I enjoy living in Silicon Valley for many reasons. Variety of places to eat is pretty high on the list, weather a close second, but both are quickly followed by the social climate of the area. You don’t have to look far to find an entrepreneur or tech geek. Even the business people are interested in the new companies that pop up (even if only for their IPO values). I love being in the know about what people are working on, and what is coming next. I love what technology can do, and while I keep a fair amount of skepticism in my pocket about how far is too far (sci-fi offers a lovely insight into some opinions on this matter) , I really revel in the potential that some tech offers to make this world “a better place.”
There are specifically 3 companies I’d like to call out for their efforts to make things “better,” which in my opinion, includes making things more accessible, which I feel these 3 have in common.
Inking creates rich, interactive textbooks for the iPad. Going above and beyond just digitizing standard printed books, these buckets of knowledge are filled with links, references, animations, videos, interactive diagrams, and so much more engaging material than any poor defenseless hardbound paper version could ever hope to offer. It’s so exciting that it makes me want to go back to school just to play around with their software (not that I can’t play around with it on my own, but there’s nothing quite so informative as having to use something in the context it is designed for). The benefits seem so outstanding to make so much material accessible, all in a neat 1.33 lb package (goodbye backpacks). Of course, one could argue that this kind of technology caters to and exacerbates information overload and encourages easily distracted minds (I heard a really cool interview about this topic on NPR last night that kind of dug into that topic). I am optimistic, though, that our brains can adapt to these new inputs and will be better off for having access and the opportunities to gather all the new info.
Square is a company that allows any one with a smart phone to accept credit cards. In this ever increasingly cashless community, it is a welcome opportunity for individuals and small businesses to accept payments. It is a free app, with a free accessory, that charges 2.75% on all transactions, but no additional per transaction fee. For a small business, this makes it incredibly accessible to take credit cards where otherwise the fees of renting credit card terminals and paying monthly maintenance fees were deterring, if not completely cost-ineffective. On top of that, they have rolled out a new service called Card Case that is designed to be a virtual tab. At certain locations, once your account has been set up, all you need do is order your items and tell the cashier your name and you will be charged and sent an electronic receipt. While security is probably the first thing to jump to any critic’s tongue (and minding
that I’ve never been the victim of identity theft, I can not empathize with that frustration), I know that the company went to great lengths to dot i’s and cross t’s to set this system up securely. Like so many new technologies, they will certainly have hiccups, but will only get better the more people use them and work through issues. I for one am excited for this new cashless future they are enterprising. Also, having a small business that uses this service makes me all the more biased towards how useful it is.
Airbnb is a service that allows you to rent out your own home/room/space to travelers, and also allows you to stay in affordable or impossibly awesome locations all over the world. Putting hotels and hostels to shame, Airbnb is opening a whole new world of options to travelers to either meet and stay with cool locals, or just bask in the wonderful residential neighborhoods of cities that would otherwise go unnoticed. Or maybe you’d prefer to stay in a treehouse? Or on a boat? Options that you would otherwise have to know someone to have that opportunity. On the flip side, you can meet cool travelers coming to your city as you host them in your own place. Or just make some extra cash while you’re out of town anyway. You can rent out anything from an air mattress in the living room to your whole house. It is a wonderful online community of people who are eager to see new things and meet new people, and like most online services, there are ways to rate both renters and stayers so people can get a feel for what kind of person they are before accepting a reservation. Airbnb did have a snafu in July that caused the company to snap into action to step up their security measures: they doubled their support staff and are now offering insurance. I’m sure as they grow, they will continue to figure out new services and new ways to protect the community they’ve been growing since 2008.
Besides providing a form of accessibility to their customers, the other thing about these companies that stands out to me is how the few people I know who work at them are genuinely interested in the products they produce, are enthusiastic when talking about them, and really believe in what they are doing. There is little in life I find more compelling than hearing someone talk about something they are passionate about. It becomes easy to tell who is a salesman just pitching their product versus a person who is actually standing behind what they are creating. Above all else, whether a company succeeds or fails, I think having more people in the world truly interested in what they are doing is what’s making it a better place, regardless of what they’re creating.