A recent Fast Company article by Neal Ungerleider left me speechless. Titled “Startup Culture’s Lack Of Diversity Stifles Innovation,” Ungerleider says today’s buzziest startups are not innovators, and there is no excuse.
[D]espite the fact that tens of millions of American Android and iPhone owners are struggling to make ends meet–and that there are even more who are senior citizens, who live in rural areas, lack college or high school degrees, or are financially excluded–startups disproportionately target the young, suburban/urban, and middle-to-upper-class. Because of that, the technology world is missing out on a lot of innovation–and, even more importantly to the companies behind technology, missing out on potential profits.
People without bank accounts, without smart phones and who are older than 65 are virtually being ignored by founders who are young, urban and represent a cozy circle of elite universities, and pathways to success. A lack of racial, gender and generational diversity among founders means that startups compete to out-Über one another, or to improve the experience on apps and services that are only used by early adopters.
Too many solutions in search of problems
In my time I’ve encountered countless startups whose founders think Yelp is “broken,” and our trying fix it. Despite the fact the company had a very successful IPO in March 2012, and even with a user base of millions, most Americans don’t consult the site before choosing a restaurant.
TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis had a great piece about how trips home for the holidays were a great opportunity for “normals research,” spending time among people who aren’t leading-edge technology adopters. People like my mom and dad, who own smart phones (Android), but don’t tweet, check in or filter selfies. The American buying public–not to mention the global consumer–is a lot more like my parents, than like most Silicon Valley startup founders. My parents are probably seem like early adopters to billions of people still waiting to join the Internet revolution.
There’s nothing wrong with creating something people are willing to buy. But we can do so much more.
Our time on Earth is finite
There are a lot of hard problems that aren’t being solved, in fact they’re not even being touched. This is largely because folks who could solve our biggest problems don’t know these problems exist. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also an opportunity that hasn’t passed us by.
“More techies and investors from different backgrounds are sorely needed,” says Ungerleider. “They aren’t needed for the sake of P.C. inclusiveness; they’re needed because the market demands their products.”
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You are part of a global conversation about entrepreneurship, innovation and a continuous cycle of disruptive technologies that will improve hundreds of millions of lives. You are heroes in your communities, in your cities and to me.
Entrepreneurship is the most powerful force for change, and it’s a force that does not belong to anyone alone.
Silicon Valley continues to dominate headlines when it comes to startup news. But in growing numbers mobile app developers, entrepreneurs and visionaries from Brazil, Nigeria, India, Singapore, South Africa, France, Kenya, Romania and across the spectrum are showing the world what is possible. Thank you for inspiring me. Thanks for being part of the conversation.
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