The startup world is dead: Stay-at-home parenting is the new bleeding edge

You know the startup world is dead when stay-at-home parents are closer to the bleeding edge than founders. While we have conversations on this blog about how to transform people’s perceptions of what school is, I constantly receive pitches from tech companies reinforcing old ideas of school.

Today I got a pitch from Georgetown grads who are going to help poor people get degrees from crappy universities by creating Kickstarter accounts.

What the hell. This idea is so terrible `I’m not even linking to the company. But they have a PR firm and seed funding and everything else that means Silicon Valley is doing complete stupidity in the name of disrupting education.

I am getting snippier and snippier with people who tell me they have answers to education problems. Unless you are telling all middle class parents to get their kids out of school in the next six months, you are not going to disrupt anything.

At first I thought this was a sign that I was going to be the big winner in the startup dream-team of education disruption. But then I realized it’s actually a sign that the startup world is dead.

You can judge the deadness of the startup world by how many stupid people are giving money to stupid companies. (There are always some in this category, but now it’s most of them.) Another way to judge the sector is dead is that it use to be almost all men, but now women have infiltrated. (And the first sign that an industry is tanking is when women enter.)

This is because men compete like their lives depend on it and women don’t. (Before you rush down to the comments section, here is research from Harvard about women working for collaboration rather than competition.) So the industries full of men are the most competitive. And men don’t want to work with women – not because they are misogynist but because everyone naturally wants to work with people like themselves. (It’s true for women, too. I’m citing research from Harvard again here.) So what I’m saying about the startup world is about to be the male equivalent of white flight, and then San Francisco will be the new Detroit.

Want to go to a booming industry? Blockchain. It’s mostly VCs dumping money into tech teams writing code that doesn’t work. No need for support roles yet, so there are few women in the industry.

If you’re statistically inclined, then you should read Tyler Cowen’s book The Complacent Class, about how the US is becoming a cesspool of risk-aversion. Cowen says that startups made up about 13% of the economy in the 80s and only 7% of the economy now.

This doesn’t surprise me: Gen X are huge risk takers  and we were doing startups in the 90s; Millenials hate risk, and they don’t do startups. Another way of thinking of it is that Gen X did lots of companies that fail and Millenials don’t fail in public.

Generational behavioral is cyclical. Risk-taking parents do not have risk-taking kids. And risk-averse parents do not have risk-averse kids. So it’s natural that the hyper-competitive all-for-one Baby Boomers gave birth to the team-player one-for-all Millenials. And it’s natural that a risk-taking generation comes in between them because that’s sort of the missing link.

I was struck by a recent article in the Washington Post about how Millenials are non-activist. Their voter turnout at this point in their history is lower than any generation at this point in their history. Millenials are mental activists — deep belief in equal rights, for example — but they don’t take action to change things beyond their personal lives.

Gen Z  is not likely to be startup-y because in their mind, startups are for old people. And if you look at historical patterns, Gen Z will be builders — reviving dilapidated institutions that Gen X and Millenials have destroyed.

But I don’t think it matters that the startup world is dying. And it doesn’t matter that Millenials are not activists. The only thing that matters is we stop thinking we know what the next generation needs to learn. People have always been self-directed in their learning, which is why each generation is a departure from the last. But people have to wait until school is over to start learning what they need to know.

If you want your kid to have a leg up on the competition they will face in adult life, accept that your kid is not from your generation. Don’t wait for your kid to finish school before they start learning what they’ll need to succeed in their adult life. Let them start now, even if it means they’re not learning what you think is important — because it’s probably a sign of their future success.

15 replies
  1. Erin
    Erin says:

    It seems like you’re trying to show that, if women want to make a huge impact, we won’t do that by competing with men, but by stepping out of men’s competitive game completely.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh that’s so well said. So clear. Thank you.

      I am shocked by how much of my 20s and 30s I spent competing with men, and actually, the only people who cared where I was in relation to them was other women.


  2. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    No. She’s making entirely sexist comments but she thinks they’re true. Penelope is an enigma to me. She espouses all sorts of Pc nonsense and ultra liberal pet causes white woman savior mentality to feel upper middle class though maybe she really believes in what she does it just seems contrived and conformist to me. On the other hand she breaks Pc rules. She thinks citing research is ok but is clueless that her opponents will cite research too. I don’t know how you can support the idea that everyone is gender fluid and gender confusion should always be treated as a healthy difference and then say well men and women are so different. If men and women weren’t overtly heterosexual the human race would die out. Clearly homosexuality exists and is at least partly biological but I majored in psychology and people have many pathologies of imagination and self loathing. In order to be fair to this and what someone is going through I do not think it’s proper help esp for a young kid to get early hormones or have their feelings validated. Not validating something doesn’t mean you outright reject it. I think it’s criminal to allow any child to change gender. I don’t think it’s posdible. You can change the outward. Unless you’re a hermaphrodite there’s just too much to be a woman or man. I consider this all rich first world nonsense. I don’t know about startups. But Penelope blasts women but somehow she’s the alpha. Come on. The reason you’re so envious of sand berg is her success level and newsflash you seem more alpha than her. Luck is as important as risk taking. You’re not doing homeschoolers favors by acting like it’s the only option. I wish you’d explain how your kids made friends because where I am there’s not much of a homeschooling anything and Kids make friends in school. Was the move hard on them or did they prefer the new location? I think it’s very hard for a woman to be a present mother and career shark. The wojkicki mom with five kids has nannies up the wazoo. There’s a big difference between nanny help and replacement. Someone else can raise your kids. It’s common in other countries in elite households. If you’re ok with that and can afford it I think it’s posdible for a woman to devote the same time. Is a woman less likely to for mother and other reasons like not enjoying the intense stress and competition? Yes. But both your sons Piano teachers are women do you consider them less? I think you need to stop thinking Tech billionaire. I find all the Briggs Meyer stuff puffy nonsensical anti scientific fluff that lets you elevate yourself and box others. Why can’t we discuss different types of success. Not every woman wants to start a startup. How about you discuss small business? I want to hear your perspective on goals for moms. Also under trump the economy has improved a lot I saw more job ads than in years. How do you get employers to be flexible on scheduling. Is that even possible?

  3. Alissa
    Alissa says:

    As a woman, my career strategy is to advance into fields dominated by men and stay long enough to reap the benefits, such as a high salary (even if its not as high as my male coworkers), sponsorship opportunities, and access to high-earning men. First, I got into IT with no IT degree or technical training. Then, I narrowed my focus within IT to cyber security, which is approx. 85% male. I’m doing as much as I can now to earn and save the big bucks before I quit to have kids and home school them. I already lined up a high-earning spouse to make this possible.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Devil’s advocate: I don’t think things would have been a lot different if you had earned very little money.

      In terms of spouse selection, men can choose women who are in a wide range of jobs, but high-earning men most frequently marry school teachers. Which belies the fact that men who have a lot of money are not looking for women who have a lot of money, they are looking for women who exhibit a penchant for care-taking and being good with kids. Of course men also want interesting, kind, smart, etc. But everyone wants everything, and we can’t have everything, so we usually choose what we need most. And men who have a lot of money to raise kids the best possible way need what they can’t buy, which is a stay-at-home wife who is great with kids.

      So you could have earned very little money and married a high-earning guy and had the same life you will have after working hard and saving money.

      Which means there needs to be intrinsic value to high salary, access to high-earning men, being in IT, etc. that you list in your email. And I”m not sure you express any intrinsic value being extracted from any of the stuff you’ve been doing, except in terms of outperforming other women.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Emerging markets are extremely underserved in a variety of educational ways. Education in the 1st world happens to be oversaturated with self-learning products.
        Interestingly, most emerging markets are most underserved in the liberal arts sector likely because you can’t quantify creativity, and high paying jobs tend to be STEM. It makes sense this team was funded strictly from the EM trend, educational opportunity trend, and content ownership trend. Note: Which happens to be an old trend, but there are too many funded studies and incubators at universities currently tracking learning success rates of those products and teams.

        I imagine one of the team members of this project is from one of these countries. They see the issues first hand. I have no idea the numbers they project to make behind this, but the scope seems too wide.

        Most VCs and panels and discussions I go to completely miss the fact that Generation Z learns in a different way and everyone is repackaging the same tools for different markets, but not actually addressing the issues. Particularly that education and social services are two different things. At the very least this Georgetown team is trying to address wealth disparity in terms of skills attainment. I don’t know if what they are doing can have any impact, though.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          As for Blockchain, it is not the end-all-be-all from security or identity standpoint. This is where the evangelists miss the point, but the money is flowing in. Anytime wealth is concentrated in a big way people will speculate immensely, regardless of what it is. Hopefully the money won’t go to waste, but that’s the game they are all playing.

          Most Blockchain corps I’ve met are focused on government systems. That’s where all the enterprise competition seems to be in that space. Or the few small businesses who held an ICO to gather funds for user acquisition (by outsourcing their marketing costs to speculators), which is scrappy and smart.

  4. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Penelope you’re a legend. Love love love your posts, I’ve been signed up for nearly 9 years and constantly share your ideas & blog. Sending love from across the pond x x x x (a stay at home work at home Gen X single parent)

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Want to disrupt education?
    Teach parents how to guide and support the education of their children by fostering and building upon their child’s innate curiosity and make it fun in the process. It will be a skill that the child will be able and want to use for the rest of their life.

    • caro
      caro says:

      This is one of those things that makes sense to me as a parent and shocks me that anyone needs to be taught.

      I have a 3yo boy and see all this parenting advice about letting boys cry instead of telling them to man up and wear pink if they want to. I can’t understand how you would ever do otherwise.

      Of course so many parents have a preconceived notion of who their child will be and try to shape their offspring in their image or the image of their dreams but all I can say is duh. Your kid likes something, help them learn more.c

  6. Karelys Beltran
    Karelys Beltran says:

    I have been reminding myself forever that my child will choose whatever seems best for him at the time.

    I pray to God he won’t go to college mindlessly like many kids do. But I know he will if that’s what looks good to him at the time.

    His priorities will be different than mine. He will probably never have the same motivation to go from poor to middle class or better, that I’ve had.

    He has his own room right now.
    I never really did.
    So his baseline, at 5 years old, is SO MUCH different than my life experience, which framed and informed my priorities.

    I am not necessarily a risk taker by nature. I just figured that the tried and true path, the traditional stuff, was full of barriers to my financial success. So I’ve been sort of zig-zagging my way around, to my benefit.

    I HAD to make myself into a risk-taking friendly person for this very reason.

    My life currently looks very white-picket fence.
    Makes me want to throw up.
    I can’t handle it.
    It was sour grapes for so long.
    I made sure to not want it because I couldn’t have it.
    Now I accidentally stumbled on it.
    Everything in me rejects it.
    It feels like it’s a fake life.
    It feels like I have to go sleep out in the forest to return to my equilibrium.

    I was surviving for so long, I don’t know how to settle in a place of thriving.

    But to my kids? this will be old hat.

    And I have to be okay with that.

    The beauty of growing up poor is that you have an eye-level perspective and first hand experience, on how to make life phenomenal. So I may or may not succeed to set them up for a future of wealth and to be a part of the top-performing group of people in our society.

    But I know for a fact, money or no money, life is going to be phenomenal. Full of heartbreak but phenomenal nonetheless.

  7. A WilsonAhlstrom
    A WilsonAhlstrom says:

    Well, I’m going to run to the comment box anyway. Interesting that you suggest that the industries that are tanking are those that used to be male-dominated, but now have an influx of women. And then you proceed to REALLY skim over the research and suggest that it’s because “men compete like their lives depended on it.” Perhaps that is true in the short term that “industries are tanking” because women don’t have enough of a “competitive gene” but it also seems very apparent that most of our male dominated (and white dominated) systems are breaking down precisely because of the blinders on competition only model. Who the hell cares about a given industry tanking when democracies (still pretty much run by men) are tanking and the climate is tanking, problems that will be solved largely by collaboration (or at least a healthy mix of collaboration and competition). And I’m sorry, the people who are most likely to think out of the box about new systems and ways of doing things, as industries that maybe should die actually do, are likely to be those who were never in the box to begin with. But what do I know about phenomenal success, I’m just a black woman ;-)! Not to essentialize black women or anything, but yeah, sisters have been bailing the rest of y’all out for a long time. Maybe that’s the trend you should be looking at.

  8. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Building: I know a kid who’s bought a stripped-out apartment building in Detroit and has just about finished re-piping and re-wiring it and has rented out all the apartments.

    Is that what you mean?

    • Karelys Beltran
      Karelys Beltran says:

      This is one of our ambitions for our children. Cars as well. There is that sweet spot where they are intelligent and self-sufficient but also do not have the pressures of adult life on them.
      Perfect time to let them experiment. Let them fail fast and recover. And if it pans out….they win big.

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