Climate and Crypto are the new Mobile

Every company had to come up with a mobile strategy. Next up: a climate strategy and a crypto strategy.

Welcome to issue #37 of next big thing.

As the past decade unfolded, it became more and more obvious that every company had to have a strategy for the rise of smartphone usage and penetration. Companies that were early to the mobile wave reaped rewards, and those that didn’t were forced to play catch up, or got left behind.

As I think about the decade ahead, there are two waves that feel like mobile did just over a decade ago: climate and crypto. Below are five reasons why.

1. Massive Tailwinds

The iPhone launched in 2007, Android and the iOS App Store in 2008, and by 2011, smartphone growth was explosive. The mobile era of personal computing presented an enormous opportunity for new business growth. A decade later, there are massive tailwinds in climate and crypto that present similarly enormous opportunity.

For climate, it’s the increasing warming of the planet. As the latest IPCC report states, “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” There are now noticeable changes — the retreat of glaciers, rising sea levels, more heatwaves, more droughts, more hurricanes — that negatively impact how we live and work, making the climate crisis more top of mind for many people than ever before.

For crypto, it’s the increasing power of centralized organizations, the counter-acting benefits of decentralization, and the huge financial success of those that have been early to invest in assets such as cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The promise of greater financial access, technology that enables new types of user experiences, and wealth creation is drawing more and more people to the field.

Both climate and crypto have vibrant communities, and lots of momentum at their backs. If these tailwinds seem obvious to you, that’s a good sign! And if they don’t, now’s the time to pay attention.

2. First Movers Have Already Moved

A decade ago, companies were waking up to the opportunity on mobile and moving quickly to capture it. Apple and Google were its catalysts and beneficiaries, with mobile-native winners like WhatsApp launching in 2009, swiftly after the launches of the App Stores on iOS and Android. Facebook, famously, was not one of the earliest movers. This piece by Kurt Wagner at Vox chronicles Facebook’s journey of almost missing the mobile revolution, and the company shifting to entirely focus on mobile in 2012.

While we will only know in hindsight who were the early movers and late movers to the tailwinds in climate and crypto, what is fascinating is the number of companies, both legacy and innovative, that have woken up to these opportunities.

In climate, the past couple of years have seen many companies announce goals and strategies to get to zero carbon emissions, from retailers like Amazon and Walmart, to airlines like Delta and United, to brands like Nike and Pepsi. More than one third of the Fortune Global 500 have announced formal climate targets. Technology companies, which have higher margin and lower carbon footprint businesses than, say, airlines, are leading the way, with the most ambitious plans, such as Microsoft’s goal to be carbon negative by 2030. What’s exciting is to see the most innovative companies go further in their climate focus, such as IKEA’s announcement last week that it will be selling renewable energy to homes, and enabling tracking of energy production and usage from its app. Climate strategies are evolving from plans and targets to being fundamental to the products and services offered by first mover companies.

In crypto, the past few years have seen public companies buy and hold Bitcoin on their balance sheets, including MicroStrategy, Square, Tesla, and, of course, Coinbase. They’ve also seen more and more companies accept Bitcoin as payment, including Microsoft, PayPal, Overstock, Whole Foods, Etsy, Home Depot, Starbucks, and earlier this week, Substack. Facebook is getting ready to launch a crypto wallet this year. But what’s also changed in crypto recently is the rise in popularity of assets such as NFTs, in sports on platforms such as NBA Top Shot and Sorare, in art on platforms such as Foundation and OpenSea (just check out the volume of NFT transactions here!), and in particular projects and communities that include punks and apes. Earlier this week, Visa made a move into one of these communities by buying a CryptoPunk:

If you’re thinking about how NFTs could apply to your company, check out this thread by investor Chris Cantino:

It’s worth noting that some of the most innovative companies in the world are clearly prioritizing efforts in both climate and crypto. A prime example is Shopify, which in 2019 launched a Sustainability Fund and climate commitment, and in the last few months enabled its merchants to sell NFTs (check out this NFT collection by the Chicago Bulls from July).

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3. Magnets For The Best Talent

A leading indicator of where the world is headed is where the smartest people are spending their time. A decade ago, it was mobile. I had just finished college, and I already felt like the fact that I didn’t have a background in mobile engineering or product put me a step behind those who did. Today, climate and crypto are consistently the top two areas that come up anecdotally in my conversations with talented young people, with the intersection of biology and healthcare probably third. And, when I talk to high performing employees who are disillusioned with their current job at a big tech company, climate and crypto come up as their preferred next chapters. Interesting data points to support this include the popularity of certain Telegram and Discord crypto groups, and the level and breadth of talented people joining climate communities such as MCJ Collective (which now has 1500+ members). Finally, it feels like the companies we meet working on climate and crypto have a leg up on hiring and attracting quality talent over those in B2B SaaS and other areas. If anyone has quantitative data to back up the magnetic pull of climate and crypto for talent, I’d love to see it.

4. Interdisciplinary Nature

Mobile ended up permeating and changing nearly every major industry. There’s already evidence that the same can be true for climate and crypto, given their interdisciplinary nature. Everywhere you look — from more obviously impacted industries like energy and financial services, to less obvious ones like healthcare and hospitality — there are opportunities and threats that come from the tailwinds in climate and crypto. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the intersection of climate and crypto is itself a fascinating space worth watching. The crypto industry has attracted controversy due to the energy consumption and negative climate impacts of currency mining. But there are ways in which crypto can actually help advance our progress in combatting and adapting to climate change. Albert Wenger at USV wrote a great piece about how climate and crypto may not be at odds with one another. And here’s a neat idea from investor Josh Felser about how carbon offset marketplaces should be using NFTs (NFTrees?).

5. Underlying The Next Big Thing

It’s possible that the most interesting climate and crypto companies may not label themselves as climate and crypto companies. The same was true in mobile.

Consider a couple of the biggest winning companies of the past decade: Robinhood and Uber. Robinhood is a financial services company, which launched with an app that enabled free stock trading. Uber is a transportation marketplace company, which launched with an app that enabled you to get a black car, on demand. Both delivered amazing end user experiences that were not possible before mobile. But neither considered themselves to be first and foremost “mobile companies;” mobile was just in the fabric and underlying technology of each company from the get-go.

I predict the same will be true in climate and crypto. In climate, the next big thing could be a company like Tesla, which has of course accelerated the world’s transition to sustainable energy, but has done so by creating cars that people love to drive. It’s had a significant climate impact by delivering amazing products that people want. In crypto, the next big thing could start out as a game or social network or marketplace that happens to leverage crypto technology to deliver a much more engaging consumer experience. Sure, there are those that believe it will be crypto culture that goes mainstream (like sharp crypto investor Alok Vasudev), but I think it more likely that it’s in existing forms of media and culture where crypto thrives in enabling even more compelling behaviors. Climate and crypto can underlie these companies’ success, but they may not be at the forefront of how you think of them.

At Footwork, we’re very excited to meet founders building these types of products and companies in climate and crypto. Please reach out or send them our way.

I started next big thing to share unfiltered thoughts. I’d love your feedback, questions, and comments!

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