Apple didn’t invent a better adding machine 1

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

Miller responds,

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.

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One thought on “Apple didn’t invent a better adding machine

  • Elaine

    Great blog today! I agree highly regulated businesses are not the way to go if you are starting out with your own money. I believe in getting honest about your passion, and working with what you have to make that goal happen. I think there are a lot of people out there who haven’t taken the time to be honest about what their passion is. That is why I support your business when I can afford to, because I know you are all passionate about what you do. I know you will all stay up late, sacrifice, and get the work in. I feel a business owner has to have that spark just to get up in the morning, as sleep is rare. Businesses should be unique, and colored with that passion. I feel also it is the early customer base, that is your best source for input, as they are already paying you. My base want to sit at their job, with phone,on down time, and visit a website where they can see photos of my latest work, and hit a button. This year I finally agreed, as pretty much all my small base wanted that. I feel blessed I can break even, and got customers who are like you need to build your site yesterday! In my opinion, you can’t grow a solid business that lasts if you are not in love with it. I think that is why we get so many people pitching non problem things for impulse buys, that fail in a few years. Because their business was founded on greed, and not love. In the end though, it is the company that starts slow, and works it right, that stays. My small craft business is different beast from your family video game company, for example. Yet both are colored by a genuine love, though organized differently, and at different levels of development and location. It doesn’t change the fact that your love of games inspires me in my own end to learn new tech programs, and not be afraid to learn coding. I have noticed just on my end of running a cottage ceramic shop, I get a lot of people acting like I need to pitch investors, and let someone build my website on because its not done yesterday. I’m like why would I do that? I don’t have time to pitch investors that I know won’t risk me. Why would I pay someone to code my site when I can teach myself for free? Keep living your dream. I feel it is by living what we love, that we can inspire others to live their dreams as well.