A sea of VC-backed founders are about to find their “8+ figure” startups wiped out in seconds; here’s how to avoid that fate.
A little over 9 years ago, my fiancé and I drove a couple hours to a remote parking lot to meet for a $90 Craigslist purchase. It was about as sketchy as it sounds, and when they opened the trunk to show us the goods, it was far from what we expected. In fact, we had photographic proof that the item we ordered and the one in the cardboard box were completely different.
Ironically, despite the weeks spent choosing the perfect purchase and the multiple back-and-forth communications with the seller, we opted to hand over the cash, accept the bait-and-switch, and hope for the best.
Over the years, that purchase would end up costing us thousands more, making the initial $90 merely the tip of the iceberg. Yesterday, more than 9 years later, we decided to spend another $900 — the last $900 — on the purchase that eventually broke our hearts.
You see, lately I — like the rest of the entrepreneurial and tech-aware world — have been knee-deep in trying to grasp the impact of the recent artificial intelligence innovations and how they may disrupt countless industries. To be frank, I’ve been in a bit of a panic, attempting to learn, experiment, and produce fast enough to ride this wave before it washes me and my companies away. Being that most of my businesses are fairly automated and operate in the education, digital product, e-learning, services, and digital media realms, I haven’t tapped into my — or my customers’ — emotions as much as some entrepreneurs have.
However, emotions are exactly where you need to be if you want to build an AI-resistant business right now.
That $90 bait-and-switch wasn’t just any purchase; she was my and my fiancé’s first child together, and we would have spent thousands more to prolong her existence. If you’ve never had — and lost — a child, a pet, or specifically a rabbit, I can’t convey to you the purchasing power of love, desperation, and grief.
I’m a very rational person, between my Wall Street background and financial conservatism. I make 90%+ of my decisions based around black-and-white logic. Nonetheless, the emotion-driven purchases my fiancé and I have made for our furchildren will never seem rationale.
It isn’t rational for a grown 30-something man to cry over a dead 4-pound rabbit. It isn’t rational for him to drive another two hours with her body in the car to have her preserved in the most honorable way possible (and for a $900+ post-mortem price tag). It isn’t rational for him to be thinking about what pet we need to get to fill the void for our other furchildren who might be missing their sibling. Yet, that’s been my fiancé this week, and that’s the reality of the irrational purchasing power of emotions.
But what does this have to do with AI, you might ask? Lots.
AI didn’t breed my rabbit. Maybe one day there will be robot pet breeders, but today, that industry is still safe from the clutches of the robo-revolution. Likewise, AI didn’t conduct bunny dating when we tried to get Flumpster a BFF. It didn’t make her a custom-built castle, and it won’t be conducting the honoring preservation process we’ve chosen.
I’m not suggesting that you should open up a bunny breeding business or start catering to rabbit lovers or enter the pet industry at all. I am, though, suggesting that if you’d like to insulate yourself from the rapid extinction of businesses that the AI evolution — and revolution — may cause, you consider how you can tap into emotions with your products, services, and marketing.
In the straight-forward education space, no tutor is going to beat a machine powered by hundreds of millions of pieces of data. Sorry, it’s just not happening. Educational, informational, and relevant services companies should beware — and be scared, to be frank.
In the tech space, AI can — and likely will — debug your code faster than even the brightest of humans. Deal with it. That’s not to say strategic tech afficionados can’t harness the power of this new technology to accelerate and vastly improve their products and offerings. They can, but they need to make sure the very technology they can harness doesn’t just as soon bulldoze over them entirely with a better, faster, more elegant and effective solution.
In fact, if you’re currently providing a product or service based on accuracy, precision, data, or the hope that your version is objectively more effective or “correct” than the competition, a machine may be coming to steal your lunch before you know it. That’s innovation, and it’s already happening, whether or not you want to admit it.
What AI won’t do — at least not yet, and not as effectively as a human (yet) — is inject its emotional intelligence to tap into a customer’s deepest desires, fears, and heartbreaks and offer personalized, human-to-human solutions that aren’t “objectively” wrong or right. There is no black-and-white with emotional purchases, and that’s exactly where the remaining whitespace lies for human-powered businesses.
A few examples:
- Parents love their kids, and for many, they’d do almost anything for them. That’s a market.
- Pet owners will pay anything to improve their pets’ quality of life, mental health, and prolong their happy, healthy existence.
- People in love — think the wedding industry, engagement rings, the works, etc.
- Love in trouble: Think marriage counseling, therapy, and the purchases spouses attempt to make to fill the void in a disintegrating relationship. When a person’s life or family is on the rocky verge of tragedy, steps away from crumbling, money is no object.
- Self-love and confidence: There’s a reason people read self-help books and hire 5-figure life coaches, and it isn’t because they actually believe that next book or coach will be their last or provide the one answer they’ve been missing.
- Self-dissatisfaction, health, and vanity: Why do you think the diet industry — from supplements to fitness coaching to every app, book, and new diet fad under the sun — make up a multi-billion-dollar industry? Many people connect deep emotions with their physical bodies, from how they look to how they feel to how they feel about how they look and how they assume others feel looking at them. It’s a largely emotion-driven industry, which is exactly why it’s so lucrative, sticky, and effective.
While I’m not saying that artificial intelligence can’t swoop into any of the aforementioned industries or provide well-tailored and effective solutions to those markets, I am suggesting that you — having the human edge — have a mild advantage. The more you can personalize your offer and your marketing, empathize with the target customer, and connect with that prospect on an emotional level, the more you separate yourself from a machine that may solve their problem, yet leave them emotionally unfulfilled, disconnected, and disillusioned.
To be completely honest, I’m well aware — as you should be — that as AI learns to be more human-like, it will improve at tackling the aforementioned emotional pain points and replacing humans in many fields. That said, at this point, it’s far from there, and I have proof.
If you ask your AI chatbot or software of choice to solve an emotional problem or console you about your dying pet, I promise the answer you’ll get will be stiff, dry, cliched, and insulting, at best. How do I know? I did it. I won’t insult you with the full response, but let’s just say “I’m sorry for your loss” and reminders that sadness and grieving are normal didn’t quite cut it.
On the other hand, there’s a reason Mark Cuban invested in a startup claiming to turn pet ashes into diamonds, as well as a reason that pet owners were willing to hand over thousands for a process that turned out to be a scam. When it comes to filling an emotional void, sometimes it isn’t about accuracy, precision, or being objectively “right”. Sometimes people want to feel better, and in some cases, humans can still make that happen more effectively and efficiently than AI. Sorry ChatGPT, you’ve still got a ways to go.