1) The future of Sonder, which looks like Airbnb without hosts, depends on its ability to manage widely dispersed properties and differentiate its hospitality model.

WHAT HAPPENED: Sonder, a hospitality company now valued at $1.1 billion, rents out apartments like Airbnb, but manages check-in, amenities and other services like a hotel, instead of relying on a network of hosts.

Why it matters

  • As opposed to Airbnb, whose business model puts its hosts first, Sonder is about consumers. With a centralized supply chain—it leases and designs units, as well as provides amenities and customer service for visitors to the properties—Sonder can control the customer experience to a much greater extent.
  • Despite these differences, Sonder has already faced similar zoning law crackdowns to Airbnb after renting out a large number of units in individual buildings. Another obstacle to its business model is how to provide hotel-worthy services from afar given the wide dispersion of its properties across various cities. In contrast, Airbnb has the ability to rely on individual hosts.
  • While Sonder claims to remove the middleman, it lists properties on Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia, as well as its own site. This raises questions about how Sonder will market itself on external booking sites in order to stand out against individual hosts and traditional hotels.

2) Westfield World Trade Center was built as a transportation hub, not for retail real estate—but this can be an advantage, rather than a pitfall.

WHAT HAPPENED: NYC commuters make up 40% of Westfield WTC’s shoppers who spend an average of 30 minutes at the mall. To compete with the Shops at Hudson Yards, the company plans to expand food & beverage, seating, pop-ups, health and wellness, fitness and entertainment options in order to keep consumers on its premises for longer.

Why it matters

  • Westfield WTC has new competition from the Shops at Hudson Yards, which is part of a larger development that includes offices, an Equinox-branded hotel and apartments. While it remains a novelty, the development will attract destination shoppers, but the mall’s location at the West end of Manhattan isolates it from natural foot traffic. Meanwhile, Westfield WTC already has a large number of passerbys each day—it just has yet to capitalize on them.
  • Westfield WTC is currently tracking shopper preferences based on smartphone geodata in order to improve its range of tenants. But the company could likely improve its mall experience simply by changing its perspective. Instead of thinking of itself as a mall, Westfield WTC is a hub for on-the-go retail. The space isn’t so different from an airport, and the ability to turn it into a shoppable venue is much less about finding the hottest digitally-native brands and more about how relevant its tenants are to commuters.

3) The Infatuation’s new membership, Friends of The Infatuation, attempts to monetize its platform in new ways, but will its readers bite?

WHAT HAPPENED: The new membership, priced at $49 year, gives food lovers access to its text-based recommendation service, exclusive travel guides, early invites to events, and discounts and merch from brand partners. For $99 a year, members will also receive a VIP ticket to the company’s EEEEEATSCON festival with a range of perks.

Why it matters

  • The Infatuation has built up a sufficient audience, with more than 3 million monthly web visits. With its unique and approachable voice, expanding into services like events makes a lot of sense.
  • Its new membership program marks the first time that the company is attempting to directly monetize its readership. Aside from its ticketed festival that debuted in 2017, most of the company’s revenue stems from brand partnerships, executed through event collaborations, branded content and integrated content.
  • But the company was founded to curate food recommendations for “the people”—not “foodies.” This raises skepticism about its membership program; If the site is meant for regular consumers, it’s not clear how many will be interested in paying a fee for VIP services. For now, the membership is limited to NYC and expanding the program to more than 35 cities will also likely prove difficult and time consuming.

4) Quip’s dental care booking platform Quipcare raises questions about how the company will rely on acquisitions versus organic growth in the quest to become a one-stop shop for dental products and services.

WHAT HAPPENED: Quip built Quipcare (pay as you go) and Quipcare+ ($25 a month) to provide dental care options to those without insurance or those who have hit their annual maximum. The services operate through Afora, a dental insurance alternative startup that Quip acquired in 2018.

Why it matters

  • Quip’s previous expertise is in consumer products and subscription models, so it makes sense that the company had to look externally in order to launch an insurance program so quickly. But since the acquisition, Quip has raised $40 million more, and will likely need additional capital in order to expand its range of products and services, having very little know-how in house. With the help of its venture studio Quip Labs, Quip has the potential to create a vertically-integrated company, but it may sacrifice long-term durability for quick growth, as well as face difficulties in integrating a variety of businesses into one ecosystem unless it starts investing in R&D and brand incubation internally.
  • Quip’s performance will also depend on brand awareness. Quip claimed 1 million subscribers in January 2019, but this number includes customers who have purchased just one toothbrush as opposed to return customers. While the company began wholesaling to Target in late 2018, and is currently working to partner with dentists who will offer Quip products at their practices, the company is much younger and less established than CVS, for instance, whose omnipresence makes it better poised to capitalize off of its 2018 acquisition of the health insurance giant Aetna.