No, We Don't Need Your Pointless App
You've got an app to tell me when to brush my teeth? Isn't that nice. At long last we are nearing the moment when investors and consumers realize they are wasting their money and time for services that don't serve anybody. The next wave of startups is going to have to bring something better to the table.
By Howard Tullman Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology @tullman
Could it be that we're turning a critical corner, where the next important group of startups won't be addressing superficial concerns of comfort and convenience, or devoting their energies to all the drama around dating, mating and which watches to wear? How about if we start paying attention to stuff that actually matters to someone other than our immediate family and the few folks we were able to finagle into joining us on the journey to nowhere? Social is so yesterday. We need more trivial apps pouring into the Apple store like a fish needs a bicycle and it's hard to imagine a B2C business plan these days that has any realistic prospect of a viable exit. The image that I can't get out of my mind is of a little paper boat that you push away from the shore and watch the waves move it along as it slowly get soggier and soggier until it sinks below the surface.
And honestly, by now, doesn't everyone with a brain get that the opportunity to start the newest niche social network is long past; that it's more a question of deciding which platform you need to be on than of deciding to try to invent your own? Admit it, "sharing" your innermost secrets with a bunch of bots and trolls is a sad excuse for a social life. You're really just selling a small sliver of your already-diluted attention span to the highest bidder. As they say in what's left of the ad biz, if you're not paying for what you're getting, you aren't the buyer, you're what's being sold. All of this frenzied activity is costly, frivolous and really tired in light of the actual problems and challenges that we're all facing.
So, how cool would it be if the next killer companies were started by a group of hyper-technical entrepreneurs directing their efforts and energies to matters of real consequence that might make concrete contributions to the ways we do business and the ways we live our lives. I sure hope we're heading in that direction because, if I never have to see Zuck's painful and placid puss as he's being tortured by a bunch of political troglodytes while trying to explain that he's just running a platform (not a media business), it will be too soon. We understand that he doesn't want to be a pariah and that he (and Elon Musk) can't really figure out what all the fuss is about, but honestly I don't really care about this anyway or any longer.
Personally, I'm pretty sick of seeing a constant stream of puffed-up proposals to provide slick solutions to problems that no one really gives a crap about. Please save your breath and your stamps (remember those?) and don't send me any new ideas for social networks, or the newest tool for teams to collaborate. Nor do I need apps that help me remember to brush my teeth, or sites you're planning to build to quickly connect me with others suffering from the curse of incontinent cats. We used to call these kinds of deals "cures for no known diseases" or "the greatest software never sold" and I was beginning to fear that there was no end in sight to this obnoxious onslaught of irrelevance.
But there's a glimmer of hope. And the reason for my optimism is that the next wave of real businesses is going to have to be built from the inside out, on solid technologies that require smart, trained engineers and scientists-- and not from the outside in, where some marketer sells a story and then the race is on to try to find some folks somewhere who can build the back end and try to deliver in a timely fashion on the promises that were made. It's possible that there will need to be one more nail in the coffin of the creative bullshitters before the truth sinks in; my money's on all the companies pretending that they have something real to contribute to the AI race.
As soon as the investors listening to these stories start looking under the hoods and learn that there's really no there there, I expect that hundreds of these businesses will find that the going gets really tough when you're "all hat and no cattle" as they say in Texas. This isn't the best news for the few companies that are spending the time and the money to build something that actually works, but eventually the good guys should win the day.
The key to the whole equation is that there's simply no way to tap dance yourself around blockchain, augmented reality, IOT, machine learning or the burgeoning businesses building bots. You've either got the beef or you don't and to pull this off, you need hard core programmers, technical and engineering talent, smart UI and UX designers and data scientists or you're simply kidding yourself and anyone foolish enough to give you their money.
Putting together a team like this isn't something you do after the fact or once you're funded. I'm not sure that you can even buy these kinds of resources any more. They're too much in demand and increasingly aware of the fact that they've got the keys to the kingdom to come. The core of your company and the heart of the idea has to be good science and great technology from the get-go.