Markets To Build In (2019)

Founders often ask me what areas they might entrench themselves in if they want to come across or tackle an interesting problem. Here are a few markets I find interesting:

1. Radar

Everyone has their eyes focused on computers analyzing images via AI. Or LIDAR. Curiously, the radar scene is far less popular. It’s an exciting platform technology for two reasons. First, machine learning is getting far better at analyzing noisy, short-range radar data from commodity hardware. Second, US regulation has become increasingly lax towards using new power and spectrum bands due to a desire to support autonomous cars. (Shorter range waves can support a substantial increase in usage without any out-of-band interference concerns, so it’s easier to coordinate, too.)

Google’s Project Soli was equal parts regulatory and technical innovation, with the FCC’s exclusive grant that permitted operating at higher power levels than currently allowed.

In 2017, the FCC quietly assigned exclusive spectrum for “vehicular radar systems”. Zendar is taking advantage of this to make radar systems that see through snow and fog, which LIDAR can't. The regulation also permits the “deployment in airport air operations areas of fixed and mobile radars that detect foreign object debris (FOD) on runways”.

You can easily imagine this extending beyond runways. Anduril is using radar sensing technology to build a better wall. Just like GPUs rose to popularity in gaming and “spilled over” into AI research, this regulation may have second-order effects in industries beyond autonomy.

2. Integrated Software Empires

Atrium is re-inventing the law firm with technology. Pilot is doing the same for accounting and Triplebyte is doing this for recruiting. These startups trade a simpler sales cycle for the shackles of a margin-light service layer. Instead of selling components to incumbents like Wilson Sonsini, they just sell the end-product to users.

Skeptics will say these are just service businesses hiding behind a facade of SaaS multiples. Reality is more nuanced. Assuredly law firms and accounting firms could be using more software! Even if not, leveraged buyouts have taught us that incumbents can naturally lose operational efficiency. This playbook may appear across other industries: Re-build Accenture with an army of “Lego Apps” (see below). A new KPMG that audits using software instead of clipboards. Etc.

These companies are also an important component in workforce retraining. A truck driver may not become an accountant at PWC, but they might be a great fit for a software-enabled accounting firm that relied on a lower level of human expertise.

3. Lego Apps

It's hard to program in assembly. So we made C, which is easier. Java is easier than C, and Python is easier than Java. We're starting to see another level of abstraction emerge. Companies like Zapier and Clay allow non-developers (“builders”) to sling together different blocks of code, like joining lego blocks.

Airtable and Notion allow lego builders to store and manipulate their data by merely clicking around. And for slightly more complex use-cases, Retool allows anyone to build interactive views on top of it.

Now we’re able to make things without really knowing much Javascript. This is a really big deal. Simplifying software is incredibly important. Millions of people will need to be re-trained to new jobs over the next decade. The current coding bootcamps are making good progress on this goal, but simplifying the programming environment may be a more leveraged way to enable 10X more people to code. What if coding was as simple as driving? Lego apps may be the answer.

Lego School. I haven't seen anyone work on training lego builders. Instead of teaching JavaScript, teach how to make a Retool dashboard that connects with Zapier and Gmail. Then use your army of fabricators to become the next Accenture, with far better margin.

4. Internet Campuses

Environment is a potent force in shaping habits and lives. When freshmen arrive at Harvard, Yale or even organizations like McKinsey, they feel challenged. They punch above their weight because of the surrounding environment. There’s a new collection of websites that are attempting to digitize this effect and settle Ivy League campuses on the Internet.

ProductHunt is gradually becoming the default place to showcase your work, enabling unknown hackers from around the world to achieve recognition. IndieHackers has a vibrant community of business builders, each excitedly sharing and comparing notes with each other on how to grow their company. Pioneer is an attempt to fully operationalize the Ivy League into software. There’s a global leaderboard of the Top 100 players on the planet to mimic what’s it’s like to “walk around campus” and compare notes. Mentorship from experts in industry, and more. (BTW, our next tournament starts this weekend, apply here.)

Websites are the new cities, and a generation of founders born online are attempting to found enduring communities that serve as generators of great people that dramatically accelerate societal growth.

5. Gaming, a New Third Place

The future remains curiously unpredictable. We thought VR was going to create the metaverse. Turns out all we needed was Fortnite. Marshmello played a concert to millions (perhaps even 10M, actual numbers are unclear) of people on Fornite, the online multiplayer game.

This is an interesting example of what’s to come: games as a “third place”, after home and work. Come for the points, but stay for the concerts, the entertainment, stand-up shows, etc. A 24/7 carnival on the Internet. In other news, Twitch continues to grow like a weed, and may surpass YouTube and Instagram as the cheapest acquisition ever.

It remains unclear exactly how a startup should invade this frontier. But given the change and derivative, I suspect one will.

6. Container-izing the World

Opendoor enables home-owners to achieve near-instant liquidity for their home by using software and machine learning. Convoy is serving as a software dispatcher for freight and trucking, bringing Uber-style efficiency to a a $700B industry. Cloud Kitchens (started by Uber founder Travis Kalanick) allows chefs to spin up “dark kitchens” with a click of a button, creating a new generation of restaurants optimized from the ground up for delivery.

We’re using software to more efficiently containerize and move objects around the world. You could imagine this extending: better use of un-occupied parking lots, instant mobility between homes or offices, etc.

7. Island Internet

A centralizing power of the early Internet was that building stuff was hard. Since making YouTube scale is hard, we only have one World Wonder. Once things become easier to clone, I think we'll have a Wordpress effect. Every tribe of people would have their own.

But what about network effects? Depends. I believe YouTube's network effects are far weaker than people realize. YouTube is not Facebook. It is a media company. Most people consume from a select few creators. Should a cadre migrate en masse to a new platform, many would follow, especially since there's no exclusivity required.

We just saw this happen with Patreon (which, admittedly had zero network effects), where several influencers like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin all flocked off the service to their own islands. Closed WhatsApp groups seem more popular than Facebook. If someone were to make a very (I mean very) well-executed Wordpress-for-Twitter, we might see a similar migration.

8. AI Silicon

The GPU silicon market is clearly one where the current product is not "good enough". Research labs scramble to get as many training cycles as they can, at times taking over entire data centers to build models. There's a secondary market for particularly scarce NVIDIA GPUs. In conversations with researchers, it’s clear the thirst for compute insatiable.

We're clearly thirsting for more, and companies like GraphCore, Groq, Rain, Google's TPU unit and others are racing to provide it.

9. Developer Tools

Like an endless tiramisu cake, the bicycle for developers can always get better as higher layers of abstraction are built. Streamlit is building a better version of Jupyter Notebooks (Google Docs for data scientists). Weights & Biases makes analytics software for models (New Relic for AI). Rookout enables you to debug production code with a click of a button. Figma is Adobe with collaboration.

10. Bonus: Crypto

This post is getting too long and the cryptocurrency world deserves it’s own piece. The one thing I’ll say is nobody has really cracked developer adoption. I just don’t think the Ethereum coding environment is pleasant. And any network effects are highly overrated if someone would built something that was both useful and fun to code in.

If you’re thinking about starting something and need mentorship or a network of like-minded people, you should check out Pioneer. We built it exactly for people like you:

- Daniel Gross

The Board Builder

Socrates and Plato. Max Planck and Albert Einstein. Mike Markkula and Steve Jobs. Across almost all innovators one thing is common: a connection to another innovator. That person acts as a kind of rocket booster, enabling the young, unknown outsider to achieve stratospheric levels of success and change our world.

Our mission is to find the most leveraged way to launch more people-rockets into space. Board Builder is our way of operationalizing this principle.

With this new feature, players in the Pioneer Tournament can assemble a board of advisors for themselves, just like a company would. Our catalog of characters include people like Dylan Field (CEO of Figma), Shola Akinlade (CEO of Paystack), Josh Tobin (OpenAI), Devon Zuegel (GitHub) and many others.

Board Builder is unlocked when a Pioneer player reaches our Top 100 leaderboard. Once you assemble yours, you’ll be able to message the board just about anything. They’ll be able to award you points if you’re doing particularly well and (like Yelp or Uber ratings) you’ll be able to rate them, too.

Pioneer was built to find unconventional people who don’t fit in and help them achieve extraordinary work. If you want to experiment with a project, give it a shot.

Winners of our Tournament get a ticket to Silicon Valley, $1,000 in cash, $100,000 in Google Cloud Credits, $6,000 in Stellar lumens and much more. All it takes to apply is a few keystrokes. The February Tournament closes next week. Apply now:

Meet the Pioneers, Take 2

Today we’re excited to announce the winners of the second Pioneer Tournament! Our second tournament encompassed players from across the entire globe. From Albania to Guatemala and Tanzania, Pioneer is being played wherever there’s an Internet connection. The most popular countries were the United States, India, Nigeria, UK, Canada and Ghana. 60% of our players were outside of the US.

This tournament featured several software upgrades—smarter, regional leaderboards, better voting and more community feedback provided to players. Pioneers of this tournament also get a matching grant from the Stellar foundation, bringing the total winnings to $11,000.

Here are the winners of the second tournament:

Eibhlin Lim (23, Malaysia, @eibhlin_lim)

Innovators are kickstarted into action by stories of other innovators. There’s so much that hasn’t been written about how our modern geniuses got started. What their life was like as teenagers, etc. Eibhlin is going to produce a series of publications about this. A magazine that radicalizes people to follow their dreams.

Noteworthy: Eibhlin started writing for The Star—the most widely read English newspaper in Malaysia—when she was 15. Though only 23, she’s published more than 50 articles in news outlets in Malaysia, Hong Kong and USA.

Matthew McAteer (26, USA, @matthewmcateer0)

Software that lets anyone easily run AI algorithms on sensitive data without it being personally identifiable. Data privacy is of increasing scarcity and importance in our world. Since AI requires data to fuel its intelligence, it’s important to figure out ways to both make smart models and preserve customer privacy, especially in domains like biomedical research.

Noteworthy: Matthew has the perfect background for this job, having spent years studying neurology research and as a software engineer at Google, working on AI tooling. He also writes algorithmic trading scripts on the side. If that wasn't enough, previously created a bacterial strain that produces an anti-aging molecule (NMN) at 100x less the cost.

Abhijit Gupta and Rohan Rao (22^2, India)

A driver telemetry assistant that makes vehicles safer and more connected, aimed at the chaotic traffic of India. Plug it into your car (or fleet) and it’ll enable you to stay alert, avoid collisions, follow road rules and drive better.

Noteworthy: Both Rohan and Abhijit’s lives epitomize precociousness. Though only 22, they've already done work on autonomous cars, industrial IoT systems, smart pollution monitoring systems, indoor positioning systems, and smart power grid systems, culminating in 3 publications and 5 filed patents.

Benedict Asamoah (24, Ghana, @wrilben)

A Thumbtack for Africa, with a particular lean on service trust and vendor vetting.

Noteworthy: Benedict is a self-taught engineer who has been working on startup ideas since he was 16 years old. Progress was the defining characteristic of his gamesmanship in the tournament. He went from a barebones prototype, to launch, to revenue in the short span of 30 days.

Huw Evans (19, Australia, @huwsername)

Huw is applying deep-learning to noisy EEG signals. Many have tried to use EEGs to infer thoughts. From controlling drones to mind-reading words, the results have been somewhat lackluster. However, very little research has been done using new, novel deep learning techniques to properly sift through the dirty mud of EEG data. If Huw’s project works, it’ll revolutionize brain-computer interfaces. Cheap EEG sensors will become the new mouse.

Noteworthy: Huw’s already worked on an incredible collection of projects despite being just 19. Previously he made AI models that help self-driving cars detect where pedestrians are looking (in real time) to help prevent fatalities. Before that, he tried to predict weight loss using microbiome data. Before that he was researching AI models that function with little data. Etc. Etc.

The most difficult part of this experience was limiting ourselves. We had nearly a thousand qualified players working on nearly every profession imaginable. We selected only the top 5 teams this time. We’ll continue to be flexible with this number, as we’re interested in experimenting with different batch sizes to determine which is most optimal for bonding. All isn’t lost—we run the tournament monthly (the 3rd is already underway!). Players can re-apply with a click of a button.

You could be next! Register for our February Tournament here.

Pioneer's Holiday Tournament

tl;dr: Pioneer winners now get $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, apply now!

Just a few days ago we announced the winners of our first Pioneer Tournament. In a few days, our second Tournament will be closing. Today, we’re excited to announce that the third December Tournament is now open!

Quick Primer

Pioneer’s mission is to scalably identify and nurture the creative outsiders of the world.

Traditional institutions like the Ivy League try to solve this problem by relying on a small set of individuals to screen thousands of applications. This doesn’t scale. And it leaves many geniuses (especially those from non-traditional backgrounds) undiscovered.

We’re trying something radically different. We’re trying to find these “Lost Einsteins” by building an online game. Fortnite, for productivity. Players are rewarded based on the progress they make on their project. Every month, we fund the best with a $1,000 grant and up to $100,000 in follow-on investment.

What’s New

During our second tournament, we added more leaderboards, improved our peer voting process, and worked on our selection algorithm. We also grew the grant size: the winning Pioneers get $6,000 in Stellar lumens, in addition to the cash grant of $1,000.

Like the iPhone, we hope to improve with every release. The December Tournament comes with an epic feature: $100,000 in Google Cloud credits via Google Cloud for Startups to the winning applicants. This is a big deal. Not all of our applicants need Cloud Credits, but many do. Stellar is re-joining us for the tournament as well. Winning applicants receive:

  • $1,000 in cash (check out our FAQ for more info about this).
  • $100,000 in Google Cloud credits.
  • $6,000 in Stellar lumens.
  • A potential $100,000 follow-on investment.
  • A ticket to Silicon Valley.
  • Mentorship from experts.

It’s the perfect package to kickstart a genius.

We believe the world has thousands -- maybe millions -- of ambitious people that have the talent and creativity and just need a nudge of support to unlock their potential. If you know someone who fits that bill (it could be you!), tell them to apply!

Applications close Sunday night. That's in five days. Get started here:

Meet the Pioneers

We’re excited to announce the winners of the first Pioneer Tournament.

In the short 3 months since its launch, Pioneer has garnered a global reach. Our first tournament featured applicants from 100 countries, ranging from 12 to 87 years old. Almost half of our players hailed from countries like India, UK, Canada, Nigeria, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, France, Turkey, and Kenya. Projects were spread across almost every industry—AI research, physics, chemistry, cryptocurrency and more.

We started this company to find the curious outsiders of the world. We think we’re off to a good start. Meet the winners of the first Pioneer Tournament:

James Gallagher (16, Scotland, @jamesg_oca)

James is working on Open Commit, a marketplace for code review. It pairs developers with expert code reviewers who provide actionable feedback on their code, covering everything from style adherence to best practice implementation.

Noteworthy: James has been coding since he was 8 years old. He decided not to attend university so he could pursue the startup path. He’s a true child of the Internet and learned how to code on Udacity. The community also loved that he’s working on a project with a very clear value proposition.

Emma Salinas (18, USA, @emmalsalinas)

Emma is designing and engineering a new kind of digital watch. It’s minimalist and can be read by both sight and touch. It is a beautiful and unique timepiece for the blind, but its aesthetic can be appreciated by anyone.

Noteworthy: In her application, Emma came across as extremely curious, learning at an impressive rate. She spent her last two years of high school taking classes at a local college, and is currently self educating herself.

Leonard Bogdonoff (29, USA, @rememberlenny)

Lenny is building a digital genealogy of street art. He’s scraping Instagram and making a searchable database of street art around the world. This project might amplify the voice of “protest art” against the constraints of censorship from autocratic governments, but it is also a new way to glean usable information from Instagram.

Noteworthy: Lenny has an impressive history of doing lots of stuff. He also demonstrated rapid week-over-week progress, with actionable goals and metrics (“Labeled +58,255 images from 191 street artists from around the world”, “Built an iPhone app”).

Clark Urzo (23, Philippines)

Clark is making a programming language for physics. The idea is to enable anyone who can code to contribute to serious physics research (for example, simulations of gravitating systems). This opens up the field to the wondrous forces of open source and promotes open and accountable science along the way.

Noteworthy: Clark has an insanely impressive trajectory. He learned to code when he was 12. By 16, he was doing Laplace transforms, tinkering with Arduinos, reading Marx and Nietzsche, and taught himself conversational German. He co-founded a VR company by 19.

Harsh Sikka (23, USA, @harshsikka)

Harsh is building AI that’s inspired by biological principles from neuroscience. The algorithms will be applicable in disease diagnosis, robotics, synthetic biology, environmental sensing and other complex problem spaces.

Noteworthy: Harsh is a graduate student studying Biocomputation and AI at Harvard and Georgia Tech. His work is a long shot. But if it works, it stands to provide a dramatic breakthrough in computing, enabling us to better prevent the outbreak of diseases by doing better forecasting. Harsh also has a long standing history of making stuff. He built a kind of Pinterest for ML models and an automated reading assessment tool. This mixture of researcher and hacker is a rare and powerful combo.

Hunter Scott (28, USA, @hunterscott)

Hunter is making engineered plants and microbes optimized for growth on Mars as a sustainable food source for the first astronauts there.

Noteworthy: Hunter has experience with engineered food, as a co-founder of what would become Soylent. More recently, he founded a company to develop a new kind of battery and works at Reach Labs, where he builds high-frequency phased arrays for long-range wireless power transfer.

Bhav Ashok (25, Singapore & USA, @bhavashok)

Bhav came up with a way to train a neural network to compress other neural networks. The compression process produces a faster and smaller network without sacrificing accuracy. This has the potential to vastly improve response time in self-driving cars, satellite imaging, and mobile apps.

Noteworthy: By age 12, Bhav was programming and making money selling graphics add-ons for games. At 16, he started doing research in machine learning for bioinformatics. He left Singapore for Austin, where he created TexteDB and founded a company. Bhav later enrolled in the Masters program at CMU, earned the highest GPA in his program, founded a computer vision club, and worked on various research projects.

Atsu Davoh (23, Ghana, @atsudavoh)

Atsu is building a way for Africans to easily acquire and spend crypto-currencies in everyday life. He built a service for buying Bitcoin via phone texts (without the internet) and is currently building the equivalent of Alibaba for Bitcoin in Africa (out January 2019).

Noteworthy: Atsu dropped out of college in the US and moved back to Ghana to work on this idea. “I pursued this path instead of going to work at a tech giant like my friends because I wanted to do something impactful. I strongly believe that smart Africans should stay in Africa to solve the continent's problems; and this philosophy motivates every decision I make.”

Harshu Musunuri (18, USA)

Harshu is creating synthetic materials to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sepsis, a leading cause of death in hospitals around the world. Unlike other approaches, these materials don't require refrigeration and enable low-cost toxin capture in resource-poor settings.

Noteworthy: Harshu comes from a humble background: she was born to an electrical engineer and an elementary school math teacher in a small village in South India. But her work is anything but humble. In her short career, she’s done research with NASA’s JPL, built a seizure detection app for epileptic patients and is now working on a project with the potential to save thousands of lives. She’s also a hacker at heart: when she lacked the formal lab tools to braze at high temperature, she used the exhaust vent of a ceramic kiln.

Neelay Trivedi (17, USA, @neelay_trivedi)

Neelay is building PlaySafe, a wearable that predicts if and when someone will have a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). It costs under $40 and works by analyzing variations in a person's heart rate, providing up to 8 minutes of prior warning before SCA occurs.

Noteworthy: Neelay has been prolific despite his young age. Despite being just a high school senior, his work on AI-assisted disease diagnosis, computational cancer genomics, and health wearables has already been recognized by Intel, Maker Faire, Conrad Foundation, the US Army, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

Julia Wu (23, USA & Brazil, @thejuliawu)

Julia is making a game where one collects and trades elements of renewable energy on the Ethereum blockchain. She’s leveraging the surprising power of crypto-kitties to address climate change. The values of the tokens fluctuate with the performance of clean energy in public markets.

Noteworthy: Coming from China to Brazil at a young age and speaking only Chinese, Julia grew up as an outsider. She graduated from Brown last year, where she was a CS teaching assistant, and founded Lean In at Brown University. She interned at Microsoft and currently works at Apple.

Caroline Oluka (28, Uganda)

Caroline is working on RideUp, an eco-friendly bike delivery service for corporate offices in Kampala that aims to empower girls from the streets.

Noteworthy: Caroline is a testament to the human spirit. She had an incredibly tough home environment that would have crippled most. She ran away from home and grew up on the streets of Uganda. She’s now decided to start a business that’s aimed at helping girls in similar situations. The world has taken note, too: she won a Ugandan social innovation award during the Pioneer Tournament and has been relentless about fundraising to grow her business.

Pranay Prakash (21, USA, @pranaygp)

Pranay is making Windsor, a programming assistant for web developers. Developer tools are static today. They don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish and why. That shouldn’t be the case. If Windsor changes that, it might become the most important company in the world. Nell’s Primer, for coding.

Noteworthy: Pranay got started early, learning to code at age 8. He interned at Facebook on the GraphQL team, then at ZEIT where he worked on a lot of experimental tooling. Voters loved the potential of his project. He also managed to hit his goal of getting Windsor in the hands of real users with a real codebase by the end of the tournament.

Lucas Gleba (18, Spain, @lucasgleba)

Lucas is building a set of ML APIs that enable ordinary businesses to take advantage of machine learning without being subject experts in the matter. Just like Oracle enabled anyone to use a database, Lucas’s platform will enable any business to use ML.

Noteworthy: Lucas is an untraditional polymath. Before working on machine learning, he designed a chemical process to transform atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into fuel. He’s also done work on artificial neural networks and computational flock behavior.

Thomas Uhlenbruck (23, Canada, @pulseindustrial)

Thomas is building sensors for industrial equipment that will reduce CO2 emissions and improve safety. Industrial equipment is often inspected by hand today with manual audits. This is exactly the type of the world software has yet to eat. Their sensors provide operators the information they need to keep their system optimized and safe at all times.

Noteworthy: Thomas is an undergrad at Waterloo. He’s worked in water treatment, lake modelling, and municipal engineering, but left his research group because he wanted more practical work experience. Over the course of the Pioneer Tournament, he managed both to work on engineering and secure multiple prototype installations at different plants, which is no simple feat.

Pavle Goloskokovic (28, Serbia, @pgoloskokovic)

Pavle is building a VR Adventure Game for the blind. Yep, VR for blind people. It’s a narrative-driven adventure game that completely relies on audible and tactile feedback to guide players in a role of a protagonist through an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.

Noteworthy: Pavle’s a risk taker: he left his job at a startup to start his own gaming studio. He’s already built several projects and games. He also had a conscientious habit of submitting actionable status updates early. He’s working on the type of unusual project the Pioneer community seems to love.

Amulya Balakrishnan (18, USA)

Amulya is creating a wearable device that provides real-time, continuous ECG heart rate monitoring data. There currently exists no FDA-approved solution that can monitor ECG data in real time. Amulya is going to make it.

Noteworthy: Amulya recently graduated high school. Her friends and family expected her to go the standard collegiate route, but she decided to charter her own course. Her earlier project, an ADHD diagnosis tool, won the Disrupt NY 2017 Hackathon Grand Prize.

The Road Ahead

Pioneer is constantly evolving—click here to read more about the latest in our product.

Applications for the December Tournament open today. If you’re eager to become a Pioneer yourself, click here to apply.