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Looking for the exit

The Ocean Cleanup, a concept by Dutchman Boyan Slat, is going remove most of the plastics from our oceans.

A couple of days ago, I was at the The Next Web conference. This is one of the absolute best tech conferences in the world. It was held in Amsterdam. I was nervous, because I was hired to interview some of the biggest tech superstars on the planet, on live TV.

People like Casey Neistat (the guy that went wakeboarding in the Amsterdam Canals), Matt Stopera (the buzzfeed editor that ‘Followed His Stolen iPhone Across The World, Became A Celebrity In China, And Found A Friend For Life), Robert Scoble (Scobleizer), Gillian Tans (CEO of Booking.com), Gary Vaynerchuck (GaryVee) and many more.

These are all technology billionaires and gurus that have shaped the digital world we live in. Even extra exciting was the international ‘cream of the crop’ of Startups, also on The Next Web. Hundreds of them! There was this huge competition, and in the end, the 20 best Startups would of course do a Dragon’s Den pitch in front of said billionaires.

The smell of opportunity filled the air. Anything could happen here.. What would be the next Uber, AirBnb or SnapChat? Some of the speakers had fantastic and inspiring stories. Daan Weddepohl (Peerby), Boyan Slat (the Ocean Cleanup) or investor Ashok Reddy (Unreasonable Capital). These guys prove that great ideas actually can ‘make the world a better place’. I tried to predict who would go home as ‘Best Startup of 2016′.

Something with storable solar energy I imagined. Or a satellite powered app to find the 10.000 missing refugee children in Europe. An implanted chip to detect doping in sports, or corruption in politics. Which industry would be disrupted? Which one of the world’s most pressing problems would be solved with an ingenious new technology? World hunger? Syria?

Before the winner was announced, I talked to many startups. And what I learned first made me depressed. Practically all of the startups I talked to, were focused on money. Three words kept coming back. It was like a chant:

1. Investment (everyone was there to get a large sum of cash).
2. Scalability (they would use the cash to grow and push their product).
3. Exit (the Holy Grail for Startups: selling your shares and making a fortune).

The winner of the Startup competition was a Paris based company called QANDA. It stands for Questions AND Answers. It is like Quora, only the answers are given in 30 second videos. Apparently, the company has great growth potential due to a very scalable business model, and big fish were lining up to buy their technology. Maybe that’s true. I thought it was unoriginal and it really did not solve any real world problems. Nobody really  needs  this, I thought.

So at first, I was very disappointed.

Here we were, at one of the greatest tech conferences in the world. 20.000 guests, top notch thinkers and speakers, and the absolute best in the Startup scene. And the best idea is an app to answer questions with 30 second videos? Then, I realized something. And lived happily ever after.

You know how, whenever you come up with a great idea, everyone is like: ‘Ahhhh, don’t bother, someone already thought of this…’?

Not true.
Go for it.

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Maarten Boer