Yes, real problems are being addressed
Today’s startups are getting a bad rap. Especially the ones in the Silicon Valley. The common perception is that much of the work coming out of these startups are not engaged in the effort of solving real problems that need attention. Despite sky high valuations and huge acquisition premiums for some startups there are new ventures that are fundamentally altering how we approach and do many things. Here are some examples.
Uber was an upstart a few years ago. Today, they have completely shaken up the taxi industry. And the consumer now has many more choices at far more reasonable prices. Does this not help us save more money and use it for a rainy day? It also offers employment opportunities for people with a car and reasonable driving experience.
Airbnb, another recent startup was trying to disrupt the vacation rental space. Today, they offer meaningful and affordable alternatives to large hotels not only helping travelers but also people with homes looking to rent them out in the short term.
Again, they added a new element to the sharing economy thus supporting the tourist and the host.
Kickstarter has completely changed how we fund our projects. It has helped entrepreneurs reach the masses without having to look for corporate or venture funding. They have helped raise over a billion dollars for everything from lemonade stands to robotics projects.
Whatsapp, a spunky startup, allows people with phones to communicate across the world without having to pay steep messaging fees. They opened up the lines of communication and fundamentally disrupted the messaging business that was until recently under the cellular carrier’s control.
Twitter is now the quickest way to get breaking nows. Twitter is there wherever the action is. Yes, they are a big company now but they started with a 140 character messaging service that many dismissed as useless.
After the recent NSA scandal, startups have come forth with products to help consumers truly keep their secrets. Data analytics is a big deal these days and there are dozens of startups trying to crack the problem. It is easy to dismiss these efforts but better data analytics will help us optimize a multitude of problems ranging from reduced wastage to increased productivity. And all this will help the economy move forward and create jobs for many more.
It would be incredibly short sighted to dismiss startups today as trying to solve problems that don’t need solving. Some of them are trying to look at things before they become a headache. And we will thank them for that someday.
Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy is a tech enthusiast and blogs on topics from parenting to shopping: rangaprabhu.com.
No, it’s a very limited, crowded space
The most coveted job in the SF Bay Area is that of an entrepreneur. Are entrepreneurs only those who create solutions to existing problems or can those who create problems also give themselves the coveted title of “Entrepreneur?” There’s been an influx of entrepreneurs in recent years and they all look pretty much the same: young people who create startup after startup, obtaining funding from wealthy investors to keep their businesses alive until they can be acquired by a larger company—hopefully Google or Facebook.
A vast majority of the startups are merely trying to solve problems using social networking or an iPhone App, because that is the trendiest area of problem solving, and the kind of problem solving that major tech companies will pay for.
You may wonder what if startups don’t find a problem that can be solved the social networking and phone app way? No problem! It is easy to invent a problem and sell it to investors.
Here is a partial list of startups that have invented problems to solve.
Couple—an intimate way to communicate with your significant other (whatever went wrong with Skype)?
Pinterest, Foursquare, Zerply, Dropcam, to name a few, are social networking apps that connect users in ways ranging from photo sharing to interest sharing to profession sharing.
There are startups that are obsessed with the latest fad—Big Data—such as Relevvant, Trifacta, Bright.
Health based startups will make you believe that a phone app will magically solve all your health problems. In this category there are companies such as Glow(a better way to get pregnant (!)), Sirono (a better way to call your doctor), CaptureProof (a “revolutionary” way to communicate with your doctor), BetterDoctor, DocSpot, HealthGrades, ZocDoc, iTriage and many, many startups that will help you find a doctor.
No sane person will deny the impact of tech companies in our lives. Yelp, Dropbox, WhatsApp, AirBnB, Uber and other companies that were startups not too long ago have become an integral part of our lives.
But do we really need so many solutions that focus on finding a better way to locate a doctor or share a photo?
It is disappointing that the coolest tech companies in Silicon Valley are not those that computationally solve the most pressing problems—like better understanding the causes of cancer. Instead more and more companies are consumed with the problem of sharing status messages or optimizing the ability to follow 140 character feeds of celebrities.
Ash Murthy is a software engineer and writes as a hobby.