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Am I the only pessimist here? After being bombarded with "ideas are cheap" nonsense all I can see is the same old "share, sync, discover, publish" stuff re-packaged and re-wrapped with different version of rounded corners, peppered with the same old&boring punches like "groundbreaking", "easy to use" and "disruptive" over and over again?

I mean come on, does anyone really believe that sharing a photo on the net is an unsolved problem?

Hey, here's an unsolved problem for you: endless signups everywhere - every single person who owns a computer will tell you that they're fucking tired of logging into gmail or yahoo mail or whatever, and "remember me" checkboxes work only for a little while. But sharing a photo online? I never heard anyone complaining: we all have multiple "Share!!!" buttons staring at us in iPhoto, Picasa, Vista, whatever and we don't give a flying fuck.

And how about millions of people screaming in pain who sit in front of their half-dead Windows machines, overloaded with spyware, malware, bloated slow registry and 8174 useless "services" running in background, slowing everything down, showing marketing messages from Logitech and overall ruining their everyday experience? Who's smart enough to solve that mess in 3 months?

Those obvious, screaming-in-your-face issues remain unsolved because they are HARD and, therefore, fall into a problematic category of problems that work against conventional "release often, release early" wisdom. After all, it seems like sending 140 characters to a list of subscribers can pass as a billion dollar technology, why bother with stupid Windows users?

Actually I believe that great, ambitious ideas are very, very rare and are, by far, the most important ingredient for a true innovation, for a true sustainable business. Great idea, more than anything else, separates Googles, Microsofts and Yahoos from thousands of tiny "widget" startups, focused on minimal coding and fastest time-to-flip, created and sold-or-died within two years, leaving everybody but the founders with nothing but lesser quality of personal lives, which makes their "change the world with us" hiring songs look kinda hilarious.

Ideas are priceless. If you are a programmer and you aren't "plugged" into the bubble money, a great idea is your only chance. Crappy-idea-great-execution companies are usually examples of networking/salesmanship skills, something programmers aren't terribly good at.

In the end, not a single YC-funded startup can compete with something like Mongrel, a one-man non-commercial effort which, when measured in value it brought into this world, or how much people wanted it, is what defines wealth, according to PG's own writings. I've been following YC-backed companies for more than 2 years and not a single one produced something I wanted. Come on, I am a computer-savvy, technology-loving, ad-blocking geek with a huge PC-per-capita ratio and a hefty tech gadget/software monthly budget, how come none of these startups managed to get a single dollar out of me? Am I alone asking myself this question?




>> Come on, I am a computer-savvy, technology-loving, ad-blocking geek with a huge PC-per-capita ratio and a hefty tech gadget/software monthly budget, how come none of these startups managed to get a single dollar out of me? Am I alone asking myself this question?

Dropbox is one that immediately comes to mind that has solved a very hard problem that I pay for.

Also keep in mind that these startups are 10 weeks old and are at most 3 people. Sometimes solving hard problems takes time. Sometimes it's the byproducts of the original idea that end up solving a really hard problem (such as a new web server).


To me, photo sharing isn't a solved problem. But honestly, who cares if it is? When Google came on the scene, a lot of people said search was a solved problem. So what did they do? Made search better/easier/faster/insert adjective here.

The same thing can happen with any startup. You don't necessarily have to identify an unsolved problem -- you just have to solve the problem better than anyone else.

Ideas evolve over time as the problem and the need becomes clearer, feedback is provided, and these startups just get better at what they're doing. Let's cut these guys a break, give them a little support for putting themselves out there, and provide some constructive feedback.


"When Google came on the scene, a lot of people said search was a solved problem."

That's true, but I think one big advantage of google was that for anyone used to the existing search engines it would only take like 3 seconds to notice google was better. It wouldnt be the same thing today for, say, a better flickr.


> Also keep in mind that these startups are 10 weeks old and are at most 3 people.

Yeah, that is one thing that will always keep YCombinator companies from taking on the huge problems first. As talented as some of the founders seem to be, there is only so much three people can do in 3 months. A pitch has to be a very consise idea that can be executed quickly.


> how come none of these startups managed to get a single dollar out of me? Am I alone asking myself this question?

Count me in. :)

> Dropbox is one that immediately comes to mind that has solved a very hard problem that I pay for.

Not really... It is not so hard to setup SVN, Apache, WebDAV, and NetDrive, and you got your own Dropbox...


That would still count as solving a very hard problem for 99% of people.

It's even a hard problem for me, not because I can't set up svn/apache/webdav and whatever, but because I need to actively avoid doing this kind of things and focus on higher order issues.


> Not really... It is not so hard to setup SVN, Apache, WebDAV, and NetDrive, and you got your own Dropbox...

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. The dominant player for an industry isn't always who gets the first implementation (though that's sometimes the case, like eBay), it's often who does it for the masses. Digital music players were common before the iPod, but the iPod made it easy. That's why Rios don't even exist anymore and iPods consistently outsell the bible. Dropbox is easy like the iPod is easy. My mom sees its value.


It's not hard, but not something I need to waste my time on, I got far more important things to do. Therefore Dropbox soved an important problem for me and I'm more than happy to pay them.


As for not "hard problems," there's nothing disreputable about completing an achievable unit of concrete work for your own edification and profit. Maybe hard problems are hard because they don't fit into anyone's idea of an "achievable unit of concrete work." So, earning experience and capital by solving smaller problems to create tools which may help solve bigger problems is a respectable and intelligent approach to solving hard problems. On the contrary, in my experience, an obsession with a "great ambitious idea" without an obsession for solving an innumerate small, immediate problems which arise from that great idea is the "most important ingredient" for non-productive, self-deluded thrash.

As for YC companies: I pay for Wufoo and Dropbox. I also like Virtualmin, but I have yet to purchase a paid subscription. I will when I deploy my next intra-company web application since I can then claim that I outsourced tech support. Then, I can blame Joe to my coworkers when there are problems with the server. >:) The free blame is worth the extra few dollars a month.

I understand the burnout from the constant cheerleading in the push press. So, unsubscribe from the news. If something is important, you'll learn about it in a few weeks by word of mouth or when you search for it to learn something specifically.

However, while the "same old share, sync, discover, publish stuff" seems trite to us in technology, it is still a miracle of technology from a historical perspective. I mean: wow, you can send any information anywhere anytime immediately for nearly free. I don't think the applications for that deep magic could be fully exploited yet.


> I don't think the applications for that deep magic could be fully exploited yet.

No, they're not. That's why we applied for Summer 2009 funding. [...mystery song in background...]


I suppose Google was just another me-too search engine and MS-DOS was just another copy of CP/M -- one that they didn't even write themselves.

We are at a time where the Internet is changing the world in significant ways, and the biggest changes I expect haven't fully come to fruition yet. They are forged in the minds and the blood sweat and tears of lots of startups, including the ones that you just dismissed carte blanche.

YC has created tremendous value, as have many other startups that you personally probably would never use or care about. So rather than sound the misguided cry of "where's the innovation?", perhaps it would be better to look within oneself and find the fire to create it yourself.


" I suppose Google was just another me-too search engine and MS-DOS was just another copy of CP/M "

I think you're wrong on both your assumptions here. Search wasn't a solved problem, even the simplest forms of spam succeeded these days.

Also OS in general aren't a solved problem either, coz the hardware keeps going and people's needs change

These problems were and are hard to solve and rare startup can do it. Even to tackle the problem lots of reseach needed.


I know those two assumptions are wrong. Because those assumptions were made by most everyone when they first heard about either company.

The point is, as others have pointed out more concisely, it's unclear what startups will be big and what will be niche, and part of the process is just damn hard work and sweat over the course of years. You're not going to be able to predict where these 3 month projects turn out. Especially from 2 line blurbs in techcrunch.com.

In short, I am urging people: Lets not armchair startup it.


Maybe the "you" market isn't that large? Everybody tends to assume that their needs form a large market. In any case, presumably you did not find something like Weebly a hard problem -- most programmers don't -- yet we're undeniably providing value to quite a few people: 1.5 million and counting.

You can't criticize someone for working on the needs of a large market, just because that large market doesn't happen to include you.


The measure isn't whether something is hard, it's whether people will use it. It's great when that something is both.

There are tons of copy-cat websites because they are addressing huge markets with many different niches and until the demand curve is perfectly filled out, there will continue to be more of such sites. The most successful sites you see are as good as they are because people did use them and they gave feedback to make them better and fill in the holes -- they more often than not started out pretty bad. (check out YouTube: http://web.archive.org/web/20050428014715/http://www.youtube... )

I suggest taking your ideas and doing something with them. You'll find out that your ideas aren't so priceless after all. Fantasies made into reality are not necessarily solutions that work for other people. You have got to prove that your fantasies are really solutions, and repeatedly. You'll find out the sites that even bubble up to your attention have gone through many months/years of hard work and maintain themselves off some level of merit and integrity.

But even before that hard work, it takes time to develop skills and relationships that will prop you up when you need it. This is not just true on the web but in any profession. Your offline skills and the ability to communicate your ideas are extremely important and often overlooked by many programmers who aspire to be more than 9-5ers.


I've really noticed a slow down in truly interesting startups over the past years/months due to a personal metric of mine. I'm finding fewer and fewer interesting announcements to share via google reader to all my slightly less techie friends that follow my shared items.

I used to be sharing announcements from Techcrunch, Venturebeat etc like mad but now there seems to be very little to get excited about.

Has everyone else been noticing this too?


Partly it's because when stuff's new, it's exciting. If we went back to a few years ago, I'm sure we'd see all that stuff and think it was boring, because then everything was fresh and new, even when it was fresh and new and bad.

All these things go through phases. Look at the world of movies, where there're often a few slow years and then a few bursting years. But the world of startups is much newer and much younger, and so we haven't gotten used to these cycles yet.


That's true, although recently I've been hearing a number of so called important people saying that the whole computer/internet thing is done and is settling down to incremental innovation at about the pace of the rest of the economy from here on in.

Now of course the answer is that no one really knows what's coming but recently I have started taking that point of view slightly more seriously and have stopped taking the next big web cycle as such a given.


I share links from HackerNews quite a bit. Its the best news aggregator out there!


Me too. It's more that there seems to be fewer and fewer startups worth telling less geeky people about as in "Here, this may be useful or interesting to you."

Don't know if I'm the only one noticing this.


I agree that ambitious ideas are important, and technically hard solutions are inspiring, but I think it's a mistake to assume those qualities always make better businesses.

Great businesses solve problems people care about in a way that makes money. Identifying those problems is often as hard as creating the solution. The notion of releasing early and often is important because it lets entrepreneurs quickly identify the problem users want solved and test their solutions.

I'm happy people tackle hard problems, but keep in mind that precious few arrive at their solution (or even figure out the real problem) in 3 months. Wait a few years and I'm confident you'll see great innovation out of YC, or YC-like programs.


Just about every startup in the web scene since 2004 has been banking on the momentum of the scene.

Its pretty proven that niches can gain substantial visibility ie, a twitter, and the hope is that alone can break off and big a big cash cow, and you better do it while the trend is hot.

Most really good ideas are based around perfect timing around the convergence of technologies and mindsets. Your right about the endless signup fatigue people experience but openid tackled that and still hasnt caught fire probably because its trying to change the behavior of the user, and it hasnt integrated itself into every angle where a user could use it.

Lately I've been seeing web2.0 startups like art. They are expensive art. People are addicted to going to gallery hops to see all the new artists and their related works. Its a big show off fest. With the barriers to create and maintain so low, these pieces of art could be around for a long time, even if they make nada, they can still be there, we see that now. Eventually they will fade or other artists will snatch them up either to destroy that piece of art or to play off of it.


> Ideas are priceless. If you are a programmer and you aren't "plugged" into the bubble money, a great idea is your only chance.

It may be your only chance at becoming the next Google (although I disagree). It's definitely not your only chance at creating a relatively small business that has revenues of millions of dollars per year.

There have always been and always will be plenty of markets that are being neglected for one reason or another. Finding one and owning it is not rocket science, and it doesn't have to involve a grandiose vision for changing the world.

Whether you want to spend your time shooting for the stars or building a small, but less risky, business is a personal decision.

History has shown that it's quite possible for a business that looks tiny at first to hit a deep vein and become a huge monster. I wouldn't bet against YC having at least one of these.


Finally, some sanity within the Web 2.0 circlejerk.

There's only so many apps you can aim at "early adopters" before they say "enough, i'm tired of signing up for yet another gimmick app!".

Where's the next innovation aimed at the mainstream? Where are the startups with a business plan, and a product customers will want to pay for?

The deluge of "we will fund it with ad revenue and then get bought by Google" has got to stop soon. And when it does, when all the widgets and gadgets and mashups that create no value finally collapse, the bubble..will..burst.


What we need is an environment in which it is possible to actually IPO. Until then flipping for a buyout is the only exit that is feasible. Depending on if you need an exit due to being VC funded, anyway.


When you step back, Mongrel is hardly life changing is it. In your particular small tech circle, perhaps.

>> "ad-blocking geek with a huge PC-per-capita ratio and a hefty tech gadget/software monthly budget, how come none of these startups managed to get a single dollar out of me? Am I alone asking myself this question?"

Because it's orders of magnitude easier to get a few average users to click on a few ads.

>> "And how about millions of people screaming in pain who sit in front of their half-dead Windows machines"

The technology in that problem has been solved for a while - use something other than windows. Now it's just a matter of marketing, pricing, etc to get the average user to do it.


a large number of YC companies have thousands to millions of users who love them.

flickr was not the first sharing photos website by far. youtube wasn't the first video online. and your example, yahoo and google. yahoo was an online list of interesting webpages, hand edited. google was another search engine.

yes yahoo grew up to be a portal, and google showed us search means great ads. but they hardly did it in three months.

[edit]

oh yeah, and yahoo is burning out. and google is still only making money in one way (ok plus search appliance last i heard).


> "Ideas are priceless. If you are a programmer and you aren't "plugged" into the bubble money, a great idea is your only chance."

Think about plentyoffish.com - a multimillion one-man company. His 'priceless' idea was to let people to see others contact details for free, which in 2001 was quite new. Then all he had was to fight off spam, every day. Great execution really.


There's a bit of chicken and egg problem with this, though. I know of people working on hard problems and there's no funding at all. Maybe a grant if they're lucky.

The investors are just as into the get-rich-quick-scheme madness as the developers. It can be a terrible circle.

That said, I think there are really interesting ideas out there, and I'm proud of what a lot of people have done at YC, but this post is good reminder that it's easy to get lost in the superficial feedback loops -- and that what we all (ok, what I think most of us) really want is to come up with true innovation and honest steps forward into the next and better.


Wow, for all your ability to rant, your two ideas are so humdrum I can barely believe you offered them as "unsolved" examples. Microsoft Passport and 1000 different anti-malware programs have been around for a long time. The first one failed because no sane person would ever trust such a thing.




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