Always remember, ladies and gentlemen, while Burroughs had all of its engineers at work inventing a better adding machine, Steve Wozniak was in his garage inventing the Apple computer.
Dr. Hastings, a professor in my MBA program back in 1980 said that and I have never forgotten.
Within the span of a week, I read one article in the tech press that investors don’t want to fund startups in health care, education and government and then another that laments the fact that we are only disrupting, “the easy stuff”.
Ron Miller, on Tech Crunch quotes John G. Moore, Jr. a reader who commented on his blog:
Only the easy or non essential things are being disrupted. Cancer, bigotry, hunger, you know the “hard” stuff—not so much. Ain’t no college boys trying to solve those problems, no VCs funding the disruption of those things. The stuff that does not “need” to be disrupted is being “disrupted” at an alarming rate. Just call a taxi or drive yourself,lol
We are wasting our time, our money and our brainpower on solving non-problems while ignoring the real difficulties we face as a society.
It’s true. I attend a lot of start-up pitch events and here is a list of the problems solved by companies I’ve seen recently, in no particular order,
- Keeping your beer or soft drink cold when you are at a sporting event or camping
- Buying really nice kits for knitting clothes and gifts from organic wool
- Buying nice, gold jewelry at a discount
- Craft beer
- A better wine-of-the-month club
- An app to simultaneously post to all of your social media accounts
- An app to deliver to your email daily analytics on all of your social media accounts
- An app to borrow graphic novels, like Netflix for comics
None of these are bad ideas and some, like the personal beer cooler one, include some pretty interesting technology. Some, or all of these ideas may make a huge amount of money.
Ben Parr’s Tech Caucus newsletter polls 50 leaders in the tech industry each week on various topics. His March 9th newsletter had this to say:
Dear entreprenurs, Don’t build products in these industries ….
- Any Industry with Lots of Government Bureaucracy, Including Healthcare, Education, Energy, and Government. “These markets are bad for startups because they are highly regulated, unionized, have very long sales cycles, and are slow to adopt new technology.” From another member: “It’s a paradox. While these markets are SCREAMING for disruption, the time frame and the cost do most small companies in.”
Interestingly, the very same Tech Caucus a month earlier had identified health care, government and insurance as industries that needed to be disrupted, with one member saying
“We work on problems we know. The tech industry by and large (although not exclusively) is filled with people who have relatively well-off upbringings. We need to get more people involved in tech who try to solve problems beyond wanting to order cookies at 4 A.M.”
The Tech Caucus people are right on a few fronts. Yes, it is very difficult and time-consuming to sell to organizations like schools. It has zero to do with unions, in my experience, but a lot to do with schools being under-funded, teachers being over-worked and just not having the time to review and implement new technology. The bureaucracy is a huge barrier in many places. Safeguards put in with all good intentions of protecting children (and protecting hardware, and reducing liability) can make it incredibly difficult to pilot and beta test new software.
GOOD educational games are time-consuming and expensive to build. You’re more likely to make a quick buck selling cookies delivered within an hour to anyone living in San Francisco or New York City. Free milk with your first order.
I had a venture capitalist tell me I was a Communist because I said that I want to make money but making money was not all that I wanted.
Here is why I keep making games, keep meeting with schools, keep working on making our games better …
When I was a kid, I remember that all of the smartest people wanted to work for NASA. They wanted to be part of a program that sent rockets to the moon. I remember staying home from school with my brothers watching our little black and white TV when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
I think it’s unbelievably wasteful that our best and brightest are spending their lives getting people to click on links to an advertisement on a new line of yoga pants. Maybe you make a lot of money doing that, but – you do know,you only get one life, right?
I’m going to keep working on making a product that will make millions of kids more likely to succeed in school, which will make our country more equal with a stronger economy, and change not only the lives of those kids, who graduate from high school, but also the lives of their children, who will have more opportunity, and their grandchildren.
But, yeah, nice yoga pants.