Disclaimer: Opinions expressed below belong solely to the author.
When Covid-19 turned into a pandemic two years ago, it was not the only disease that hit our shores. With nearly 100,000 new businesses registered over the past 18 months, entrepreneurship fever is well and truly alive in Singapore.
A quick scroll through LinkedIn or any other social media feed is all it takes to confirm that number. Almost everyone is either starting a startup or working for one.
Perhaps, island fever is the perfect incubator for business ideas to pop up like a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. Consider this, in 2021 alone, startups have raised an incredible S$11.2 billion, double the amount raised in 2020.
This startup bonanza has led to the creation of 15 unicorns in Singapore, proving that fairy tales exist in the adult world.
Mythical creatures aside, for every unicorn, there exists countless businesses struggling to be seen or heard. Many will fail, and more will fade into a black hole of obscurity because of a combination of factors, but none more so than the pointless startup.
At its core, a pointless startup is a product touting to solve problems that don’t need fixing or worse, do not even exist. These are companies so desperate to disrupt and innovate, they become convinced that every minor irritation or inconvenience in life will require the help of an app or a third-party service.
Often, these startups are buried under so many layers of industry jargon, it is almost impossible to understand what they are trying to achieve. For example, what is a “full stack B2B2C photo sharing platform”? Your guess is as good as mine.
The laundry list of pointless startups worldwide is endless. Even in Singapore – a country where people are better known for their practicality rather than creativity – our startup scene is not immune from pointlessness.
For instance, why do teenagers need a dedicated mobile payment platform to empower their spending when a debit card can do the trick?
Elsewhere in the depths of our startup ecosystem, there are also proposals to develop vending machines with gamified elements. This begs the question, are we as a nation suffering from attention deficit so bad, that we need games to engage us when buying a beverage?
Aside from the superfluous, there are also startups whose execution of their product is so poor, they might as well fall into the pointless category. The fact that there are literally businesses offering an educational product that is nothing more than PowerPoint slides masquerading as a mobile app is laughable. What would be the value of that?
As a result of aggressive promotion by the government, Singapore’s startup scene is thriving. In fact, the abundance of businesses has made any attempts to keep up with the startup scene more taxing than keeping up with the Kardashians.
However, there are other reasons leading to our deluge of startups.
Firstly, entrepreneurship as a journey has been romanticised, perpetuated by the life stories of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.
The blood, sweat and tears that go into building a successful business have now become a rite of passage seen with reverence. Forget what happens between pre-seed funding to IPO offering. The reward of success is immense, but almost no one talks about setbacks and failure.
Still, that does not explain the lack of originality, market research and professional expertise plaguing many startups.
Even with the most generous funding, a motivated team and the right market conditions, the success of a startup is never guaranteed. Why then, do so many people persist in starting a business built around a vague idea? Have they thought about failure, or are they so swept away by their own delusions of grandeur to think they are indefatigable?
In our modern society, where instant gratification triumphs and self-esteem is acquired from job titles, the appeal of startups is obvious. Why wait 20 years to be promoted to CEO when you can be one today, via your very own company?
The ability to bestow oneself an honorific title is appealing. Instead of being defined by a hierarchical job title, one could be a founder/co-founder of a business.
All it takes is a leap of faith, and you will be at the top of the apex where, instead of being an operations manager, you are now the COO. Rather than being a nameless advertising executive, you are now the Creative Director.
Ultimately, there are no rules against frivolous or inane products driven by hubris in place of sense. Simply put, anyone can register a company in Singapore and call it a startup.
I am also reminded of an episode from Silicon Valley, where the Pied Piper team came up with a mathematical model to illustrate optimal tip-to-tip efficiency. It is a hoot and probably the closest to the truth behind how pointless startups came about.
The growth of startups is a trend that shows no sign of abating. While truly revolutionary ideas will emerge, wholly unnecessary products crowding the market is also unavoidable. But luckily for all of us, the startup market favours the survival of the fittest. As for pointless startups, probability dictates that most are destined to fail once their founders are done roleplaying.
Featured Image Credit: The Keyword
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