Tech Startups and Simplicity

Over the last few months, I’ve immersed myself in the world of the internet startup, funny little world that it is (to many within, it is there whole universe – please remind me of this as I delve deeper into the labyrinth).

Never has so much money and time been spent on so many lines of code that to most of us, make absolutely no sense at all.

Those that win, win big and fast – creating young billionaires/millionaires. But like every ‘hot’ market, the higher-profile-characters are a lucky few – many, many more toil unhealthy hours in the pursuit of e-recognition and riches.

There are obvious challenges to the simplicity-seeker here, for example:

- The reduction of in-person interaction, relying instead on the virtual

- An unhealthy desire for riches which, when obtained quickly, result in a lottery-win style appreciation and mass envy even though there is evidence of little contribution to overall happiness and some rather outrageous spending habits

- Building technology to solve problems that before we built all this technology weren’t problems – solutions layered on problems, layered on solutions

- Waste – mind-boggling amounts of people working on algorithms and sites that serve no purpose initially or eventually – the Mary Celestes of the web, of which there are many millions more than there are Facebooks. Although in fairness, the same can be said of many other areas of life

- The work ethic, which seems to promote the ‘every-waking-hour-in-front-of-a-screen-is-the-only-way’ approach

Yet there are also some fascinating lessons for simplicity:

Today, simplicity rules when it comes to web startups – in design, user-experience, products and even methodology.

The advice of the moment is to build only what you need to – be lean, create only a minimum-viable product (MVP) before you launch. My favourite simplicity quote, ‘perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but nothing left to take away’ (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) is never more relevant than in the tech scene at the moment, where people are being encouraged to kill features, rather than add them and to make startups as simple as possible in order to test assumptions.

Entrepreneurs are being advised to run their businesses like a meditative mind – removing all unnecessary noise and focusing instead on the present moment.

Consumers too, are demanding simplicity in terms of user experience (UX) and some of the greatest successes are those that have enabled us to simplify.

Google – their home-page design is one of the simplest of the web (and the most popular)

Dropbox – as simple a file-sharing service as possible

Apple – a UX which works, is intuitive and has a simple elegance

This article, which I mentioned long ago in a similar post, talks about simplicity as a source of competitive advantage:

Technology is good. But my sense is that many people are developing it for all the wrong reasons in ways that are unhealthy and make little sense.

Over the coming months, perhaps years – if things go according to plan – I will be further immersing myself in this somewhat bizarre, much-feted world and, I hope, retaining an iota of my simplicity ideology and a balanced life.

Technology enables me to work almost without interruption from my house (although I write this from London) – the question is whether or not I’ll get there as often, whether I can build something that makes the world a little simpler and whether or not I can achieve a balance in my own life as I go.

Beautiful Technology

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