2021: investments in e-businesses peak

Avatar for Martijn Hoogeveen
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The end of 2021 looms. Traditionally, time to look back to what 2021 has brought us as e-businesses. My views are formed by running a portfolio of e-businesses, doing research, and investment dynamics in the tech and health spaces.

COVID-19: from pandemic to endemic

We are all tired of the C-word. But, still it dominated much of the headlines and our lives in 2021. The mass vaccination campaigns are starting to turn the pandemic into an endemic respiratory virus. In temperate climate zones, its seasonality is now widely accepted and better understood than ever before. Better preventive and hospital medication, reduced the mortality rates dramatically. Retail and hospitality lock-downs, like in the Netherlands in December, have become a rarity in Western countries. People embraced booster shots to bring hospitalization and mortality risks down. As COVID-19 is now endemic, we have to learn to live with it. There are more signs of hope, as new variants appear to be more contagious, but less deadly. The already low impact on how we run our e-businesses – mainly using Zoom, Meet and Teams a lot from home – will fade away even more.

Holding money costs money

In 2021, many countries, people and businesses got fully used to negative interest rates. Caused by an oversupply of free money by the central banks to stimulate economies. Governments can lend and get paid for it. The result is that a tsunami of business and private savings hit the market. Annual GDP growth of 5-6%, after the big shrink in 2020, is not abnormal. The stock markets reached all time highs. Cryptos the same. House prices went, literally, through the roof. Supply chain shocks, resulted in a situation with more demand than supply. Consequently, inflation is back.

Shortages

We were spoiled by decades of abundance, and, as a consequence, very low inflation. Not anymore. There are not only shortages in energy (gas), and key components like computer chips, used in cars, mobiles and computers. But, also there are increasing shortages in sales specialists, developers, accountants, hospitality staff, engineers, and in many, many other professions. The shortages in products are temporary. But, the shortage in professionals is here to stay as the populations in many Western countries are ageing. This is not necessarily a problem as businesses outsource still more jobs globally. Furthermore, robotization, dubbed the fourth industrial revolution, got an extra impuls. For example, in logistics for e-commerce. Shortages are also a great impuls for running our e-business more sustainably: do more with less.

Investment records

The inflation and lack of investment opportunities, leads to money burning on the accounts of business and private investors. Hence also an overheated merger and acquisition and IPO markets. The revenue multiples paid for tech companies and other e-businesses is peaking. We experienced that first hand with one of our portfolio companies.

But, not only e-businesses are in high demand. Basically, any type of company that is available for investment, can raise capital. Even distressed ones in hospitality, travel or retail. Hence, the global record of 12 billion USD (10.6 billion euro) raised capital by listed companies. This is 17% more than the raised amounts in 2020, the previous record. The biggest IPO ever is now that of Rivian, the electrical vehicle competitor of Tesla. It raised a whopping 13.7 billion USD. In this hectic year, other peaking investment classess were: bonds including junk bonds, new loans, and the listing of SPACs (special purpose acquisition vehicles).

E-commerce sustainable

In the light of lock-downs, retail showed to be far less sustainable than ever thought before. And, e-commerce’s key advantages of home delivery, independence of shuttered physical retail outlets, proved indispensable. Even the staunchest advocates of the personal touch of classic retail, wavered. The most e-commerce ready countries, were also economically the least affected by restrictive policies. It was a win win. Within the e-commerce space, marketplaces gained in prominence, and sustainability became a buzzword. Icecat expanded its green taxonomy.

NFTs killer app for blockchain

As navigation was the killer app for the personal digital assistant (PDA), non-fungible tokens (NFTs) appear to be the killer app for cryptos. The payment function of bitcoin or Ethereum never took off as transaction costs became way too high. The use case of many tokens was limited to pay for such transaction fees. NFTs have changed all this. They represent claims of ownership of (digital) art and other digital goods. This is an application that is here to stay, even when the crypto or NFT hype is long gone. It is practical, to have secure digital certificates for (digital) goods. Artists, the gaming world, toys manufacturers and fashion producers, all came up with digital NFT collections during 2021. As a publisher, we think it is time for an Icecat NFT collection as well. At least to understand the technology.

VR, not AR

Virtual reality (VR) became widespread. It is mainly through gaming that it entered daily life. After VR gaming arcades, kids wanted to have their own VR glasses and play the same games at home. Augmented Reality (AR), said to be a stepping stone for VR, is still more of a fringe application, relevant for certain e-commerce categories only. The announcement of Facebook to rename itself into Meta – from the metaverse or virtual world – was another related stone in the water.


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