If there is one company that dramatically changed the way to go to work and travel in cities, it’s TIER. I’ve been lucky enough to witness this world-class team change mobility for the better in an exponentially growing number of cities, now over 150.
Today, TIER just reached a $2bn valuation after raising $200m from existing investors alongside new partners like M&G Investments and Mountain Partners. On the heels of today’s fundraising announcement with new fuel in the tank to be able to realise their dream of having a real impact, I wanted to highlight some of the positive changes borne from the pandemic, and lift up spirits when it comes to building a sustainable future.
More than a year in, with vaccines rolling out and hybrid teams becoming the norm, we’re now entering a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic: rebuilding. We’ve been waiting a long time for something big to shift our perception of the way we work and live. As a long-time tech enthusiast and investor, I know that SaaS and AI companies that have a big impact on these themes like Personio (HR software for SMEs), TIER, Spacemaker (AI solution for architecture), and Forto (digital supply chain management). I’ve seen remarkable entrepreneurs take a stab at the large issues facing society today. With that in mind, I wanted to reflect on the positive changes borne from the pandemic, what I think is here to stay, and how to optimise for a brighter future.
The emergence of a hybrid work-life balance
Personally, I don’t want to go back to flying three days a week. First, it’s bad for the planet. Second, we now have the tools to work better in a digital set-up. And third, I get to spend more time with the people I care about at home.
The pandemic has propelled those who balked at using digital solutions to embrace them in their day-to-day business. Instead of printing everything, wasting paper and spending a fortune on fancy copiers, people are investing in better setups and software to analyse data on a screen.
In the face of remote work, they are familiarising themselves with new tools like Hopin, Miro, and Zoom. What Covid-19 has unequivocally shown us in record time is that these new methods are working. All kinds of CEOs who mistrusted working from home — even those in forward-leaning tech companies — are now accepting this new reality and even embracing its benefits.
The rise of complementary virtual and physical events
Even before the pandemic, events were moving towards a hybrid structure. In a $1T a year global industry, the events industry can only grow by embracing the virtual evolution. While physical events will bounce back — there’s nothing quite like experiencing a concert, networking at a conference, or cheering at a football game in person — virtual events will prove to be an invaluable complement. How? They will democratise access to content and opportunity around the world and they will extend any given event’s reach to improve the quality of both participants (casting a wider net) and discussion (creating a larger, more diverse roundtable).
The increase in conversations around sustainability
Covid-19 was good for the planet. It highlighted important areas where existing environmental policies were lacking to support global health and sustainable development goals. Many recovery plans are implementing significant climate actions into legislation as a result. This has accelerated the ESG agenda of many financial institutions, including ours as a VC firm. With that, valid concerns of greenwashing have arisen, and it’s important to find a genuine, balanced way to have these conversations while acknowledging there is still much work to be done.
As a VC firm, we’re aggressively pushing our ESG conversations, but we recognise there’s no silver bullet to this problem and it’s going to require a collaborative, ongoing effort.
The reinvention of office spaces
Not only are buildings terrible for the environment — the building and construction industry accounts for up to 40% of global carbon emissions annually — they are now also a source of concern for office workers asked to return to the workplace. Air quality, general cleanliness, social distancing, masks; these are a few of the measures people are requesting from their employers. According to William Cowell de Gruchy, founder of Infogrid, “Covid has increased the need for easy-to-deploy, multi-purpose building monitoring such as room/desk occupancy, remote maintenance, and air quality.” While the return of face-to-face meetings will be welcome to increase team cohesion and communication — especially with employees who may have started a new role during the pandemic — offices the way we knew them are a thing of the past.
The surge in new, more sustainable mobility solutions
No one misses spending hours commuting in a car. Or taking overcrowded subways. As governments encourage people to find alternative solutions to travel around cities, new players like TIER have proposed smart, sustainable solutions for urban environments. The former NYC Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan is emphasizing: “[we] can’t just return to the pre-pandemic norm. They need to come back more resilient, more sustainable, more economically connected, and more equitable. Reclaiming city streets from the domination of cars is never easy, but it will never be easier than it is right now.”
Tier have been betting on this trend since its inception. Lawrence Leuschner believes “that micro-mobility has the power to transform cities around the world look for ways to make their transport networks safer and more environmentally friendly. Our goal is to be the best possible partner while building the most sustainable mobility solutions for citizens to Change Mobility for Good”
These advances in transportation would have taken years perhaps decades more to gain the kind of traction instigated by Covid-19. This is without a doubt one of the better developments to have come out of the pandemic.
The increasing appetite for, and of, software
Covid-19 has categorically increased the need for more software. Companies hitherto unfamiliar with using software have sourced a procurement person or even consultants. This is great for SaaS startups because these intermediaries are easier to negotiate and work with. They’re used to acquiring software; they know what they’re talking about; and they require far less education and onboarding. In sum: software’s appetite for the world is only growing.
Looking back, the pandemic has accelerated advances in many industries, propelled by tech solutions we can be thankful already existed in budding forms. Budgets have been unlocked, new roles created, and wider markets penetrated without necessitating a physical presence. Of course, uncertainty still remains, with government communications often changing and the long-term impacts on population growth and inner city developments still unknown. Ultimately, embracing the progress we’ve made and integrating it with the elements we’ve lost will help us rebuild not only faster, but better.