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The 'Mattress Test' for the Value of Any New Business
How does venture capitalist Ben Lerer decide which opportunities are worth investment? Lerer follows the inevitable path of disruption, targeting areas of the world that have not yet been disrupted by the internet but soon will.
Ben Lerer is a Managing Director at Lerer Hippeau Ventures and co-founder & CEO of Thrillist Media Group. Lerer was among Ernst & Young’s 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winners, Vanity Fair’s Next Establishments, Crain’s “40 under 40”, Forbes list of “Most Powerful CEOs Under 40”, AdWeek’s “Young Influentials,” Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 5 Entrepreneurs of the Year,” and Silicon Alley Insider’s “100 Coolest People in Tech”. He chairs the Board of Directors for the East River Development Alliance, a New York non-profit organization, and is an Associate Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences (IADAS). Mr. Lerer is an active mentor for NYC Venture Fellows, TechStars and E[nstitute].
Ben Lerer: Probably the easiest way to think about how we think about opportunity is any area, any sector, any business that has not yet been totally disrupted by the existence of the internet will be. And so as we meet people who are starting companies, one obvious place to focus on is what has changed about the way that business gets done in that category since the internet has existed and since sort of the world has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller with each passing minute; what has changed and what could change that hasn’t? And so I’ll use a great example of a company I invested in recently. It’s a mattress company and it’s a really — it was a really easy investment for me to make because as I spent time with the founders of this business, the thing I kept going towards in my mind was shopping for a mattress totally sucks and the way that I would shop for a mattress today is basically the same way that I would shop for a mattress five years ago or 10 years ago. Maybe I’ll go online and read some reviews but I don’t trust the places that sell me mattresses. I don’t really understand the difference between them. Lying down on one for 10 seconds at a mattress store does not tell me if it’s going to be a comfortable, good mattress for me long term.
And for us, before we identified that there was — that the solution that this company we invested in — that they had the right solution, what we had first identified is that there was a problem and that the business was solving a real problem. And I think that as we look at companies you always want to make sure that the founders are building a product that solves an actual problem that exists. Make people’s lives better with what you’re building and generally you’re heading in the right direction. You see lots of people starting companies because it’s cool to be an entrepreneur. And a business could exist to do something. The idea between a business could exist and a business should exist — there is a gap between those two things and if you ultimately think about who you’re servicing and if there’s a market where you’re going to make someone’s life significantly easier, that’s probably a pretty good direction to go in. And so I don’t know that we — when we think about investing at LHV we say, "Well we think healthcare or we think financial technology or we think media or we think commerce." We think all of those things. But within those big sectors, there are lots and lots and lots of solutions to problems that need to be invented. And so as long as we stay diligent about making sure that the companies we invest in are truly solving problems, I think we’re going to win more often than we lose.
How does venture capitalist Ben Lerer decide which opportunities are worth investment? Lerer follows the inevitable path of disruption, targeting areas of the world that have not yet been disrupted by the internet... but soon will. Lerer seeks out sectors with glaring problems, major holes that need to be filled. By projecting the path of eventual disruption, savvy investors can make prescient decisions ahead of the curve. They're also able to identify startups set on solving real problems rather than existing for the sake of existing.
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Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".