There is the list of current Unicorns. I can't think of one of them that doesn't have very, very substantial competition or is a genuinely novel product. All of them ventured into highly competitive, well-worn fields and what set them apart was quality of service, ease of use, and responsivity. Very few of them made conceptual leaps in the underlying product - they mostly made leaps in lowering activity energy to use products or solving associated logistical problems.
Sorry Sam, I have to politely disagree with you on this one. Lord knows you are the one with the resume and authority on this, but I am a startup lawyer and work with clients on this stuff all day, so I am not totally unqualified. I do defer to your judgment, obviously, on companies that you want to fund, and your track record more than speaks for itself. However, what I want to know is if there isn't some disconnect between the companies you do fund and the attitude that is expressed in this post. I would love to hear your insights or opinions on whether you feel that I have this wrong, and if you think that the next generation of unicorns are going to be novel monopolies, or that maybe I am misreading the characteristics of current successful startups.
A monopoly simply has to have significant influence on supply of a good. In the UK that can be as low as a 30% market share. Qualify a market enough and any company can be a monopoly (I'm sure there's some geography where Lyft or good ol taxis represent a monopoly), so it's important to determine the size and importance of a market (a monopoly over food in a small town is still problematic). So while I cannot say these companies are monopolies--we have the Department of Justice for that--many companies on your list would make a compelling case, were they to abuse their market power.
"Your goal as a startup is to make something users love. If you do that, then you have to figure out how to get a lot more users. But this first part is critical—think about the really successful companies of today. They all started with a product that their early users loved so much they told other people about it. If you fail to do this, you will fail. If you deceive yourself and think your users love your product when they don’t, you will still fail.
The startup graveyard is littered with people who thought they could skip this step."
Same with Slack. They took the concept of IRC, which many companies use internally, and made it dead simple to set up and use.
In essence, I'd say the competition arising these days is all about UX design. Startups are taking these existing services and making them easier and smoother to use.
A monopoly has economic control of the supply of a good or service, no competition and hence pricing power.
Having "significant market share" and zero pricing power in an intensely competitive market is not a monopoly, regardless of how SV has decided to co-opt the word.
Most of them have a high friction associated with them. Ditching your benefit provider is a major pain in the ass if you're Zenefits. If you're a paying customer, ditching Dropbox is tough too.