We’re smart enough to solve real problems, but we don’t.
In Silicon Valley, there’s an entrepreneur on every corner, and a new you-sit-at-home-naked-while-I-do-your-shopping app every week. Only a handful of companies, proportionally speaking, are actually trying to do things that will have a meaningful impact, and the organizations that have true vision are generally underfunded and unnoticed.
Many startups define their mission just well enough to discover an avenue to revenue. And some don’t even want revenue. They just want users, because lately that’s as good as cash when going in for a round of funding. Most of these startups die within the year, and most people will forget their names long before then.
“Building any business is hard, all-consuming, frustrating and fraught with personal challenges. When a founder is ‘opportunity driven’ it’s too easy to quit at the first bump in the road. When a founder is ‘mission driven’ you get the sense that he or she will do whatever it takes to make an impact in the market they serve and will keep persevering whatever the startup trends of the month.
I encourage entrepreneurs to try and tackle harder problems even if it makes fund raising more difficult and is less likely to succeed …”
Full disclosure: I’ve been guilty of thinking small, too. I’ve launched my own products, and they were fun to build. They were received well by tech blogs. Users were singing our praises. The front page of Reddit was an interesting place to be, twice. My ego was being stroked at maximum efficiency. And throughout all that, I knew I was building things just because people would use them.
I’m done with that shit.
If you’re going to start a new venture, care. Find a problem you really care about solving and pursue that. Even if the likelihood of success is slim, put your head down and go. Sure, Elon Musk is an outlier on the intelligence spectrum, but the dude was almost certain that Tesla and SpaceX would both fail, and they would have had he not signed away the rest of his fortune to save his companies.
Real talk: I want to give this guy a hug. Undeniably, he has a vision and is willing to sacrifice everything for it. Watch this for 45 seconds and tell me you don’t feel how much he cares.
Homie is tearing up because that’s how much he cares about seeing his mission through. Can you imagine believing in your company that much? And it seems to me that Elon’s success is because of the singular and noble purpose his companies have, not in spite of them.
He has an unrelenting focus to achieve his goals because his mission is bigger than himself. His vision doesn’t take into consideration his paycheck. It doesn’t plan to be a good story at a dinner party. Elon does it because the world will be better off when he completes his mission.
But what are “we” actually doing?
Silicon Valley is filled with intelligent and capable minds that are constantly looking for ways to exploit markets and seize windows of opportunity. I mean, business is business, and I love having new products. But first convince me that having another “best way to send money to my friends” app that isn’t PayPal, Venmo or Google Wallet is actually necessary. Not to mention that money transfer through Apple Pay could launch at any moment and would still have to compete with Facebook Pay, Snap Cash and Square Cash for relevance.
Applying the same energy to problems that significantly impact the world would provide more than enough drive, creativity and inspiration to push through the unimaginable challenges you’ll face along the way. You’ll face these difficulties anyway — why not make it worth the struggle?
Right now, entrepreneurs are trying to fix things that aren’t broken. And we can all name a lot of things that are broken: Health care, education, homelessness and poverty, food waste, climate change … need I continue? These aren’t even small market problems. There is so much room for people with good ideas to make change, and probably make some good money while they’re at it.
Not all startups need to be steadfastly mission-driven and focused on the far future, but I do think there should be a lot more startups that are.
I’m defining goals that are in alignment with my ideals. I encourage you to do the same. Solving a problem that reflects the ideals that shape who I am is a surefire way to persevere when the odds are stacked against me, everything is spiraling out of control and it feels like birds are snipers hidden in the trees.
So, what do I care about? I care about empowering people to realize their potential. It underpins all human advancement.
From my perspective, that starts with education and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the mechanism by which these advancements and innovations will happen. Education is the foundation upon which these entrepreneurs will be able to build innovative organizations. When there are more educated people, there will be more skilled entrepreneurs with the ability to execute on their vision for the future. These two areas actually have a compounding effect and, depending on the individual, can be two inclusive phases of a person’s life.
Will I build my own organization that tries to “change the world,” like any self-respecting (or self-aggrandizing) Silicon Valley startup? Right now, I’m not trying to figure that out. I’m just trying to be around people who are working on things that I believe are heading toward the same goal on at least a parallel path.
I want to learn from the people around me. I want to work in a space where I’m challenged to think differently. I want to start taking the steps toward my goal of helping humanity realize its potential.
If you want to go deeper on this, please reach out. I’m looking to collaborate, on any level, with people who see their skills as an asset that the world can benefit from.