The Startup Won’t Save Us

This is another post on Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus: How Growth Became The Enemy of ProsperityRead more posts on the book here. Throw yourself headlong into the Rushkoff rabbit hole here.

There’s a chirpy critique of startups near the end of Throwing Rocks that makes for great reading. It amounts to an observation that starting a new company with the aim of sustainably delivering an excellent product or service, along with consistent dividends to investors, doesn’t work in a digital economy insistent upon unchecked growth. For many startups (and the venture capitalists funding them) like mobile game maker Zynga, the game is to grow as quickly as possible, then get bought by Facebook and cash out.

The acquisition or the IPO is not the beginning of their company’s impact but the end.

“Startups are not trying to earn revenue (which is a liability),” Rushkoff notes. “They are setting themselves up to win more capital. They are not part of the real economy or even the real world but part of the process through which working assets are converted into new stockpiles of dead ones.”

The goal is not to own a real company. The goal is to sell a fake one.

I read a steady diet of startup literature as a way of thinking about innovation in church life and entrepreneurial leadership. Pastors and consultants in the circles I run with throw around terms like “Minimum Viable Product” with ease. We listen to Tim Ferris and fantasize about having that many ideas and the energy to bring them to life.

But I’m not so sure where that’s getting us. If that game is rigged to convert everything to capital and to leave behind the empty shells of the projects we cashed out before we moved on, then why am I listening so intently to startup “experts?”

Where are the experts in making an enduring impact in the real world?