When Gordon ‘the’ Gekko is released from prison in the 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he sets about giving talks to peers about his rehabilitation and preaches the failing ‘greed is good’ model he had once coined as his mantra. In one particular talk to a group of college graduates, Gekko refers to the group as the Ninja Generation, an acronym which stands for: No Income, No Jobs, no Assets. As amusing as it is, the phrase is actually quite accurate in describing the dire situation that awaited twentysomethings following the global economic meltdown of 2008.
So, as hundreds of thousands of young adults were graduating from top universities across the world, promises of top jobs, high salaries and glory were replaced with no jobs, debt and definitely no glory. Some risk takers decided to weather the storm by entering Masters programs, hoping to emerge into a bright future with employers waiting with open arms. Sadly, this never happened, and graduates found themselves waiting after school for parents that had clearly forgotten to pick them up. Others, in desperate need of revenue to start paying back their student loans, took any work they could find – often in low-end positions well beneath their level of education and expertise.
However with all death comes rebirth and as always, extreme situations force positive change. The period that followed saw a startup boom and the beginning of a new era. For many, launching a business is a dream come true but is also extremely high risk. The risk of failing and losing everything is strong enough to keep the world of entrepreneurs small and intimate. But this changed. Whilst the risk of failing is still as prominent (if not more so) today, the Ninja’s have nothing to lose, literally, there is nothing better waiting for them. The rest just fell into place really starting with a massive pool of (cheap) talent, all desperately willing (didn’t have the choice really) to believe in the startup model hoping to build the next Facebook.
And then there was the money. As the number of startups grew, so did the number of angel investors and VCs. Because just as every startup was hoping to be the next Facebook, every investor was hoping to be the one that got them there. By pumping money into startups, investors allowed them to stay afloat whilst they were losing money, allowing them to concentrate on building the next big thing.
So what was the next big thing? The innovation we’re seeing coming out of the San Franciso Bay area, Portland and New York is rather disruptive, with common every day problems caused by ‘the system’ being solved with clean, efficient, user-friendly and intuitive solutions that are so simple, we could (and should) have come up with them ourselves. The ideas are often revolutionising the way big industries work, providing easy boutique alternatives for consumers demanding change. Square for example, has revolutionized the way payments are being made with a simple dongle that can be attached to any smartphone or tablet, allowing users to pay with credit cards without the hassles of the standard credit card reader. The device also comes with a polished app allowing users to track payments in a beautifully designed UI. AirBnb is another gamechanger allowing users to rent out a spare room or their entire home to travellers seeking a hotel alternative. Simple is a bank for the modern user that doesn’t want a bank. Offering a sleek credit card and app, Simple is focusing on offering a few services that users really care about, and getting rid of the rest.
These are just a few of the people out there who have understood that the world is changing but services are yet to catch up. What’s more, this trend is still growing with more and more startups launching every year. All of this innovation has made people wonder – will the next big thing come from a Fortune 500 company? Probably not, but before we go ahead and quit our day jobs lets not forget that for every successful startup that makes it to the big screen, thousands are failing. Many are questioning the sustainability of this model in the long run – people saying it’s just a matter of time before this bubble (yes, it probably is another bubble) bursts and we move onto the next big trend. Only time will tell.