For the last while I’ve had this unsettling feeling that while there are a lot of startups going around, most of them aren’t really innovating that much. Most notably, I’m tired of the idea that innovation can come from companies busy basically just trying to make apps that serve the smallest little quirk of what we want rings hollow to me.
If your core innovation is just an iPhone app, then it’s not clear that you’ve really had the impact you wanted to have. There are obvious exceptions like VizWiz which a friend of mine (now a professor at the University of Rochester) wrote that allows blind people to take a picture, speak a question about the the picture and get a response back within seconds allowing the vision impaired to “see” via a proxy. But, in general, your new startup about hyper-local, crowdsourced, social, location-based iPhone app is probably not going to change the world.
The always great Planet Money Podcast reminded me of this with their recent episode The Cool Kids Don’t Want To Go Public. They explored the fact that a lot of the new companies that people are starting aren’t really sustained business models but rather a elaborate courtesan dance to seduce the princely giants of the tech world.
Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google, and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he says. “That sucks.”
The Planet Money Podcast also makes the more nuanced point that there are people who choose not to take their companies public because they don’t need the extra money to grow and they don’t want the extra oversight that’s required. Still, it seems like we could use more people trying to build companies than can last decades rather than companies looking for the early out.