Thoughts on startups by investors that
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What do Investors Want? Maybe What the World Needs?

Posted by on May 15th, 2012

Try this: take a step back from your phone, your FaceBook, and your daily routine, clear your mind, and think about the large-scale institutions that need change. What markets to disrupt?

It’s going on three years since Fred Wilson of AVC did this excellent Google talk on disruption. What markets really need disruption? He said consumer finance, energy, education, and health care.

I’ve read more than 100 business plans in the last 8 weeks, and considerably more than half of them promised either “disruptive” or “game changing.” One or two of them might be.

I’d say there’s been movement in consumer finance over the last three years, and maybe in energy, but not much at all in education and health care. A lot of sound and fury, perhaps, but signifying nothing. Lots of online courses, especially for adult education. Lots of universities offer online courses, led by the likes of Harvard, M.I.T, and Stanford, including a lot of online institutions and new ideas like Kahn Academy and udemy. But not of this does much to change the basic model of one teacher and two or three dozen students in a classroom.

To me it seems like nobody’s dealt well with the problem of keeping younger kids engaged and learning by some other means than the traditional model. Or the validation and certification that comes from diplomas and lots of hours sitting in seats. Do you agree?

And then there’ s politics. In the U.S., at least, politics doesn’t work. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, I bet you agree that our system is totally obsolete on fund raising, advertising, issues discussion, partisan politics, and the actual voting mechanisms themselves. Do you agree with the need for disruption there too — the business of politics, if not the core of politics and political parties. And the business of political discussion, and issues?

What is still true today, as it has been for a couple of generations, is that truly disrupting a market can mean a huge business win. For startups and whoever invests in those startups.

Written by Tim Berry

user Tim Berry

Tim is the founder of Palo Alto Software and, the co-founder of Borland International, and the official business planning coach at He has been called the "Obi-wan Kenobe of business planning" and "The Father of Business Planning." He is a serial author of books and software on business planning.

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One thought on “What do Investors Want? Maybe What the World Needs?”

  1. JohnFornaro says:

    I like this comment, but I’ve got a question regarding startups.  What if your product is “out of this world”?   
    About a half hour ago, the SpaceX “Dragon” capsule became the first private spacraft to dock with the International Space Station.  Mr. Musk, SpaceX’s founder, has stated that he would ulimately like to send people to Mars.  In the meantime, there are private efforts to send rovers and such to the Moon, spurred on by the various X-Prizes.  There are even some very credible plans to manufacture rocket propellant on the Moon, to enable future astronauts to “fill up the tank” up there for the return trip.  This promises to reduce launch costs by about an order of magnitude, since propellant wouldn’t have to be carried all the wasy from Earth for a round trip.  Could a private lunar base be in the works?
    I’m working on a plan to generate electricity on the Moon using Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), since a reliable source of electricity would be needed for any possible base.  The basic math works, but VC is needed for the engineering.  Here’s the problem:

    A lunar CSP plant is a “vitamin”, not a “pain killer”.

    What does it mean to disrupt a future market?
    Could you address this?

    Many thanks,
    John Fornaro