Based on the volume of digital ink I devoted in 2019 to cashierless checkout and robot-related startups, you’d think that I would pick those sectors as trends to watch in 2020.
While I think those segments will continue to grow steadily over the coming months, the two trends I’m most fascinated by are the ones I actually wrote very little about this year. If you’re looking for a couple of big, juicy trends I think you should pay attention to, you should explore semi-permanent pop-ups and equity crowdfunding.
Pop-up stores have been around for a while, but there are a number of startups looking to capitalize on their small footprint and easy setup to create new retail experiences. AiFi creates nano-stores are small, self-contained shipping container-like boxes that house an operation like a convenience store. These stores are cashierless (like Amazon Go), so customers can walk in, grab what they want and go.
Zippin is another company building out cashierless retail experiences, though it’s “Zippin Cube” is more customizable. The Zippin Cube is modular, so it can fit into existing, odd-shaped real estate. The Cubes can also hold coolers and come pre-wired, so they can be assembled and up and running in as little as three weeks.
Both Zippin and AiFi allow retail brands to quickly, easily and inexpensively set up pop-up stores in sporting venues, office lobbies or even music festivals. Retailers can then extend their brand into new venues without expensive and permanent build out. Think: a mini-Safeway at the base of your office building or a 7-11 at Coachella.
The ability to cheaply squirrel these stores into the nooks and crannies of high-volume but unused space will entice retailers to try them out next year.
Speaking of enticing, I expect startups will sing their siren song next year to entice everyday people to pony up through equity fundraising. Unlike the traditional product crowdfunding on Kickstarter, equity crowdfunding offers investors real equity in the companies they back.
GoSun, GOffee (unrelated “Gos” there) and Miso Robotics all launched equity crowdfunding campaigns this year. GoSun has raised $345,000 with 25 days left in its campaign. GOffee raised $1.07 million, and Miso Robotics aims to equity crowdfund a whopping $30 million.
This is actually GoSun’s second round of equity crowdfunding. The company raised $500,000 in seed money from the crowd in 2017. I spoke with GoSun CEO Patrick Sherwin earlier this year about the reason for crowdfunding and he told me:
“Traditional VC will breathe down your neck,” Sherwin said, “And drive everything towards more profit. This gives us more flexibility and keeps us in charge.”
Greater control over their own destiny is an attractive proposition for startups, and equity crowdfunding also has the benefit of giving companies that aren’t located in major VC hubs access to capital.
There are still plenty of SEC hurdles that a company must go through when equity crowdfunding, but I imagine we’ll see a lot more companies go that route to grow the way they want to.