Problems We Want Solved

Billions of people wake up every day trying to solve the world’s problems. It’s an amazing thing.

But the world is still filled with problems. Some are extreme (climate change, terrorism), some are just annoying (traffic, storage).

We back entrepreneurs tackling these problems. They usually come to us with a business or an idea. But it’s also on us to share what we see as problems that need solving, hoping to spur ideas.

Here’s a list of problems we’d like to see solved – and perhaps businesses we’d fund. (This list will be updated.)

1. Low-cost, reliable internet access. More than 34 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet. It’s not even available. And more than 25 million can’t afford high-speed internet. So 60 million Americans aren’t using high-speed internet in their homes, which is about equal to the combined populations of California and Texas. This is absurd. We’re investors in Tazca-Connects, which is running full speed at this problem. But we’d love to see it taken seriously by a greater number of companies and regulators.

2. Next-gen children’s toys. Wired Magazine once ranked the top toys of all time: Stick, box, string, cardboard tube, and dirt. This will be true 50 years from now. But if you’ve ever watched a three-year-old masterfully operate an iPad, you know how much potential kids have with technology. Parents, however, tend to limit or ban screen time out of fear of rotting their kids’ brains. That fear comes from a rational realization that most technology doesn’t foster creativity and dexterity the way a sick or string does. It’s time to change that. Kids grow up in a world dominated by technology and they should be exposed to it from the time they’re babies.

3. (Ambitious) Low-energy, low-cost, scalable, desalination. I have a feeling the person who figures this out will be one of the heroes of the 21st Century.

4. Traffic lights. Seriously, someone please make a better traffic light and convince municipalities to buy them. Few moments remind you of your life slipping away than sitting at a red light when no cars are crossing the other way.

5. Civic engagement tools to hold politicians accountable. It’s too easy to campaign one way and legislate another. We need something like, but beyond petitions. Something with teeth, that politicians sign onto and holds them accountable. Apps that cleanly show exactly how government money is being spent could also be helpful.

6. A media company devoted to helping you understand the everyday lives of people outside your socioeconomic group. This has to be done in a way that is engaging enough to get people to want to read it. It’s so vital that everyone is able to understand how people of different means – higher or lower – think and live their life.

7. A better way to sell a home. It’s insane that people still pay 4-6% real estate commissions. It made a little sense 30 years ago, when all home data was proprietary to real estate brokers. But the Internet has changed that. Stock brokers, travel agents, and insurances salesmen have all seen their margins shrink, if not disappear, due to broader access to information. But realtors are hanging on. Time to shake that up.

8. Khan Academy for adults. Visually teach me something important that I need to know to be a functioning adult. You have three minutes.

9. A cure for social media overload/addiction. I shudder to think how much productivity I’ve lost over the last decade due to checking Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. I don’t want to get rid of these products. But I need a way to check them less often while not feeling like I’m missing out.

10. Analytics that shows how much my daily habits are detracting from my goals. A lot of bad things happen too slow for people to notice until it’s too late. Poor diet can lead to cancer and heart disease, but you’d never know that from eating a single cheeseburger. Sleep deprivation takes its toll, but what’s one late night going to do? To understand what I’m doing to myself I need to see the cumulative long-term effects of my habits every time I engage in those habits.

11. More efficient home insulation. My thermos keeps my coffee warm for eight hours straight but my house requires a constant gas-burning furnace to maintain humane temperatures. One trend I’m convinced of is that we’ll realize the biggest “source” of new energy is increasing the efficiency of our energy-burning stuff.

12. A solution to food waste. Farmers, wholesalers, and consumers waste a ridiculous amount of food. About a third of food is lost or wasted by some estimates, which equates to more than $1 trillion a year. That’s some low-hanging fruit (I’m sorry). Just like energy, making better use of what we have can be more valuable than finding new ways to make new stuff.