The Bionic Market
TL;DR: Just how big is the recently-hyped “Tools of Thought” market? Maybe there’s so many people on the web now you can actually make a business selling sports cars to the intellectual elite?
During the first dot-com bubble, the Internet had 4M people. Today it has over 2B. That’s kind of obvious. What’s less obvious is the double growth: not just in number, but also in quality. This isn’t the generation who got computers when they were 50. These are a new generation that was born online. The mode Internet user is much more likely to care about keyboard shortcuts.
Said differently, we now have a large market of “bionic users”. People who are half melded into the machine. Users that like keyboard shortcuts, care about speed, care about productivity, etc. (Some people call these “prosumers”, but that term feels as jaded as Apple’s Aqua UI.)
The first company I started was a search engine. We were acquired by Apple, and our product was melded into Spotlight. The pitch was sleek, hyperfast search across all of your personal data. We tried both consumer and enterprise markets, but we found most success in the third market of high-end power users. The issue was it was 2010. It’s really fun building for the bionic elite, but there wasn’t enough of them to justify a long term business.
Several things have changed since:
- It is technically easier to pay for things on the Internet.
- It is emotionally easier to pay for things on the Internet. It’s something you do frequently.
- There are more power users on the Internet who care about high-octane fast software. Partially because there are more software developers now, and software developers are often bionic users.
- There are more people on the Internet with the ability to pay for it.
- It is easier to reach those people.
I think this effect fueled the early growth of companies like Roam Research, Notion, Airtable, Superhuman, Zapier, Pocket, and others. Some of those achieved scale by going upmarket and charging enterprises for collaboration features, but it’s possible that you could have a material business selling to power users alone. It’s also worth noting the alternative take on this: pure enterprise. Retool is a good example of this, forgoing the appeal to the bionic and focusing on deployment within a company. (Others mentioned have an enterprise component too. Everyone does everything. I think the key distinction is in the heart and soul of the company. Is self-serve the first or second act? Slice by that.)
There are anywhere between 6-50M software developers in the world. According to Wikipedia, Github has 40M active users. The more reasonable estimates I’ve found are closer to 23M software developers. To me, this is a good rough sizing of the bionic market. That is, it’s probably > 1M and < 100M. (I would appreciate any deeper analysis of this if anyone has it!)
High Octane Software
The first is a very liberating one to those that have productivity at heart: Yes you can! You can focus on 50ms response time, autocomplete, eye tracking, or whatever whacky idea you have to make something really, really nifty.
Maybe Notion and Roam Research should get married? Apple Music and Microsoft Teams were a great tour de force of the power of bundling and having established sales channels. It is interesting to think of who might build the reseller channel to power users. This is the type of thing you earn the right to build – so I’d imagine it would be one of the Bionic Incumbents doing this first.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’re somewhat of a determined reader to slog through this morass of words I’ve cobbled together. If you’re curious to get validation on a labor of love you’re working on, you should check out Pioneer. That’s kind of why we made it. I’m not going to link to it here, because I presume a true bionic user can easily find it themselves. (Scroll down!)