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Max Lockie on the future of remote work tools

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on December 24, 2020

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As the Managing Editor at Speeda Edge, it’s Max Lockie’s job to know about emerging markets. Speeda Edge is a business intelligence tool which provides clients with data and insights on emerging technologies and industries. Most clients are investors, including consultancies, venture capital, private equity and some banks.

They soft-launched in October, and plan to cover 50 industry sectors by the end of the year. Speeda Edge is a subsidiary of Uzabase, one of Asia’s largest business intelligence and data providers. Max is a former editor at Quartz and has been with the company for three years.

We talked about one of their fastest growing verticals - remote work tools. Max gave us invaluable insights on where the industry is going, which tools are likely to win out, and what’s in store for remote work tech.

Clockwise: Speeda Edge is super interesting. It’s especially interesting since you spun up the remote work tools subcategory. Why did you start it, who is your target audience, and how did you spin up new categories?

Max: Speeda Edge is a subscription model that gives you access to data we're collecting through our Tokyo-based operations, as well as a new team of analysts.

Remote work tools was one [of] two of the early industry sectors ready for launch. We have a few ways we chop up the market -- which stage the company's at-- pre-seed, seed, early stage growth, incumbents -- and then which element of remote work that they're mostly focused on.

Within remote work tools, we have those divided into messaging, video conferencing, project management (which is where I placed Clockwise), collaborative design, and virtual office.

The market is why we're focusing on [remote work tools]. We probably would have made remote work tools a day-one item if the pandemic never happened. But it did, and so it was absolutely something that we wanted to have ready.

We see it as a $36 billion market this year. And that number is going to go up quite a bit. We have it at a range of cases, from conservatively expanding 25% a year to a more expansive case of 40% a year growth. We see it as an explosion that was definitely catalyzed by the pandemic.

As much adoption as some of the big ones, your Zooms and your Slacks, have gotten, we think that there is this other generation of companies that we're focused on. Early-stage seed, pre-seed companies that are all gonna have a chance to not only gain share, but really appeal to a whole other generation of workers. I was working in an office as early as March and we were all using Slack and sitting in the same room together.

Now we're all in our homes and still using Slack. So it definitely makes the work possible. But I think that there's another shoe to drop in this space.

Clockwise: When you said that you split remote work into two categories, what was the other category?

Max: The other one is remote work infrastructure. HR, payment, benefits, employee performance and engagement, the type of things that a company always takes care of.

How do you do that differently with a distributed, more remote workforce? We see that also growing, not quite as rapidly as the tools. There's a lot more investor attention on the tools space than the infrastructure space. We see the remote work infrastructure space growing somewhere between 10% and 15% a year. Quite a bit less than the 25% to 40% range that I gave on tools.

But COVID has had a big impact. There are a few companies in infrastructure that I'm particularly interested in. One of the larger ones that we have still listed as a growth company, so not quite the most mature level in the payroll and benefits [space], is Gusto. They started from payroll, but are adding features that are making them more like a personal banking and personal finance app, especially for freelancers and gig workers.

It's interesting to think about having one company come into that space and be the money app for all these types of users that then layers on other financial services. What's the core feature that would make sense to then have that stack of other personal finance and insurance and other types of financial service features built on top? There's a good case that the winner in that space will come from the payroll space.

In our remote work infrastructure hub, we focus on Gusto. Of course we track Zenefits, Cloud Pay, and then a dozen other companies that are getting their seed funding or angel investments all the way up to Series A, B, C, and D.

Another industry hub that we have been adding a lot to lately that's kind of related is our telehealth industry reports. A lot of telehealth services are opting for a more B2B sales model, going through HR and Corporate departments instead of trying to market directly to consumers. They're selling them to large corporate employers, so that people can do everything from get telemedicine services to more easily block book an IRL meeting.

We just added preventative healthcare tech and infectious disease tracking tech industry reports. In the United States, people get their healthcare through their employers. There's a lot of crossover between these remote work infrastructure companies and these virtual health, telehealth, et cetera companies.

You see it in other countries as well, but the main action for that stuff is in the U.S.

Clockwise: What do you think are some common misconceptions or things that people are missing about the remote work tool space?

Max: That's a good question. I see some possibilities in it that aren't fully being explored. A lot of companies are working on moving beyond text and video when it comes to remote work, things that kind of replicate an office online -- creating more virtual spaces. That's something I'm interested in and keeping an eye on. There are a few companies doing that. Branch is one that I'm interested in, as well as Gather. And another one called Huddle. Those three are teams of young people making these 2D or and 3D virtual spaces. You can kind of exist with people in a space. And then find a little private area if you want to have a one-on-one.

It's more appealing and engaging for, a lot of times younger workers, than a Slack-style column of names. Seeing people's avatars moving around a space. Doing things, putting up statuses. Almost more a Sims-like environment.

There's explosive growth in these. When you ask what people are missing, I'm in Zoom and Google Meets calls all day. And I'm only typing with people. I think that there is another way. There's kind of a new paradigm to remote work environments that's coming. That's what I'm looking at mostly in this tools space, personally.

Clockwise: That makes sense. I'm curious about whether you think that Engineers are less interested in someone being able to virtually tap them on the shoulder with a video call. Do you think that the adoption of these kinds of remote tools are going to be company-wide or team-wide?

Max: That's a good question. So far, we've been seeing it more companywide. Of course, we've all got experiences where your design team prefers one project management tool and Engineering goes with another. No reason to think that's going to change.

When it comes to these main services everybody uses for day-to-day communication, that's still happening on the company level. A lot of plans work on premium models. A lot of these remote work companies, where the team of up to five people is free. Once you get over five [people] you get, like, your $10 per member per month fee structure coming in. Or, or sometimes it can go up to, like, 20 or 25 people before you start having to pay.

That is where you start seeing it being more of a team thing. And then also, an outside-of-work side project adoption of some of these smaller startup companies. But then, once you start trying to get it added to the budget, then is where you might find the hurdle to getting company-wide adoption.

A lot of times, it's the premium model that's kind of limiting the size to these cohorts. Then other companies don't even offer that style premium model at all and just do a free trial, 14 days, 30 days. That would be a bit of a tougher nut to crack on the corporate level.

Clockwise: Of the categories, which is going to see the most growth between messaging, video, project management, collaborative design, and virtual office? It sounded like from what you were saying before, more virtual office.

Max: Exactly. I'm looking at [the] virtual office space. Companies have made their decision on which messaging and which video conferencing systems they're going to go to. Large companies, that is. Startups still have the decision to make. Disruption isn't going to come from someone outdoing Zoom or outdoing Slack and Chatter or Microsoft Teams. The growth is likely going to come from those customers.

There is a chance to focus more on small and medium enterprises in some of those other categories that we're covering like product management and project management and collaborative design. Figma's been really quite popular in collaborative design. We are seeing it almost starting to displace Adobe in some smaller and medium-sized teams and companies.

The virtual office is where I see the greatest chance to see something new enter the marketplace.

Clockwise: Do you think these virtual avatars or trying to create something like a physical space 2D, 3D, is the killer feature? Or do you think that it's something else? Or do you think it's that, plus something else?

Max: We saw an update from Slack about how much you want to let people inside your organization use these tools to interact with people from other organizations. With Slack, you can have your multiple instances. Other companies have different versions of this where you can have approved guests.

The killer feature, I think, is going to be deciding how much openness you want and the security questions with that. Where people want to spend their time in the work day is going to matter. How much you're going to let people talk with their vendors in their space or discuss things with companies you might be in partnership with.

Clockwise: Thank you so much. This has been incredibly helpful. Is there anything else that you would want our readers to know about you or Speeda Edge or the remote tool space?

Max: It's SP-Edge.com. You can book a free demo. Certainly share my contact information if anyone has any questions about it. In the remote tool space, this is one of the ones that we are updating the most frequently, because there's the most activity in it. Remote tools is up there with our “client-based need” industry hub, which has multiple updates a day. We cover a lot of ground, but this is definitely the focus area.

Going forward

Follow Max on Twitter to learn more about his work around emerging tech.

And check out our other recent interviews with thought leaders in tech:

Advice from Tim Olshansky, EVP of Product and Engineering at Zenput, for Engineers to better manage their careers while working remote for COVID

Tom Robertshaw on the present and future of machine learning for e-commerce

Are there any technology leaders you think we should interview? Email me at cathy at getclockwise.com.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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