Bartab… so why is this a thing?

This week, I met three interns that worked at this startup. Bartab is a social drinking application that allows you to send $1 drinks to friends, redeemable at a host of partner bars across the US. The app started on Facebook and was awarded $25k from FBfund. I’m not sure how many people were employed at this company, but the fact that they had three interns representing signals to a team of about 10 people. 

I mean, I know the economy is bad and nobody can find jobs… but really? This is what people choose to build instead?

Bartab… so why is this a thing?

Another kind of bubble

A while back, critics and cynics were calling the internet an echo chamber. While the Internet was supposed to be a platform for democratizing speech and content, new web algorithms have steered the web into the complete opposite direction. These “smarter” algorithms have been designed to make content hyper-targeted for individuals without his/her consent, thus filtering out content and information it deems uninteresting to us. Social media has taken this a step further by allowing the audience to more consciously choose their sources. 

I hadn’t really believed this story at first. Yes, my twitter feed is definitely filled with left-leaning new sources and tech entrepreneurs, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was closed off to other perspective. My Facebook Newsfeed tended to show the same friends’ updates, but I was free to merely click through to other news, too. At the end of the day, I was ultimately in control of how much these smart algorithms served to re-enforce my point of view. 

Then came a little bit of perspective. I was talking about the state of the tech bubble to a senior banker familiar with the tech space, and he said:

Airbnb? Why are they getting these crazy valuations? They’re just apartment listings… what, like Craigslist? 

 I was particularly surprised by how vastly different his reactions were to those on my Twitter feed. A while back, Fred Wilson even admitted that Airbnb was the one that got away

This also came up in a separate conversation with a friend who is a former consultant. She said:

Seems like startups these days are just taking regular things and putting them on the web. That’s not innovation, that’s just re-packaging. 

Both of them with didn’t buy into the whole web startup frenzy. While the startup world referred to these web startups as “disruptive” or “game-changing”, those outside the sphere didn’t even see them as innovative, nor value-creating endeavours. While technology has been often cited as a growth engine for the US economy, neither of them saw the current startup world as a contributor to that. 

As for me, I’m still on the fence. My echo chamber, created by Meetup groups and my Twitter feed, has long led me to believe in the growth of startups in America. The other perspective, however, does hold clout. Even I have met a fair share of startups that just left me perplexed as to what they were trying to accomplish. At the end of the day, how can we really measure value-creation for the economy and society as a whole?