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BLOG: Three ideas to tap into ‘digital Darwinism’

Written by: Andrew Wolfson
Mobile technology has completely re-written the rule book when it comes to how businesses and consumers interact with each other. Here are three disruptors you may want to consider as part of your Venture Capital Trust (VCT) investments.

We now live in an era of ‘digital Darwinism’, where companies failing to keep up with the pace of technological change risk losing market share. Meanwhile, startups using mobile technology to revolutionise the way that consumers buy and consume products and services are thriving.

The rise of peer-to-peer ride-sharing business Uber is a classic example of disruptive mobile technology in action. Despite much controversy, the company has challenged how traditional taxi firms do business. Indeed, it gave four billion rides in 2017 alone, as well as expanding into food delivery.

Coming up with a disruptive use for mobile technology is one thing, but reaching the heights of Uber is another. Many promising disruptors need access to capital and managerial experience to grow to their full potential and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs)  provide support to entrepreneurs as well as a tax-efficient structure for investors.

We think early exposure to these unquoted disruptors provides growth opportunities, while funding the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit. Here are three changes being driven by mobile technology, and the promising companies taking advantage of them:

1) RatedPeople: fueling the ‘gig economy’

The gig economy has been driven by apps and platforms which connect consumers requiring a service to those who can provide it. These allow contractors and freelancers to pool their collective might against traditional professional service providers. Apps have been launched in sectors ranging from food delivery to tutoring, with varying degrees of success.

Pembroke VCT is an investor in RatedPeople which allows homeowners to find local tradesmen by posting the details of what they require, before receiving and reviewing a number of quotes and selecting one. Once the job is complete, users can rate the quality of the tradesman’s work, ensuring that high quality is rewarded and recognised.

Over 50,000 tradespeople from 30 trades now use the site, and over one million jobs are posted every year by homeowners. The company embarked on a new funding round in 2017 at an improved valuation. This came after it implemented a number of cost-saving initiatives and enhanced its customer service offering.

2) Popsa: improving efficiency

Mobile banking provides more services and, arguably, as much security as a traditional bank. But most importantly, it enables you to do it quickly from an app on your phone rather than having to travel to a local branch. This has allowed so-called ‘mobile-first’ banks like First Direct to become leading players despite having no high street presence.

The use of mobile technology to update existing services is not limited to the high street banking sector though. Popsa enables users to create personalised photo books on their phone in as little as five minutes. The firm uses algorithms to select sentimental photos and filter out poor quality ones, before automatically designing them into a photo book in the most visually attractive way possible. Once approved by the customer it is printed and delivered to their door – all at a very reasonable price.

Popsa’s app eliminates the need for consumers to upload their photos to a third-party website, before creating a book themselves from scratch – a time-consuming process. Furthermore, unlike other online photo services, it requires no design input from users and guarantees privacy by leaving photos on users’ phones.

3) Wishi: creating brand new products and services

Another way that mobile technology can disrupt is by creating entirely new products and services. For example, social media wouldn’t exist without the support of apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook.

But it has now revolutionised the way we keep in touch and interact with friends and family.

Styling app Wishi is disrupting the fashion sector with its unique blend of personal styling and online wardrobe management. It allows users to upload pictures of their clothes and connect with the world’s top stylists to get fashion advice, which they can then share with other users.

The question of ‘what should I wear?’ has existed for time immemorial for both men and women. However, the idea of solving it with real-time personalised advice on your own clothes would not be possible without mobile technology.

Andrew Wolfson is managing director of Pembroke VCT

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