A changing urban life leads to surprising innovation

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Urban living has become stressful. Prices are high, decent size spaces are increasingly difficult to attain, there is less time to get things done, and the proliferation of choice has led to occasional decision paralysis. These dynamics are not changing anytime soon. Instead, they will proliferate as more people seek out urban lives with the hope of a better and more fulfilled existence. To cope with the downsides of urban life, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial-minded Brands are rolling out interesting innovations tackling a variety of pain points.

Arguably the most noticeable pain point of urban living is decreasing space. After all, many of the desirable cities have finite space with which to grow. As a consequence, space and especially living space, is becoming smaller and a lot more expensive. The traditional (and very basic way of defining) way of living meant a home to eat and sleep and an office to work. Neither of these paradigms exist in their “expected” manifestations.

starbucksWhen it comes to the home, a comfy place to relax may no longer be available. Starbuck in China has begun to address this reality by renting out their couches! They have justified the high price of their products (and need to buy) to pay for the “home away from home” behaviour that has been growing among Chinese consumers towards Starbucks coffee houses. Who knows, they may actually create dedicated spaces that you can literally rent with your Starbucks card! (see more articles on this here). Crowdsourcing platforms may also start to address this opportunity. Airbnb already provides a host of great housing options for travellers. Who is to stop them from catering to local space seekers – short stay (afternoon) to overnight in a spacious place in your own city to “refill your tank”.

158-next-the-ace-hotel1When it comes to the office, many people are embarking on self-employment after being disillusioned by the corporate world. The home or Starbucks often becomes the “workplace” given that office renting is just too expensive. Brands who are looking to attract the energy that this “startup” world offers, not to mention the tapping into the talent potential, are finding ways to open up their space. Hotels are a great example. The ACE Hotel in NYC has purposefully marketed its open space as one where working people should come (see Fast Company article here). There is access to any plug you need along with great coffee. Even Marriott is getting into the game with “office rentals by the hour”. Google has also sought to take advantage of these nomad professionals when it created its Campus space in London. In the heart of the startup scene in London, Campus provides space and utilities for free to encourage the heart of the tech scene to set up in the walls of Google. After all, if the minds are close, they can get tapped into.

The second big pain point about city living is your increasing lack of time. Work is more consuming than ever, commuting takes time, and the hours remain 24 per day. As a result, parts of your routine are taking the brunt. Grocery shopping has got to be the most challenged. As a result there have been grocery delivery services popping up in all major cities. Some are exceptionally good. The UK’s Ocado is a case in point. Their variety and service is remarkable. I would even argue that their produce is incredibly fresh. However, the challenge of getting access to fresh produces, especially if you live in a neighbourhood far removed from a proper grocer or market, is very real for many people. As such, FreshMoves.org started its “travelling produce van” that brings this produce to the people. Visit their website here to read more.

A related problem to time starvation is transport speed. Many people are reliant on the public transport system and fortunately there are a myriad of apps that can find the most expedient way of using it to get around town. However, when you are in a rush for a meeting a taxi is sometimes the only option. Waiting times can be horrible, especially during busy days or peek time periods. A company called Uber is tackling this. Using the same crowdsourcing approach to home accommodation that Airbnb has mastered, Uber taps into the broader car ownership pool to find “part time taxis”. They are currently expanding into many big cities around the world. Moreover, I can see how their transport platform can quickly evolve into a delivery service, etc.

Another aspect of urban living is the need to get away, or the requirement to travel. With an increasing travel population the designated space for luggage is becoming limited. We’ve all experienced the overweight luggage issue. It is very annoying. Moreover, when you visit a foreign land, bringing back mementos is a natural desire. Unfortunately airlines give you very limited space. A startup called Jib.li is tackling this issue. They are finding a community platform that allows you to connect with people who can “carry stuff, send stuff, or ask to buy stuff”. That way you really take advantage of a plane’s load capacity while helping a few passenger make some money. Check out more detail about Jib.li in this article – here.

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