What’s the first thing you hear about a startup in the news? It’s valuation. How many millions it has just raised. How much it sold to another company for. It sure draws clicks to a news article when a flashy number in the tens of billions is in the title next to the word ‘startup’, but have you ever wondered what the hell those companies do?
Yeah, we all know that grammar checker startup is rolling in it now, but what do they do? Do they make the world a better place? Is all that money being turned into something worth that much? You know what I’m talking about. (cough cough *Juicero* cough)
The Problem, put bluntly
It looks to me like more and more startups are becoming just another messed-up, boring, pointless thing that many people pay lots of money for, with no good reason. Sure, bringing new ideas into the world is fantastic, and it’s great that people are open to such a diverse array of ideas.
But you can’t escape the fact that some ideas are plain stupid.
The problem is that in the current startup world, such ideas get the same, if not more, attention, funding, and credibility than ideas that add real value. When’s the last time you heard about a medical startup in the news? How many successful startups can you think of in green energy? What about agriculture, and sustainable food production? Digital privacy, anyone?
These startups that make ass skew the whole landscape by shifting the perception of startups in general. Let’s use one of the companies we’re very familiar with as an example: If there are ten Juicero-copycats in the span of two years that each raise a billion dollars in their IPO, everyone starts thinking that juice startups are a safe, lucrative investment. Then when some company comes along with a revolutionary juice machine that has a self-contained garden of fruits and vegetables harvested fresh to make juice, investors will look at them funny because they’re used to just having a machine that squeezes a bag of the same juice you’ll get by squeezing the bag yourself.
When startups that make trash become so popular and get so much funding, everyone starts favoring similar companies, and the companies that come along with actual novel, innovative solutions lose out. This is a real problem to current and new companies that are trying to create value in their own creative ways.
It’s time to focus on creating value, not big numbers.
Look, what kind of future do you want: one where a company that makes designer paper bags out of recycled dog shit succeeds, or one where a company that’s pioneering the consumer ocean exploration industry succeeds? If the first world sounds better to you, I invite you to respond to this article and answer the simple question: what the heck?
If you’re in the second camp, then there’s still hope. Not all startups are doomed to be distributors of pablum, but enough are to warrant concern. So what can we do to fix this? As always, the first step is awareness. Look past the gigantic numbers, look past the soaring valuations, and look into the impact a company has. Look at what they want to change about the world. Look at how they’re using all that money to make the planet tomorrow better than the planet today. Look at the future they’re building for us all.
There are a few examples of companies I personally admire for the value they’re creating, like Brave, Snapchat, and TunnelBear. (Okay, I do admit that aesthetic animations and illustrations are a big reason I included that last one.) And no, I’m not affiliated with any of these companies. I’m just a happy user of most of them (Snapchat is too laggy on my old Nexus phone).
Last words before I get crucified…
I think most people get to the point I’m at, eventually. It’s just a matter of time before someone comes along with an idea ridiculous enough. By saying all this, I’m not trying to hate on anyone’s work out of jealousy or malice. It’s just that I think we should all be striving to make a positive impact on the world, especially in times of great opportunity.
As the youngsters would say, you only live once. It’s up to you how you want to spend that once chance.