Distrust of Silicon Valley's Elite Has Opened the Door for Disruptive Entrepreneurs
If you’re an entrepreneur in the world of tech, the last year should have made one thing very clear -- the giants of Silicon Valley are vulnerable to disruption.
Google and Facebook, whose position of dominance seemed secure just 18 months ago, have had their defenses weakened by a series of high-profile missteps that have eroded public trust and goodwill. For savvy entrepreneurs, this represents an opportunity to position their companies as trustworthy alternatives to status-quo brands.
Related: You Trusted Facebook: Own Up to It
It’s not all that unusual for big, dominant companies to fall from favor. This sometimes happens because a company can’t keep up with the pace of innovation and is slowly overtaken by younger companies with better products. Blockbuster’s swift and decisive fall is a prime example.
It’s also relatively unsurprising to hear about a company falling from grace because of internal corruption or misbehavior on the part of its leadership. Enron is the classic example, but Uber’s current battle against a diminishing user base gives us a contemporary case study as well.
But the scandals that have plagued Silicon Valley’s leading companies over the past 18 months or so are of a deeper and more complex sort. Issues like unethical behavior and lack of innovation seem mundane next to the accusation that a company’s flagship product is undermining democratic social norms on a national scale.
Even before the Cambridge Analytica story broke, Facebook was in the hot seat for allowing foreign agents to influence the election through the use of fake profiles and the spread of fake news. Google has borne similar criticisms around fake news, but has also attracted negative attention in recent years for issues like algorithm bias, filter bubbles and allegedly giving preferential treatment to websites with certain ideological leanings.
The significance of these failures has resulted in an unprecedented wave of popular distrust towards two of the internet’s biggest companies. A recent Reuters poll found that 51 percent of adults don’t trust Facebook at all or trust it very little -- an unsurprising finding in the midst of the #DeleteFacebook movement. A HuffPost/YouGov poll around the same time put the percentage of people who distrust Facebook at 63 percent, even among Facebook’s own users. Another poll indicated that 53 percent of respondents don’t trust Google.
As distrust of the Silicon Valley elite grows, internet users around the world are looking for alternatives that provide a more secure and socially responsible online experience. Here are three key things to keep in mind for entrepreneurs who are ready to seize this opportunity.
1. Know what sets you apart from the status quo.
In our environment of heightened suspicion towards tech companies, users aren’t likely to start using a new product or platform unless they can be confident that their new choice is safer and more secure than the one they’re leaving behind. For example, if someone wants to stop using Google Search because they don’t trust Google with their data, they’ll look for a search engine with different data security practices that they find more compelling.
It’s no longer enough to just have a better product or a flashy new innovation. To really compete against the Silicon Valley establishment, you must stand apart in your commitment to privacy, security, socially-responsible design and other issues that users care about. That’s why we focused our recent ad campaign around how Million Short mitigates problems like fake news and filter bubbles. We didn’t simply highlight our product’s features. We showed people how those features addressed issues that they care about -- and issues that our competition has proven unable to resolve.
2. Prepare for the unique challenges you’ll face.
No entrepreneur has an easy job. But competing in a space that is already dominated by a Silicon Valley giant presents a unique set of challenges. Large internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon protect their market dominance in part by interweaving themselves into countless facets of the average person’s online experience. Think about how many times you’ve used your Facebook account to login to a new website. This type of integration makes it difficult for smaller competitors to gain traction.
Large tech companies can also protect their market share by manipulating the rules of the internet. Facebook and Google in particular serve as gatekeepers to many people’s online experience, and know how to leverage that position to stifle competition. Google provides perhaps the most brazen example, as reported in a recent New York Times article exposing how Google manipulates its search algorithms to disadvantage upstart competitors.
Fortunately, people are increasingly realizing that it doesn’t make sense to trust a few elite corporations to be the gatekeepers of the internet. This is another reason why many users are seeking out startup alternatives and why entrepreneurs are rising to meet the demand for greater choice online.
3. Have a game plan for the silicon valley exodus.
Users aren’t the only ones who are looking for options outside of the Silicon Valley establishment. Investors, too, are increasingly realizing that some of tomorrow’s most promising companies are being started beyond the Bay Area’s borders. Peter Thiel’s departure for Los Angeles made headlines earlier this year, and many of tech’s most prolific investors are turning their gaze even further east towards areas like Detroit, Boston and Durham.
In a recent New York Times article, Patrick McKenna, founder of High Ridge Venture Partners, captured the sentiment of many investors when he said, “Every single person in San Francisco is talking about the same things, whether it’s ‘I hate Trump’ or ‘I’m going to do blockchain and Bitcoin.'” Investors like McKenna and Thiel understand the problems with the insular cultural bubble that is Silicon Valley, and they’re looking elsewhere for new ideas.
Investors aren’t the only ones packing their bags; the Bay Area experienced more outward migration last year than any other region in the US. This means that a surge of tech talent is heading for cities throughout the country. Tech entrepreneurs outside of the Silicon Valley establishment should have a plan in place for attracting the talent and investor money that is increasingly heading their way.
The convergence of these trends with the increasing distrust of Silicon Valley mega-corporations presents an enormous opportunity for startups to put forward secure, socially-responsible alternatives to status-quo platforms. Silicon Valley is ripe for disruption, and entrepreneurs are up for the challenge.