The other night I found myself making polite but insincere conversation with a very nice young man creating an app for buying drinks at bars. His company wasn’t something I wanted to talk about, but he was a good person.
Solving problems that aren’t problems
Described a particular way, it’s possible to see how a bar tabs app genuinely solves a problem.
“We make it easy for you to buy your friends a drink,” is the value proposition. Yes, there are problems with the process of buying drinks for friends, and it can take a long time. Making this process smoother is solving a problem. But it’s not a problem that keeps people up late at night.
When I asked about competitor Flowtab, which shared the painful details of its demise with TechCrunch, the founder was able to unironically list a number of areas where they had gone astray. But at the end of the day he couldn’t come up with a better reason why his company should exist than the competitor whose failure we discussed.
Alcohol abuse is a serious problem for millions of Americans. Making it easier for addicts to get their drug of eliminates friction from the buying process, but makes the problem of alcoholism worse. While it may be a bit overly dramatic, a case could be made that society is worse off if his startup succeeds.
And yet I know his intention isn’t to cause harm to anyone.
Are we afraid of solving tough problems?
There’s a shakeup happening in the startup investing market known as the Series A Crunch. What Adii Pienar wrote about getting it wrong jibes perfectly with venture fund Andreesen Horowitz’ shift away from “fruit fly startups.” Companies that need millions of users to be profitable are no longer in vogue.
But the disruptive and life-improving companies that will take their place are slowly trickling into the public consciousness. Some of the ugliest startup ideas are the ones with the greatest chance of succeeding, because solving tough problems is a dirty, thankless job.
Enterprise technology companies, and small business services are two ends of the spectrum of ugly companies. They make like better, and they earn money. This is the nature of entrepreneurship. We have lost sight of what it really means these days to be in business
If you’re helping solve problems that matter, I want to help you tell your story. If you have questions about how to share your story.
I recently started using SoHelpful to arrange times for founders to discuss their problems with public relations, and to seek answers. It’s free, and it’s my pleasure to help.
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