The holidays are a time to gather with family, consume vast quantities of food — and gawk at the holiday card photos of people you only correspond with once a year.
Rather than receive generic wishes for "Happy Holidays!" from some of the companies we’ve corresponded with this year, Fast Company reached out to hear what each had in store for 2012. We asked companies — including some that have made already made a great splash, as well as others who are only beginning to send out ripples — what 2012 held for their businesses and the spaces they inhabit. Here — in fields as divergent as music, solar energy, and enterprise software — are their forecasts.
Drew Larner, CEO of Rdio, likewise sees music becoming "more social, more global, and available on more devices." He calls our attention to five trends to watch in 2012: "1) Revenue from music subscription services will account for a larger share of the digital revenue pie. 2) Music fans will expect to enjoy on demand music across all of their devices, including the sound systems in their automobiles. 3) Music subscription services will continue their international expansion and become available in more countries. 4) Music fans will rely on subscription music services to help them discover and enjoy what's hot in music centers such as Berlin, Tokyo, São Paulo, Sydney, New York and Toronto. 5) Social sharing and the discovery that results from it will play an increasingly important role in breaking new artists."
J Sider, founder of RootMusic, sees a transforming landscape for how musical acts interact with fans, one in which the coming year will be even more social: "In 2011 we saw a dramatic change in how musicians are using social networks, which has created many opportunities for innovation in the music industry and dramatically changed an artists' relationship with their fans. The RootMusic team recently conducted a study researching the top 250 musicians on Facebook and found the acts had 2 billion ‘Likes’ between them, posted to their fans 1.6 times a day on average, and 89% used a music application on their Facebook page."
Peter Sullivan of travel startup Tripl sees the social travel space as "red hot" and increasingly contested: "Many companies are attempting to try to win this space. Travel is the largest online industry in terms of revenue, but has been extremely slow to adapt to new technologies. My prediction is 2012 will the year when one company comes out the winner, and is able to disrupt the industry in a big way." Naturally, he says, he hopes Tripl will be the one. "Our goals in 2012 are focused around turning Tripl from a consumer application into a platform that is able to help any companies that sell travel products online. This means serving the first social travel API that allows other applications to utilize our data and scaled social connections." What exactly is meant by the first social travel API? "Applications will be able to make calls for a user and grab trips including who they are going with, what interests they have tagged, where they might be staying, along with which friends of friends will be there, or which friends are close by. These are just some of the basic queries we want developers and other applications to be able to harness."
Lynn Jurich, CEO of solar privider SunRun, sees the solar space as one where only the fittest will survive: "It's going to be a Darwinian year for solar"—for both manufacturers and providers like SunRun—"but a strong year for putting solar on the roofs of more mainstream homeowners. As incentives start to disappear small companies will have a hard time accessing capital and stronger solar providers will emerge as the industry's enduring leaders. SunRun anticipates continued growth as the solar power service model approaches 75% of the California home solar market and other states follow suit. We'll also see greater penetration among middle-class Americans as solar prices could drop an additional 20% by the end of 2012."
Seyi Fabode, CEO of Power2Switch, is optimistic about the prospects for electricity cost comparison services like Power2Switch. "Capital-intensive green energy projects are out; less capital-intensive energy IT/efficiency projects are in," says Fabode. Oddly enough, green energy will also be taking a cue from Netflix, in a way: "[P]ersonalized recommendations based on data analysis" will be key in empowering the smart energy consumer.
Aaron Levie of Box.net says his prediction will be "at least very wrong or very right." In 2012, he says, "Box is focused on building the simplest way businesses can share and manage their information anywhere." The rise of Apple, Google, and cloud computing signal a shift "away from a Microsoft-dominated world," says Levie. "With the cloud, businesses are finally free to choose the software that is best for them, no longer forced to buy enterprise technology from a select few vendors. The openness of the cloud is driving innovation and a renaissance in the IT world....Some of the biggest enterprises in the world are getting behind this, and Box has seen adoption in 82% of the Fortune 500, including Procter & Gamble, Clear Channel, and more. These trends of openness, mobility, and social software will continue to explode in 2012, and we'll see far more startup successes in the enterprise space than ever before. Look out for an increase in acquisitions like the SuccessFactors-SAP deal and more enterprise IPOs like Jive's recent public offering as well. Let's just say enterprise will become a lot sexier."
Mark Hall, CEO and co-founder of Remixation, the company behind the video app ShowYou, forecasts that "by the end of 2012, over 100 million people will have tablets in their homes (iPads primarily, lots of Kindle Fires, too) and it will be clear that the tablet is the new TV. With Showyou, our app for the iPad and iPhone, we already see TV-length session viewing times on the iPad, with peak usage during prime time. People are using the iPad, and Showyou, instead of TV." This could have profound effects, naturally, on the business models behind video: "We ended the year 2011 with the comedian Louis CK selling a video of one of his live performances. Promoted virally through Twitter and other social media outlets, almost 200,000 people have paid $5 each to download the video, which they can watch when they want and on any device they choose — their computer, iPad, or their TV. We expect to see more of this in 2012, and it will be a big area of focus for Showyou in 2012."
Chimes in Kevin Systrom, of the photo app Instagram: "2012 is a year where we focus on capitalizing on the enormous growth we've seen so far. As we introduce additional functionality and new platforms, we're excited to bring Instagram to many more millions of people around the world." (He begs off of being more specific: "At this point I don't think we can put numbers to anything.") Instagram plans to grow its team in the coming year in its effort to make the app the "de-facto place to consume visual media of the world around you."
Says Tim Bentley of Giftly: "When I think about what business will look like in 2012, I think about two major trends that Giftly is playing into: the rapid growth in digital gift cards and the wide-spread adoption of smartphones and mobile e-commerce. Digital gift card sales are projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 29 percent over the next few years, hitting $5.86 billion in 2014. This growth is the wind at our backs." In 2012, Bentley goes on, his company plans to focus on "the smartphone aspect of our product. With 35% of adults now using smartphones and mobile e-commerce sales expected to grow to be $120 billion within three years, Giftly is going to make a big push to do some exciting things to enhance gifting by utilizing smartphone technologies." He adds, somewhat elliptically: "We're defining new ways to think about gifting, so words phrase like distance gifting, very instant gifting, and serial gifting are important aspects of how we approach better living through gifts."
Neil Blumenthal, the co-founder of glasses e-tailer Warby Parker, sees companies like his as "best positioned to grow" even as the economy stagnates. As with many of our correspondents this year, "scale" is a favored word: "Since we launched in February 2010, we’ve hired over 50 staff, all based in New York. We plan to continue to rapidly build out our team to keep pace with the amazing growth we’re experiencing. In particular, we’re focusing on laying the foundation to scale including building out our technology, design, supply-chain and marketing teams." Mostly, though, it comes down to one simple metric: "The metric of which we’re most proud is our customer satisfaction score, which is higher than that of Apple or Zappos," claims Blumenthal.
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[Image: Flickr user tudor]