The Rise of The Solopreneur and Increasing Importance of Marketplaces

I believe that we’re moving towards a future dominated by ‘solopreneurs’ — individuals who work for themselves and have no intention of hiring staff or growing a team. I’d argue that recent shifts to a more fluid and mobile workforce are precursors to this future. No longer are workers joining a company with the plan of staying there for life; hell, I doubt many workers see themselves spending more than 5 years at the same company. This shifts the mindset of workers to be less aligned with their company and more aligned with their own future, which is a stepping-stone to working for yourself.

I believe these ‘solopreneurs’ will mostly be split into two categories:

  1. Those who are selling goods or services, e.g. Etsy/Shopify or Uber/TaskRabbit
  2. Those who are selling skills and knowledge, e.g. your traditional business consultants/contractors, which I believe will increasingly happen through marketplaces like HourlyNerd/oDesk

The Internet’s ability to provide business access to thousands of potential customers has made this future a possibility and we’re already in the nascent stages. However, as this paradigm shift continues to unfold, it will become more and more difficult for any one individual to break through the noise and acquire customers. It’s for this reason that I believe two-sided marketplaces will become increasingly important conduits for ‘solopreneur’ employment.

The symbiotic relationship between a marketplace and its supply makes for an ideal employment hub for ‘solopreneurs’. Marketplace companies are by definition reliant on their supply side, which makes it in their best interest to provide tools and support to be successful. That support comes in the way of: marketing, operational logistics, customer support assistance, community access, educational tools and much more. By providing a streamlined business framework, suppliers can more easily focus on growing their business. Additionally, marketplace network effects amplify the necessity of joining if there is a dominant operator in your space. Even if you’re able to build your business independently of a marketplace, the benefits (resources, more business, branding by association) of joining likely outweigh the costs.

While the Internet, existing marketplaces and a more fluid employment environment have laid the foundation for this transformation, I believe the larger catalyst will be the shift to remote work becoming the norm, which I believe is on the near term horizon. Once people begin to feel comfortable working from home and away from the traditional office, the leap to working for themselves will seem less daunting. As we continue to shift away from a labor based economy to a knowledge based economy, it will continue to make more sense for workers to move between jobs to increase their knowledge and leverage that into higher pay, or putting it another way — it will make more sense to become independent consultants or contractors.

This is why I’m so bullish on marketplaces and it’s a large part of what led me to CoachUp, and now 1stdibs. I believe we’re increasingly moving to an e-commerce landscape mostly dominated by HUGE winners, with a spattering of small-to-medium sized niche players. This has been the typical status quo for much of the post-industrial evolution world, however until recently I think you could make the argument the Internet was changing that. Unfortunately we’re reverting to the mean, as the majority of businesses have moved online and it’s now more difficult than ever to standout. Because of this, I believe these winners will often take the form of marketplaces, as they will best position to leverage the shifting workplace dynamics that increased ‘soloprenuerism’ will bring.

 

Three Big Announcements (Really 2 and 1 Minor 👍)

After nearly three and a half years at CoachUp, the time has come for my next adventure. It was an incredible ride and more than I could have ever hoped for in my first job, but I’m ready for a new challenge. That desire for something new was a big factor in another recent decision – moving to Brooklyn. That’s right, back-to-back bombshells; I am no longer with CoachUp, and Hillary and I have left Boston for NYC (only from a location standpoint, our allegiances are still firmly with Boston, the City of Champions).

CoachUp will always have a special place in my heart, and leaving was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. After Wesleyan my dream/goal was to join an early stage startup in order to learn how companies are founded and built. Joining CoachUp as the 5th employee afforded me that opportunity. I couldn’t have asked for a better company or group of founders to learn from and to embark on the rollercoaster ride that is an early stage startup with. I owe such a tremendous debt to Jordan, Arian and Gabe for taking a chance on me, despite my total lack of experience at the time and for teaching me what it takes to build a company.

I’m still not sure what’s next for me, as I don’t want to rush the process. A big part of what made the CoachUp experience so great was the amazing people and my passion for the vision, so I want to make sure the same can be said of my next role. What I do know is that I’m going to optimize for learning and that I want to stay in B2C or at the very least B2B2C. So If you know anyone awesome companies that are hiring in NYC/BK or anyone you think I should know, please shoot me an email grant (at) grantcovington.com or tweet me @grantcov.

The 3rd announcement is relatively minor – I finally launched my food blog, TheBellyBeckons.com. Those of you that know me well, know that this has been in the works for sometime. With leaving CoachUp, I finally had time to get it up and going. The site is very rough and needs a lot more work, but wanted to get something live so I could start posting my recipes. Cooking has always been one of my largest creative outlets and favorite hobbies, so I’m incredibly excited to have a place to share that passion. So please go check out the site at TheBellyBeckons.com and follow on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (all @TheBellyBeckons).

Twitch is Still Just Getting Started

When I first started watching Twitch in 2010 it was still called Justin.tv and my friends thought I was crazy for watching video games instead of just playing them. The game I watched most was Starcraft 2 (still is) and rather than go directly to Justin.tv I would go to TeamLiquid (a Starcraft website) and check the “Live Now” section of the sidebar, which would list which pros were currently streaming. The most popular streamers were: Day[9], Huk, Idra, WhiteRa and Destiny. Each could sometimes draw up to 10k viewers under the right conditions, and when a big event like MLG would happen there could be as many as 35k viewers. Those numbers pale in comparison to what the top streamers and biggest events draw in today, but at the time they seemed massive. Despite the huge growth, I’m still incredibly bullish on the future of eSports (definitely not alone here) but also on Twitch as a whole. I believe the Twitch acquisition by Amazon will be as big as YouTube was for Google – maybe even bigger.

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Small Changes Can Have a Big Effect

It’s important that every product team have a North Star – the ultimate vision and goal for what you hope to achieve with your product. Every decision should be weighed against whether or not it aligns with and helps the team reach said North Star. Unfortunately, this can often lead to enormous undertakings in the hopes of reaching our final destination as quickly as possible. When instead, we’d often be better suited to make small incremental changes that in aggregate can have a massive effect.

When trying to establish a new personal habit, the common advice is to start small and build a foundation. Focus on lots of little wins in order to build a positive feedback loop. If after multiple attempts you’re unable to positively enact change, only then does it make sense to make drastic changes. The same advice holds true for product development. Figure out what your product currently does well, or what your foundation is, and then begin mapping out small quick wins to build on your success and keep you headed in the direction of your North Star.

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Unplug to Recharge

Have you ever written an email that began with “sorry for the delay,” when replying in less than 24 hours — how about 12 hours, 6 hours, 3 hours? I know I have. Hell I’ve responded to emails in less than an hour and apologized for the delay when it was a conversational, back-and-forth thread. The unfortunate reality is that since the advent of email, and more specifically smartphones, the expectation is that you’re available and reachable 24/7. It’s for that very reason that it’s more important than ever to unplug and disconnect on a regular basis.

Work fatigue and burnout are very real and it affects all of us in different ways; you often don’t even realize you’re suffering from burnout until you’re able to get away for a few days. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed and re-energized you’ll feel when you come back to work after time off the grid. I’ve found that the weekend is not quite enough time to get everything out of your system, so ideally extend it with a Friday or Monday off. It’s remarkable how much longer a 3-day weekend feels as compared to a typical weekend – certainly more than the 50% longer simple arithmetic tells us.

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