In one’s everyday life, “work” is certainly one of the most important activities that occupies up to half (if not more) of the available hours of a day. Your line of work not only impacts how you go about your working hours, it also shapes your identity and the choices available to other non-work aspects of your daily life.
Despite the gradual shift towards a more “white collar-driven” economy over the last 40 years, there are still over 110 million “mass market workers” in blue collar and service jobs in the U.S. Yet most of the technology innovations have centered around solving problems for the white collar professionals – think LinkedIn, Slack, Zoom, Atlassian, and many others that are focused on things like desk-job productivity and remote working that are not relevant to most hands on workers. The current COVID-19 crisis further magnifies such divides while showing how critical essential workers from grocery store workers to delivery drivers are to our society and economy.
We think leveraging technology to broaden the economic access for mass market workers represents a massive (and massively overlooked) opportunity for innovation. Characteristics such as the fluidity of such labor market, the irregularity of one’s work day, the reliance on more on-the-job learning (vs. traditional academic pedigree), and lower level of job security (and thus more like to live paycheck-to-paycheck) lead to opportunities to design better solutions around hiring and retention, training and upskilling, and the right types of financial service products.
The nature of the hands on jobs themselves as well as the work-adjacent activities in such worker’s daily life present some unique challenges around both product and go-to-market. Below are a few characteristics that I think are important for a company to win in this market.
A product that really sticks
Building a product that resonates is hard, but doing so for this segment is extremely challenging. Many hands on workers work in hourly jobs that have irregular hours and an ever-changing shift schedule, making it tricky for a product to develop habits and compete for attention. They are also more likely to use smartphones as their primary computing device with more limited access to wifi/data and device types that skew towards older models, making creating a fluid product experience more challenging. It is thus more important to think about how to “meet them where they are” – find opportunities adjacent to existing behaviors as opposed to pulling users away from what they’re familiar with.
You understand your audience better than anyone else
Because of the above, I think the company that’s going to win needs to have an unfair advantage in its understanding of this audience. Where and how do these users spend time during and outside of work? What motivates and concerns them? Given their busy lives juggling work shifts and making ends meet, the threshold for adopting something new and entrusting a new product/service is likely high. Only those who deeply understand this audience will have a chance for their product to break through the noise.
Many innovations in this sector are trying to solve the labor problem, whether it’s talent acquisition or retention (which are closely related). Are there ways to leverage technology to tap into other parts of the labor force that blue collar employers might not have previously? Those who will have the best shot at cracking this problem are those who have an appreciation of the nuances of different labor pools and can thus take advantage of specific market inefficiencies.
A unique GTM wedge/advantage
Industries that rely on the hands on workforce could be tricky to win over, as they could be less technology-forward and more skeptical to the ROI case. However, if the founder can credibly present herself as either the industry or the end user, then the conversation of “I understand how your business works and your pain point,” could be really powerful and shortcut the sales process. Additionally, the surface area of the hands on workforce is vast, so it’s important to have an early GTM wedge that can help quickly establish a foothold without pigeonholing yourself into a narrow solution.
Not the best tech wins
The types of companies that win in this space are not going to be those with either the fanciest algorithms or the slickest user experience, but those who know how to leverage technology thoughtfully to meet where the users are. We are excited about the potential technology has to broaden the economic access of mass market workers across industries, and we look forward to meeting more teams that are innovating in this space in the years to come.