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The Startup party is over

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Sun, June 02, 2019 18:34:29
If I told you I was going to start a company with a friend, build the product in a few weekends, put it out, get hockey stick exponential growth and within two years it will be valued at more then one billion dollars. Is that realistic? At any time in history you would have said i was insane, with one exception.

The period of say 2002 to 2014, was a unique time, brought on by broadband, a maturing web, free software, low-cost commodity hardware, and the advent of the smartphone. During this short time It was possible to create a billion dollar company out of your bedroom, and It enabled a herd of unicorns, that in many ways transformed the world. Spotify, AirBnB, WhatsApp, Twitch, Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Facebook, Github, Instagram, Snap.... We all know the names of the companies that where born during this period.

The problem is that people don't get that the party is over. All the obvious apps/websites have already been built. The large companies are too established to be threatens by a weekend project. All the low hanging fruit has been picked off. YC keeps having bigger and bigger classes, but the successful companies we associate with YC success are a decade old, because its almost impossible to build anything meaningful in 10 weeks any more. Today I would argue that you should expect it to take five years to build anything that matters.

Yet our culture still think its ten years ago. Everyone expects a release in 6 months, and 20% month over month growth at scale. We take as gospel lessons from successful people in podcasts, books, lectures and films who talks about how to start a business, in a world that no longer exists. We have become a generation of founders and VCs who have a fundamentally warped idea of what it takes to do something significant.

Whats worse is that people think this "Silicon valley approach" should take over the world. All the before mentioned unicorns are solving a fairly narrow band of problems around connecting people and services and extracting arbitrage from existing things. They are all based on software. You cant apply the same timelines and growth expectations on things like transportation, energy, aviation, housing, or blood tests. Again and again, I hear silicon valley companies big and small announce they will disrupt the physical world, only to quietly give up a few years later when it turns out that reality is hard and that the incumbents aren't as stupid as they thought.

Silicon valley likes to tout companies like Tesla and SpaceX as examples of how silicon valley can-do attitude can change the world. But neither of them are good examples of what founders and VCs are looking for, in terms of growth, return on investment, and most of all timeline. They both exist because Elon put his own money in to them, and persisted for 15 years, something almost no one seems willing to do.

I want to change the world, but real problems are hard. There are huge opportunities, in transportation, energy, computing, healthcare, manufacturing, but none of them can be solved on the kind of timelines and expectations that the startup community have. So many companies I see have great ideas, but aren't realistic and serious enough to realize them. I worry that we wont solve these solvable problems, because everyone just want to party like its 2009.



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Posted by ptaczek@gmail.com Wed, July 03, 2019 23:28:30

I feel it the same. It seems like this inertia - this inability of the masses to recognize the shift - is somehow bound to the way how our brains extrapolate into the future, which is linear. But the evolution of things is all but linear. So yes, the startup party is over. The question is, what's brewing under the cover now that will skyrocket faster than we realize once it gets the critical mass? :) Is it ML/AI? Is it blockchain? Is it nanotech, music, brain implants, natural processes hacking, ice-caps melting, weather, drones, dissease of some kind or cure for it? Or something completely different?