About a week ago, I was in Cairo for the Flat6Labs Demo Day. It was an incredible experience all around. Somehow, they actually allowed me to take the microphone and welcome everyone to the event.
I would normally get up and say something like, “It’s so great to be here. Thanks for coming. I’m excited to see the companies and hope you are, too.” This time, though, I realized that it wasn’t the type of situation that warranted a soft, generic welcome.
You see, Eygpt is an amazing place. Its history, innovation, and people are striking. The country is full of some of the smartest people in the world. Yet, right now, there’s around a 10% unemployment rate and its currency has devalued around 60% from its high just a few years ago. So, while the country isn’t in any sort of crisis, getting up and just saying “Welcome!” didn’t seem to cut it.
Actually, if I’m honest with myself, I will never get up and merely welcome attendees at a demo day again. Why? Because Cairo, your city, and my city all desperately need startups. And just saying “hello” doesn’t convey that message at all.
So as I got up on stage, here’s what I said:
Hi Cairo. It’s so good to be with you. I think most of you know this, but I’m going to say it: We desperately need startups.
More specifically, tonight, at this place in time, we need the 10 startups you’re going to see on stage to be successful. Here’s why we need to pay attention to every single company on stage today—
They’re the value creators.
Think about any product you’ve used in the last few months. Actually, think about any product you used today. I would contend that most of the apps, services, and technology you used were developed in the last few years. Another way to say it is that the products you find valuable today were recently created by a startup. Startups are the ones creating things that help make your life easier. They’re finding ways to solve problems—day-to-day issues we all face. For instance, startups like Uber have drastically changed how we get places and WeWork has changed how we actually work. We need them if our lives are going to continue to get better.
They’re the job creators.
The Kauffman Foundation released a report a few years ago, stating that the only net new jobs created have come from companies who were no more than five years old. That means that startups are the net new job creators. If we’re looking to employ people, we’re incorrect if we think that large corporations will be the ones to do it. On the contrary, the startups you see today will undoubtedly be the companies hiring individuals tomorrow.
They’re the wealth creators.
I know this sounds like I’m saying that I want more rich people. That’s not the case. Rather, if people have jobs and can go home and save money, they’re creating more “wealth” for their families. When people are employed at jobs that not only pay well but also provide value, employees can earn a living that allows them to save for the future. Therefore, they’re able to build more individual wealth for their families. And in places like Northeastern Africa and small cities in the United States, this is incredibly important and necessary.
They’re the values creators.
If we believe that startups today are going to be the large companies of the future, what they care about will drive culture. Another way of saying it: If the startups you see today are employing thousands of people in a few years, it is vitally important that those startups do two things really well:
- They need to create an internal culture where they treat people well. Treating their teams well will allow for everything I’ve already mentioned—things like secure employment, well-paying jobs, and individuals who are able to not only save for their families but who are able to invest their time, energy, and dollars into their local communities, helping others around them to succeed.
- And, they need to treat their customers well, too. I don’t just mean customer service, which is obvious. I mean being very intentional about how they run their companies and how that will invariably affect the people, places, and larger societies that engage with their products and services. We are all profoundly aware, now more than ever, that tech can create as many problems as it can solve—bullying, data insecurity, racism, and so much more. Companies can no longer afford to release products and services without first asking how they will affect the people on the other end of their solutions. Not just because they might be caught if they do it poorly, but because the world is becoming more and more tech literate—we now know to ask before blindly adopting what might seem cool or time-saving. And because we’re no longer accepting that tech is agnostic. Whatever startups are creating, it will say something about what they believe and value, and that will eventually begin to say something about what we all believe and value. So founders must take an honest look at the myriad ways that their products can affect how we engage with each other, and how well. And it’s important that we—the investors, accelerators, families, and friends around them—help startups with incredible values, knowing that they’ll be the ones driving much of the business (and societal) culture going forward.
So as you leave here today (or if you’re reading this blog), and you believe what I’ve just said, I’d ask you to do three things:
- Thank a startup. Tell them that you know they have a hard job and you’re rooting for them. Just hearing from you with a one-sentence email will make their day. I promise.
- Buy from a startup. They’re constantly looking for customers for validation. So if you know of a startup that you like, download their app. Buy their product. Sign up for their beta.
- Invest in a startup. If you have the capital, they would love your support. And if you need help finding a startup to invest in, head to your nearest local accelerator. I guarantee they can tell you the best local companies coming out of your area.