You are not disrupting enough

In Silicon Valley, there is an entrepreneur on every corner, and a new you-sit-at-home-naked-while-i-do-your-shopping app every week. Only a handful of companies, proportionally speaking, are actually trying to do things that will have a meaningful impact, and the organizations that have true vision are generally underfunded and unnoticed.

This quote is from I’m Done Pretending SF Tech Is Visionary.

I’ve been hearing this message often: none of you are disrupting the markets, all you are doing is building apps.

This is a dangerous thing to broadcast.

This leaves average Joe and plain Jane wondering — how do I start anything. My idea is not building the next electric car, is it even worth doing?

illustration by Frits from hikingartist.com

I have friends who mention that they really want to build something, but don’t feel like they have an idea big enough. They read the book on Steve Jobs, but now can’t figure out what the next Apple will be. This is what happens when everyone is regurgitating the notion of disruption. It’s a depressing thought that what you are doing is not dreaming big enough.

There is one side of the startup ecosystem which celebrates disruption and change-the-world ideas, with coverage of SpaceX and Uber daily. Then there is another side which mocks all new apps like Snapchat for being valued in billions of $ yet not having anything beyond the app. If you pay attention to any of it too much you might find lost trying to validate any of your ideas as good enough.

Any idea is absolutely worth doing. Disrupting markets on a global scale is an extremely expensive and hard thing to do, few companies are ever able to achieve it. Having disruption as the goal is premature optimization. Figure out if you can get even 5 customers to buy your app before you want to think about building the world’s largest battery factory like Tesla did.

For most, startups should be treated like a gradual learning experience. Find a small niche, build a solution for it, try to get paying customers to use it and grow from there. Among other things this will teach you skills to build the next, bigger idea. This process will also define vision and understanding where you want to be in 5 years. Most new companies don’t have vision, because having vision is assuming you can figure out what works before even doing it. Vision instead comes from listening to customers and understanding the market from practice.

Sure, some of these startups sound silly, but everyone is trying to carve out some piece of the puzzle and make it work for them.

I want to disrupt a market. Any market. But today I’m not working on anything ambitious enough to do it. Mostly because I don’t have any ideas what that could be. But I think they will come. Instead, I’m working on small ideas which solve a particular problem (like Marketplace Pulse). So once those ideas do come I will be ready in every sense of that word. Or maybe they won’t come at all, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit starting at my ceiling waiting.

Startups are hard and a lot of entrepreneurs suffer from mental health issues. The industry so focused on finding the next unicorn is a big part of the stress. Thus my advice is to not get sucked in into this vortex of disruption. Start small and take a step towards a bigger goal every day.