16 March 2018 Weekly

What Y Combinator wants: meat-free burgers and new-wave retailers

PLUS: Meal kits – Glasses brands – Personal health tech – Supplements

What Y Combinator wants.

Each year thousands of companies apply to go through Y Combinator’s prestigious accelerator programme, hoping to join a list of alumni that includes Airbnb, Dropbox and Instacart.

This year, partner Kat Manalac says, YC is particularly interested in areas such as fake video detectors, carbon-reduction and bricks-and-mortar retail businesses. Others are current obsessions of Courier’s, too:

  • Voice apps. Now that Amazon, Google and Apple all have voice assistants out in the market, the race is on to find clever ways to use them. We previously looked at how small businesses plan to use voice assistants to read out recipes, top up oyster cards and do price comparisons, all hands-free.
  • Clean meat. Meat-free is mainstream, as evidenced by thenumber of vegan pubs launching across London. Meanwhile, there’s been plenty of buzz around lab-grown ‘meat’. Impossible Foods, launched in 2011, makes animal-free burgers that ‘bleed’ and is already sold in restaurants across the US. It’s rumoured to be on sale in Tesco later this year. The company recently hired its first creative director, to presumably make the brand a household name.

Meal kits: Diners’ delight?

Gousto, the London-based meal kit provider, announced a £28.5m raise this week, amid questions over whether meal kit subscription services have already reached saturation point. Expensive Google and Facebook ads and rock-bottom introductory offers are currently being deployed in an attempt to get customers on board with paying £25-35 per week for 4-8 dinners. Gousto made a £6.6m annual loss in 2016.

Supermarkets are expected to start making their own plays in this space, with buyers on the look-out for premium ready-meal products. US-based Blue Apron’s shares took a tumble when Walmart announced it would start stocking its own meal kits. Many customers are expected to prefer the freedom of picking up a meal kit on a whim, rather than tying themselves in to a subscription service.

Eyewear brands convene in New York.

Vision Expo East kicked off yesterday at New York City’s gargantuan Javits Center. The annual trade show brings together an army of optometrists, opticians, brands, buyers and bespectacled influencers.

Eyewear, with its position at the intersection between health and fashion, has been a fascinating sector to watch in recent years.

Warby Parker has been the poster-child for the industry’s shake-up. The e-commerce company announced a £54m raise this week, putting its valuation at £1.2bn. Co-founder Neil Blumenthal has hinted that an IPO may be on the cards (£) in the coming years.

Despite eyewear stories generally focusing on Warby or brands belonging to industry giant Luxottica, such as Persol, Oakley and Ray-Ban, innovation in the £70bn industry is coming from all angles.

We previously wrote about how Amsterdam-based eyewear brand Ace and Tate uses social media for customer service, with Skype-style consultations, WhatsApp chats, and feedback via Snapchat. New York-based District Vision, meanwhile, has found a profitable niche with its attractive running sunglasses – a once nonexistent segment.

Personal health tech: Help or hinderance?

This week, we hosted our latest Courier Talks panel discussion at co-working space Fora. Hamish Grierson, CEO of blood-testing company Thriva, Nickie Hursthouse from employee health assessment business Live Smart, and Ann Robinson, an NHS GP, debated the merits of putting personal health data in the hands of the consumer. An edited transcript will appear in the next issue of Courier. For now, here’s three key takeaways:

  1. Not all knowledge is good knowledge. GP time is being wasted by patients who’ve had benign lumps and bumps pointed out to them by body scanning and blood testing companies. Figuring out what data is helpful to give consumers will be key for these companies.
  2. The market is potentially huge. Thriva’s going after the 12 million people who have a gym membership in the UK. Live Smart is making inroads selling to big corporates and on-boarding their staff to its product.
  3. Google won’t necessarily win. Google, Apple and Amazon are all trying to muscle their way into this sector, but are yet to make significant impact. Google-owned Deepmind’s partnership with the NHS, for example, has already come under fire over the handling of patient data.

Finally, competitors to Holland and Barrett.

Holland and Barrett has been an anomaly of the modern British high street with its outdated branding and clunky collection of vitamins, healthy snacks and protein powders.

Two new brands have come along at once to try and take it on. (Albeit for the luxury end of the market.)

Last night Anatome, a new health and fitness concept from the founder of barbershop brand Murdock London, launched in Shoreditch. The store will sell essential oils, vitamins and sports kit, and also host its own cafe.

Soon-to-launch Supple plans to open a pop-up store in the coming weeks. Its version of ‘health retail’ includes own-brand supplements. Owner James Shaw was one half of the founding team behind menswear brand Albam.