Many friends of mine complain most startups are building marginally useful shit.
Here’s an orienting frame for how to think about this issue:
I addressed this topic somewhat in a series of essays in 2012 for Harvard Business Review titled Transformational Entrepreneurship. (links to them in the comments)
Perhaps we draw a semantic analog to Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions and use the Kuhnian inspired words of Normal Entrepreneurship and Revolutionary Entrepreneurship.
I think much of the process is the same for both Normal Entrepreneurship and Revolutionary Entrepreneurship, with a few key differences.
In Revolutionary Entrepreneurship:
1. The founders are more consciously evolved and better leaders.
2. The founders have a deep understanding of the world, a normative vision about where the world should go and a product idea for how to bring an aspect of that vision into reality.
3. There is much more philosophy, science, and research and development work done up front. Most revolutionary ideas are not something you can simply begin coding in a hackathon.
I don’t believe everyone needs to develop a Revolutionary Startup. And as long as what someone is building is societally net positive with no harmful externalities being outsourced to the environment (i.e. CO2 emissions) or people’s psychology (Zynga’s addictively engineered pointless games that prey on weak housewives from the mid-west) a plethora of new Normal Entrepreneurship based startups is a good thing.
I personally would like to see people attempt startups with visions and ambitions commensurate with their abilities and potential. Which means I am disappointed when I see very bright and well advantaged entrepreneurs start companies that are marginally or negatively beneficial to society.