This is a post about four megatrends converging in the next three years that I don’t hear many people talking about: Effectively limitless energy + globally accessible high-speed, low latency bandwidth + the sharing economy + the gig economy.
I believe that these four trends will converge by 2025 in a way that we largely don’t yet understand, and that currently niche movements like tiny homes, homeschooling, #vanlife and 3D printed homes will go mainstream because of them. But first, some perspective & context:
Humans generally think linearly. Tomorrow will feel much like yesterday. Next week will be similar to last week. And that’s served us well as humans have evolved. Seasons change slowly over the course of months. Harvests can be planted at predictable times every year. Historically, the lives of future generations looked a lot like the lives of past generations.
But the thing about exponential curves is that they always look linear in the rearview mirror because what's coming is exponentially more than what's been. As you zoom out, you start to see that change is accelerating faster. And we’re now entering the steep part of that curve.
Twenty thousand years ago, life was almost exactly the same for generations upon generations. About twelve thousand years ago, the agricultural revolution served as a step-change that caused humans to be less of a mobile hunter-gatherer species, which then led to the concept of “property” that was owned and farmed for generations, and that led to more modern concepts around property rights, as well as the ensuing conflict that comes with defending those rights.
Five thousand years ago, the advent of the Bronze Age brought increased use of tools and weapons, which made farming and hunting more efficient, allowing for population growth.
Thousands of years ago, life changed dramatically every couple of generations, as humans saw increased urbanization in the Middle Ages.
This massive acceleration of change looks & feels really linear, but as we start to enter the seep part of the curve, we as humans can start to feel the timescales compressing in ways that become more tangible.
Several hundred years ago, the Industrial Age ushered in an even faster rate of change. Now life was changing dramatically every generation.
Steam engines, factories, urbanization, petrol-powered vehicles, early airplanes, improved medicine, and vaccines meant one generation was headed West in covered wagons in the 1840s, the next generation was able to travel across the US on a railroad in the 1870s, the next generation was driving a Model T in the early 1900s, the next generation was flying transatlantic in the 1930s, and the next generation was flying in the jet age in the 1960s.
In our parents' lifetimes and our lifetimes, we’ve seen massive quality of life step-changes occur every decade. The jet age made the world smaller. Apollo’s moon landing expanded our minds to what humans can achieve. The computing age has given us access to much of the world’s knowledge, right in our pockets. Smartphones are lessening imbalances of power as we all become citizen journalists. Medicine has doubled our lifespans and increased the number of usable, active years we each have.
What this means for what's coming:
As I write this, I’m being an "adventure dad," chartering a sailing catamaran on a family vacation in the Bahamas. This catamaran was built in 2017. It does not have solar power. It does not have a water maker (the ability to convert seawater into freshwater). It has old lead-acid batteries that have trouble holding a charge. I have no internet currently because I’m on a long leg of a passage between the beautiful Exumas islands and the home base in Nassau.
This catamaran is fine for a family vacation, but it’s completely unusable in a longer-term fashion. Not only that, but sailing is a technical activity, with its own vocabulary and experience necessary. Sailors need to understand wind and tides and winches and anchors and sails and a thousand other things. Like many technical activities, it’s a deep niche, filled with passionate people who have lots of opinions about how to do it right and wrong, and a wealth of knowledge from many accumulated experiences doing both. And sailing has long been this way. Technology has made sailing more accessible, with autopilots and iPad charting software and many other improvements, but it’s still far from accessible for most of the population.
But as I sit here limited by internet access, by energy, and by technical skill, I’m just imagining what’s coming. And I’m curious to know how many people believe in what’s coming, too. In less than a year, Starlink will be available globally, and usable on boats, RVs, remote cabins, and the like. In fact, it’s already coming online now in beta. This one technology, coupled with changing work-from-home cultural norms, will mean that suddenly, families will be able to work from anywhere on the planet that’s best for their lifestyles, vs. where an employer wants them to be.
At the same time, solar panel costs have plunged, and lithium battery capacities and cost per kilowatt-hour have made the process of capturing and storing energy very accessible. These two trends will intersect in the coming years — effectively providing limitless energy and limitless bandwidth anywhere on the planet.
I believe so deeply in the impact of these trends that I’ve been testing a lifestyle at the bleeding edge of both.
In the past year, I built an off-grid workspace in my backyard for $5k. I’ve been testing working from that "shedquarters," powered purely by the sun, using solar panels + an Inergy solar generator lithium battery + inverter system. It’s been flawless. And the satisfaction I get from building tech companies purely using sun power is hard to describe.
I’ve also been converting Sprinter vans, and spending months on the road with my family, working and living the #vanlife lifestyle. Most recently we did an 8,600 mile road trip last summer, which Inc magazine featured:
So I think I’ve got a good understanding of this deep niche, bleeding-edge lifestyle.
Let’s do a thought exercise: What will all this might mean for how quickly life might change between today and 2025:
- Unlimited Energy: As Fred Wilson wrote in 2015, solar panel dollars per watt of energy produced have dropped from $76.67 to $0.34. And that was in 2015. As of 2022, they've dropped further into the $0.05 range, making solar competitive with fossil fuels. Not only that, but the cost to store that power has dropped by 98% in three decades, making it possible to effectively capture and store limitless energy for off-grid consumer-grade uses like an RV, tiny home, or electric catamaran.
- Unlimited Bandwidth: Global low-latency internet will mean that knowledge professionals will truly be able to work from anywhere. This means that property values will change — properties that were previously considered off-grid, offline vacation spots will become full-time homes. Look for a flight from high-cost urban areas into vacation communities. That first part we’re already seeing due to COVID-related changes as people seek out more space. But there’s much, much more to this trend.
- Niches Go Mainstream: Unlimited energy and unlimited bandwidth mean niche movements including #vanlife, tiny homes, 3D Printed ADUs and home-schooling will go mainstream in the coming years. Look for a lot of innovation around any type of mobile living + working vessel, whether on land or sea. I expect we’ll see a lot of innovation around industries like tiny homes (both mobile and permanent), off-grid power (like the "power in a box" Inergy systems), RVs (imagine what a self-driving RV would mean for a permanently mobile on-the-go lifestyle), and sailing. We’re starting to see purely electric catamarans that are covered in solar panels and produce enough energy to allow for fully off-grid living, like the new models from Silent Yachts. (Here's a great video of an influencer couple spending a few days on one). Much of the intricate, technical knowledge of boating will be reduced to telling an onboard computer where you want to go, and having it take you there.
- Look for a lot of innovation around pre-fabricated “home in a box” setups that are 3D printed and contain everything a family needs to live off-grid. These will be dropped off by truck and crane. The land won’t need any type of electric grid access — just the ability to put a well and septic field in.
- For families with school-age children, schooling will become the primary tether to a location. Look for an explosion of demand for more sophisticated online/virtual schooling options. The home-schooling movement is another niche interest group, largely self-organized, that will have an explosion of interest and go more mainstream. It’s likely that a new breed of private or charter school will pop up that allows parents to home-school their children without having to be homeschooling experts. Maybe there are a number of physical franchised locations where parents can drop kids off in multiple cities as they move around — think the fast-food restaurant model of consistency at every location, but for schooling. I’d expect it to be a mix of virtual and physical learning; possibly with VR once the hardware becomes more portable, less expensive, and more usable.
- I expect the sharing economy, and specifically Airbnb, will become an even bigger juggernaut, with families that want to explore this new lifestyle choosing to rent off-grid tiny homes.
- These trends will lead to a rise in the gig economy – specifically the gig service economy as services spring up to manage these new approaches to living.
- I expect we’ll see deep innovation in all the financial and physical infrastructure required to make these new untethered lifestyles possible — a tiny home in a box might cost anywhere between $100k to $500k (no upper limit, really, depending on how luxurious one wants it to be). We’ll see financing options to accommodate this, including creative financing that takes into account the gig economy rental potential of these permanent and mobile structures. Imagine being able to finance a $1MM electric catamaran in such a way that it’s AirBnb’d 80% of the time and is cash-flow positive, and you get the other 20% of the time to yourself, effectively for free. Imagine the industries that will spring up to enable an electric catamaran in the Bahamas to be cleaned and maintained while you’re away from it.
It might sound fantastical to imagine families that are living full time in a self-driving RV, or a sun-powered electric catamaran, or in a remote tiny home that was 3D printed and dropped off on a remote beach or mountain community, with their kids learning through VR.
And equally fantastical to imagine yourself owning a dozen small properties, financed through a rental income mechanism that makes them all effectively free for you to spend a month in each one as you work and live from anywhere globally, but I fully expect we’ll see all of this within the next three years.