Check your Pulse #22

🌈flourishing needs, the future of capitalism, and moms on Tik Tok 🌎

Welcome to the 22nd edition of Check your Pulse, a weekly newsletter that curates thought provoking reads at the intersection of tech, society, and culture. It is read by 3,000+ founders, creators, and other purposeful readers and has been described by readers as ‘a yoga class for the mind’. If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can subscribe here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

Everyone remembers something they learned in high school. For me, that was learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In simple terms, human beings have certain needs, and these needs are arranged in a hierarchy, with higher needs (i.e. self-actualization) coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs are met (i.e. food, water, health).

Recently, I’ve found it to be extremely applicable in evaluating the current state of startups.

From the beginning of humanity until around 1750 in Europe, servicing basic needs constituted the dominant share of business activity. In a very literal sense, businesses’ primary focus was keeping people alive: shelter, food, health, safety. From 1750 onwards, businesses began to address comfort needs - this is when commerce flourished to address the evolving tastes of the growing middle class and newspapers began to be read on a wide scale.

In 1854, John Stuart Mill wrote: “The remedies for all our diseases will be discovered long after we are dead; and the world will be made a fit place to live in, after the death of most of those by whose exertions it will have been made so”

The debate on modern life is littered with people romanticizing the past, even when evidence overwhelmingly suggests that people were not happier in the past. The reality is that so much of the dirty work has already been done for us, and we are so lucky to be alive in the 21st century.

And yet… overwhelmingly, there is a sensation that as a generation, we are unfulfilled, spiritually and physically, even amid profound, seemingly unending success.

Earlier this week, Anne Helen Petersen wrote a thought provoking piece covering the launch of Pattern Brands (remember the hip digital marketing agency that pivoted to build brands that combat burnout) where she addresses some of these complexities:

It’s easy to understand, then, why so many of us are so angry. The WeWork’s of the world were built on an ethos of positive vibes and unity — replete with what tech analyst Ranjan Roy calls “high-minded, burning man-esque self-actualization language” that, today, feels offensively out of sync with people’s lived realities. So why would Pattern, or any company that applies a superficial layer of burnout-conscious buzzwords to its products, be different?

The founder of Pattern, Emmett describes his goal for Pattern as trying to make seeking balance cool, being present cool, and working like a dog to survive not as cool.

Pattern is one of many companies we are seeing today that explicitly address our need for meaning, belonging, empathy, wisdom, love. It’s a collective outcry to confront the most ambitious category in Maslow’s hierarchy - belonging and self actualization.

Meditation apps are already a mature trend (2k meditation apps have come to market over the past 3 years), intermittent fasting apps like Zero are gathering stream, private clubs like The Wing and Ethels Club are on the rise, unplugged retreats for techies are a thing, and a new startup offering mental health services seems to make headlines every day. There’s also an app called Stoic (on YC’s recent batch) that gives you personalized insights on what influences your mood and fulfillment, and a company called Space that aims to help you find phone life balance.

It’s hard to imagine a venture backed company whose stated mission is to help people navigate life’s big questions, but that is exactly what The Grand is. The company was started by two women formerly in venture capital.

It’s ironic that companies that are predicated on getting users offline are the next big thing, but this shouldn’t surprise us. To understand humans is to know that we are all driven by our shared need to feel a sense of meaning, belonging, self-understanding, wisdom, and an authentic relationship with ourselves. For centuries, religion, the communities we are born into, and our families have given us that sense, but modern culture, catalyzed by the Internet, has broken down a lot of these connective tissues. And so we look desperately to other places for belonging.

It seems, then, that what we are experiencing is a move up Maslow’s Hierachy of needs, with commerce beginning to address the more elusive needs of our hearts and souls that have previously resided outside the realm of business.

The School of Life articulated this beautifully:

 “The big prediction for the coming century is that enormous opportunities will open up for businesses that can skillfully address our FlourishingNeeds. A great many of the multi-billion dollar companies of the future will be those focused on the fulfillment of flourishing needs: our need for self-knowledge around love, our desire for a satisfying social life, or our need for resilience. Bits of the tech sector are already nibbling at the borderline between Comfort and Flourishing needs, a trend aided by the forthcoming development of Artificial Emotional Intelligence. This, rather than the economies of developing nations, are what constitute the truly ‘emerging markets’ of the future. Core and Comfort Needs will, of course, continue to play a huge role in the economy; but for the first time in history, it is Flourishing Needs that will begin to provide major opportunities for the organizational genius, commodifying power and muscle of business. Some of the most profitable businesses of the future will be those that understand the trickier, more elusive needs of our hearts and souls that have hitherto eluded the grasp of commerce. We will be the richer for it, in every sense.”

I am fascinated by this and hope more entrepreneurs will address these needs in the coming years. If you're building a company in this space, let me know.

🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

Sari

caught my attention

links to love this week

The New York Times on the surprising benefits of relentlessly auditing your life. We tend to think that good marriages and happy families are born of love and care, not spreadsheets. But what if that’s wrong? One family decided to collect data on everything: how many hours they slept a night, how much time they spent on housework or child care, the amount of alone time, social time, commuting time, you name it. Soon enough, they began to spot patterns: It turns out that the minimum number of hours the wife can sleep without wanting to run away from the family is five and a half. Less than an hour a week of personal time also sent her to a dark place. The husband found that his happiness rose and fell with hours spent hanging out with friends or sitting in traffic. Far from making their marriage seem cold and robotic, the spreadsheet sparked more honest conversations than they’ve had in years. It also reminded them that they had more control over their lives than they had been exerting. 📊

The Onion nailed the WeWork debacle with this headline. 📰

Fast Company featured a long-form interview with Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, where he discusses the sustainability myth, the problem with Amazon, and the future of capitalism. You’ve got to reinvent capitalism altogether. It leads to a whole bunch of poor people and a few extremely rich people. Ultimately, capitalism is going to lose its customers. There won’t be anybody to buy the product because everybody is going to be so poor. The whole thing is going to crash before the next election, probably. We’re going to get another huge recession, and everybody’s going to lose out on their stocks. 🌈

Jennifer Aniston finally decided to join Instagram, and broke a Guinness World Record accruing 1 million Instagram followers in only 5 hours and 16 minutes. 😮

How to talk to kids about climate change 🌎

In this funny, thought-provoking TED talk, digital creator Dylan Marron talks about online hate and reminds us that empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. It just means acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think differently. 👏🏼

Moms went on TikTok to understand their kids, then stayed. TikTok has become a space to openly discuss the trials and tribes of being 21st century mom, with moms posting videos about parenting, their divorces, even post-pregnancy PTSD. 📱

The Riddle of the Well-Paying, Pointless Job is an excellent read. This distinction between money and motivation is glaring, yet most employers structure their organizations as if the two things are synonymous. 💸

Good Sales Emails is a collection of email campaigns by some of the best B2B companies. 📩

I’m loving these photographs of jumpers blending into their surroundings for an inventive 1,000-hour knitting project. Wow! 📷

This candle made me LOL (I tend to think 90% of meetings could be an email). 🕯

This is an excellent letter by Graham Duncan to a friend that’s thinking of launching a fund, but his advice is applicable to anyone looking to start something new. He thinks these are the key questions: 1) Are you ready to fully own the ambiguity of a new initiative? 2) Is your spouse fully on board? 3) How will you accelerate the process of building trust with new partners? 4) How will you protect the climate within your skull? 5) How are you going to source enough good ideas? 6) What are you compulsive about? Is it possible to put that at the center of the platform’s activity? 7) Are you really focusing on what you’re going to value over the long term? 📝

This is a fascinating Hacker News thread about people who are running successful online businesses on their own, including an app that brings in $400K a year with about ~20 hours work per week. 👩🏽‍💻

For readers in NYC, Sloomoo, an 8,000 square feet experiential playground centered around all things slime opened last week. 💯

Love this via James Clear 👇🏽

venture corner

a roundup of startupy things I found around the web

This is so so good. Everything about venture capital . . . you can learn from music lyrics 🎶

A sobering thread on the reality of VC returns. 💰

I’m revisiting Andrew Chen’s 80 slide deck on the red flags and magic numbers that investors look for in your startup's metrics. This is a must-read for startup founders. 📈

The empty promise of data moats is a good read. Similarly, why data is not the new oil is a great teardown and debunks the data is oil analogy we’ve come to take for granted. 🛢

have you heard of?

The chase for greater mental-health accessibility has led to a rise in digital therapy apps (like Talkspace) that let you get help from a remote therapist. As apps proliferate, a company called Two Chairs is focused on reinventing the in-person therapist visit while using technology to match patients with clinicians. For all it’s hype, telemedicine utilization is extremely low and provider fit remains the most important factor to successful therapy. Two Chairs takes information about you (including things like ethnicity, religion, age, problems you’re looking to address) and uses that to help you find the right provider. For example, a client might be looking for someone who is familiar with Jewish family systems and can also treat for an eating disorder or depression. Two Chair’s software and experts guide them to a matching therapist. Opening a chain of therapy offices sounds like an expensive business idea. But if today’s consumers are so allergic to outdated brands, it follows that they should be displeased by outdated services too. In particular, mental health is a category with high annual spend per customer and high unit efficiency (you don’t need expensive equipment or lots of space) which makes it easier to scale. Beyond sprucing up the aesthetic by adding midcentury furniture and using “matching technology”, Two Chairs doesn’t feel particularly inventive. Companies like Kip which combine in-person and in-app therapy feel more innovative, as does Alma, which supports individual therapists through a co-working and community model rather than addressing consumer problems directly. But if we believe that mental fitness will become just as if not more important than physical fitness in the decades ahead, then there’s plenty of room for different models of care to thrive. Two Chairs currently has seven clinics in San Francisco and recently received $21m in funding.

overheard on twitter

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, storyteller, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r Labs. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

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Know a founder I should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

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Thanks for being here!

Sari