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Welcome, Topline Pro: Building the Tech Stack for the Underserved Home Services Industry
Leading Topline’s $12M series A to support economic empowerment for SMBs in this sector
The CQ is Forerunner’s weekly newsletter rounding up the most pressing consumer news and analysis, plus some bonus musing from our investment team. Subscribe now to get the latest edition in your inbox every Saturday.
By Brian O’Malley, Managing Partner
When was the last time you heard of a tech platform that helped a landscaper in Daytona Beach, Florida grow revenue from $70K to over $2.2M in just over a year? Or a home painter in Adrian, Michigan who started a business and grew it to nearly $1M in revenue in just 12 months?
These are the real world stories from a couple of Topline Pro’s thousands of customers. Topline Pro is building the first comprehensive tech stack for the $500B+ home services industry and providing transformative business value to these skilled tradespeople who have long deserved a platform to properly capture their market potential.
This last week, we announced that we’re leading the $12M series A, so the millions of home services entrepreneurs can have more ownership and control over their business by vastly improving how they’re discovered, build trust and customer relationships, and efficiently scale their bookings.
Ultimately, Topline Pro is about fostering economic growth for a sector that has had to rely on dated, exploitative systems and that’s generally been left out of the tech-enabled advancements that have transformed the scalability in other sectors. This market has been dramatically underserved due to a mix of structural and cultural issues: it’s notoriously fragmented, there can be especially high churn, and there’s the assumption that traditionally more “blue-collar” trades imply a less-sophisticated operator who isn’t savvy enough to employ the latest and greatest tech.
Topline Pro is challenging this with great success, uniquely possible through recent AI advancements. The traction speaks for itself: the platform has generated over $180M in revenue for its customers since launching in winter 2022.
Housekeeping note: The Forerunner team is off next week to rest and recharge. We’ll be back with The CQ the following week!
What We’re Talking About on Slack:
The side hustle killed the hobby. Or did hobbies just become side hustles? Nearly half of Americans under 35 say they have a side hustle in addition to their full-time job. And according to a different survey, one in three adults with a side hustle claim they need the extra money for daily living expenses. But monetizing what you would do just for fun can understandably lead to burn out, especially between bookkeeping and taxes. “Hobbies are crucial in shaping well-rounded and interesting human beings, but those once restorative activities are now falling victim to the vice grip of productivity.”
This summer’s bonanza of Barbie, Beyonce and Taylor Swift demonstrated the sheer power of women-led consumerism. Barbie’s opening weekend made $337 million worldwide, the highest ever for a woman-directed movie. Beyoncé’s Philadelphia tour stop led to a 30% jump of diners at restaurants found through Yelp and a 193% increase of searches for local nail technicians from the week before. Meanwhile Swift’s two-day tour stop in Cincinnati garnered an estimated net-new local spending at the city’s businesses of $92 million. “There are a record number of women in the U.S. labor force, surpassing pre-pandemic levels — the unemployment rate among women is at an all-time low of 3.4%. Women may be better positioned than ever to flex their financial strength.”
Gen X is poorly prepared for retirement. The generation born between 1965 and 1980 is estimated at 64 million Americans, or nearly 20% of the U.S. population — but according to a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), the average Gen X household has $40,000 in retirement savings, and those savings are concentrated among top earners. “As the first generation to mostly enter the workforce after the move away from defined benefit pensions in the private sector, most Gen Xers will not enjoy the secure retirement income that pensions have provided to so many in previous generations."
”How do I do that?” The newest 2023 hires are lacking basic skills needed in the workplace. Experts say it’s due to remote learning during the pandemic. Employers are now left scrambling to find competent candidates or stuck having to over index on training employees on the job. The shortfalls are wide ranging, from tactical (how to make change at a register) to softer skills (how to handle frustration and work with others). “Since 2020, when the pandemic began and remote learning moved students out of schools and into virtual classrooms, the pass rates on national certifications and assessment exams taken by engineers, office workers, soldiers and nurses have all fallen.” This has put an enormous strain on employers — for example, at hospitals, for every student who fails the certification exam, the delay sets them back an average of $42,000.
Like tipping, sneaky fees are getting out of hand. Whatever you call it — processing fees, booking fees, service fees, inflation fees — by the time you actually notice these tacked-on charges, it’s often too late in the process to do anything about it. The White House estimates Americans as a whole spend over $65 billion on fees yearly. And now the federal government is taking steps to curb some of the more fee-heavy culprits, including fining Bank of America for abusive overdraft fees, urging airlines to end rebooking fees, and getting Zillow and other housing sites to disclose rental application fees, parking fees, and pet fees. But some businesses claim, in a time of rising costs, these fees are keeping them afloat. One restaurant owner says “fees are a way of being transparent about how we’re covering costs, while keeping prices competitive.”
The Wall Street Journal looks at how fast fashion brands are adding repair services to gain more “eco-friendly” credit. Zara, Uniqlo, and H&M-owned Cos are all launching ways to help consumers fix the retailers’ clothing instead of throwing them away, timely when 92 million tons of garments are tossed into landfills annually and the average fast-fashion item gets thrown away after a year. This isn’t exactly a perfect solution: “Consumers might not see much value in repairing something that didn’t cost much to begin with, and even if they do, brands face the challenge of enabling repairs at mass-market scale.”
The Atlantic makes the case that the American family is in the “age of tremors.” In other words, “today’s parents face rising external disruptions and a degradation of the institutions that are meant to provide stability.” This leads to regular parenting breakdowns — whether from the lack of affordable child care or mandatory paid leave, the switch from guaranteed pensions to stock-market-dependent 401(k)s, shortages of infant formula and children’s medicines, school closures from extreme heat or smoke, or employer’s just-in-time scheduling — that can end up taking a consistent toll on families. “Research shows significant declines in parents’ mental health since before the pandemic, and recent years have brought high levels of parental exhaustion and burnout, as well as loneliness. About three-quarters of parents are very or somewhat concerned that climate change will harm their children or other young children they know. This stress and insecurity can easily trickle down to the whole family.”
Do you avoid reading the news? You’re part of a growing group. A recent survey found 38% of U.S. respondents say they sometimes or often avoid news (the breakdown by gender is 41% of women and 34% of men). The number of those in the US who are “extremely” or “very interested” in the news has fallen to 49%, down from 67% from 2015. Some experts say this could be due to information overload from ubiquitous updates from all our devices. “What I find is, the news is depressing. It feels like it affects me directly. I don’t know if the world is worse now than it was before. But it never used to feel like a personal threat. Maybe I just feel it more.”
More women are dying from alcohol. Between 2018 and 2022, women’s death rate related to alcohol (not counting deaths from injuries, homicides, or death indirectly linked to alcohol use) increased by 14.7%. Because women metabolize alcohol differently than men, they are more susceptible to certain alcohol-related illnesses. Several studies have discovered that women are drinking as much or sometimes more than men. And one 2019 study found that women are more likely than men to drink to cope with stress. “If women are drinking more than ever, and even dying more from alcohol-related deaths, then it feels safe to say that women are perhaps more stressed than they have ever been.”
US climate change reforestation plans face a key problem: lack of tree seedlings. The context: governments nationwide and worldwide have pledged to plant more trees — within the next nine years, the U.S. Forest Service promises to plant more than 1bn trees, while the World Economic Forum has goals to help plant 1tn trees globally by 2030. But the problem is there aren’t enough tree seedlings to fulfill those ambitious plans. Less than 10% of nurseries in the U.S. grow and sell seedlings in the volumes needed for conservation and reforestation. There’s also a lack of “future-climate-suitable” varieties that could survive the extreme weather as well as the loss of seed collectors and knowledgeable nurseries. “The researchers argue that dramatic increases in both seedling production and diversity at many regional nurseries will be central to any successful campaign to address the climate crisis with tree planting.”
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