Why Venture Capital Needs Ethnographers: Making Meaningful Innovation in the Startup Sphere

The DEMO Conference
by JULIA KATHERINE HAINES, Google Innovation in the startup world is broken. Startups say their aim is “disruption”—a riff on Christensen’s definition, but much less precise. “Disruption” has been appropriated by startups to mean doing something that has widespread, radical impact. They are about “changing the world.” They’re obsessed with the concept…but are failing on their own terms. Unless you believe “changing the world” means doing “the things your mom no longer goes for you” (Arieff 2016). There are services that deliver beer to your door. Services that deliver X to your mailbox every Y months (razors, underwear, dinner kits). Apps to locate a rentable...anything. Not exactly revolutionary stuff. Are we running out of good ideas for innovation? No, not really. There are plenty of startups with good ideas, but they face a huge number of barriers, and we seldom hear about them. The ones we do end up hearing about—well, those are the ones that got funding from venture capital firms (VCs)....