|[With apologies for my long-windedness]|
This question was inspired by the post regarding the CMU Professor (Pausch) that is dying of cancer and is facing death with an amazingly positive attitude.
Specifically, there was a thread started by jaed:
"It's sad that we have to be reminded of it, but this just reaffirms that the little bubble world of YC, TechCrunch, and Web 2.Oh really don't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of life. This guy wouldn't trade some extra time with his family for all the startups and VC cash in the world. It just puts things into perspective."
I agree with jaed. I also agree with neilc, who thinks that the "YC philosophy" is consistent with the positive message of the article.
SO MY QUESTION IS THIS: Is making an AJAXified tool or toy that will likely be used by less than 1% of the people in the richest country in the world the absolute best use of your time and talents right now? Honestly?
This is not a rhetorical question, nor is it intended to cast judgment on anyone who is actively pursuing a startup just to make money. I can't throw stones, because that is exactly what I've spend MY life doing. I also don't want to make anyone feel bad, I'm just trying to prompt a discussion.
I'm wondering if people think that our best and brightest minds might be better suited to doing something like medical research than, say, designing software and working for hedge funds? There is really nothing like finding out someone you love has cancer or a life-threatening illness to make you feel completely impotent when you're just a businessman or programmer. I've helped design medical software in the past, but it was never a great leap forward or anything. It was just incremental progress for money. I've never felt like I made a GREAT difference. And sitting in a children's hospital is a VERY humbling experience, no matter how successful you are.
I'm an entrepreneur and an investor, and I enjoy it. I'm not unfulfilled, but I have a growing regret that I haven't done much to really help the world. I donate to charities, and I've founded companies that have made really good products and offered great services, but I've never made the type of contribution that saves lives. I've never discovered a vaccine or an improved diagnostic tool or anything. And I'd like to. I feel like I've won the luck lottery (white, male, mostly healthy, born in the USA, educated, wealthy) and I want to give back more. I haven't faced the obstacles that some people face (racism, limited access to education,etc.), so I guess I have a guilt complex or something that I haven't done more. Typical liberal ;-)
I've thought of going back to medical school or something, but my odds of really helping there are small and it wastes my natural skill set. (I'm also not likely to be accepted, but that's another story.) I believe in entrepreneurship though, so I can try to make a difference in that way.
So, if anyone here has any ideas to save lives or make a massive improvement in the world, give me a shout. Seriously. I have more money than Paul Graham (although I'm not as smart, connected, or good looking) and I'm open to ideas outside the Y Combinator sweet spot. I think the best ideas in most industries come from people OUTSIDE that industry, so I would think that the brainpower on this site could really make a difference in the world. I don't think YC are that interested in medical startups (etc.), so I don't think I'm stepping on their toes...but, if I am, please let me know and I'll retract this portion of the post.