Dear Silicon Valley: Here’s What You Really Need To Disrupt

There are many things I admire about America: its energy, its enthusiasm, and above all, its willingness to change.

That is especially true of the culture in California, and specifically in Silicon Valley, where the bywords are ‘disruptive,’ ‘innovative,’ and ‘democratize.’

Yet, looking through ProductHunt these past few weeks, I can’t help but think that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis), we’ve lost a lot of the ‘think big’ mentality that has served us so well. (I’m not the first to say this, either.)

For example, right now the top items on PH are Skype for Slack, an inexpensive standing desk, and… a password manager.

Further down, there’s a dating-related app, a project management app, and a designer resources app.

Are these useful things? Probably. Do we really need more of these? Almost certainly not.

And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to compete in these niches, all that time and money would make a much bigger ‘dent in the universe’ if applied elsewhere.

Consider:

  • Statistics vary depending on the source, but most agree that billions of pounds of disposable diapers go to US landfills every year, and that diapers as they’re manufactured right now will take hundreds of years to decompose. They’re also expensive, costing up to $1500 per year, which means low income parents can’t afford them. Cloth reusable diapers require a hefty upfront investment; they take a lot of time to wash and dry, and you need enough to have 5–6 changes per child available every single day. And frankly, they are a lot of extra work, which puts another burden on sleep-deprived moms, especially moms working outside the home. We could really use a better solution here.
  • It’s awesome that we’re finally getting serious about hybrid, electric, and hydrogen cars. But let’s not forget about another dirty secret: the two-stroke engine. These stinky, smoky beasts can be found everywhere: your chainsaw, your lawnmower, your weedeater. Indeed, a gas-powered leafblower emits more crap than a 6,200-pound 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. And two-stroke engines power a huge percentage of the vehicles in Asia, in the form of motorcycles, scooters, and tuk tuks. If you want to make a difference, this would huge.
  • I must see at least three ‘sleep hacking’ articles a week. But I have yet to see anything about ‘mattress hacking.’ They super expensive to buy, which means that most low income households must make due with what they have for years, leading to very poor sleep quality and the consequent health issues. They emit volatile organic compounds. And, like disposable diapers, they are dumped by the millions every year, often right in the street. Some states have instituted mattress recycling programs, but these will be expensive and hard to maintain, not least because mattresses have never been built to be recycled. This needs to change.

These are just three items off the top of my head. I bet if you look around right now you can see dozens of products that need to be rebuilt from the ground up to be less expensive, just as convenient, and most important, not end up in the trash.

Photo Credits: — CFeyecare (software window) and Con-Struct (red x) via Wikimedia Commons


Originally published at Chandra Clarke. When she’s not writing on Medium, Chandra, she runs a writing courses company.