"Silicon Valley has turned into the place it hates the most." How could I resist reading a story with that headline?
In this November 16 Business Insider article, writer Linette Lopez chronicles the same kind of frustration that drove me out of Silicon Valley a decade ago. I felt surrounded by investors and entrepreneurs pretending to be focused on "world changing" technology, but actually prioritizing personal net worth and frivolous technology targets. She quotes an interesting new voice, Kairos Society founder and venture capitalist Ankur Jain, who says: "Silicon Valley has gotten out of touch in a time when it's more powerful than ever and the work that it does affects more people than ever. . . Ninety percent of VC funds say they want to change the world, and they don't."
What intrigued me was that Jain's fund is prioritizing investments aimed at solving significant problems affecting huge numbers of Americans. In addition to student debt, high rents in urban centers, childcare, and preparing for retirement, one of the critical areas where he's looking for innovation is in addressing the cost of unemployment and retraining.
The loss of millions of manufacturing jobs across America is not news to anyone. It's not just about direct economic damage. It's been linked to everything from the rise of nationalism and hate speech, to the opioid epidemic. In terms of technology's role in this shift, sure, we have created some job search sites and online educational options, but hardware production is heavily outsourced to Asia.
One reason I've come back to Silicon Valley to start another company is that I see an opportunity to bring manufacturing jobs back to U.S. communities that are struggling with unemployment. In my view, the answer is not to retrain manufacturing workers as data processers or cable installers. The answer is to use technology to double down on the quality and value of American-made goods and restart our manufacturing capabilities for tangible, meaningful products in the B2B space. That is something software can help make happen. That is what Inxeption is all about.
There is a perception today that people are focused on Twitter feuds and counting likes on Instagram. But they also need to eat, travel, wear clothes, and work and live in a real world. There is no software substitute for turning raw materials into high quality, tangible products that are necessary for life on this planet: planes, trains, trucks and automobiles, building supplies, home goods, clothing, packaged food, and the manufacturing equipment needed to make the parts for all these categories.
We can dominate production of those goods again: For starters, our transportation and shipping infrastructure is highly optimized in the United States. That means we can shift manufacturing of a broad array of goods to areas of the country where the cost of living is lower and where unemployment is high. Maybe even more important, Americans have traditionally valued craftspeople, individuals who take personal pride in creating a good product that serves a customer's needs. If we can use technology to bring buyers closer to the people who make things for a reasonable price, the experience is richer and more satisfying for both of them. An emotional and long-lasting connection will develop.
But this won't work if we just pick up and move existing manufacturing models that may exploit cheap, physical labor but are bogged down with bureaucracy and middlemen brokers and expensive sales costs. The promise of a B2B software platform is cutting out the middlemen and letting buyers connect directly with manufacturers. That makes the process more efficient, more collaborative. It opens the door to start-ups that might otherwise be unable to compete with big legacy manufacturers. It allows for recapturing manufacturing jobs in a new model where workers can take pride in their work and be paid well for it, and buyers will get superior service and more customized products for prices similar to what they pay today.
Steve Jobs's breakthrough notion was that Apple could take the power of computing out of the hands of big companies and the government, and distribute it to everyone. His conviction that doing that could change the world if we focused that new power on important and worthy pursuits inspired many of us for a long time. And then we got distracted with small, self-serving ideas. Now, Inxeption is on the verge of reconnecting people who make good quality objects with the people who need those objects and addressing a critical social need at the same time. That's a big idea.