Each year, we poll Term Sheet readers for what they believe will happen in the upcoming twelve months. And boy do y’all have thoughts.
Many of you believe the long-term impact of the pandemic won’t die off but that its effects have been overstated. While consumers are likely to have formed permanent habits that result in a boon to e-commerce, grocery delivery, and healthcare tech, you still expect much of our pre-pandemic habits to return—to an extent.
What’s also telling is what you don’t say. For 2020, you predicted a recession. That word hasn’t made an appearance this time around. Instead, many of you are expecting valuations for some of the software and productivity companies to come back down to earth to a “healthy” point.
Beyond that, dealmakers predict greater focus sectors including quantum computing, cybersecurity, government tech, and A.I.—though they also anticipate more regulation around the latter.
Here’s how you think 2021 could pan out:
San Francisco doesn’t die
“Silicon Valley will continue to be at the top of the totem pole in terms of innovation, but we will also see a distribution of capital, talent and entrepreneurship in other cities as well, which is clearly a great thing. In the same way that Utah is a hub for SaaS companies, Seattle for travel and real estate, or New York for fintech, we will see micro communities emerge across the country. Often, what it takes is one iconic company to establish a strong talent pool and as talent and capital spins out to build new companies, that creates the ecosystem. Realistically this process takes a decade or more, so it will be exciting to watch what new innovation hubs emerge from the pandemic.” – Pete Flint, General Partner, NFX
“A new generation of smart builders are going to continue to come to the Bay Area! Those who are ready to rest and vest with their big paydays don’t want to pay seven to nine figures in taxes, but those at the beginning of their career who are just getting started will now have the housing and commercial real estate space to spawn a new renaissance. The artists might even come back. This is fanned by the fact that Big Tech is going remote.” – Garry Tan, founder and managing partner, Initialized Capital
“Once the COVID pandemic is brought under control, urban areas will recover, and the largest beneficiaries will be companies that can get back to a working environment that fosters collaboration. Also, younger employees/college graduates who are still trying to set their career trajectories will gain a significant advantage over those who opted to stay out of the US’s major economic hubs.” – Jordan Nof, co-founder and managing partner, Tusk Ventures
But many will leave cities. As a result, towns and startups all over America will reshape
“People’s transportation needs have also shifted this year, especially with the move to remote working. Transportation trends will also see a major change in the new year. Sensors and A.I. tech will see increased support that will help will traffic congestion prediction, pedestrian flows and parking patterns. People impacted by the pandemic will seek local routes and access businesses closer to home. Also, transit-oriented developments are on the rise, which will make American cities resemble European cities.” – Wyatt Jenkins, SVP of product, Procore
“More broadly, space is going to be used in a dramatically different way. There will be a massive rationalization of the second largest cost of all organizations: real estate… Hospitals will have more room for beds whereas corporations will adopt new workplace layouts that increase collaboration while also maintaining capacity requirements (for now). And when we look at higher education, the move to online classes will radically upend their real estate footprint in the next 12 to 18 months…. A huge reckoning is coming to commercial real estate and it’s going to be something to keep a close eye on.” – Kurt von Koch, CEO, FM:Systems
“More startups will focus on the home, particularly the suburbs. Think about what DoorDash did for suburban food delivery. We will start to see disruption of traditional services (e.g. landscaping, cleaning, pool maintenance).” – Michael Goland, vice president of business operations and strategy at Founder Shield
“The big brand fast food stops are likely to de-densify their walk-in locations and convert existing locations to delivery only. We’ll see a transformation in the real estate footprint. With urban passenger traffic nose diving, ride sharing companies will pivot investments in home delivery – driving consolidation in the restaurant delivery business, as well as accelerating growth of on-demand delivery of food, groceries and more.” – Todd Klein, partner, Revolution Growth
Valuations will come back down to earth
“We’ll see valuations start to return closer to something normal in the public markets towards the latter half of next year, and this will have an impact on private market valuations as well. To put it in perspective, the valuation multiples for high growth publicly-traded [software and subscription] companies have expanded quite a bit in 2020. This has continued to buoy valuations in the private markets we play in. If you didn’t know there was a pandemic going on, we’d be saying we were at peak bubble for promising companies that are raising competitive rounds.” – Don Butler, managing director, Thomvest Ventures
“We will need to adjust to a rough correction in capital market valuations as earnings multiples will ultimately need to come in-line with COVID and post-COVID economic realities.” – Matthew Cowan, general partner, Next47
“As we return from the pandemic and there is rotation of dollars from tech to travel, hospitality and energy sectors hurt by the pandemic, we will see 2021 multiples return to normal yet healthy levels (20-25x forward revenues).” – Dharmesh Thakker, general partner, Battery Ventures
SPACS continue to raise, but some will struggle to find a good acquisition
“SPACs are going to get very competitive and it will be hard for them to find good assets to buy. If some of the early ones underperform it will be hard for the trend to sustain. The best companies and brands will explore the SPAC option but if companies are good enough to do traditional IPO or direct listing, they will likely do that over the SPAC option.” – Mitchell Green, founding and managing partner, Lead Edge Capital
“SPACs, which felt like a bubble in early 2020, become a mainstream way to go public. Some ‘science project’ SPACs are brilliant and some are embarrassing failures.” –Greg Sands, founder and managing partner, Costanoa Ventures
“The overhang from 2020’s spate of SPACs will hit in 2021. SPACs sucked attention away from classic IPOs last year, but next year, the IPO market will return to a more classic structure and give SPACs some competition. We’ll see more capital that can be deployed in more ways, providing good alternatives for entrepreneurs to grow and finance their companies.” – Jason Green, founder and general partner, Emergence Capital
Offices come back, to varying degrees
“The death of office culture and the allure of remote working has been massively overstated. Sure, we want to hang onto some flexibility; but employees at companies of all sizes that have been remote this year are hungering for the connection of their peers and longing to feel the togetherness that’s borne from a shared mission.” Nicole Johnson, partner, Forerunner Ventures
“The future of work is hybrid. Many digital knowledge workers will have the freedom to decide how many days a week they want to work in the office and to choose flexible working hours rather than the traditional 9am-5pm. Some employers may lead the way as Google has done recently with their plan for 3 ‘collaboration days’ a week in the office and allowing employees to work at home for 2 days a week. I expect we will also see an increase in project-based work vs. role-based or full-time work creating opportunities for a broader set of people to participate in the labor force.” – Sarah Cannon, partner, Index Ventures.
“HR tech will have a huge year in 2021 as companies take their savings from reduced office footprint and plow it into software to improve employee engagement. Companies that slashed costs during the coronavirus are experiencing huge margin expansion and are going to Zoom in 2021 (this is already happening).” – Spencer Rascoff, Zillow co-founder and former CEO
At-home healthcare tech and mental health care will boom
“The pandemic made health innovation a hot category to invest in, and in 2021, we’ll see ‘Family Health’ emerge as the next big category in healthcare. Employers saw the challenges facing working parents head on this year as their children quite literally came into view, along with the realization that the definition of supporting parent employees spans far beyond healthcare for dependents.” – Sarahjane Sacchetti, CEO, Cleo.
“There will be a rise in startups that better address the needs of the modern, tech-savvy older population, challenging long-standing institutions like the AARP, and we’ll see players like Amazon going into more aspects of people’s personal and medical lives to further amplify a massive ambition around owning the market for cloud-driven telehealth services.” –Michael Bloch, CEO, Pillar
“When the calendar flips at the end of the month, I think there will be a bigger push on technology in the home, in regards to our health.” –Ambar Bhattacharyya, managing director, Maverick Ventures
“Emotional wellbeing has emerged as an acute issue among clinicians during COVID-19, as staff are absorbing the stress and emotional toll of working long hours and rising death tolls. And as a result, many Chief Nurse Officers may be considering departures or retirement once the pandemic comes to a close. If healthcare leaders can effectively identify high-performing nurse managers and nurture and develop their leadership skills early on, the new generation of healthcare leadership will already be prepared to lead when the time comes.” – Nanne Finis, chief nurse executive, UKG
Though it will come with its own regulatory and safety issues
“There will be a continued increase in the numbers of people looking to take advantage of these services as it’s become a popular and safe option for many. But as the number of telemedicine offerings on the market continues to grow, hospitals and customers need to be wary of the quality of the experiences they provide and the guidance they deliver.” – Michael Niddam, managing partner at Kamet Ventures
Investors also see promise in chips, video-based shopping, and quantum computing
“In 2021 there will be renewed interest in ‘GovTech.’ This is due to a combination of factors including Palantir’s successful public offering, the rapid growth of new government focused unicorns such as Anduril, and an expectation that there will be another round of stimulus that can create opportunities for American venture-backed startups.” – Sri Chandrasekar, partner, Point72 Ventures
“More big consumers of chips, i.e., hyperscalers, car companies, consumer electronics companies will acquire semiconductor companies. Expect lots of chip M&A. Chips will be the differentiators of products and companies, rather than just another component.” – Shahin Farshchi, Partner, Lux Capital
“Despite the pandemic, the future for consumer investments in 2021 is looking bright. With the world on lockdown, many of us have become voracious online shoppers. Video based shopping is a trend that’s already huge in China and we think 2021 could be the year that we see breakout activity in that space here in the U.S.” – Saar Gur, general partner, CRV
“The immense computational power that quantum computing can unleash will lead to life-changing medicines, more accurate weather forecasts, smarter AIs, longer-lasting batteries, safer space travel, sustainable energy sources, and benefits society has yet to even discover.” – David Cowan, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners
And that will come with an increased need for cybersecurity and privacy
“The vulnerabilities exposed by COVID and this latest Russian cyberattack will forcibly retire the traditional security framework… In 2021 we’ll see broad, rapid adoption of ‘zero trust’ security frameworks that constantly verify users and devices at every entry point and grant limited access only to specifically permitted resources. After years of languishing on long-term wish lists, zero trust implementations will leapfrog their way to the top of IT roadmaps.” – Gene Frantz, general partner, CapitalG
“2020 marked the beginning of new privacy preserving algorithms such as differential privacy starting to be encoded into software. In 2021, software developers will more easily be able to preserve user privacy without sacrificing personalization or accuracy. It will be interesting to see which companies and products are be able to use this new privacy balance as a competitive weapon against incumbents.” – Matt Hartman, partner, Betaworks Ventures
Fintech investments will need to address the wealth gap
“Social debt is building: Although during the pandemic many of the top wealth in America has grown, there is a large mass of retail, hospitality, food service and other in-person workers who have been displaced and are out of work with debt building. This increasing unemployment, underemployment, and homelessness will take a long time to recover, and we are building a nationwide debt socially and financially with these individuals that will need to be paid.” – Mike Jones, managing director, Science Inc.
“The pandemic accelerated and sharpened two long-standing trends: the erosion of faith in traditional institutions and growing inequality, in particular between the professional and working classes. There is enormous potential for fintechs to fill the gaps in trust and wealth that likely will continue to widen over the coming year.” Ryan Falvey and Tyler Griffin, managing partners, Financial Venture Studio
“In consumer fintech, we will see increased attention to Black and minority communities. At the current moment, these communities are still a drastically underserved market despite the early attention. There are many products and services that could serve the needs of the community but are not known to the community.” – Jillian Williams, principal, Anthemis
2021 could be one of the hottest years for M&A and IPOs
“We will see more M&A. The M&A market is strong – when the IPO market is hot, more tech companies are buying. Big tech companies have cash hordes, that they can use across the board to beef up product lines and gain relevance in areas where they did not have it… This year’s IPO market is still a tiny dent in the number of companies that are realistic IPO candidates.” – Sandy Miller, general partner, IVP
” We will likely see one of most robust M&A environments ever. The surge of venture backed IPOs has left many businesses with war chests at same time. Will see Slootman (Snowflake)/Chesky (Airbnb)/Xu (DoorDash) play the capital allocation game.” – Chris Brown, principal, Inspired Capital
Cloud, fintech, healthcare, and product management will see big buys—while some others will stumble
“2021 will be an epic year tech M&A. We are in the early innings of cloud migration. Google Cloud, Microsoft or Vmware will acquire Hashi in 2021. Another large acquisition would be Google Cloud acquires Confluent… There’s going to be a wave of acquisitions in the security space… Many tuck-in acquisitions by Crowdstrike, Palo Alto, Zscaler.” – Baris Aksoy
“If we look at the business to business tech space, the heat is on in the product management space. Atlassian might look to get into it by buying Pendo… Microsoft or Adobe might look at companies such as Invision or Figma.” -Andy MacMillan, CEO of UserTesting
“I imagine we will see Teledoc, American Well or even MDLive continue their expansion and seek to deepen their reach… by merging or acquiring companies like Zipnosis for full virtual care, 20/20Now (ocular telehealth specialty), 3Derm for dermatologists, or Aligned Telehealth for behavioral healthcare staffing programs.” – Darin Brannan, CEO, ClearDATA.
“Microsoft buys Akami.” – Bill Mahoney
“Compass’ IPO will underperform when investors value the company as a tech-enabled services business instead of the software company that Softbank treated it as.” – Sarah Liu, vice president, Fifth Wall Ventures
“DoorDash falls below $100 by July.” – Jerry Chen
“SoftBank Vision Fund 2 closes at another $100 billion.” – Chet
“Fintech M&A is going to be on fire next year, and will be fascinating to see who is the first to get acquired at the start of the year. Stripe may become one of the most active CVC’s for emerging market Fintech… Goldman Sachs’ Marcus will launch their robo-advisor product, and it will be very interesting to see the adoption vs. Wells Fargo, SoFi, and Betterment.” – Cody Barbo, founder and CEO, Trust & Will
Travel and entertainment gets a comeback
“As the vaccine reaches a sizable part of the US.. population, business travel will come roaring back. All it will take for companies to change their travel policy is to lose an important deal or two to a competitor who visited in-person to close the deal. We all crave human interaction and for many of us, trust and relationships are built in-person.” – Arif Janmohamed, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners
“Consumer spend in categories such as travel, fashion, restaurant dining, out of home entertainment and personal grooming will come roaring back as the pandemic eases in the second half of 2021. This will be particularly true for goods and services catering to the more affluent demographics least affected by pandemic job losses.” – Patricia Nakache, general partner, Trinity Ventures.
But maybe not to pre-pandemic levels
“Even once the vaccine is fully deployed, we will still not see business travel ever come back to pre-pandemic levels. However, vacation travel will skyrocket in 2021 due to pent up-demand and it will be common for professionals to travel and work remotely from desirable places for weeks (or months) at a time.” – David Thacker, general partner, Greylock
Funding to women and minorities continue to lag, but investors take note
“Inequity in venture capital funding persists despite the issue being in the spotlight and many efforts to combat it. Venture capital funding going to women entrepreneurs stagnated over the last year at around 12%. Women own just 11% of founder and employee equity in start-ups, according to a study conducted by Carta… This will take time to correct as remedies must address the fundamental and structural issues that underpin the problem. But, in the near term, there will be new solutions and investment vehicles that emerge to address the deficit in funding for these minority groups, including fund of funds.” – Leah Solivan, general partner, Fuel Capital
“[There will be] more funding toward women and BIPOC founders in earlier stages.” – Carine Carmy, CEO, Origin