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The "Techlash:" Trouble in Paradise

Where to go from here


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Many entrepreneurs approach the creation of their next venture in the same way. This model is broken and needs to be re-examined. It looks like this: You ask yourself “what cool thing could I do with X†?” (Where “ X+” is a computer, a network, an iphone, AI, blockchain or any new technology that comes along). You identify developments in science, technology, demographics and markets. You then identify one or more Xs that may serve as a basis for disrupting an existing industry. Presto! You have an idea for your venture.

This is the model for Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and many others. It works, sometimes spectacularly – providing new capabilities, convenience, opportunity and unimaginable wealth. Entrepreneurs taking this approach have become legends: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg. (One legend, Jeff Bezos, has become the richest person in the world.)

You know the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But perhaps it’s broken. And even “broke” (as in bankrupt). The dominant model also has a dark side.

Consider this:

● Silicon Valley treats women badly – as can be seen in its “bro” culture, its lack of diversity in senior positions, the number of women who receive funding as startup CEOs. (The tools of tech made the #metoo movement possible, but the hostile culture†of tech made the movement a necessity.)

● Addictive technology hurting our children.

● Technology captures too much of our time and attention, making us less productive and more isolated.

● Tech’s unintended, though predictable, costs, are borne by the many – those in San Francisco, LA and Seattle who can no longer afford to pay for housing – while its largest benefits go to its investors and billionaire entrepreneurs.

● Fake news freely distributed by social media, undermines our democratic institutions and our democracy itself.

● The cost of our social connectivity is paid for with our personal data; our data, the currency we provide without conscious thought, disenfranchises us via agreements we didn’t read or, even if we did, we didn’t understand or couldn’t negotiate.

● Operations like Cambridge Analytica and Black Cube will do whatever they can to leverage our data, not for good, but for the benefit of the highest bidder. (The highest bidder may well be a foreign power, a hate group or the political party that opposes everything you stand for.)

The problems referenced above may seem disconnected. And you may not care about any of these things if your measure of success is money. In 2018 Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon reported record earnings. Amazon’s profits topped $1 billion. Even after the Cambridge Analytica debacle Facebook’s market strength remains undiminished. From a purely financial perspective the so-called “techlash” remains a non-issue.

My perspective: Too many entrepreneurs embrace Gordon Gekko’s, “Greed is Good” credo combined with a naive fascination and lust for the magic of the next new thing. This sets up conditions that give rise to each of the unintended (but predictable) consequences referenced above. Now the tech sector is falling out of favor. Dozens of articles have described the public’s growing discomfort with Silicon Valley and what it represents. Once a place of wonder and magic, a real-world Disneyland where dreams came true, Silicon Valley seems now to be struggling.

With apologies to B.B. King: "The thrill is gone, baby.”

Consider Google, Facebook and Twitter. Their ad-based business models turn users – you and me – into “the product.” We use their services, search and social media, free of charge. The advertisers are the paying customers. This business model works, and it made many people wealthy beyond imagination: Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Sean Parker, Chamath Palihapitiya, Roger McNamee, Brian Acton, Jan Koum to name just a few. Several of the people just mentioned, those closest to the social media giant, have profound regrets.

What if we have misunderstood the true value and purpose of technology? What if we are, in our approach to tech and startups, like the person of ordinary means who wins the lottery or receives a huge inheritance only to squander it? “Moonshots” have become passé. Bezos and Elon Musk want to take us to Mars and beyond.

What if more entrepreneurs embraced this level of ambition? What if they chose to deliver both ROI and impact? Instead of looking for easy ways to make money, entrepreneurs would invest two squandered resources – “technology” and their own lives – to create surpassing and sustainable value. Today this level of ambition is rare. But we have evidence to show that the world’s best entrepreneurs can be persuaded to step up!

Since 2015, 10.10.10. has hosted five programs. Fifty serial entrepreneurs have accepted our invitation to tackle wicked problems. Through public education and engagement we have inspired them to action. For each program, we invite 10 serial entrepreneurs from around theUnited States. They work throughout 10 days with Ninjas (an ad hoc startup team), Validators (individuals or organizations with domain knowledge) to tackle 10 wicked problems in sectors like health, water, food, energy, learning, infrastructure, waste, security and climate change. Our programs help prospective CEOs with founder due diligence that helps them find

“Founder-Opportunity Fit.” They will invest the next chapter of their lives in their new ventures, and they take this seriously. It’s a wicked good way to start your next venture! Yes, money still matters, but it is never the primary measure of success.

Using this approach, 10.10.10 has given birth to BurstIQ (blockchain to support health data liquidity); Apostrophe Health (cost effective health care for self-insured employers); ConcertHealth (health care and behavioral health connected); Recalibrate Solutions (wearable technology to monitor and address stress levels in young children); and Microlyze ( on-demand, from the source, real-time water testing for water consumed in-home). Each of these ventures addresses a wicked problem with a market-based solution.

If you are in or near Denver, you can see the culmination of this process for 10.10.10 Cities (Health) 2018. Join us at 5 pm on Thursday, May 17, at INDUSTRY Denver – 3001 Brighton Boulevard, where our entrepreneurs will be presenting their ideas to combat wicked problems. Click here for ticket information.


Tom Higley is a Denver-based entrepreneur, mentor and founder and CEO of 10.10.10. He has founded and run seven tech startups, raising more than $40 million and returning more than $1 billion to investors.

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