Mapping “The Future of Work” Startup & Investor ecosystem
the Future of Work
Like lots of people these days, I enjoy spending time thinking about & investing in companies shaping “the Future of Work”.
For that reason, I keep getting asked by my investor friends whether I have any cool lists of startups for them or insights I’d be happy to share.
I normally reply by sending a mere list of c.10 cool companies “to watch” off the top of my head and then pointing towards this excellent recent post by Merci Victoria Grace, which does a fantastic job at mapping Workplace Collaboration startups worldwide, or this one by CB Insights, mapping startups enabling Remote Work.
Since I’d love to have something more ‘personal’ to send back, and since the current pandemic is turning “the Future” of Work as we perceived it until a few months ago into “the Present” somewhat quicker — I thought I’d dig a bit deeper, to come up with a big list of unique companies & ideas for everyone interested in the wider space, adding a couple categories to Merci’s & CB Insight’s maps and adding investors to the mix.
My plan is to keep updating this post on a regular basis, so that it can become the go-to piece for the sector. If you’re building a company that you think should be included, let me know!
1. Startups shaping “The Future of Work”
Disclaimer 1: My definition of Future of Work is immensely broad, as it includes anything that makes working easier, regardless of whether your company:
- is fully remote.
- has physical offices only.
- mixes physical offices with remote teams.
- has employees who can (or need to) ‘work from home’.
Disclaimer 2: Many of the startups listed sit across multiple categories. I chose one for each for simplicity.
Disclaimer 3: This is not an attempt at including every single company in these categories — I’m sure I’m missing loads of them — but rather a selection of the independent, private, and usually venture-backed ones I know and find interesting.
⚠️ If you’re more of a spreadsheet person than a «logo map» person, you can find the full list of 195 companies I looked at here. I included funding amounts and tried to personalise the description of each company to make it clear why it fits into its category️ ️️⚠️
Click to access the full spreadsheet
As a bonus , I also included a couple of startup ideas here and there💡 I’d love for you to add your ideas to the mix! Throw them in the comments! 😃
1.1. Messaging, chat & email
A lot of companies are popping up each year to take on (or enhance) more established players like Slack & Microsoft Teams (chat) or Gmail & Outlook (email). Notable examples:
- Quill, ‘nuffsaid, Involve, Compose: centralising communication to avoid noise and focus on what matters.
- Front, Superhuman: re-inventing the email experience for teams & individuals, respectively.
- Threads, Yac, /talk: personal, asynchronous communication for remote teams
💡 Startup idea: We need more tools enabling Asynchronous Work Communication. In a world where you’ll be increasingly working with people from all across the world, does chat, voice & video communication really need to be in real time?
1.2. Virtual Offices / Focus enablers
With more people working ‘from home’ or remotely, the concept of ‘virtual office’ is emerging. A “place” where you work with your team regardless of where you are, and where focus is the key. Notable examples:
- Spatial: your office or meeting room, but in VR!
- Teemly, Remotion, Pragli: allowing you to ‘sit with your team’ while at home and dive into impromptu conversations
- Motion, Focusmate: making sure you focus for real
💡 Startup idea by Chris Herd: Enable “Constant Presence”. Feeling “isolated“ when you do “deep work” can help but it’s not always required. Communication solutions which enable presence, like an open mic while gaming, will become compelling.
1.3. Voice & Video
“Zoom / Skype does the trick when it comes to video & calls” is an arguable statement if we look at how many companies in the same space get heavily funded each year. Notable examples:
- Loom, Standups: enabling asynchronous video messaging in workplaces
- Fuze, Coscreen, RemoteHQ: enhancing video calls through seamless in-real-time collaboration (e.g. advanced screen sharing)
- Chorus, Otter.ai, Fireflies.ai, Grain: getting data out of your video calls, making them searchable, sharable, transcribable. E.g. Chorus tracks videocalls to assess sales performance
- GitDuck: code sharing and screen recorder software for developers
to create videos that are linked to their code
💡 Startup idea 1, by Andreas Klinger: Rethink video clients without “big faces in a box”. Different calls need different optimised experiences (e.g. Townhall vs 1on1 vs small team call).
💡 Startup idea 2, by Fred Destin: Videocall “ecosystem model”. Given that work is becoming asynchronous, good solutions will need to emerge like hosted recordings, transcriptions, annotations and maybe even live translation.
💡 Startup idea 3, by Ferdinando Sigona: Hands-free work. What if you could somehow move or work out whilst working / doing emails / writing? Voice + screen interfaces could replace the need to sit at your desk with hands on mouse & keyboard.
1.4. Calendars & Meetings
Almost every busy professional I speak to keeps complaining about their calendar & the difficulty to manage their own time. Similarly, every VC I speak to loves the idea of a “Superhuman” for calendars. A couple of solutions are popping up, but we’re still far from having a massive success story in the space. Notable examples:
- Mixmax, Calendly: taking away the back & forth emails related to scheduling
- Clockwise, Time is Ltd., Zynq, Reclaim.ai: automatically managing your calendar to allow for uninterrupted blocks of time to focus
- Fellow: making meetings more effective by organising notes, action items, and feedback
1.5. Scaling Personal / Executive Assistants
A new breed of startups is emerging: ones that deal with all the work & operations that personal assistants of busy professionals need to carry out every day. Notable examples:
- Magic, Double, Invisible: provide you with flexible / part-time “personal assistants” to deal with your administrative & operational tasks
- Base: SaaS built specifically to streamline the day-to-day responsibilities of executive assistants
💡 Startup idea — bring Molly back: based on the fact that their website is off, it looks like YC-funded Molly didn’t make it. I did like the idea though, even if a bit creepy: a tool that learns from everything you’ve ever done or typed on the internet, so it can answer questions for you using machine learning.
1.6. “Data Collaboration” / Documentation & Knowledge
Companies in this category offer software to track internal processes or make wikis (websites that allow collaborative editing), or more broadly to collaborate around data. They attempt to unbundle GSuite & Microsoft Office by focussing on particular pain points teams encounter as they operate / grow. Notable examples:
- Notion, Roam Research, Slite, Anytype: turning note taking & the organisation of your content into fun & beautiful experiences
- Guru, Bloomfire, Slab, Journal: helping teams find the info they need + share learning and documentation easily
- Airtable, Actiondesk, DashDash, Sheetgo: spreadsheets on steroids
1.7. Context and Search
The more people work at a company, the harder it can be to find information quickly or to get answers to your questions; information tends to get siloed. Search is becoming crucial to democratise access for knowledge workers. Notable examples:
- Station, Slapdash, Qatalog: bringing all your collaboration apps in one place and all your conversations in a main feed with a unified search
- Forethought, Command E, fyi: finding documents & other info in seconds across time zones, teams and tools
1.8. Project / Task Management
Startups that provide tools to manage tasks and to-dos have been heavily funded by the VC community over the last couple of years. Personal and team productivity are key for well functioning organisations. Notable examples:
- Monday, Asana, Sunsama, Todoist: making task management fun & beautiful
- productboard, Linear, Cycle: task management applied for product teams
Another heavily funded space: more and more startups are making design tools, often emulating programs like Photoshop, PowerPoint, etc., that feature real-time collaboration similar to a Google Doc. Notable examples:
- Pitch, Projector, Ludus: make nice & powerful presentations more easily
- Canva, Figma, Framer: collaborative design made easy
- Rive, Snackthis: Figma for high-quality / real-time animations / Motion Design
💡 Startup idea 1 — we need more motion design startups: Motion design is one of the most critical skills designers want to learn to stay relevant in the next 2–3 years. Tools making it easy will get big.
💡 Startup idea 2— Logo Map Automation: See that big picture above with hundreds of logos in it? It took me a fair amount of time to do 😁 what if there was a tool to automate the process? Perhaps one where all I’d need to do was giving the website of each company…Lots of bankers & consultants would pay for it.
1.10. Low code, no code & internal tools
“The Rise of No Code”, as Ryan Hoover defined it in this post, is very real: a new wave of tools that are making creation more accessible and reinventing the way things are built for the internet. Notable examples:
- Workato, Zapier, Internal: Create powerful integrations between apps and business systems in minutes
- Webflow, Dropsource, Glide, Thunkable: create beautiful websites or apps without coding, drag-and-drop style
1.11. Back-office / Admin Pain Relievers
Companies automating back-office and administrative tasks for SMEs & enterprises are booming (or will). Notable examples:
- Payfit, Gusto, Rippling: automating payroll
- Digits, Pilot: automating Finance & Bookkeeping
- Factorial: automating HR processes
- Carta, Seedlegals: simplifying cap table management & fundraising admin
- Back: organises your employee requests and automates dealing with them
1.12. Remote HRM enablers
The days in which hiring remotely is seen as harder than locally will soon be gone; startups are making it easy. Notable examples:
- Deel, Papaya, Oyster, Boundless, Remote, Remote Team: automating payroll and other admin for remote teams
- Localyze: making it easier to relocated employees
💡 Startup idea by Andreas Klinger: Glassdoor for remote work environments.
1.13. Self-employment facilitation
There’s never been a better time to be self-employed, with lots of companies now servicing the field. Notable examples:
- Catch, Decent, Collective Benefits, Orchata: big company benefits for the self-employed
- Finiata, Coconut, Mansa: Financial services for the self-employed
💡 Startup idea by Andreas Klinger: Tooling for employee-owned project-based cooperation. As global ad-hoc teams will be more & more common, they’ll also become more complex (you get a project; need support. You know a girl who knows a girl. The team is formed. The next project comes in. More people join the crew…) Tools to help this will thrive.
1.14. Remote Talent Engines
More and more companies are using tech to democratise access to global talent. Notable examples:
- Gigster, Terminal, Turing, Toptal, Distributed, Comet: scale talent by elastically hiring pre-vetted engineers & data scientists instantly from global talent pools
💡 Startup idea by Andreas Klinger: Build a marketplace helping people in prison (or recently released) to work remotely. With remote work rising, opportunities to rehabilitate and reintegrate incarcerated people into society could rise too.
1.15. Hiring with a Twist
This is the most subjective of my categories. The idea is that most people agree to some extent that “LinkedIn is not great”. However, it’s probably the only platform in the world that still really “owns the network”: not many other $bn companies exist in the space. Is this about to change, now that many companies are tackling hiring from interesting angles? Notable examples:
- The Org: Hoping to take on LinkedIn by building a free database of organisational charts for every company, and then add features later, such as job ads
- Drafted: Unlocks the full potential of your company network to source, qualify, and hire the right candidates. Makes referrals fun.
- Hiresweet, Wanted: The first platforms designed to poach talent
1.16. Employee Engagement / Retention / Development
As teams grow, so do problems such as employee disengagement & churn. This is set to change with companies tackling engagement & coaching at scale. Notable examples:
- BetterUp, Coachhub, Sharpist, Strive, Hone: scaling employee coaching
- Peakon, Clear Review, Jubiwee: automated performance & engagement analytics
1.17. The Future of Work Events
Online events and conferences are the new thing, and startups enabling them are being chased by investors at the moment. Notable examples:
- Hopin, Run the World, Airmeet, vFAIRS, HeySummit: Making it easy and fun for all kinds of organisers to put together exciting online events through plug & play events templates
💡 Startup idea — re-inventing the “dinner table”. When you’re at a work (or non-work) dinner, if the group conversation gets awkward, you can always start chatting with the person sitting next to you. When you have a “Zoom team lunch”, everyone has to listen to the one person talking at a specific time. Could this change?
Again, you can find the full list of companies with my descriptions & funding details here.
2. Finding investors who love “The Future of Work”
As a founder tackling the space, which investors should you know about?
Given it’s a hot space that spans both B2B & B2B2C, it would be virtually impossible to write a complete list of investors in it. What I did instead is list a few investors who explicitly told the world they like it + provide you with a collection of pre-existing lists I found online.
2.1. Angels & VCs
Almost every “sector-agnostic” or “SaaS-focussed” or “enterprise-focussed” VC fund or angel with more than 10 portfolio companies is very likely to have a Future of Work company in their portfolio and be open to investing in the space. As Jason M. Lemkin would say:
90% of VCs now invest in SaaS And the other 10% invest in The Future of Work
How to find them?
- Look for VCs who specifically brand themselves around the Future of Work (e.g. Bloomberg Beta and Slack Fund)
- Check out the investors listed in column H of my spreadsheet above: you’ll notice that some names come up a LOT (e.g. YCombinator, First Round, Accel, Felicis, Bessemer, Battery, Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark, Point Nine, Boldstart, Redpoint, Spark, Thrive, Lightspeed, Kima, Cowboy Ventures, La Famiglia etc.)
- Keep an eye out for twitter posts; you’ll see that many investors & founders like to tweet about the space
- Look for great open source lists, like this list of 500+ women angel investors by Lolita Taub or this list of 81 VCs focussed on the Future of Work by Jason Corsello, or finally this list of women investors who can lead Series A deals in the space by Josh Felser
A great deal of micro funds (which I define as ≤ $15M) are emerging which focus entirely or in part on this space. A couple that immediately jump to mind:
- WorkLife Ventures by Brianne Kimmel
- Weekend Fund by Ryan Hoover & Vedika Jain
- Remote First Capital by Andreas Klinger
- Chapter One by Jeff Morris Jr.
- Shrug Capital by Niv Dror & Nick Abouzeid
- Todd & Rahul’s Angel Fund by Todd Goldberg & Rahul Vohra
- Hustle Fund by Elizabeth Yin & Eric Bahn
- and many more…
Some big angels could also be seen as micro-funds themselves:
- Mathilde Collin (invested in Loom, Forethought, etc.)
- Daniel Gross (led Notion’s Series A on his own, invested in Loom, Retool, Deel etc.)
- Eric S. Yuan (Front, Workvivo, etc.)
- Elad Gil (Notion, Retool, The Org, Deel etc.)
- Adam D'Angelo (Gigster, Toptal, Lunchclub, etc.)
- and many more…
2.3. Venture Builders
I just had to include this section so I could mention eFounders: the strongest venture builder I’ve seen, entirely focussed on the Future of Work.
Thank you Kyle Hall & balthazar de Lavergne for your help!