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Product-Zeitgeist-Fit (PZF)

May 10, 20205 min read

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash


Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come - Victor Hugo

Zeitgeist is a term used by German philosopher Hegel to denote "world-spirit", a force that dominates and shapes an epoch in our history.

The term has recently been adopted by Silicon Valley's elites; one such instance is Product-Zeitgeist-Fit (PZF) – something you achieve when your product resonates with the mood of the times, such that every stakeholder (users, investors, partners) conspires to help you win.

Think of PZF as Product-Market-Fit on steriod.

It explains why the same idea might fail at a time but explode at another:

  1. Tik Tok vs Vine
  2. Instacart vs Webvan
  3. Instagram vs countless photo sharing platforms before them

It is easy to attribute some of these success and failures to the execution strength or fault of these startups, but perhaps another lens to look at them is how these products were helped or impeded by Zeitgeist.

A great article on PZF: https://a16z.com/2019/12/09/product-zeitgeist-fit/

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There are nuanced differences in Zeitgeist across different markets / cultures (e.g. US vs Asia).

But here are a few generic ones I’m looking at:

1. Remote Work / Collaboration

For most people, commuting to work is often the least favourite part of a job.

Even before Covid-19, we are already moving towards a more work-from-home friendly world. There are many high-performing companies and teams that are fully or hybrid remote.

With the mass WFH experiment brought by Covid-19, office workplace employers and employees are beginning to realise that perhaps they don't need people clocking in to office every day to get work done.

For employers, there's significant saving in cutting down rent and office-related expenses. Also, research has shown that people put in more productive hours working from home.

For employees, you'll add an hour or two per day (driving, putting on make ups, ironing shirts) that you can spend with your family or personal interest, and more importantly, lower stress and frustration caused by commuting.

Of course, we are creatures of habits and generations of culturally ingrained practises - e.g. wanting to interact and have a feel of energy in person, managers and employers prefering the power structure and control they can exert in workplace, etc.

There are certain challenges to WFH. But once we have collectively adjusted to this new norm of life and work, and optimise and put in place practices and systems to enable WFH, we'll see companies adopting hybrid or full remote work - e.g. employees only coming in office for meetings or twice a week to get face time.

What this means is there is opportunity and demand for a new generation of tools and systems, ones that are built specifically for this Zeitgeist:

  • remote collaboration
  • corporate/network security
  • productivity and work monitoring / tracking
  • team socialising / cohesion
  • HR

2. Skill re-inventing / upgrading & Income Share Agreement

With the 4th industrial revolution brought forth by advance in automation, we are already seeing a massive demand for skill upgrading/re-inventing.

Platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and Udacity are exploding in growth, moving from a niche online-learning space to partnering with employers to provide professional training and upskilling. Even giants like Linkedin is jumping on the bandwagon with its release of Linkedin Learning.

As Millenials start experiencing professional angst and bottleneck in their late 20s and early 30s, coupled with this generation's zeigeist of "growth mindset", there will be a new crashing wave of professional upskilling / transitioning need, akin to how the GI Bill transformed a whole generation of universities for boomers.

New breed of schools such as Lambda School, Make School and Flatiron are popularising Income Share Agreement (ISA) - students pledge a percent of future income up to certain amount, and pay no upfront tuition.

ISA is not free or cheap by any means, but the financial risk is contained and shared. With the Student Loan crisis in America, we are likely to see the ISA experiment gaining some serious steam.

What this Zeigeist means:

  • while we see professional upskilling platforms aplenty, I believe the supply is not close to matching the demand. The course I took on Udemy have 1 single instructor and >100,000 students.
  • there are still huge gaps in the value chain of upskilling: networking, mentor matching, partnership with corporations, more customised offerings for different subset of students instead of 1-size-fit-all.

3. De-coupling of our identity and life from traditional 9-to-5 work:

Our work and profession has always been a central part of our identity. In America, most people have their insurance and retirement investment plan tied in with their jobs. Workplace is also where we meet most of our adult friends and fulfill our social needs.

However, we are slowly moving away from a monolithic definition of career to a more fluid and dynamic way of making a living and staking our adult identity.

In this new reality, there will be increasing segment of the population that no longer works at a traditional 9-to-5 job:

  • self-employed entrepreneurs
  • freelancers
  • content creators on Youtube, Twitch, OnlyFans
  • running a Shopify ecommerce
  • day trading
  • running AirBnB
  • professional sports bettor, poker players, etc

For this group of people, there will be new needs to be met by the market:

  1. healthcare, insurance, investment
  2. retirement and asset planning
  3. new space and avenues for socialising and support
  4. professional networking, unioning and lobbying
  5. different type of financial services and instruments - e.g. credit or loan facilities not based on your monthly income or housing collateral

These are essential human needs that have been provided by holding a traditional job since the previous Industrial Revolution.

In this new Zeigeist, perhaps we will see a new market arising from the new paradigm, one that we can feel secure and whole even without traditional career.


4. Millennials

Back in the days (Middle Ages and before), it takes a few hundred years to have a new "generation" - people with different set of beliefs, values, outlooks, ways of living - due to slower rate of change in material conditions.

As a result of relative peace and prosperity (less scarcity mentality) and technology reaching inflection points, we have a new generation of Millennials that live markedly different from their parents despite being only 20-40 years apart.

While we still inherit a significant part of cultural beliefs passed on by the previous generations, our outlooks in life have key differences in the following areas:

  1. housing
  2. career
  3. marriage and family
  4. management style/preference
  5. brand and business loyalty, and having more control and choices
  6. professional and personal growth
  7. angst, FOMO, and constant comparisons fueled by social media
  8. attitude towards mental health
  9. environmental consciousness - Impossible Foods, Tesla

I will skip elaborating on the above points since it will take a different essay to expand on it.

The key take-away is this: Millennials have already come of age. We are already having kids, buying houses, getting established in careers. In the next 20 years, the world will be shaped by Millennials - how we consume, how we work, how we socialise.

Some opportunities I am setting my eyes on include parenting and child education, investment and retirement planning, Millennial mid-life crisis, and a post-FB social landscape.


5. Others

These are not as generation-defining Zeigeist as above, but still interesting trends to note and take advantage of.

Major League Soccer (MLS)

From my observations, Americans are fanatic sports fans. Following and watching sports is a social religion here. A typical American family ritual on Sunday is going to church followed by football watching.

Soccer in the American continent has started as an esoteric sports, but in the past decade has been creeping up on the American Big Four - Football, Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey.

My thought is MLS is going to be the biggest soccer market and league in the world, overtaking Europe, especially with 2026 FIFA World Cup coming to the U.S.

Fantasy sports & e-sports betting

Companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel.

Online "Gaming"

This refers to the online gambling industry who smartly co-opted the term "Gaming".

Gaming is one of the oldest industries, but new technologies - online payment, encryption, VPN, fraud management, mobile form factor - have enabled operators and gamers to engage in this form of entertainment safely.



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