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Why we need Disruptive Start-ups focused on “Bigger than Life” Issues

Posted on Posted in Startups

I am a Start-up entrepreneur and have learnt more doing my startup in the last 3 years than I did in the previous 30 years or my life. I enjoy the journey and the learning, but always keep wondering, what next. Whats the next big thing I would do. Few thoughts come to mind that I am gonna share.

Firstly, lets re-establish why we need start-ups:

Imagine the world where there were no start-ups. Only limited existing large firms were running and nobody ever started a new company.

We will not have the same level of Innovation – Despite of whatever the large firms spend on RnD, they mostly never come up with the best / disruptive / efficient solutions. The main reason is that the employees who work in these RnD department get paid on a monthly basis, irrespective of whether they succeed or not … their motivation level is never as high as an entrepreneur who has risked it all in his startup.

Growth and Disruption will be minimal – its been no secret that we will search information online, we will transact more online, but still the largest existing firms in 1990s could not build great solutions for these needs. Startups at the time Google and Amazon succeeded in disrupting the world. Where Microsoft / Yahoo / AOL (the large companies of the time) did not.

 

Socially Responsible Start-ups Focused on Bigger Issues

Now that we have established that we do need start-ups, we need to identify where we need these passionate smart entrepreneurs to focus on. I wanna share 2 recent media factors that lead me to ponder upon this point further. When I first heard about WhatsApp being sold out for $19bn to Facebook, I read many experts talk about the value created by WhatsApp, how it helps 100s of millions of people to stay connected at a fraction of the transaction cost (compared with what their mobile operators would charge otherwise for text messaging). And it is definitely true. WhatsApp created little value for 100s of millions of users worldwide to create a $19bn company. It’s certainly a successful story and credit to its founding team. But then I began to wonder, what if WhatsApp or any other similar messaging application were never invented? Arguably we will somehow still manage to connect socially with our friends over emails or texts (and maybe also, waste less time forwarding or reading unnecessary group messages). It may be more expensive, less efficient, but will work well enough. After all we did pretty ok before 2008 when WhatsApp was founded. Take this line of reasoning further; What if even Facebook did not exist? We may have less social interactions with our peers (may be we will have more offline real social interactions with a few people than loads of virtual meaningless interactions), we will use other dating websites, we may waste less time on seeing things we don’t need to look at otherwise, etc. To be clear, I am not doubting the value of Facebook and its potential to become the social online platform (despite its partial non-constructive end use). But still, without Facebook or other social networks, we might have done pretty well as we did in 1990s.

PS: I use both Facebook and WhatsApp, and like them. I am using them here in a negative sense only to emphasise a thought below.

 

Before I get to my point, I want to cite one more recent quote.  There is a dialogue in the recently released Hollywood movie Interstellar. A teacher tells a parent “we need more farmers in the world, and not engineers. We did not run out of airplanes or televisions, we ran out of food.” If you imagine the future of human evolution, the biggest problems we face are not, – lack of another e-commerce website – another messaging app – an analytics application – a social network etc. But the biggest problems faced by our society may include:

– Lack of resources (food, water, fuel, etc.)

– Climate change

– Terrorism

– Global Population

– Lack of Education for majority of the population

– Health issues

– Economic crises

 

It’s definitely harder to solve these problems as quickly as we can create run and exit internet based startups. But smart entrepreneurs can help us progress and eventually solve these genuine “larger than life” issues. They will take much longer (running into decades) and will be harder (compared with relatively easily accessible and executable internet driven businesses for example), and have higher probability of failure (maybe way over 99%), but that’s where passionate entrepreneurs can truly make a big difference. All progress (made from even failures) in solving these problems is paramount to our evolution. this is where Scientists meet Entrepreneurs. (And the investors may consider shifting their focus into such ideas too) Classic successful examples of such businesses include:

 

–  Tesla Motors, can help reduce our dependence on expensive, polluting and depleting natural resources (like fuel). Maybe we need to take it a step further and challenge its fundamental thought that solar energy and electric power are always going to be available to us.

–   SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are taking space exploration a level further.  Understanding and commoditizing space missions may lead us to finding alternate habitats outside of our planet Earth.

–   Khan academy revolutionizing education content creation and distribution helps in educating poor people (who can somehow access internet) in learning on demand and freely.

–  Cleantech water startups (like BioGill, ANDalyze, Emefcy etc.) that help recycle waste water

–  LightSail Energy that uses compressed air to create the most clean and economical energy source that can be stored

–  BeyondMeat replaces animal protein by plant protein to feed the planet cheaply & healthily

 

All entrepreneurs have to decide whats the big startup they wanna do, and they feel passionate about. The idea of this blog is to help them step back and think if what they are doing is really that much useful to the humanity (in grand scheme of things) or would they like a bigger challenge where they can have more meaningful impact on our evolution. Hopefully it’s an interesting thought for your next start-up.  

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