'What do you do?'
Today the only acceptable answer to this question among the 'cool' brigade is to be involved in a start-up, preferably your own. And you'd better be tech-savvy and based somewhere near Silicon Roundabout (for those not 'in the know', that would be in Shoreditch).
The name of your start-up should ideally mean nothing at all but end with a 'y'. The description of your business must be summarised in under 140 characters and involve such words as 'revolutionary', 'dramatically', 'disrupting' and 'global'. You know you've arrived when you've built yourself an app...
Don't get me wrong, I applaud entrepreneurship and ingenuity, and Britain is blessed with a modest amount of bureaucracy, which means self-starters can bring their ideas to life relatively quickly and accelerate their usefulness with support from early investors. As such, many new business ideas have blossomed in Britain, such as lulu for self-publishing and book-printing, seedrs, a crowdfunded investment fund and Hassle, which helps to find trusted cleaners, who are paid £10 an hour online.
However, a quick scan of the Silicon Roundabout landscape reveals that there are a lot of start-ups, backed up by serious money, creating pretty unremarkable apps. I interviewed a web engineer, currently working in a team of 20, building an app, which sounds entertaining for about a minute but not terribly useful. I was astonished to hear about their spacious offices and daily meetings, chief creative officers and angel investors. It appears, there are many entrepreneurs out there, but only a few are genuinely trying to solve problems other than boredom.
Even more troubling, public markets seem to be none the wiser. Last week a company called Rightster raised £20 million on London's AIM (Alternative Investment Market), valuing the company at £70 million. Rightster prides itself on helping online video creators monetise their content via advertising or pay-per-view (charging as much as 50% commission for the service). Whilst I admire the company's mission to create a well-functioning marketplace for online video content, I am less impressed with its financial results for the 6 months to June 2013. The company made a loss of nearly £9 million on revenues of £3.5 million. Admittedly, I have not seen Rightster's projections, but a £70 million valuation in the absence of a track record is worrying.
Seasoned entrepreneurs advise novices to focus on problem solutions. Today's technology made previously unimaginable things possible, such as an iHelp wristbands, automatically calling emergency services if their wearers lose pulse, so let's hope that today's innovators and their backers invest their talent and riches wisely.