Today’s startups should seek to change the physical world

Uber. Airbnb. Tesla. Xiaomi. SpaceX.

We hear about these tech “unicorns” all the time: Uber, the 40 million USD transport company, without owning any taxis. Airbnb the biggest hotelier, without owning any hotels.

It’s easy to get caught up in a discussion about their value, and how awesome they are.

In reality I think that is a flawed discussion. The reason we should discuss them is because they make our life better. I believe they are a new breed of startups, which focuses on making changes in the real, physical world.

How the Internet never changed our life…

One could argue that the world is quite similar to 20 years ago. Yes, we have smartphones, but nothing really changed.

I do disagree with this statement (transport me 20 years back, and I will kill you – I need my Google, Facebook and Amazon to survive). But for the sake of argument, let’s explore it.

20 Years ago, a stereotypically average and boring family life would probably look like this:

  • You wake up with an alarm clock
  • You make breakfast with your significant other (or better yet, sleep while he or she did it for you!)
  • You drive your car to work
  • You do work
  • You drive your car home from work
  • You make some dinner
  • You watch some television (or read a book)
  • You went to sleep

Today, you could argue it’s mostly the same. You might use Netflix instead of watching television, but that’s it.

Now, as a tech-lover, I would argue this logic is flawed.

You can contact everyone you know in an instant and you can search for any question you might have (including questions that absolutely do influence the real world).

The devil is in the details, and I truly do believe that Facebook, Google, Amazon and the thousands of successful tech startups have made our lives better and more connected.

But the actual actions we do have not changed too much. We still have to sleep. We still have to spend time cooking. I still have to fucking clean the surfaces of my tables (ok, I did hire a girl to do it, but you get the point).

Which brings me to my point: Today, startups can actually change our behaviours. They change our physical lives.

Airbnb changes the way I live. I do not own an apartment. I move to places I want to be, and can live in great apartments around the globe.

Uber changes the way I get around. I don’t have to own a car anymore; it’s cheaper and easier just to use Uber to get around (to me, Uber is vastly different from a taxi company because of its pricing and convenience).

Soylent could remove the chore of making the meals when I don’t feel like being social or explorative in the kitchen.

The startups of today can change the physical world.

This is a significant change.

It is only going to become more and more obvious with techs such as:

  • Raspberry Pi, Arduino and similar: very cheap computers make it very easy to make hardware products
  • 3D printing: will make it extremely easy to make physical things
  • Stem cells, DNA modification and bio-stuff
  • Cheap sensors and screens

Today, anyone can make a startup and focus on the real world, instead of the digital world.

We should not forget that “digital-only companies” such as Slack, Snapchat or even Palantir can have tremendous value. Technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence are also “digital”, but can still have great value.

The reason is that these companies and technologies do change our real-life behaviors. Slack combined with Appear.in changes the way I communicate, and has made it irrelevant where I live. It has an influence on my real-life behavior.

The new, digital technologies will do the same. Just as Uber is basically a “digital app”, it does influence the “real” physical world.

I believe it’s time to focus on the real, physical world. Entrepreneurs around the world can, and should seek to change the way we do things.

For a better future 🙂

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