Missing From Your To-Do List: Solve the Problem of Human Survival
You may have asked yourself, what is futurefood.fm for? It’s time to answer that question for 2018 and beyond.
In the coming months, you’ll see a quickening tempo to our posts and podcasts. We are back in production on the Future of Food podcast, and I am hiring more writers. Much of of the material you read and listen to here is going into a book that I’m writing. As I always do with writing projects, I change the title often in the early stages. Right now it is:
Breaking and Fixing Food
Activists and Innovators Who Want To Change How You Eat
As I research and write it, I’ve learned that food is different from everything else I’ve worked on in tech, even when I have worked with food and beverage startups.
A feature and benefit of tech is that it helps us lose touch with elemental processes. We are freed from unneeded details. Yet tech is disrupting the basic idea of eating.
Now, I don’t mind losing touch with how my iPhone works. I just want it to do what it does, with more voice commands and nicer icons. Food is different. While the process of growing food has changed a lot, the process of eating it hasn’t changed at all. As a species, we’ve had the same digestive system for eons. After we eat, we feel sated, unless we are eating chocolate. I see a big change coming to all of that, driven by startups and the technology they employ.
I’ve written about startups in three previous books. I’ve mentored startup founders. For the last six years, I’ve worked to promote startup companies.
The heart of the startup ethos is a powerful engine of change. Innovation is energizing, attracting brilliant people to pursue their dreams. But many startups are pushing to solve problems that are not important.
The book is my effort to see if we can redirect some of the positive energy created by startups toward solving real problems. What do I mean by “real problems?” Who or what gives me the right to determine what a “real problem” is?
Good questions. Startups have become consumed by a short-focus view of the world, obsessing about problems of commerce, of fine-tuning existing services, of convenience and luxury; first world problems, in other words; white people problems. This is a reflection, for the most part, of the startup worker. Most startups have white, male founders, which is probably not news to you. But we work on what we know, become excited about forming bonds with people who are like us; we are tribal, and sometimes small-minded. It is pushing the innovative engine of the startup mentality toward solving small problems. It’s time for that to change.
It won’t be easy, but it has to be done.
The usual funding sources for startups have dried up. Investors can be more cautious or hold higher expectations. A charismatic founder is no longer enough to be a money magnet. Young companies are expected to mature, to capture a market, to make money.
A change will come, in my view, from two ends of the startup spectrum. At one end, the young companies, and founders, who have vision and nothing to lose. They might be self-funded, angel-funded, or winging it, but they can take chances in ways that venture-backed companies cannot. At the other end of the spectrum, established companies can spin off smaller initiatives or create innovation cells within their larger corporate structures. Eric Reis has helped many a large company do this. He has proven that it’s easier to innovate when small, even when small is contained within large.
What has been missing from the startup to-do list is solving the problem of human survival. Yes, the big stuff. I celebrate some exceptional startup founders in the book and in the podcast, but they are just that — exceptions.
They are focusing on hunger, serving underserved populations, offering disaster relief, helping restaurants cut food waste, or exploring alternative food sources.
In the grand scheme of the startup universe, only a few companies are working on food issues or climate change. Can the book I’m working on, and its accompanying podcast, change any of that? Can the startup founder think differently about what she is working on? Can all of us change our behavior to get closer to the food we eat and consequently closer to nature, a connection we all need? How can we all become food activists?
Let’s find out.
When we see some food activists in action, like the people I present in the book, the podcast, and on this site, we can see what that change looks like.
Originally published at futurefood.fm on January 16, 2018.