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Top Trends from GGV Capital’s Evolving Economy Summit 2021

September 17, 2021

GGV Capital’s sixth annual EvolvingIE Summit is a wrap! Our annual gathering of innovators shaping the digital economy—disrupting how we live, work, and play in the 21st century—saw more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, executives, and investors engage on building a digital-first future.

Through thought-provoking panels, we delved into how technology is rapidly impacting e-commerce, food, healthcare, lifestyle, and the future of work. With New York at the nexus of many of the most groundbreaking digital trends, we invited leaders from NYC-based companies such as
Bowery Farming, Chief, Slice, Jokr, Snappy, Odeko, and Function of Beauty to speak, but also founders from global digital innovators such as TikTok, StockX, Para, and Karat Financial.

Here are 10 key takeaways from an action-packed event:

More brands will hire creators

Today, creating content across multiple platforms, from TikTok to YouTube and Snapchat, is almost seen as “birthright,” said Dustin Goot, head of creator monetization at TikTok. The best creators can make a very good living, especially if they collaborate with brands.

“With YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, and more, anybody can make content that’s seen immediately by millions,” agreed
Eric Wei, co-founder and co-CEO of Karat Financial.

Modern brands need to find new ways to engage the most popular creators through innovative partnerships. Simple product placement will no longer cut it; brands should instead hire creators aligned with their values and then turn them loose to make creative, edgy—and very subtly-branded—work that is as fun to watch as non-sponsored content.

A hybrid workplace should benefit everyone

As many companies consider a hybrid workplace where employees spend some days at home and some in the office, it will be important to build these structures with intentionality to include underrepresented groups, such as mothers or Black workers who may not want to return to an office where they’ve never felt particularly included.

“At first I was fearful the hybrid model would not serve underrepresented communities, who may opt into remote work and could thus lose out on promotions, but now I’m optimistic because companies are making very deliberate decisions about how to do hybrid. Anything that’s done deliberately benefits underrepresented communities,” said Carolyn Childers, co-founder and CEO of Chief.

Your mission attracts talent and spurs growth

Having a huge potential market is critical for any company’s long-term growth, but brands that combine the economic opportunity with a very clear and important mission will have a better chance of attracting the best talent who can help them grow into household names, said Irving Fain, CEO of Bowery Farming. “Ask yourself, what matters most to us? And who do I need to have on board to increase our odds of achieving our mission?”

Remote workers need support structures

There has been over an 800% increase in work-from-home job listings posted on LinkedIn compared to a year ago, as companies realize they can hire great talent just about anywhere. But it’s not enough to simply slap a “remote” label on a job that used to be in an office, said Caroline Fairchild.

“Companies need to think critically about how they're going to support, retain, and promote remote talent, and they have to do that in very different ways than they do for employees in the office, or a year from now we’re going to hear about huge retention issues,” she said.

Company culture is more important than ever

With so many people working from home, and a full return to a five-day workweek in the office now looking increasingly unlikely, that doesn’t mean companies should toss out all the hard work they’ve done to build a unique office culture.

“Even while your teams are remote, you can continue your culture, maintain it, and grow it,” said Hani Goldstein, founder and CEO of Snappy. Ways to do that include rewarding employees with personal gifts, promoting wellness and work-life balance, and asking employees what actions and benefits would make them feel most connected to the company and its values.

Digital transformation will help the little guys

When it comes to pizza delivery, Domino's has gone all-in on online and mobile ordering, with 75% of its sales coming through those channels. Large enterprises in every sector are transforming into tech companies. Small pizzerias—and SMBs going up against gorillas in any industry—can compete by adopting the digital tools the big guys use.

“When a business is predominantly online, you can leverage data to create magical consumer experiences, speed delivery, and improve pricing,” said Ilir Sela, founder and CEO of Slice. Even in-person businesses, such as local coffee shops, can deploy digital on the backend. A giant like Starbucks has digitized everything, from payroll and lending, to ordering, optimization, and prediction, but SMBs can start small to digitize the nitty-gritty, such as procurement and inventory, so they can focus on what they do best: serving loyal customers, said Dane Atkinson, CEO and founder of Odeko.

Online food ordering will become more social

The pandemic shifted many social behaviors online, with people meeting, socializing, and even getting married on Zoom. And even grocery shopping and food ordering will also become a more social experience, said Ralf Wenzel, CEO and founder of Jokr.  We’re seeing in cities around the world that people are using our app to order food together (maybe a favorite ice cream or snack), and then sharing these foods over social platforms to make eating at home a social happening, he said.

When it comes to branding, creativity is still king

Today’s retail brands are, like all other companies, becoming tech companies. But those that will succeed over the long term still have to build strong in-house teams full of amazingly creative people.

“There is absolutely no magic recipe to being successful in digital, but there's certainly a reward to creativity and ideas that align with the brand DNA and with your audience,” said Alexandra Papazian, CEO of Function of Beauty. You need an internal team that understands what the brand stands for, with the creative spark to innovate, take risks, and adapt quickly.

E-commerce marketplaces will become brands

E-commerce marketplaces are evolving from just platforms where buyers and sellers transact into brands themselves that create a unique customer experience. They do this by combining technology, creativity, and the human touch.

“For most marketplaces, whether for content, transportation, or e-commerce, typically the platform itself has had a difficult time managing the customer experience,” said Scott Cutler, CEO of StockX. “But the real value of being an intermediary is to listen to your customers,” he said, so you can focus on delivering an amazing experience to them every time, based on exactly what they love and the current cultural trends that engage them.

Consumer tech innovation is happening everywhere

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that teams can be spread out across the world and still generate a huge amount of creativity, productivity, and innovation.

“GGV invests globally, and in the last 18 months, we’ve seen an increase in entrepreneurs connecting with one another to learn and grow together,” said Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital. Whether it’s founders on the East Coast connecting to colleagues in Europe, those on the West Coast doing more business in Asia, or Southeast Asian and LATAM entrepreneurs sharing ideas, there has been an explosion in collaboration that’s driving global tech innovation. “We saw new innovation hubs emerge during the pandemic in London, Berlin, Paris, Miami, Bogota, and beyond, and they are increasingly interconnected,” agreed Ryan Darnell, managing partner at Max Ventures.

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About Evolving|E

Evolving|E is an e-commerce tech community that began in 2016 as a summit in New York for the top entrepreneurs and executives in the e-commerce, retail, and consumer goods sectors. The community has expanded to include online and offline dinner series, master classes, and gatherings with an e-commerce community from around the world. In the summer of 2020, the summit shifted to incorporate other industries in the Digital Economy that are rapidly evolving to keep pace with the change brought on by the global pandemic.

Special thanks to our event partners NASDAQ and JP Morgan, our moderators Crystal Berger, Founder and CEO, EBO; Kat Cole, former COO and President, Focus Brands; guest speaker Ryan Darnell, Managing Partner, Max Ventures; and all of the GGV portfolio founders for your support and contributions to this event.