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The Greatest Challenge For A Startup Founder? Hammer Horror!

In a recent interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner for German Daily newspaper Die Welt Mark Zuckerberg said:

“You know I actually remember very specifically the night that I launched Facebook at Harvard. I used to go out to get pizza with a friend who I did all my computer science homework with. And I remember talking to him and saying I am so happy we have this at Harvard because now our community can be connected; but one day someone is going to build this for the world.”

And I didn’t even think it might be us. It was not like, “oh I hope we can turn this into something big”. In my mind there was no way this is going to be us. It was going to be someone else – we are just college students. When I look back on the last twelve years, what has been the most surprising it’s that no one else did it. And I ask myself, why no one else did it?”

Fear not, Mark, Haggerston Times has the answer! With a little help from the founder of Y Combinator and a superstar investor in his own right, Paul Graham.

The truth is, Graham states in his essay “Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas”, truly disruptive startup ideas are…truly terrifying!

Everybody, except, as it turned out Mark, for you, was simply too scared. So intimidated are people by the scale of the change they confront when they think big, it makes their flesh weak, and their spirit unwilling.

The biggest game-changing ideas ask us to envisage a world in which things work differently from how we are used to them working. A world in which what constitutes normal is totally different from what we might regard as normal today.

In his essay, Graham begins by looking at some stuff that rates about a “meh”, or a gallic shrug of the shoulders, on the scary startup idea spectrum; a new search engine. No more Google, with its paid ads, unnecessary information and cluttered (generally with more ads) interface. Graham believes the world’s 10,000 best hackers should break away and start a new engine, just for them, and gradually widen the scope until it includes everyone.

A world without Google would be a different world indeed – and what would those top coders and devs be doing exactly – would we be allowed to know? Would the government (provided we still had one then)? But at the end of the day, whether it’s Google, Bing, or even (in some very weird kind of universe) Yahoo – we guess we could live with this – horror factor? Mild, with a chance of total chaos.

Next Graham talks about replacing email; make it more of a to-do list! he says – “that’s what I use it for!” That’s what most of us use it for – but have you ever stopped to think how inefficient email really is – how long since the code was first written – Graham clearly thinks it’s damaged and in need of a replacement – can you imagine such a future – dystopian or utopian?

We give this one a horror factor of a “well!” and a folded arms posture; “new email – never thought I’d see the day!” But again, we feel the disruption of email is likely to be no more than a minor sideshow in the Munch’s Scream of a future we are contemplating; comparable to a scary feature that an alien in a horror movie might have – having deformed, horrible front teeth, dripping with saliva – but not the alien itself.

Big ideas are like big bullies – embrace them and they can change the world!

Ok, how about “Replace Universities?” Graham’s model for a new way of educating the species, is, not unsurprisingly, modelled on Y Combinator.  A lot of people, especially entrepreneurs, would welcome that and it would dispense with the need for that awkward social game of trying to establish what University somebody went to in order to establish whether the conversation can proceed. Yuk!

The re-education of a species? Now that responsibility, in the wrong hands, has a truly horrific ring to it.

Ok let’s spool through the final four and see if we can really put the willies up you;

Internet Drama? Anyone who has watched an entire NetFlix series from start to finish having promised themselves they would just watch one episode can probably testify to TV drama’s scary ability to waste hours, if not days, weeks or months of your time. Virtual Reality will doubtless wreak havoc with drama and special effects and scare some of us out of our wits, but right now the prospect of another British costume drama starring Olivia Colman isn’t enough on its own to inspire excessive levels of panic. Not quite.

The Next Steve Jobs? Graham’s reasoning here is that only a startup can produce the next Steve Jobs because only a startup founder would be allowed to do all of the crazy things that Jobs did. No Company, except for the ones he created, would be brave enough to hire someone like that – and even the ones he built himself got rid of him when he became too cantankerous.

Bring back Moore’s law? – Moore’s law states that circuit densities will double every month; hmm, sounds a little scary, right? The next stage, Graham warns / hopes, is that humans will learn how to parallellise code so that the power of 100 CPUs will be diverted to one CPU.

Now that’s a potentially scary thought – a super-super-computer – Graham calls it the “sufficiently smart compiler”. He also adds that “it is a byword for impossibility”. So are these like those pesky monsters under the bed our parents told us about – not really there, and not really possible?

Ongoing Diagnosis?  Ok, time to make a serious point – this one is AMAZING – but in a good way.

Graham writes: “in 2004 Bill Clinton found he was feeling short of breath. Doctors discovered that several of his arteries were over 90% blocked and 3 days later he had a quadruple bypass. It seems reasonable to assume Bill Clinton has the best medical care available. And yet even he had to wait till his arteries were over 90% blocked to learn that the number was over 90%.”

“It will seem preposterous to future generations that we wait till patients have physical symptoms to be diagnosed with cancer.”

Mr Graham, Haggerston Times has a message for you – here in London we’re not scared of the ambition we have to show or the demands we have to make on ourselves or others to turn our teeny startup ecosystem into an engine of change, a crucible of outrageous chemistry – with the ideas you have shared and the goals you have set us – you haven’t scared us – you have inspired us!


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