People innovate in America because they are angry


I received a lot of comments on hackernews and twitter. Some of them asked “if anger is so important why is there not as much innovation coming out of Greece or Nigeria or Ethopia” which misses the point. 1) Solving a problem and scaling the solution across America is a huge market opportunity and is also very difficult. America is the 3rd largest country in the world by land mass. Its larger than China. 2) While I don’t know about innovation in every country in the world, I think its presumptuous to assume no innovation is coming from other countries. But the scale is vastly different. With the exception of Africa as a continent. If a innovation can be developed in one African country it often scales to other similar countries in the continent. The largest mobile payment provide in the world? From Africa.

America has horrible infrastructure. The railway infrastructure in the
USA was built primarily for the transport of oil (freight) and hasn’t
evolved much since then. There is one railroad company in America
built for the transportation of passengers, Amtrak. Amtrak is short
for American Track, which is funny because it only covers half of
America. HalfTrack might be a better name.

The majority of the tracks Amtrack runs on are owned by freight
companies and Amtrak is beholden to the freight companies in many
ways. For example, if Amtrak is late and misses its scheduled time on a
freight rail line, the freight company can and often does force the
Amtrak passenger trains to follower the slower freight trains. The
average freight train runs between 10 mph to 79 mph while Amtrak has a
top speed of 150mph. While 150mph is nothing compared to other
national rail systems, the effective speed of an Amtrak train is
actually about 79mph. Either because they are running on those rented
rails from freight lines who have no motivation to upgrade the
infrastructure to support faster trains or because they are rolling
along at 20mph behind a train full oats. God bless America.

In the late 1960’s the US postal system was a unreliable and slow
machine. It hasn’t improved much since then. Today I can fly from NY
to San Francisco in 6 hours but if I send a 1oz letter the same route
it will take one week. Smart people at big national firms in the late
60’s figured this was lunacy and instead placed company employees on
planes to take interoffice mail between offices.

Putting people on airplanes was exactly how DHL got its start. Flying
interoffice mail for companies between San Francisco and Honolulu.
This mail transportation system was actually highly illegal and the US
Government went through a lot to try and shut DHL down.

The founder of DHL, a guy named Larry Hillblom was a lawyer and had
obvious physical abnormalities (and might have been a pedophile).
After winning his battle against the US Government, he re-wrote the
laws of a small nation as a way of saying F-U to the US Government, then
sued the US at the United Nations. I think its fair to say he was a
little crazy. After all, who would challenge the United States Postel
service then follow it up with suing the US in front of the UN after
changing the constitution of a small nation state? I think he might
have been a little angry too.

Spending so much time in Japan makes me really wonder why so much
innovation comes out of the USA. And I think its simply because so
many services in the US suck. People get angry, build a solution and
because of the simple fact that America is HUGE solving a common
problem in America often requires the infrastructure of a small
international company. wants to ship books across the United States? Are they
going to trust the US Postal Service? Perhaps our amazing rail and
freight system? Its an incredibly complex operation for to
be able to ship a book to you within 3 days anywhere in the United
States. Because US infrastructure is so crappy. But they managed to do

Then expands to a country like Japan, where it takes one
day to ship anything from one part of the country to another and they
reduce this shipping to 12 hours. And suddenly they look like shipping
geniuses. After going through the school of hard-knocks in the USA,
its much easier to go abroad.

Airbnb exist because the hotel industry in the USA doesn’t add a
tremendous amount of value outside of providing a safe place to sleep,
unless you are paying more than $500 a night. The entire Airbnb
operation seems to be violating a ton of laws in the process. Despite
that, they figured it out in the USA. Going abroad is easy after that.
Airbnb could never have started as a business in Japan. No tenant
would risk: 1) letting someone into their home 2) no one would risk
violating their lease agreements and 3) apartments are tiny. But its
been able to expand to Japan. It just would have never built momentum
if it started in Japan. Not enough angry people willing to ignore a
half dozens laws to make a buck.

Uber exist because the taxi system in San Francisco is horrible. You
make an appointment for a taxi to show up at 6:30 and they show up at
7:00, if they show up at all. Uber was built out of anger. Its
compelling in a city like San Francisco where the taxi service is
horrible, not as compelling in NYC where their are too many taxis most
days. Despite that, I still used it in NYC. And of course, Uber is
violating a few laws in the process.

Many great innovations in the USA come out of anger and frustration
and a attitude that makes Americans believe they can change the system.
When implemented across a huge country like the United States, Airbnb,
Uber, DHL have to deal with laws and regulations in every single state
in the country. In states the size of small countries. What better
training ground could their be for building a international company?

You have to be angry to break the law in order to build a better way.
That anger and willingness to challenge authority is missing from many
startups, but it exist in all the innovative ones.

  1 comment for “People innovate in America because they are angry

  1. November 30, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    You have a way with expressing a complex principle in a vey simple and strait forward way.I am most struct by your infrastructure example. I ride Amtrack on a regular bases and I never thougth about or realized the structure of the original purpose of the rails nor had I thought about it as insight toward innovation. Glad to know that you are still at the cuttung edge. American youth need your vison ,your insight and your forwarding thinking vibe.

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