Quit Pursuing Small Problems

During my undergrad years I developed an infatuation for Silicon Valley.  In my mind, SV was the place my heroes called home. If you have read Atlas Shrugged then consider Galt’s Gulch my idea of the valley – Musk, Paige, and Bezos were synonymous to Galt, D’Anconia, and Danneskjöld.

These legends certainly do exist but what distinguishes them from today’s startup founders is the scale of the problems they are solving. Just as important, they went in with the mindset to start a business, not a startup. It’s a shame that so many startups are concerned about solving small problems when others are pushing the limits for what’s possible here on Earth and in rare cases, outer space.  Not all, but most founders quickly get entangled chasing down investment deals or planning their big payout from an acquisition.

Being able to snap a picture of your buddies and quickly doodle them into a pale, red headed version of themselves certainly makes for a good laugh. But is it a problem that the world actually needs solved? That’s of course open for debate, but I lean on the side of irrelevancy. Countless man-hours spent engineering, designing and hustling their way to a bitter end with little to no profit to show. Why all this work? Because chasing down investment deals and planning for that big payout from an acquisition is often times easier than solving a real problem that a business model can be wrapped around. The first two being telltale signs of riding a bubble.

I hold hope for companies like The Founder’s Found and the businesses in their portfolio. Their philosophy sums it up quite nicely: “We wanted flying cars, and we got 140 characters.”  If you can do without turning your friends’ hair red and are far more enticed by companies solving real problems, take a look at Palantir – they are connecting the world’s data to foresee terrorist attacks (amongst many other services). If they would have been around in 2001 there’s a good chance that those terrorists would have been apprehended before they even walked into the airport terminal.

Maybe one day “starting a business” will have the same sex appeal as “starting a startup.”  But I hope it doesn’t, for it’s a good barrier between those offering a valuable service or product to the world and those who are chasing the glitz and glam of today’s startup scene.

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