If cultural trends are patterns, predictions are derived projections. Trends take an eye for dot connecting, while predictions take accountability. It’s easy to get them wrong. But after a year of intensive trend analysis for some of the largest organizations in the world, I’m confident to forecast the following business moves.
1. Robinhood Sinks Into The Red
This past year, people earning between $35,000 and $75,000 increased their stock trading by +90% the week after receiving their first stimulus check. For many of these new investors their first stop was Robinhood, which signed up 13 million new users. It’s not all golden news. Robinhood users, notably amateur investors, are conducting 40x more trades than Schwab users, and 88x more options. According to just one analysis, Robinhood users are more likely to invest in volatile and loss-making stocks than the broader market, and have been speculated to even sway the market. Questionable predatory practices such as overly simplistic interfaces, auto deposits and investments, lack of customer service, fractional shares, and frequent outages insinuates Robinhood has gamified investing. It’s not a good look when r/WallStreetBets and “loss porn” are associated with your brand. The SEC has already hit them with a $65 million fine for misleading users, while stories around suicide flurry online. Massachusetts Secretary of Commonwealth, William Galvin, stated, “This is a very reckless company when it comes to these investors. They’re interested in expanding their market base, they’re not interested in serving their investors.” Without intervention Robinhood is destined to enter 2022 as a villain.
For a company thinking about an IPO, ignoring FINRA, and not supplying financial education, Robinhood’s future attention will be negative, popping its hype bubble and attracting politicians and regulatory agencies to its detriment.
Why is this a big deal? Millennials and Gen Z currently hold a small fraction of assets, but The Economist projects their earnings to increase +75% this decade with their inheritance doubling. Reliant upon tech to handle their finances, this leaves young investors without 1. financial literacy and 2. a fiduciary platform to support them. Robinhood has the chance to capture these millions of young adults for life, but its ethics are dubious.
2. OnlyFans Establishes A New Model
In 2019, Pornhub received 115 million visits a day, with COVID-19 significantly increasing traffic. That’s the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands all visiting the site in a single day. As the world’s porn leviathan, it was big news when in December they unexpectedly announced they were removing millions of user uploaded videos in an attempt to crack down on insidious content outlined by The New York Times. With Discover, Mastercard, and Visa subsequently cutting ties and preventing purchases, Pornhub is now in a tight spot as “Amateur” is its top search and sex workers’ livelihoods have been disrupted. Consider the eruption of OnlyFans, and things get stickier. With over 85 million registered users subscribing to one million content creators on OnlyFans — all up this past year — the long tail of porn is getting longer and more democratized. Pornhub is now at the mercy of public desires, lagging laws, and corporate expectations. While viewers still want what they want, and creators are ready to monetize themselves in the same ways Influencers do so on Instagram, mainstream porn is at a cross-roads.
Expect OnlyFans to only gain momentum, further eclipsing the traditional porn site model, while debates surrounding the re-definition of sex-work mushroom.
Why is this a big deal? Porn is everlasting in a few senses. Firstly, the show must go on. The people demand their porn and the path of least resistance will win. Two, we’ll never thoroughly clean up this mess — shut down a site, ban a creator or delete a video, they’ll likely pop up elsewhere. And thirdly, online porn has always been a first mover in innovation. It has an impressive track record. The OnlyFans direct-to-consumer, personal subscription model looks bright, and this approach will likely seep into other aspects of culture: from other means of entertainment to education.
3. Reddit Attracts With Community
Over the last five years, social networking has evolved from “people-centric” to “interest-based.” We’ve exhausted our connections on the basis of who, but not what. We’ve got 1,000 friends with weak common denominators. With pandemic-induced isolation, it’s been revealed: we care more about people who also like sourdough than our “friends” from high school. We’re witnessing a swing of interest towards “people like me” — tight-knit communities are thriving whether its fans joining their favorite YouTuber’s Discord, or film lovers socially curating and reviewing movies on Letterboxd. These communities have always existed, but the masses are coming. Forget, “Uber for X” it’s all about “Strava for X.” And a poised winner? Reddit. In 2020, Reddit hit 52 million daily active users, which was up +44% YoY. These are not just passive lurkers, but engaged members. Posting was up +52.4% YoY, comments were up +18.6% YoY, and upvotes were up +53.8% YoY. These metrics are not a coincidence. Wanting to belong is human nature, and Reddit can deliver that. Reddit as a platform has also always thrived, but the niche is going mainstream. Further for Gen Z, 87% value privacy over likes, making a pseudonymous space like Reddit attractive. With subreddit rules, an army of moderators, R/GA as their new agency-of-record, a significant redesign, and hard stances on content over the last couple of years, Reddit is positioned and styles as an invaluable channel for advertisers set on targeting interests.
Get ready for Reddit to take center stage in 2021, attracting a swell of new users, advertisers, and positive headlines, ultimately altering the greater social media climate.
Why is this a big deal? The techlash is real — social media platforms haven’t been true winners this last decade. And while the Facebook-Google ad duopoly is real, it can be challenged. Enter Reddit with little drama relative to the rest and supplying interest-based ad targeting. Very quickly we can realize online socializing doesn’t have to be a cesspool of dunk tweets or be financed by data hoarding. Reddit is refreshing in light of today’s social “dilemma” and has the opportunity to change the toxic climate of social networking.
4. Peloton Flexes Its Platform
This past year, Fortnite hosted a Travis Scott concert to 12 million and debuted Tenet’s first trailer. Why? The eyeballs were there. Peloton, reaping the tailwinds of closed gyms and with a stock which is up 459% this past year, is building the same flywheel feature as Fortnite — a global, hyper-loyal audience regularly tuned-in, which can also be assembled at a moment’s notice. This past year, Peloton signed a multi-year partnership with Beyoncé who helped create a series of themed workout classes and gifted digital membership to 10 HBCUs on behalf of Homecoming. In addition, Peloton worked with ESPN to host an all-star athlete ride and has partnered with The Beatles catalogue for new classes. Most recently, Chromeo, Big Boi and Dillon Francis have produced exclusive Elvis remixes for riders. As Zwift, another at-home fitness player raised $450 million pushing them into unicorn status yet focuses on more pro and competitive riding, Peloton has carved out a niche as the pop-culture player. Peloton is not just building a space to workout, but a platform for mental wellness and entertainment. Peloton competes more with Headspace and Netflix than it does Planet Fitness or Trek — after all, Headspace now also has cardio content.
As more lace up and clip in, watch Peloton’s platform host the biggest athletes and musicians, “drop” content, and play with cultural exclusivity, adding more prestige to its brand.
Why is this a big deal? According to a leaked marketing slide, Peloton is “inclusive, not exclusive” but also “premium.” This is a precarious tension as Peloton, now public, is pressured to grow at all costs. Moving forward as one of the most hyped consumer brands of the 21st century, Peloton will likely be taking pages out of Apple’s playbook, forced to balance pushing high-end products, but also “being for all.” Peloton’s exclusive partnerships and content will complicate this balance, and its decisions this year will define its future for years to come.
5. Match Group Heats Up
If a year of lockdown doesn’t insinuate anything about global horniness levels, what does? Thirty-percent of American adults have already used a dating app, clearing the taboo of the once cringe question, “How’d you meet?” Roughly 40% of American couples now meet online, making sites and apps the most common way people meet today. Moving away from a community-pursuit, dating is now an individual and treacherous journey via smartphone. Reaping tailwinds of the pandemic, downloads in addition to in-app audio and video dates have surged. However, according to the Pew Research Center, 88% of online daters don’t think online platforms have had a positive impact on dating. This makes “the apps” a necessary evil, or a lucrative multi-billion-dollar industry depending upon who you ask. In a recent study, Bumble found that 46% of people are looking for “something serious” after lockdown blues, while on the other hand, there are forecasts of a Roaring Twenties resurgence — sex-fueled partying post-vaccine. In either case, dating apps will reap the benefit. It’s a double win. Further, Bumble has filed for an IPO against Match Group, the behemoth and owner of Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, etc. While Bumble hit $300 million in sales, Match is slated for eight times that, or $2.4 billion. In addition to cultural pressures, if Bumble goes public, there will be more financial pressures on both parties to creatively monetize users while providing more matches.
Whether it’s for relationships or sex, and people are vaccinated or not, check out Match Group stock double this year.
Why is this a big deal? The greatest asset to a dating platform is its pool of users. Less users simply equates to fewer chances of matches, dates, hookups or relationships. Match Group controls over 45 brands, the largest pool of daters of all time, 10.7 million paying members, and 60% of the dating market. They own it. A Bumble IPO creates the Pepsi to Coke, and threatens the Long Tail of dating apps like Monet. With power comes responsibility. And as Match Group is poised to grow and compete with Bumble, it will be critical to watch what the behemoth does next as we’re witnessing modern business history.