July 2, 2020

Time to Sharpen Your Knives

"Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a fucking sharp knife to it."
—Banksy, Wall and Piece

Pandemic, racism, economic upheaval—it would be easy to focus only on all that is wrong in this most turbulent of years. No one can ignore the troubled times, but the funny thing about the terrible tumult taking place is that it is driving real change, at least some of it positive.

We are on the lookout for positive. We’re not philosophers, we’re doers, and our hearts and thoughts are with those who are creating solutions to 2020’s turmoil.

So, this week, we are celebrating the innovators and the hustlers—the people who are finding solutions because they see no other choice. Our favorite spectator sport these days: cataloging all of the less-obvious areas of growth and opportunity that are cropping up as a result of major economic and social shifts. Our Slack channels are abuzz with links and conversation about cool new things taking place, and we wanted to share a few with you.

Take The Pledge

If you haven’t heard of Aurora James, her hot fashion brand Brother Vellies, or the 15 Percent Pledge she originated, check it out. the Pledge is straightforward in its genius: since Black people make up about 15% of the US population, the Pledge asks retailers to devote at least 15% of shelf space to products made by Black-owned businesses. Sephora was the first major retailer to take the pledge, and at least 17 retailers in total are now committed.

Could this be the beginning of meaningful support for Black-owned businesses? Only if a lot more retailers jump on board. More importantly, consumers need to buy in, literally. Publications from New York to Official Black Wall Street have done an admirable job of rounding up lists of Black-owned consumer brands. Now, it’s up to consumers to move the needle. Go.

Serendipity Strikes

It took no genius to see that online video platforms and home office furnishings would benefit from shelter-in-place guidance. But who was predicting the uptick in ring lights or tiny tripods?

Second-order demand is a big deal, and it requires tons of hustle to supply the surprise crowd at your doorstep. But what’s turning our heads are businesses that managed to attract a crowd by drawing attention to a less-obvious solution already at hand but just waiting for its big moment. A few examples of companies jumping on opportunities that are likely part of a permanent shift:

Connect. Meredith Oppenheim had just launched her new company, Vitality Society, with the goal of connecting people “60 or better” for social, cultural, and wellness activities, when the pandemic began. Oppenheim quickly changed plans, offering more online classes than planned and making them free through the end of May. Word got around: the platform is thriving, attracting new members and addressing the profound isolation faced by many seniors in lockdown. It’s also starting to generate revenue, with more than 5% converting to a $29.99 monthly membership.

Isolate. STARC Systems makes pop-up containment rooms for interior construction—you know, those temporary walls that prevent dust from going everywhere. The company, which had been promoting pandemic preparedness for years, ramped up production of its isolation rooms to provide instant containment solutions for hospitals.

Repel. Something tells us the market for anti-viral apparel was not a hot ticket a year ago. Now, textile manufacturers and fashion designers are creating clothing that repels viruses and microbes. Check out The Full Metal Jacket for your next flight.

Pandemic Pivots

Our last shout-out goes to companies who were poorly positioned for a pandemic (arguably most of them) and managed to pivot to find growth. (And yes, there is already a podcast called Pandemic Pivots, in case you were thinking of starting one.)

Coming Up Rosies. Thanks to WeWork, co-working spaces were already facing an existential reckoning as 2020 began. Cut to June, when co-working spaces like Honey Space for Moms and The Riveter shifted operations online. The Riveter did a Hail Mary, closing all locations and creating a content platform focused on the working lives of women. Let’s hear it for content, people!

Coffee Talk. Imagine being a supplier to startups and small office-based businesses, many of whom will not likely return to physical locations for months, if ever. Terra Kaffe, a maker of automated coffee/espresso-making machines, read the (ahem) tea leaves quickly in March and pivoted to a direct-to-consumer model. It’s working: the company’s DTC sales in April were positively frothy.

Jackpot. While countless companies have pivoted from their usual work to producing masks—and we applaud them!—we want to call out Vengo Labs for delivering on mask delivery. Vengo just adapted its vending machines, which were intended for product sampling in retail settings, to mask and hand sanitizer dispensing in NYC subways.

We’re keeping a running list of game-changing trends and the companies making them happen. (Pretty sure a year from now we will rename it Things We Wish We Had Invested In in 2020.) Send us your picks—we will return to this topic throughout 2020.

Having a marketing crisis?

Spark biz-therapy is here. Contact us at hello@sparkno9.com for a free consult.
We will rally the online whiteboard and help you find a path forward.

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