From on-demand translators to self-driving taxis in retirement communities, here are services you need to know about.
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Remember when ride-hailing apps and on-demand streaming services felt revolutionary? Every day, entrepreneurs are producing the next brilliant products — things that are so intuitively useful, and so instantly longed for, that they quickly go from new and exciting to familiar and ubiquitious.
What does that look like today? As part of our 100 Brilliant Companies list, we highlighted 10 new services that already have people talking — and forgetting what life was like before the services came about.
Kairos wants to help young entrepreneurs innovate in underserved industries, and for a decade it did that with programs: Its fellowships and incubator system helped 5,000 founders get off the ground. But founder Ankur Jain saw a gap. “We had so many smart people working on big problems, but no ability to concentrate the energy on a handful of critical issues where society needed solutions,” he says. So last fall, Jain and his team picked five issues — student loans, housing costs, childcare, the future of work and costs of senior care — and began investing in and serving as a cofounder for startups poised to make a difference.
Four have launched so far: Residenz, which makes it up to 40 percent cheaper to rent homes in cities; Rhino, which eliminates security deposits for renters; Cera, which decreases the cost of elderly care; and Little Spoon, which delivers healthy baby food to parents for their child’s first 1,000 days of life. And already, Jain says, these companies are scaling quickly — thanks in part to having raised more than $ 20 million. (Rhino, for example, covers 50,000 units in New York.) “This is proof that if you solve pain points for the everyday person, the market is big,” he says. “It’s shocking, right? People are so busy being sucked into AI this and AI that that we’re forgetting basic needs.”
Sports was supposed to be cable TV’s firewall; as long as cable was the best way to watch live games, the cord-cutters would be held at bay. This spring, Turner’s Bleacher Report Live began charging through the defenses. The streaming service will offer a range of mainstream and niche sports leagues, including NBA, NCAA, National Lacrosse League, various soccer leagues and more — and with flexible pricing, so viewers may be able to pay for just, say, an exciting fourth quarter. Game-changer?
In crisis situations, language is a barrier. Immigrants and refugees often can’t communicate with aid workers, and translators are expensive and scarce. Tarjimly, which launched its product earlier this year and is currently a part of Y Combinator, built a solution. When someone in a crisis situation needs a translator, Tarjimly can find volunteers to step in and help within an average of 90 seconds. It already has more than 2,500 translators on the service — a lot of people to help give others a voice.
For years we’ve been promised AI-powered personal assistants. Now they’re arriving — with mixed results. Bots that flop. Expensive services for entire teams. But Fin, which began adding customers in late 2017 after years of quietly testing, is being taken very seriously for its straightforward offer: For $ 1 a minute, using a combination of AI and human work, it’ll do whatever a remote assistant can do — book flights, suggest gifts for your spouse, do research projects and more, all by simply emailing, texting or chatting through Fin’s app. Is it the future we’ve been waiting for? It’s at least a promising start.
Digital product shops have an efficiency issue. Coders often have days with nothing to do, as they finish a project and wait for another to begin. In this, Engineer.ai saw opportunity. It created Builder, which any entrepreneur can use to build an app or a website just by presenting their vision and clicking the features they want. Builder then assembles it using blocks of already written code and designs by paying those between-projects developers a fraction of what they’d otherwise cost. The result: projects that cost up to 75 percent less than they would on the open market. Builder launched this spring, after two years in beta, building for everyone from ski instructors to Richard Branson’s nonprofit, Virgin Unite.
Self-driving cars have largely been the thing of early adopters (like Tesla’s autopilot users) or nervous cities (like Tempe, Ariz., where one of Uber’s cars crashed in March). All of which makes self-driving startup Voyage’s rollout especially genius. To hone its technology in the real world, since last fall it’s been operating self-driving taxi services in retirement communities in Florida and California (with a human behind the wheel, for safety). The advantages: predictable and maintained roads, slow-moving pedestrians and, no doubt, excellent PR.
Let’s say you need someone to paint your house. If you went to Thumbtack, a nine-year-old company that connects customers with more than 250,000 home service providers, you’d make a request and then perhaps dozens of painters would send you price quotes. That’s useful but also a lot of work. So in September, it launched Instant Match: Now, within seconds, you’re connected to someone available for the job. Customer friction: gone.
The eyeglass maker’s home-try-on program may have made it famous, but that doesn’t mean it’ll forever be the most convenient way to bridge online and physical retail. That’s why last year it rolled out two new big services: facial mapping for the iPhone X camera, which recommends frames specifically for your face, and Prescription Check, an app that can quickly re-up a user’s eyeglass prescriptions at home without a doctor’s visit.
The Microsoft-owned social platform has long been a place for peers to network, but that leaves a big gap: What about the up-and-comers who feel starved for mentorship? LinkedIn surveyed its users and found that 89 percent of high-level members would be open to sharing their insights. So in July, it rolled out a new service — connecting mentors and mentees for career-advice sessions, thus making the service more fulfilling to both sides.
More than half of U.S. households listen to podcasts, which means more than half of U.S. households can tell you the industry’s biggest problem: It’s hard to find new shows, in part because there’s no great way to search for them. In October, Castbox, a popular podcast platform, debuted a feature aimed at solving that problem—by enabling search within the podcasts themselves. That is, search that goes beyond an episode’s title and description, and includes what a podcast host said on a show. Now it’s also launching its own shows (starting with a collaboration with the influencer-fueled Heard Well music label), signaling a move toward owning not just search but also the shows you can search, too.