I am working on this right now with my company
Hypothesis: To have a big impact, and to compete with the existing big tech players, significant resources are required. Specifically, there needs to be sufficient funding/revenue to pay a staff, to do marketing, and to support the costs of the technology (servers, tooling, etc).
I have bootstrapped my company til now, and in order to continue to launch and scale we will take investment. There is only so far you can get without investment. 1. a meaningful and desirable user experience, which leads to scaling, takes time, attention, experience and as a result money. 2. you need significant resources to surface your product through all the others because there is so much noise. Even if you make a superior product. That isn’t necessarily money, but time and attention. so you need people because one person cannot do it alone.
Hypothesis: Scaling and growth of existing big software-driven companies (not including those who primarily make physical goods) has relied on a basis of unethical practices, primarily collecting and monetizing user data. Without some of these tactics, growth is much more difficult because data collection enables more personalized experiences and sales practices.
I don’t believe data collection is bad. In fact, I believe that’s the primary usefulness of the internet. It’s what is done with that data that causes issues, and does it serve the people from whom it was taken? Tech companies with an ad-based business model would argue yes, by collecting user’s data we are able to serve “personalized ads” that we know will be relevant to you. I would argue that 1) this removes some of my agency by automating my interests and more importantly 2) redirects my attention away from choices I’ve made. This removal of agency and constant redirection of attention leads to a feeling of being controlled, lack of meaning, and depression. A subscription model removes that issue and data collected can be used to enhance things you have prioritized in your life.
Hypothesis: Ethical tech itself isn’t valued by most people to the extent that they will abandon unethical tech that is ‘free’ and personalized. They will not, for the most part, pay for a service they perceive to be free from other sources, even if those sources are treating them as the product.
I strongly believe they will abandon other sources if the value of the competing ethical source is greater than the value gained from a free source. trying to get people to use a paid source for ethical reasons is a losing battle, and will not scale. It’s like that with any movement that is “good” competing with something that is “worse” but more affordable or accessible. You will have a subset of people who make the ethical choice, and you can certainly make money doing that, but to scale, results from the ethical product have to be better to get people to switch. A great example is the Impossible burger, which has radically begun to change how people consume meat. It was only after it tasted just like meat - or even better than meat - that it started to scale (in burger king etc). Also setting up use of personal data vs not as a binary ethical/unethical argument I believe is incorrect. I want my doctors to have as much personal data as they need to give me the best medical advice.I just don’t want them to take that data and suggest hydroxychloroquine because I’ve expressed an interest in COVID cures, and they’re getting paid by the company that makes it to advertise it. This can be applied to other aspects of my life.
Hypothesis: Network effects compound the issue of transitioning large numbers of people from unethical software providers to more healthy alternatives.
Network effects affect any kind of transition whether ethical or unethical. Altavista -> Google, Myspace -> Facebook. My belief is that we’re reaching the limits of network effects because the more people you have in a space the less meaning it has. Facebook began as a clean, contained space for college students, with a clear value proposition of connecting with those students. Once everyone joined the value proposition became less clear and now many people feel a sense of meaninglessness while using it, calling it a time suck, feeling more lonely and depressed after using it. This is why we’re seeing a rise in smaller social networks catering to subsets of people. The question is how does one define scaling in this environment, and how far do you want to go?
Finally, one positive hypothesis to explore: There is a software business model that can “scale” to being able to help and impact a global population that also protects privacy, doesn’t rely on selling user data, and creates enough revenue to support both the costs of the company and investment in further growth.
That’s exactly what my business is working towards and has begun to do successfully. So it is possible!