The Other Bubble.
Posted at 15:55h, 02 Feb 2016 in List Archive by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

We know what’s in the water in Flint, MI, but not always so sure about Silicon Valley. It also may well be something that they’re smoking.

This isn’t about valuations or the expanding graveyard of unicorpses. It’s about the possible end of this iteration of technology, and it’s not necessarily due to collapsing world economies ( The Shipping News Says the World Economy Is Toast – Bloomberg). FastCompany published a piece this week about Silicon Valley’s Problem-Solving Bubble: The insanity of gas-delivery startups and what they say about inconvenience inflation. They were referencing WeFuel, a California-based startup that eliminates the need to stop for gas, which is somehow ‘a major impediment to life. “We all lead busy lives, running to and from appointments and trying to balance time with work and family,” explains a video from WeFuel competitor Filld. “Something always gets in the way: the gas station.”’

They actually have a competitor, and you thought that it couldn’t get any more indulgent than trashday, which obviates the need for Bay area residents to have to dirty their hands by taking out their own garbage.

Time for an unreality check and “in a post-mortem of more than 100 startups, CB Insights found that the number one cause of startup failure (42% of the time) was ‘no market need’ (A Minimum Viable Product Is Not a Product, It’s a Process).”

WeFuel and TrashDay bring to mind Kozmo, a well-funded Web 1.0 company that would deliver, say, a pack of gum, anytime, anywhere, in under an hour, without so much as a delivery fee, in those heady days when everyone was a millionaire on paper. The company didn’t scale and we scratching our heads over that one as to exactly why, too. Uh, yeah.

So the question is: has the on-demand economy become too demanding – in some sectors, at least? Or are we on the precipice of the next stage in technology? According to the World Economic Forum in this report from Davos, “we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another. This will lay the foundation for a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen. Smart systems—homes, factories, farms, grids or cities—will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change. The rise of the sharing economy will allow people to monetize everything from their empty house to their car.” We’ve already seen the beginnings of this, but the question remains: is the microcosm that is Silicon Valley addressing problems that don’t exist and is that due to that ecosystem having become so (largely) insular, at least in parts?

When we see something like gas delivery, it does give one pause to wonder if we’re living on fumes, and pun intended. At a time when investors are being quite a bit more circumspect before writing checks and wanting to see real numbers (and eyeballs ain’t necessarily what they used to be), time to think different (sic). Always a good idea to skate to where the puck is going and if you are going to skate to where the puck has been, watch its trajectory, from the starting point, then do an instant replay in slow motion. Uber, for example, speaking of on-demand economy and as Sarah Tavel noted on Medium (Taking the wrong lesson from Uber), “The magic of Uber is that it used mobile to create a 10x better product than the incumbent (taxis), and did so at a lower price. The “and” is everything…The challenge I see with so many of these services (Ubers for X) is that most often, 1) they are new costs, and 2) they don’t fundamentally recast cost structures like Uber did — instead, many of them are an arbitrage on the cost of wealthy people’s time vs the less wealthy…In other words, to build an enduring, multi-billion dollar business, convenience isn’t enough.”

Just a heads up, as we do know that the on-demand economy is still being seen as something of a panacea among many an entrepreneur, even as investors have gotten quite a bit more cautious. Would just hate to see you put in all of that effort, only to be focusing on an area that may well be on the verge of running out of gas. Onward and forward.