If you happen to browse through the tech and business sections of magazines and websites, you certainly have encountered the dominant enthusiastic narrative around tech startups. They’re almost always described as innovative, revolutionary, and of course so cool and hipster, and so on. But it’s time to stop that hype and say the truth: many of those startups are not innovative, not revolutionary, not even cool. And the world doesn’t even need the most of them.
Everyone loves startups…
Of course, there are many great startups that have build very impressive and profitable businesses and all the hype around them is well-deserved. There is one basic thing that they normally have in common: they are based on a truly innovative idea. Maybe some of them were inspired by the same philosophy, like sharing economy, for example, but apart from that, they have found something that makes them stand out in the entrepreneurial crowd. They’ve found their niche, created a successful approach and business models. And they simply make many of the everyday stuff easier. I’m sure there is no need to describe here how Uber or Revolut apps are useful, everyone knows that. This is the key to their success: they created something that people need and really want to use.
… but some of them don’t deserve that
The triumph of these great startups has started a domino effect. More and more so-called tech startups spring up like mushrooms. But the problem with most of them is that we really can live without them. The product or service they offer isn’t something that makes thousands of people think “man, how I could have lived without this before”. They create apps that are supposed to resolve ridiculous or even imaginary problems. Let’s be honest: the world doesn’t need dozens of apps for making perfect hard-boiled eggs or another alarm clock for Android. Nor we need another startup that will raise huge funding thanks to some PR and marketing magic before even launching the product, that eventually will turn out to be a failure. We need fresh ideas and useful solutions that will apply breakthrough technologies in order to make every aspect of modern existence easier.
It’s not possible to become “the next…”
Another problem with the wanna-be startups is that they are copycats. They want to be the next Facebook, the next Airbnb, the next Uber, the next Spotify. They mimic the idea, the philosophy, the business model, sometimes even the name. This is the truth: there is no way to succeed by starting a copy of a successful company. This is utter nonsense. You need a niche and find a gap in the market. There is no niche for the next Facebook as long as the original Facebook exists, and it’s quite safe to say they are not going anywhere. If your idea is not fresh, then it’s better to save your time (and ours) and drop it now.
Unicorns that become frauds
And sometimes things are much worse. Some of the overhyped startups turn out to be purely scams. Recently one of the most commented cases of startups that ended up being a fraud is Theranos, a blood-testing startup. They raised more than $700 million until it was revealed that their technology didn’t really work and the company founder Elizabeth Holmes was charged with criminal fraud (we encourage you to read the full story, it’s really eye-opening). A couple of months ago there was the Juicero case that also ended with a big scandal and the shutdown of the company. We may risk a statement that such things wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t so much irrational craze around startups all over the media.
The cult of the startups is too much
Of course, after a spectacular startup fail, the media love to cover the topic and keep asking the rhetorical question “how could this happen again”. But before it happens, they eagerly help to build the myths around startups that are still in the insecure stage of development. Everyone knows this kind of stories that almost always contain the same elements: the protagonists are college dropouts that become entrepreneurship geniuses thanks to their bravery and revolutionary ideas, the business was started in an obscure garage or a basement and in a couple of years it moved to a neat office somewhere in the Silicon Valley, etc.
When you read these articles (and books. Yes, there are more and more books that build the hype), you realize there is a kind of an absurd cult around tech startups. The more you look at it, the crazier it seems. The rampant enthusiasm and lack of criticism in startup environment resemble a sect with its devoted followers and enlightened gurus.
The cult of the startups significantly helps the Silicon Valley tech bubble to grow – and many say it’s about to burst. What will happen with the startup culture then? No one knows, but we sincerely hope it will bring the common sense back.