The ‘Black Swan of Covid’ has seen a huge cultural flip in terms of status.
Three years ago tech for good was the ugly duckling of the startup scene and being ‘for good’ was the fastest way not to get invested. Coupled with the unnecessary decision of founders to incorporate as a ‘non profit’ as if there were some inherent higher morality in having a company limited by guarantee rather than shares. I used to be a hippy, and even I found the tech for good events to be rather ‘worthy’ and uninspiring, non of your free pizza, free beer, free canapés and millionaire schmoozing that other sectors had. Who cares about good?
Then the Black Swan of Covid lands on our plates and everything changes. Fast forward to right now and we open our windows and clap for those who work for good. We put signs in our windows thanking bin men and delivery drivers and have a newfound respect for supermarket workers, till assistants and shelf stackers. How extraordinary a cultural shift. Suddenly, those who serve have social standing. Status. Authentic in its earning and acknowledgement.
All of a sudden serving people is cool and respected. Serving communities is cool and honoured. Serving society is cool. And necessary. Suddenly and dramatically service is the new cool thing.
Should a nurse, devoted to caring and healing people, have a higher social status than a person whose main interest is generating wealth for themselves, or an ‘influencer’ desperate for likes? Absolutely, and rightly, as should the cleaner and carer and delivery person and all the others who ultimately serve a greater good beyond the triviality of self interest. In terms of social status this cultural flip has actually put things the right way up. It’s how it should be. What on Earth were we all thinking?
The impacts of this cultural correction are going to be ongoing and permanent, and this has vast implications for all of us. Let’s look at it from a startup perspective.
Service is the key word. We need businesses that serve the needs of the community. What are these needs? The same as the needs of an individual.
Food, comfort, warmth, clothing, safety, security, housing, connection and friendships, physical health, mental health, emotional wellbeing, leisure, education, presence in nature, cleanliness, did I miss any? Spiritual wellbeing. The vital services and components of individual and collective wellness.
There’s many reasons why startups fail, they run out of cash, have founder breakups, and so on. But actually, under all those practical reasons, I believe there’s a primary cause. They weren’t necessary. They weren’t important. They just weren’t relevant.
If there’s a true demand for what you’re offering, if you’re having to stack up customers in a queue, if you are getting viral responses to your marketing, if what you offer is actually and genuinely needed, you’ll almost certainly be successful. Raising funds to scale to meet demand is the single most encouraging reason to raise money. Ask any VC or Angel Investor.
Many startups will fall in this next season, and many will rise. The ones who fall will, for the most part, do so because they lack relevancy. The ones who rise will do so, for the most part, because they provide a vital service.
How can we serve the vital needs of humanity and of the environment? That’s the question startups need to ask themselves from now on. There’s a great pruning of the sector under way, the market has changed, funding has changed, commercial priorities have changed, basically everything’s changed. The good news is, no startups need to actually die, although some probably will. Startups can change, pivot, adjust, start again.
It’s just another flip, a commercial one, to put things the right way up. And what I think we’ll find, in a year or two from now, is that ugly duckling ‘tech for good’ has become the sector laying the golden eggs. Now what else did we get completely inverted and wrong, I wonder?
This article first appeared in the Yorkshire Post in print at the beginning of April 2020.