Whether you're in the early-stage of your startup or years into running a successful business, it's always important to be ahead of the curve when it comes to every aspect of business, from branding to recruiting to even podcasting. And what's the best way to do that? Start early. By taking a look at the market, scanning the internet and simply being aware, you can prepare yourself and your business for next year. To help you out, here are 10 business trend predictions from successful entrepreneurs and executives.
"Companies have gotten very good at providing creature comforts to developers -- they have candy, free lattes, free massages -- but if you ask developers what they want, it’s a quiet place to work, with a door that closes and more flexibility on getting to learn the technology and experiment. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re never going to win a benefits battle against Google or Facebook. But if you give employees (and especially developers) flexibility and let them get back to that world where they have more creativity in what they’re doing, you’re more likely to get good talent and results. There’s also a huge movement toward reckoning with the ethical impacts of technology. If companies are looking to attract tech talent, the number one thing they can do is take a stand on some of these social, moral and ethical issues."
-- Anil Dash, CEO, Fog Creek Software
"In category after category, legacy brands are losing share to emerging brands; craft breweries are an obvious example. With dropping marketing and distribution costs, ecommerce and the end of slotting fees [for placement on shelves], the environment allows small brands to find a home.
"With machine learning, we can now quantify the quality of brands. Brands have been long known by investors as core drivers of value in a business. But from a data science perspective, you need to be able to measure that. Use popcorn as a category. Our algorithms look at 450 popcorn companies across the country and score them on metrics around brand engagement -- how often and quickly consumers talk about the brands, the sentiment, the word choice people use. We want to predict: Is this company going to grow faster than other companies? Machine learning finds us better signals than guesswork."
-- Rory Eakin, co-founder and COO, CircleUp
"I was responsible for many Wendy’s tweets that went viral this year. [In one, a troll doubted the brand’s claim of selling fresh, not frozen, beef. Troll: “So you deliver it raw on a hot truck?” @Wendys: “Where do you store cold things that aren’t frozen?”] But I don’t think the takeaway should be, Let’s start roasting our customers. Between that and, say, Square taking on Twitter troll Fart Sandwich, the takeaway might be, There appears to be latitude to good-naturedly smack down a rude hater -- not to be confused with a genuinely disgruntled customer -- from time to time, if that is something that makes sense for my brand. Given the changing tenor of Twitter, brands that can bring some much-needed levity have been seeing success recently for a reason. My personal favorite is @MoonPie.
"But it’s also even more important than it was before to read the room before you post. Who knows what the president just tweeted? Start with who and why: Who are you talking to and why should they care about you? And if you’re small, start small. Just because Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram and YouTube and Pinterest and Tumblr exist doesn’t mean you necessarily need to be on all of them."
-- Amy Brown, social media strategist
"Direct-to-consumer startups, which are mushrooming like crazy, typically don’t have retail spaces. Most start out as ecommerce businesses. What is becoming really important for these brands is the unboxing experience. Boxes were always part of packaging design, but until now there wasn’t an emphasis on the step-by-step unboxing journey. Direct-to-consumer packaging has a lot of limitations due to the shipping process; it’s always a corrugated box, and you can’t get creative with shapes. So companies are adding a lot more inside the box to make the unboxing experience— -- which lasts perhaps a minute -- interesting. And designers are being asked to consider: What does the exterior of the box say? Is there a logo on it? And once you open it up, what do you see? What is the product wrapped in? Is there a message inside? When you take the tissue paper out, what do you see before you get to the product -- is there a sticker? Some swag? It’s a whole new design process."
-- Natasha Jen, partner, Pentagram
"We regularly hear from CEOs that the number one issue they’re focused on is improving communication within their organizations -- helping their teams find information and identify key decision-makers, maintaining alignment as an organization and so on. It may not sound like the most exciting topic, but it’s fundamental to business and will continue to be a core focus for years to come, because the sheer volume of information flowing through companies today is incredible. A McKinsey study found that employees spend nearly 20 percent of their time looking for information or tracking down colleagues to help with specific tasks. Integrating AI into workplace tools and automating some of those mundane tasks can alleviate some of the drudgery we find ourselves engaged in on a day-to-day basis, and free us up to do more of the creative work we are uniquely suited to."
-- Cal Henderson, co-founder and CTO, Slack
"What will 2018 look like for podcasting? The thinking is that the industry will continue its current trajectory of steady growth, which means that as much as there are opportunities to launch new podcast programming companies, there is also tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to build businesses that would help the industry scale up its processes.
Related: Start a Podcast Now. Here's How.
"Sure, it’s imperially sexy to be the next Gimlet Media, Midroll or HowStuffWorks. It is similarly sexy to be adjacent to these programming and talent wrangling podcast companies, like the social audio platform Anchor, which raised a round in September for its vision, which happens to sound a lot like a “YouTube for audio.” But there are also various relatively unsexy secondary inefficiencies in the podcast industry that need their own innovations and revolutions -- areas like ad sales management (the podcast advertising sales process has its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and sales teams are bound to a patchwork of imprecise instruments) and audience management (which is still a prehistoric art in podcast land). Those areas need love, too. And they’re super valuable."
-- Nick Quah, publisher and editor, Hot Pod Newsletter
"Even a few years ago, if you were a more enterprise-facing app -- say, a commercial real estate company -- you didn’t really have to have a level of user experience that a traditional consumer-facing app might have. But going into 2018, we’re at the point where that’s not true anymore. If a company wants to survive in the digital marketplace, it has to have a good UX to retain its users or customers. I teach a product-design class at Stanford, and my students are millennials. They largely grew up in a digital world, and they have an expectation that the user experience for the tools they use in the workplace should not be all that different than the user experience of tools they use for social media.
"To some degree, UX is subjective, unless you’re looking at user engagement just dropping off the map. It comes down to the products being usable, friendly and having a human feel. To appreciate that, just look at old enterprise software from five to 10 years ago: It was hard-edged, unfriendly software that didn’t take the needs of the people using it into account. That type of experience is going to disappear."
-- Eli Woolery, director of design education, InVision
"Every retailer has a buying team responsible for deciding what the store sells. And buying teams are getting ever smaller, as retailers, squeezed by online pricing, lay off staff to save costs. In 2018, buying teams will become even smaller; a major retailer that once had 20 buyers per category may now only have 10. But at the same time, there have never been more entrepreneurs pitching their products to these small teams. It’s an unbelievable mismatch.
"Facing that, the entrepreneurs who succeed will be the ones who are best prepared. The days of 'Let’s have a casual intro meeting' are gone. You have to be tight and ready to play -- describing in detail how you can work with that retailer, what your value proposition is, what your product road map is and more. Explain how you fit into the industry, and into the retailer’s assortment. Go in having done the buyer’s homework for them, and you’ll make them feel like time with you is time well spent."
-- Rick Rommel, partner, Sprosty Network, and founder, RetailXelerator
"We’re seeing raw optimism about 2018 among small-business owners. In a survey we did this year, 52 percent of owners are confident the U.S. economy will improve over the next 12 months -- up 21 percent over 2016. They’re also investing more; 60 percent made capital outlay in the past six months, and a third plan to do it within six months. These are the best ratings in more than 10 years, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Now the challenge will be attracting the right talent to fuel growth. We’re in a tight labor market, and entrepreneurs must be smart about what they offer new employees. New hires want to know: How is this company helping me plan for my future, helping with my wellness? These questions don’t just apply to big companies. You’ve got to think about this now."
-- Sharon Miller, head of small business, Bank of America
10. Consumer engagement
I kept hearing that people no longer trust the way they used to. But how can that be, I wondered, while we also get into cars with strangers and hire babysitters on the internet? So I began researching, and I discovered that trust isn’t shrinking; it’s changing. We’re now in an era of what I call “distributed trust,” where trust in institutions is down but trust in individuals is up. As we get deeper into it in 2018, entrepreneurs who understand this will be rewarded. For example: People are eager to break free of large institutions, so they welcome services that give them a sense of freedom. And people’s personal networks -- their wellspring of trust -- can be tapped in important new ways. Distributed trust means distributed power; everyone is ready to work with everyone.
-- Rachel Botsman, Oxford University lecturer and author, Who Can You Trust?