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Waaaah! Building an app to be your mom vs. building an app to help moms

Inside Silicon Valley's own weird mommy issues

By Sarah Lacy , written on September 14, 2017

From The Disruption Desk

This is not a post about Bodega. I have said all I need to say here and on social media about a tone-deaf company that is in the grand scheme of things not all that consequential to the world, nor anywhere near the worst thing Silicon Valley is doing.

But I was intrigued by this point made during Global Bodega Freakout yesterday on Twitter:

She makes a good point. There are an abundance of apps to do your laundry, on-demand cleaners, pre-made food delivery startups, you could even argue ride-sharing apps take it back to the days when your mom ferried you all over town to various practices.

It’s particularly an apt point, given the generational trends of those building many of these companies and their particular relationships with their moms. While it warms my mommy-heart, others have expressed concerns about how clingy millennials are with their parents.

It’s well documented that in recent years, teens haven’t been as eager to get driver’s licenses. According to the Atlantic, in 2014 just 24.5% of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47% decrease from 1983.

And a recent piece in the New York Times about millennials and their helicopter parents who don’t know when to stop helicoptering, detailed parents coming on job interviews with their adult children: 

As millennials grow into their working years, with many of them coming of age in the daunting job market that followed the Great Recession, parents are more likely to feel a proprietary stake in their children’s careers, said Ryan Webb, a recruiter and former human resources director at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. The hovering is abetted by a full complement of real-time communications options — from texting to Skype and social media — and fueled by the desire to see a return on investment for sending children to college in an age of escalating tuition.

Brandi Britton, a recruiter with OfficeTeam, a division of the firm Robert Half, said she never saw or heard from parents when she entered the business nearly two decades ago but has increasingly felt their influence. She recalled a father calling her in the past two years in an attempt to get his son an accounting job. The father sent in his son’s résumé, scheduled the interview and, to her surprise, turned up with him in person. “He was shepherding that thing,” she said.

Consumer Web startups have long been driven by young men solving their own problems first and hoping the world needed the same solution. If ever there was a generation who wanted to DISRUPT MOM! while still enjoying all the comforts of mom, this would be it. And obviously, the trend speaks to the tight demographic-- young, mostly-privileged males-- who are raising the bulk of the venture capital cash.

But there’s another interesting thing about the “replacing mom” insight. I’d previously written about a corollary in the on demand world: Companies that seek to help working moms, in particular helps them alleviate working mom guilt.

The US is not built for dual income households. Things like dry cleaners, typically close at 5 pm, and most schools get out at 3 pm-- or even early for pre-school and kindergarten. Saar Gur, of CRV, noted a distinction between companies like Munchery and Blue Apron. One delivers food that’s already prepared, one takes out steps so that you can still cook your family a home cooked meal.

“From a venture perspective, this insight-- WOMEN NOW WORK!- can drive investments across a wide range of consumer categories that need to be disrupted and offer a more convenient offering to working families,” [Gur] says. That could be one reason Blue Apron is out-performing the already-made category that was mostly tailored to single dudes. Gur adds, “Granted, I don’t like many of them as venture investments, because it isn’t clear how defensible they are, but they are clear business opportunities.”

True enough, if you look at the ads, Blue Apron shows a family cooking together, and sponsors shows like “America’s Test Kitchen.” They want the people who want to cook, they just want some of the steps taken out for them.

Given this insight, it’s not a shock that Gur is in the minority of VCs at major firms who both has kids and an ambitious, entrepreneurial wife. A lot of VCs haven’t “gotten” this distinction in quite the same way for the same reason they didn’t get Snapchat early on: With the bulk of them having housewives, they aren’t the demographic.

It’s telling that the companies aiming to help moms, versus replace moms, don’t seem to ignite the same Twitter wars. Yet another reason that increased gender balance at every step of the startup equation would save everyone a lot of misery