Does ‘tech that matters’ matter?

Yesterday Marc Andreessen kicked off one of his now familiar tweetstorms about whether Silicon Valley is working on stuff that matters and whether that, erm, matters.

“make trivial apps” vs “do things that matter” are not actually in conflict-there’s plenty of room and plenty of money to do both.

If you’re A16Z then there is plenty of room to do both and to be fair A16Z do invest in tech that matters. Look through their portfolio and you’ll find Koru and NationBuilder but you’ll also find Zynga and apps for helping you choose shoes. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s yet ‘plenty of room’ in the London tech scene — tech that matters is still squeezed out by tech that just sells more stuff.

I also agree they’re not automatically in conflict and that toys sometimes go on to become amazing things. It’s not triviality that I’m against — it’s starting a startup without wanting to create value beyond just money. I’ve tended to find that positive social outcomes don’t really come from people who don’t intend to create them. If you try intentionally to use technology to solve problems that matter, you’re much more likely to do it.

Investors have one of the most powerful positions in the prioritisation of effort and capital in this debate. Do they want to invest capital into businesses where there’s just going to be a return (even that is unlikely) or do they want to put capital to work in a way that can get a return and help solve one of the most pressing problems facing the planet? I know which I’d prefer to do.