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Request for Startups (evaz.substack.com)
92 points by card_math 49 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 35 comments



On ads: the fundamental problem with them is that most people don't realize that they are paying for digital content and free social services anyway, albeit indirectly, since the ad spendings are included in the prices of consumer products. Even if you use an ad blocker you pay for the ads you don't see anyway.

In fact the more we use free social platforms and digital content, the more we pay for it from our pockets. On top of that, we also enrich the platforms themselves, that is the middleman. See that $100 billion revenue figure for Google alone? That's also us, the consumer's money.

So one opportunity for disruption is I think targeting the middleman, i.e. the platforms. You can offer cheaper ads to the advertisers by being more efficient than Google that burns absurd amounts of money on their mostly awkward and useless "moonshot" projects.

I think you can in principle be more efficient than Facebook too, by employing 100x less engineers if you focus on one task and do it well.

In other words, the problem of "killing" Google or Facebook doesn't necessarily mean building literally alternatives to their products, but rather by creating more efficient advertisement platforms. Pick whatever method of keeping the users' eyes on the screens and be less greedy, more efficient.


> most people don't realize that they are paying for digital content and free social services anyway, albeit indirectly, since the ad spendings are included in the prices of consumer products

That's a zero-sum argument that's a bit disingenuous. If you make widgets, and it costs you $5 to make a widget, you can sell 10 of them at $20/pop to the consumer for a total profit of 10 * (20-5) = $150. If you spend $100 on advertising, but that advertising helps you sell to 100 consumers, then you can sell them instead for $10/pop and make 100 * (10-5) - 100 = $400 profit, so you make more profit AND cut the price in half, so everyone wins.

The problem is that advertising is so unfocused that it has both littered the public space and been unable to prove, in many or most cases, that it actually succeeds in its goal of improving both profits and reducing prices.


I agree, the inefficiency of advertisement might be the main reason for the surplus we are paying (also let's not forget the platform - the middleman).

However:

> been unable to prove, in many or most cases, that it actually succeeds in its goal of improving both profits and reducing prices

Neither has it been able to prove the opposite. The long-term effects of brand awareness are difficult to measure. Anecdotally, I've seen cases when a very expensive billboard didn't move the download figures even by an iota but local people began talking about the company casually and even recognizing some of the employees on the streets, telling them how they like the product.


Actually I don’t agree with zero-sum argument, but your example seems to be equally wrong.

Every widget you sell with advertisement is one widget sold less for competitor (or something totally else)

Advertisement is not increasing the money consumer can spend totally. So basically you are trying to steal someoneelses share


> Every widget you sell with advertisement is one widget sold less for competitor (or something totally else)

Not exactly. It's true that consumers sometimes make choices between competitors, like deciding to go to one fast food chain or another. But oftentimes consumers make a choice about how much money to spend vs save. If a consumer has $500 in discretionary funds, the consumer can decide to buy a simple, no-frills, commoditized "meets-my-needs" product and save the $400 for later. Or the consumer can decide to spring for the ultra-deluxe $500 product and save nothing.

Discretionary income is far higher than most people realize. Nobody needs to buy soft drinks, new cars (i.e. instead of a used car), new clothes (instead of sewing up old ones), yet another new video game (instead of a library of millions of older titles that are still as entertaining as they were when they were first released), or a million other things that you see if you look at people's financial decisions. People do so largely because of desire that has been aroused in them by marketers.


"Discretionary income is far higher than most people realize."

You just said that. Basically most of the people not saving money. Imagine if noone was saving money (or if it ignorable), this spending you get has to come from somewhere, so you need to cut something to spend on my widget.

When I said competitior, I didn't mean another widget maker, it can be anything else you are spending your money on. Even you can maybe skip eating lunch, so widget maker stealing from the restaurant.

There is no win-win in this actually.


> Basically most of the people not saving money. Imagine if noone was saving money (or if it ignorable), this spending you get has to come from somewhere, so you need to cut something to spend on my widget.

Actually, savings are at an all-time high right now. People aren't spending because they're waiting for the pandemic to be over. It's true that the poor are living paycheck-to-paycheck, but that's generally true in normal times as well. In the pandemic, more people have become poor, but by no means has literally everyone become poor. Most people are still working, and the ones who are working, are saving.

Even in normal years, when the economy is good, there are always people saving.


> Pick whatever method of keeping the users' eyes on the screens and be less greedy, more efficient.

Being greedy for your users’ limited life is at least as bad as whatever Google does, IMO.


Possibly, but that strikes me as the path of most resistance. You are competing to create a more efficient market than one engineered by thousands of employees over a long period of time. I really doubt that one individual or even a handful of experts can create a mechanism design that's more efficient than what Goggle's developed for the better part of a decade and a half.

This is the issue with monopolies - They are the market.


>ad spendings are included in the prices of consumer products

No ads and no price haggling are big reasons why Tesla is so popular.


Apple too

Also, the lack of options. It's much easier to buy from Apple or Tesla (even though I don't use any Apple products except a Mac Mini), simply because the number of options are less. At this point, I don't know the difference between a Vostro, a Latitude and an XPS.


I don't know where you live, but in France there are plenty of Apple ads. Some are run by third parties ( e.g. telecoms advertising you can get the latest iPhone with them, mostly in the form of a huge Apple ad with a small logo of the operator actually advertising ) but most are not.


Exactly. During holiday season half of ads are for Apple.


Doubt.


I have trouble connecting the contents of this post to the title. The scopes of the problems are bigger than the scopes of individual startups.

Eg. the ad based monetization model problem calls for a better model _for the entire industry_. That's not a problem a startup can solve. That's a monetization model.

Similar for government problems. How could a startup solve that?


Agreed, most of these problems are so core and fundamental to human nature or societal infrastructure one could add "solve world peace" or "solve world hunger" to this list and it would fit right in. This isn't to say they shouldn't be attempted and many are trying, but I wouldn't make a "companies I wish existed" list with ideas so broad in scope.


"Consensus on need, no consensus on action. Why are there problems that a majority find important but aren’t incentivized or paid to work on (e.g. why does it take so long and so much energy for negative externalities such as climate change to be recognized and regulated)? The tempting default seems to be inaction when there is a consensus on need but no consensus on approach."

This is so true, and it's crazy how simple some of these solutions could be. For many things, it's a matter of pricing in negative externalities into the cost of products. Like for example a sugar tax for unhealthy foods or increasing the price of gas by estimating the environmental offset. Naval said it pretty well on: https://nav.al/externalities


> This is so true, and it's crazy how simple some of these solutions could be.

Maybe. I worked for a water startup that was the very first company, globally, to make a fully automated and digital water meter to solve the worlds water problems that most people don't even know they had. I worked there as a junior and then came back ten years later to be a Director. I learned a few things:

- Most people don't know they have water scarcity, water delivery, or water cleanliness problems. In fact, many people in big cities think their water is the best and are shocked when I tell them about how we deal with lead-based service lines. I have a picture somewhere of one of our meters, which were entirely plastic, looking like it was powder coated from the inside in a pure auburn color.

- Big money is often not attracted to municipal projects because the competition is fierce and the audience is limited to a few reviewers. As a Director I was constantly having to produce white papers to counteract misinformation. One that comes top of mind is one of our competitors kept referring to RC4 as a "modern and robust cipher", which was perplexing to me. I found out it's because they used it in their devices and did not have a cryptoengine to be able to make use of modern ciphers.

- Many cities didn't want out of the SCADA game. They were unable to accept that new systems, built on the same principals, using modern technologies could replace the millions they had sunk into these solutions. Sunk cost, although a fallacy, is a factor. Interestingly, our most innovative solutions occurred in rural parts of the country, due to a lack of prior investment, which net us bigger wins but smaller publicity.

I'll try to add some more if I think of them.


I don’t understand this one. TFA requests a way to agree on problems without requiring commitment on solutions?

If so, I think that’s terrible. It’s easy to agree that I need to lose weight, but that won’t help get me to the gym.

Worse, I could drum up support for some worthwhile cause but neglect to tell supporters that my favorite solution has horrible side-effects.


When the convenience is enjoyed immediately and any negative effects suffered much later, it can be a tough sell to get people to, from their current baseline, sacrifice even further now for a better outcome 20 or 50 years from now.

Applies to retirement savings, diet/exercise, climate, and many other things.


But these are mandated by governments. In many cases, governments are interested and sometimes whole nations' existence is dependent on climate change NOT being addressed...


For ads check out Coil and the web monetization Api.

https://coil.co

https://webmonetization.org/

You pay $5 per month and it automatically pays the websites you visit via crypto.


The ad monetization problem is not solvable, or rather, it's already solved by something like the Brave browser. The internet needs its own money. Anybody remember coin-operated game arcades? You just put a coin in it and you get entertainment. No having to input your card credentials, no leaks, no banks taking a cut, no recurring scams, no 3 letter agencies watching your every move etc. It's not a technology issue, but a regulatory one. If ppl want to solve this, governmnets need to allow people and businesses to send/receive a small amount of money per month completely anonymously.


Why does it need to be anonymous? To me it seems the public can't be persuaded that paying for something is better than getting it "for free" (with ads and tracking)


>Why does it need to be anonymous?

The public is not actually entirely welcome if there's no privacy.


> "To me it seems the public can't be persuaded that paying for something is better than getting it "for free" (with ads and tracking)"

This is even more true when the paid option is often a worse version of the "free" offering.


I pay for the New York times.

I still see adds at NYT, they still use trackers.

Thankfully, ublock solves this.


I wrote them about that. You should too. Offer to pay more in exchange for fewer ads. Maybe they'll listen.


https://f3.to/cellsol/ Here's your "resilience" thing at least partially solved :)


I agree those are problems, but I don't see startups solving them (except for nr. 2).

ad 1) There are already quite easy ways to be somewhat resilient - people who do that are preppers, who are by majority considered to be crazy. Content preservation probably can't be really done on company level because it would be ripe with copyright abuses and in case of SHTF it would be impossible to actually deliver the content to people who want it. Maybe there is small market specialized archiving systems with hundreds of TB space for personal digital archivists, but that's about it. If the owner of data/content wants have it safely backed up it can be already done easily.

ad 3) that's for academia and open source to solve, because a) no one would believe private company it's not showing good numbers so the current government looks better and b) elections are won by being in opposition to current governments and offering "improvements", having long term plans would be contrary to that. And deriving correct actions from the hard data would be impossible because current state of economical, sociological and environmental sciences (even medicine is here with regard to health policies) is such that they can't really be called science (replication crisis).


Is there a word for the feeling that comes up (in some) when reading such a list and having too many ideas so none of them will ever happen?


perhaps decision paralysis?


Relevant: YC also has a RFS, https://www.ycombinator.com/rfs/


I posted this the other day on a the "What are you working on?" thread, but:

>> I'm making something I call "newsbetting" - you get an article stripped of title, author, or source information and you have to bet on whether the article is right or left wing based on the content.

>> It's definitely not ready for primetime, but my hope is that I can show 1) it can provide a viable business model for struggling news sources 2) it is possible to change the incentives around our news ecosystem to be less ad-driven and sensationalist. I have lots of other ideas, like integrating social media and cryptocurrencies and allowing betting on something other than political bias, but I have my work cut out for me as is. As I'm not really a developer, I'm using this idea mostly to learn

I think this newsbetting model for a small, select type of content provider offers an alternative to the ad-driven model this author is aggrieved by. My issue with subscription based models is that 1) once you've given something for "free" it is hard to take away and 2) it creates a divide between those who pay for good information/content and those who don't. This ends up exacerbating existing wealth and education inequalities.


Sure.

Give me money.




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