Steve Jobs had it right: Startups should make a dent in the universe. Big ideas attract the top teams. Big ideas keep the teams going through the inevitable hard times. Big ideas with top teams change the world. For decades, the life blood of Silicon Valley was great teams working on big ideas.
But recently, as Jon Evans at TechCrunch points out, the Valley is increasingly fascinated with “the big distraction of entertainment.” I could not agree more.
Silicon Valley has lost its way. Stop screwing around in the small pond of media and advertising and tackle big industries and real problems. Heck, why not invent a new industry? Did you know in New York City there are at least a dozen companies that have sprung up around the “personal replicators industry” aka 3D printing ( MakerBot , Quirky, Shapeways etc.).
Did you know that all Media, (including NBC, CBS, Google, AOL, ESPN, every radio station, every magazine and every advertising agency) only represents about 2.5% of GDP? The Valley has become obsessed with “selling sugar water.”
The world needs Silicon Valley back.
Energy, Finance, Healthcare, Education… that is where the BIG problems are. (BTW: Facebook already has $470M in financial service revenue from Facebook Credits).
How do you expect to attract great talent if you are not substantially improving the world? Is it pay? Has Silicon Valley become filled with “technology whores” like the East Coast hedge funds they like to make fun of? As an entrepreneur, changing the world is what keeps me going. Building a company is hard work. How can you work 80+hr weeks if the outcome is: it’s easier to buy crap you don’t need online (aka sugar water).
Credit, Savings, Insurance and Payments are Huge. Sean Park has a great post on "digitally native finance.” At my startup, Lenddo.com, we are using the social graph to improve people’s lives and restructure finance. Members are using their online reputation to prove identity and access credit in regions where there is little access to credit. Every day members are able to get education for loved ones, medicine for family members, and shelter for relatives. Tangible life improvements. Our team sees how we will impact millions. This is why you have a start-up! This is the power of technology!
At Aristotle Circle, where I am an Angel, they are using technology to build a network of peers and experts to radically improve educational outcomes. Other companies are using algorithms for adaptive/dynamic course material to tailor online material to the specific pace, medium and style of each individual learner. Today about 5.5% of GDP goes to public education which does not include private universities and corporate training. What happens when education cost half as much, or is twice as good? Technology combined with entrepreneurship will show us.
We waste more in healthcare then we spend in media..come on. We spend around 16% of GDP on healthcare in the US, and baby boomers are not getting younger. Did you know computational linguistics combined with analysis of social media is being used to guide drug discovery? If you are great at math or engineering, why would you be optimizing online photos, when you could be extending human lifespan? Why not ask a health care entrepreneur?
Don’t worry about Energy; why would we want to have more of that?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Silicon Valley. The Valley had a great run with semiconductors, PCs and the Internet. They did a fine job “taking on” media. The Media Industry is Powerful, but they are pussycats (or leave off the cats) when compared to Wall Street, The Teachers Union, Health Insurance Companies, Big Pharma, and Energy.
My friend in Silicon Valley once gave me sound advice: “Jeff, as a tech-entrepreneur you need to be back here in Silicon Valley at least every 30 days” He was absolutely correct. There is nothing like the innovative energy and echo chamber of northern California. I go often, and every trip is time well spent.
Now my advice for Silicon Valley: Get out of the echo chamber at least once a month. See what is going on in Finance, Education, Health Care, Energy and “personal replicators.”
It’s time to think big again.
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Photo: from Bob Cringely's awesome 165 minute history of the PC industry "Triumph of the Nerds"