The Dehumanization of Entrepreneurship Part 03: Signals

Three signals that point towards this predicament, the end of perceivable problems, are identified: Knock-Off Products, Feature Companies, and Product-Enhancing Products. In the 20th Century, as Alan Kay states, we saw an abundance of innovation – the Personal Computer, the Pocket Calculator, the Xerox Machine, for example, are devices that disrupted our daily actions and routines. “They weren’t contaminations of existing things. They weren’t finding a need and filling it. They created a need that only they could fill.” I argue that, made visible by these signals, the current landscape of innovation is driven by enhancing that which has already been innovated, as opposed to creating that which is new. These signals are identified through an analysis of the methodologies I have personally witnessed during my involvement in the entrepreneurial community in the United States as well as in my 5-year career as a designer and strategist that has allowed me to assist over 200 start-ups launch their products and services to the public. The process of building these relationships has provided an intimate lens into the intentions of modern entrepreneurs, as well as the aspirations of their technologies – for better, or worse.

Knock-Off Products: Knock-off products and services, perhaps the most publicly recognizable sign of the end of human-induced entrepreneurship, is an active strategy in the development of business within both the “as-seen-on-TV” and web application sectors. Take Groupon, for example. With more than 115 million subscribers, the company pioneered the “daily deal” online platform, but is far from existing as a one-of a-kind.

Shortly after their launch, as is the case with any new web service, the competitors began to pour in: LivingSocial, Yipit, Scoutmob, Fab, Savored, Google Offers… and the list goes on. The “elevator pitch” I hear from entrepreneurs with these kinds of desperate aspirations sound something like this: “You know, like [insert pioneering company’s name], but with [insert minor difference].” This regurgitative method of business design comes from a desperation amongst entrepreneurs to start something without the ability to identify a new, specific, need to intervene with their product or service.

Feature Companies: Feature companies, the archetypal “sell-out,” are enterprises designed for acquisition. The designer of a feature company studies the big hitters in the internet and technology industries (facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc.) with the intention of discovering a void in an existing product or service to design for. That void, or “feature” is transformed into a new product or service, and becomes the sole focus of the start-up. The intention, upon launch, is to offer it for sale to the mamma company upon launch. This method of business design is common amongst serial entrepreneurs, a breed of individuals with no interest in the longevity of their enterprise. I argue this signal, another proof to the conspiracy put forward in this thesis, is a kind of surrender to the mammoth corporations that run Silicon Valley. If you can’t beat ‘em, get bought by ‘em.

Product-Enhancing Products: Take a walk into any Apple store, and you will find hundreds of products that have been designed by third-party vendors to make Apple products better. These companies capitalize on an existing technology and essentially focus the design of their model on accessorizing the innovations of others. These products, while seemingly innovative in the sense that they change the dynamic of how we understand the potential use of specific devices, do not actually create anything new, but instead make other stuff a little more “awesome.” These kinds of products surprisingly are more common then we might think – apple store apps, websites, smart phones, computer software … all of these things simply enhance the experience of a true innovation (the internet, the personal computer).

These signals are a visible cry for help, a sign that the field of entrepreneurship is on it’s last leg. My project offers a speculative alternative to human innovation by designing for the disconnect between past experience & existing condition that arises from the end of humanly perceivable problems.

Works Cited: 

  1. Kay, Alan. “Predicting The Future.” Ecotopia, 20 May 2011. <http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/futures.htm>.
  2. Fromer, Dan. “10 Groupon Alternatives You Should Already Know About”. <http://www.businessinsider.com/groupon-alternatives-2011-9?op=1> (Sep 2011).
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