Hidden Gems in Three Markets: Email, Calendar, and Maps


The classic market that is ‘ripe for disruption’ is usually one that is very large, highly inefficient, has few agile competitors, high margin potential, and low capital requirements. Think of transportation and how Uber was able to exploit and disrupt this inefficient market. Of course, Uber had extremely high expenses to accommodate its market share gain strategy, but its cap ex was very low.



Compared with these ideal markets, there are many markets that seem to be saturated, highly competitive and unattractive because of low/uncertain economics.


However, many of these otherwise stale markets offer great opportunities for innovation, partly because no one else is focusing on them.

Think about what Slack did to collaboration and chatting market which most people considered fully mature with many established competitors serving the market well. Yet, slack showed that there were deep dissatisfactions with existing products that can be leveraged into a new category. Slack wasn’t about a new technology but rather a new design.



We have identified the following three markets as ripe for innovation and want to encourage entrepreneurs to start looking at new models that can make these markets significantly more efficient.



Email

Email is by far the most widely used app and takes the single largest part of the time spent by most information workers. Most people will consider creating a new email platform as a crazy idea, equal to creating a new Facebook or a new Google. Yet the existing platforms such as Gmail, Outlook and others, have failed to innovate meaningfully in the past two decade. In fact, since Google introduced new email categories in 2013 (Important, Updates, Promotions, etc.), there hasn’t been a substantial innovation in the email space. Yet we really live and do our work in email.



Efforts like Superhuman are noteworthy and long overdue but innovation must go well beyond just categorization of emails or getting to ‘zero inbox’. There has to be features that allow us to process the emails faster, integrate email with other apps seamlessly, and even start doing some major automation to process and respond to emails with minimal user involvement.


It’s time that we recognize email is not just communication platform but a workflow platform for many of us.

Calendar

We use calendars not just to mark events but also to manage our schedule and workflow, and to collaborate and communicate with others. Currently, platforms like Google offer a limited integration with conferencing tools, attachments or collaborations. But Calendars can do a lot more than this. They can tie seamlessly with our email threads, reference relevant material and attachments automatically, and create a trail of events that can be searched and used in analytics and for workflow improvements. The ideal calendar will integrate not just with maps and directions but also transportation booking features, parking, meeting or event notes and recording, and a full tracing of the project and workflow.


Like email, our calendars are treasure troves of information

Lots of useful data that can help the user do better planning and be more proactive. A smart calendar can not only provide useful analytics but can even suggest activities based on one’s history and personalized preferences.



Map

Maps are not just for finding directions. As a pictorial representation of the world we live in, they are incredibly useful as a navigating platform for our activities and plans. Right now, we primarily use the maps for finding directions, but maps can, and should, allow us to do more than that: to book, to transact, to even communicate with others through the maps. It’s a pity the Google’s integration of Uber into Google Map was canceled last year, as it was at least a step in the right direction.



Google is integrating more information in its maps but unfortunately its interface leaves a lot to be desired and it fails to make that info easily available or useable.



This leave the opportunity for agile startups to use the map and turn it into a visual navigation interface for many activities that are location-driven or location-impacted.

In fact, my vision is to have my calendar and map combined into one.



There are many other markets that at first glance seem saturated and boring but can be fertile grounds for new rounds of innovation. I welcome suggestion of some other such opportunities.