibility, and new creative projects to define personal success. So, while I predicted this would be the year for remote and more flexible work to scale into mainstream culture, no one could have predicted the global forcing function that has accelerated both work from home culture and an increasing demand for everyday people to find new ways to make ends meet. In the past two weeks, we’ve seen every industry come online to keep the world economy in motion. Creative work like yoga teachers, Hollywood writing rooms, and musicians, who were more accustomed to offline work have now been forced online as well and need to find ways to monetize in an entirely new environment. Moreover, these creative individuals had previously supported themselves in part through offline restaurant and other service industry jobs that have now been closed for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19. They now need to replace both their previous creative work and in-person service work with online income. What we called the Passion Economy or the Creator Economy just became the Survival Economy. We’re in the earliest days of a global crisis, but there is a silver lining. We’re seeing people across all ages, geographies, and sectors coming together virtually using technology once reserved for the workplace. The start of the new decade will be remembered for virtual happy hours featuring the infamous ‘quarantini’ and Hausparty with ‘the Warby Parker of alcohol’ Haus. Even after COVID-19, we will continue to see the presence of these trends. More specifically, my prediction is that we’ll see a global resurgence of neighborhoods. When people work from home, they support local businesses, participate in local community efforts, and become a better neighbor.What can early stage startups learn from Zoom’s recent success? [Note: Eric Yuan is an investor in Worklife.]Startups have to rise to the occasion. In times of crisis and especially extended periods of uncertainty, startup founders have to move quickly to support their users, protect their teams, and set a precedent for other founders. The key thing Eric did was remove friction for users at all costs and really put people before profits. Zoom removed their 40-minute limit on meetings of more than two people for free users in China. This truly underscores the power of software: a single, low effort change can solve a highly important problem for millions of users. Other public companies, like Box, followed with free access to their products for new users as well, easing the transition to remote work for employees everywhere.What can we expect for the future of work? Workplace tools need to solve a known problem for a specific team with a high willingness to pay. We need to get back to basics and adapt to the changing needs inside of companies. Startups will need to adapt to meet the changing demands inside of companies as teams shift from an opportunistic mindset and eagerness to try new tools to an extended period of conservatism that impacts software spend and requires extensive organizational changes. Startups that help individual employees, especially those impacted by the increased unemployment and underemployment, will be uniquely positioned to build a strong consumer brand, unlock values for users, and incrementally scale into meaningful ways to make a living. Additionally, the longtail of new classes of creative work is larger than we thought and there’s a large population of people who make meaningful money doing what they love. If we use streaming as an example, there was previously an assumption that you have to be as big as Ninja who made close to $10M last year playing Fortnite or you're just a pure play hobbyist. But with a captive audience at home, platforms like Twitch are hitting record breaking high with 47.7M hours watched, creating more income and opportunity for individual streamers. With the proliferation of gaming culture, we’re already seeing new jobs emerge from individuals building games on Roblox, extensions on Twitch to improve player performance, and premium services like streaming coaches like Ashni Christ. From this, we will see the rise of two new classes of influential creatives: the Curators and the Creative Professionals. Celebrities and influencers will continue to have distribution advantages on existing platforms; however as we enter a period of economic instability we can build on what we learned from 2008 and 2009. Specifically, in the last recession, we saw “the Lipstick Effect” where cheaper lipstick and nailpolish sales increased while luxury beauty sales decreased. Similarly, from this crisis, I think we’ll see a whole new wave of creativity that’s completely curated without spending significant money. We’re in the very beginning of personalized Zoom backgrounds, digital goods and video game skins, and well-curated Instagram feeds featuring items such as limited drop sneakers that we don’t actually own. I think people will get paid for curating visual experiences on the internet without incurring what I call “the Influencer dilemma” where creators are limited by brand sponsored posts featuring physical products. No one is quite sure how long the current circumstances will last. How are companies building remote work tools thinking about projecting their own sales with this uncertainty? Specifically, do they expect remote work to be a permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary shift? It will be difficult for society to fully return to a centralized HQ model. People are enjoying the additional flexibility and inherent productivity from having access to new tools for remote teams. However, existing tools have primarily focused on meeting specific needs, such as Zoom meeting the need for virtual video conferencing. Now, we are seeing the rise of and demand for more social work experiences and synchronous communications all from home. Tandem, for example, is investing in social features to bring watercooler chats and even shared listening on Spotify online for remote teams.Brianne is the Founder & Managing Partner of Work Life Ventures, an early stage venture fund building a better work life through new tools, services, and income streams. She's an investor in Webflow, Tandem, Command E and 30+ startups. Brianne was previously on the go-to-market team at Zendesk focused on self-serve product, platform integrations and built Zendesk for Startups. Today, she runs an invite-only program called SaaS School for startup founders to learn from the fastest growing companies like Airtable, Drift, Dropbox, Slack and more. Work Life Ventures is backed by Marc Andreessen, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, Arianna Huffington, Sophia Amoruso & founders of Spotify, Twitch, YouTube and other $1B+ startups. Follow her on Twitter @briannekimmel and subscribe to her weekly newsletter on Substack.