Modern companies are now using technology to deliver new value to the world. Backed by Hubert Burda Media’s investment division, BurdaPrincipal Investments, these companies are defining the relationship between technology and social advancement.
Like interlaced hands, technology and social change are intimately linked to the degree that one supports the other. At its core, technology is the application of scientific methods to devise tools to solve problems.
Among the types of tech that have moved the trajectory of human civilisation – the steam engine, the creation of the telephone, the age of radio and the adoption of the Internet. But even writing can be a form of technology. The written word allowed detailed messages to be passed from one person to the next – from one generation to another – with more clarity than word of mouth.
Here, we look at several outstanding modern companies that are promoting learning, social entrepreneurship, digital innovation, and the spirit of community through technology. Together, they are helping to revolutionise traditional business models in meaningful ways.
Skillshare – New york, usa
While the online learning community has exploded since the pandemic, Skillshare has been in the business since 2010. With courses taught by industry leaders like Seth Godin & Guy Kawasaki (entrepreneurship), Paula Scher (graphic design), Marc Ecko (brand creation), and even Gary V on social media strategy, Skillshare’s platform boasts over 12 million registered users. The platform has also introduced a “Groups” feature that connects members with other creators to share work and sharpen skills.
In the first half of 2020, Skillshare has focused on releasing quality new classes taught by industry experts, and testing new learning methods and video production processes. As a result, the average rate of engagement has more than doubled in most markets. With more than 8,000 teachers, and over 30,000 video-based classes in a wide range of creative disciplines from graphic design to photography to painting and illustration to interior design, Skillshare has experienced a year of unprecedented growth.
Burda has announced a follow-on investment in the world’s largest online learning community for creativity based in New York City. The funding will primarily be used to create a localised experience for international students, while continuing to expand domestically, and grow Skillshare’s enterprise offering. The funding will also be invested in tools that increase engagement between students and teachers, expand teachers’ audiences through dedicated marketing efforts, and create new formats for teachers to earn revenue.
“Creative classes help manage stress”
While the pandemic is forcing people to stay at home, there are many ways to feel connected, manage the stress and get creative indoors. Matt Cooper, CEO of Skillshare, shares with BurdaPrincipal Investments his thoughts on how creativity is a powerful force in these unprecedented times and how Skillshare is trying to help people manage the crisis.
What initiatives have you launched to support people across all geographies since the start of the 2020 pandemic?
Especially now, we’re seeing a lot of people turn to our creative classes as a way to help manage stress, feel connected, and get creative indoors. Classes on drawing, writing, and journaling are great for creative self-discovery. We’ve also begun curating classes with easy projects to do inside, including interior design classes and fun projects to try with your kids. This is an unprecedented time, and we have a unique opportunity to help foster creativity as a powerful force for bringing us together. To that same end, we’ve also launched a number of initiatives to support our community: we’ve announced free two-month access for everyone with .edu, .k12, and .ac.uk email addresses, as well as a limited number of free memberships based on need.
Why do you recommend checking out Skillshare in times of social distancing and home office?
There are a lot of people looking for healthy diversion during a very stressful period, and the rise in activity that we’ve seen is a great signal that Skillshare is providing a much needed outlet. For those who cannot get outside, a creative project or sharing a creative challenge with your kids or family can help you break up your normal routine. We also have a very strong community, and for many people, this can be very beneficial. I think most of us have a long list of things we would like to learn, so maybe this time at home is the perfect excuse to invest the time to finally do it.
How is the global pandemic changing behaviours and what does this mean for Skillshare?
There are so many companies that would have sworn that working from home would never work for them. Yet they are finding a way to make it work today and some of those new routines will carry on when the virus fades. Similarly, there are people who may not have looked at online classes and community as their preferred method of learning, but they are realising just how valuable it can be. We certainly hope the many new users who are giving us a try, and the existing users who are spending more time with us, find value in us and stay part of the community for a long time to come.
Carsome – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Among the companies using technology for change, this home-grown success story is already the region’s first pick for car owners to directly sell to dealers or individuals. From start to finish, Carsome makes transparent the entire car selling process. From unbiased inspections, to fair market valuations, bidding, payment, plus logistics, now customers can sell their cars in as fast as a single day and be sure they’re getting the best value for their vehicles. Since 2015, they’ve expanded to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. With more than 70 percent of transactions being done inter-city, Carsome’s winning business model has struck a chord with motoring fans no matter their borders.
Hubert Burda Media has recently announced a follow-on investment in Carsome, which will use the capital to strengthen its existing regional leadership in consumer-to-business (C2B) used car e-commerce and accelerate its already successful new offering in the business-to-consumer (B2C) segment.
Hmlet – Singapore
Born of a belief that people should be free to live and accomplish more, Hmlet designs and operates shared living spaces, with a view towards building meaningful relationships among its residents. Meeting the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce and the evolving lifestyles of young, progressive professionals, their affordable and flexible housing comes complete with community events – ironically once a hallmark of healthy and happy villages. With travel restrictions inevitably loosened, they company is looking to expand into more gateway cities across the Asia Pacific.
“When we launched Hmlet, we wanted to create a better way of living for an increasingly mobile workforce, who want a sense of home and community in whichever country they choose to live in. We’re extremely proud of our team and we will continue to build on our commitment to give our existing and future members a home and community that supports their new way of working and living,” says Yoan Kamalski, CEO of Hmlet.
Sweet Escape – Jakarta, Indonesia
Taking a dream vacation and you want to capture its best moments? Sweet Escape is one of the companies using technology to connect travellers and pre-wed couples to an international database of over 10,000 photographers in 500-plus cities. Not only is each photographer intimately acquainted with the best locales for amazing shots, but the platform’s members promise to deliver professionally edited photos within just two days. Simply request quotations and compare prices and services to get the best deal available.
Not On The High Street – London, United Kingdom
If you’re looking for something exceptional, for a product complete with its own backstory, Notonthehighstreet.com offers a curated product selection focused on unique designs and immaculate craftsmanship. In addition, the website also shares inspiring stories behind the people who make them. With over 200,000 such products from individual creators all over the UK, the platform is currently working very hard towards achieving a sales target of £200 million (SGD362m) thanks to the pandemic revenue surge.
“Notonthehighstreet.com has built up a very successful E-Commerce business beyond the classic retail model that fits very well with our portfolio. We see significant growth potential for this unique business, both in and outside the UK, making it an obvious partner for us as we continue to grow our portfolio of consumer and technology brands internationally,” shares Martin Weiss, managing director of BurdaPrincipal Investments.
The Female Company – Stuttgart, Germany
The secret to saving any floundering community is to empower its womenfolk. Through education, micro loans, complete authority over her own reproductive systems, and in the case of The Female Company – affordable, organic, female hygiene products. Delivering taboo-breaking, sustainable and well-designed products for modern women at the equivalent of €2 (S$3.20) per month, their organic tampons, panty liners and sanitary towels are also derived from pesticide- and chemical-free cotton plants.
In April 2019, the company received a great deal of media attention as part of its campaign to reduce the so-called ‘tampon tax’. With their Tampon Book, they contributed significantly to the political decision to reduce the tax in Germany from 19 percent to 7 percent. Following this campaign, the founders Ann-Sophie Claus and Sinja Stadelmaier were invited to the German Bundestag and the UN Commission on Women’s Rights as political spokespersons.
Being a supplier of essential goods, and using multiple distribution channels, The Female Company has achieved strong growth in the midst of the ongoing corona crisis. The FemCare start-up offers its organic period products as a subscription, and educates on all things female health through its magazine. In March 2020, Öko-Test awarded The Female Company the certificate “very good” for its organic tampon line. BurdaPrincipal Investments believes in the vision of the two founders and has been supporting the young start-up since 2009.
Vinted – Vilnius, Lithuania
As Europe’s largest C2C marketplace, Vinted is making pre-loved fashion the primary choice of young people in the Baltic region. Founded in 2008, they’ve built an active community of over 25 million members with an annual gross merchandise volume above €1.2 billion (SGD1.6b). By promoting thoughtful, responsible consumption – and at the same time – catering to the lifestyles of millennials, Vinted’s one-on-one member interactions have revolutionised the digital shopping space. In total, the Vinted community has over 28 million members and operates in 12 markets: England, France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the USA, Spain, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium ,and the Netherlands.
Vinted members stayed active throughout the 2020 crisis, with an increase of +17% in listings noticeable since the end of February. With the safety of its people in mind, setting up home office structures in early March, Vinted proved that it’s possible to keep working motivated to create new solutions and outstanding user experiences throughout these challenging times for its engaged community of 7.5 million members in Germany. The company is confident that it will keep growing – the accelerating development already required the support of 40 new employees and further hires being planned.
In June 2020, Vinted announced that it would be donating over €1 million to support the fight against COVID-19. This donation is the largest for the company to date, and will primarily help to fund key research projects for antiviral treatment that will have a global impact. Since 2015, Vinted has been a portfolio company of BurdaPrincipal Investments.
“Success in any country can pave the way for the rest of the world. We have been working hard to provide solutions for our community to keep trading safely, in times of social distancing and while some of our members are facing unexpected economic challenges,” reveals Thomas Plantenga, CEO of Vinted.
Quit Genius – San Francisco, USA
Founded by doctors Yusuf Sherwani (co-founder and CEO), Maroof Ahmed (co-founder and COO) and Sarim Siddiqui (co-founder and Head of Product), who saw the terrible effects of smoking on patients’ health but didn’t see doctors giving those patients a clear path to quit smoking, Quit Genius is an innovative digital clinic that employs cognitive behavioural therapy to treat addictions for smoking, vaping, alcohol and opioids – while lowering healthcare costs. By delivering a personalised program derived from data insights – specific to a user’s triggers – combined with advice from qualified quit coaches and interactive exercises, Quit Genius is seeing exceptional outcomes backed by clinical research.
Burda’s international growth capital arm BurdaPrincipal Investments (BPI) has joined the USD11 Million (SGD14.5m) Series A funding round led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from Y Combinator, Startup Health, and Triple Point Ventures. Quit Genius will use the funding to expand into other types of addiction, such as alcohol and opioid addiction.