Made with 🖤 in Brooklyn

Product Hunt has become the techie’s Billboard Hot 100 for digital products and services. The Product Hunt team curates a list of new products every day, and its community upvotes what they like the most. Here are some of the most popular products on Product Hunt from the last few weeks:

1) Reward your team with taco emojis when they say or do something awesome!

2) Transform you and your friends into cartoons!

3) Calculate the best time to post to Instagram!

4) Search through every Simpsons episode and make memes!

5) Tinder for email!

The world has more people than ever learning to code and this is what we have to show for it.

I’m willing to bet the creators of these terrible digital inventions are the same people who retweet Bernie Sanders slogans, who put the French flag over their profile pictures, and who buy fair trade coffee because it’s like, better for the farmers or whatever.

What are we doing making taco emoji rewards?

With a cursory glance at Hacker News, Reddit, Product Hunt, or any “must read” VC newsletter, I see ideations ad nauseum about best practices of digital marketing, how to address the high user churn for my software as a service, and thought pieces about the entrepreneurial journey of addressing “unsolved” hipsters-living-in-lofts problems.

Why is this happening? Because thinking about hipster problems is easier than putting in the research to innovate for hard problems.

It's naturally easiest to think of solutions that address our own needs. But when startup world deities like Paul Graham keep encouraging entrepreneurs to build products that help themselves, we have an unfortunate cycle in which well-educated, highly-skilled innovators are motivated to make shit apps like this one to help you “brew the perfect cup of coffee” instead of thinking about real problems that create struggle for real people. We have a tech world that has upvoted itself into thinking it’s creating products of value, when most creators are really just being innovatively lazy: going for low hanging fruit and extra pocket change from their latest Node.js projects.

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the easiest problems to solve get the most creative attention. It might be why Product Hunt boasts almost 400 tech products related to getting lunch, and zero related to poverty alleviation. But it also shouldn’t be surprising that creators collectively have a hard time building sustainable solutions to these easy problems, when there are countless other uncreative people that are building products to address the same needs.

What could we be doing instead? Building for everyone else, especially low-income people.

The reality is there are more places like Mississippi than like Palo Alto. We need to explore technological needs that are unmet and underexplored. It’s such a bummer to keep seeing website footers for dumb apps that say,

“Made with ❤ in [enter gentrified neighborhood here].”

What if we left our coffee shops in Brooklyn and San Francisco to work on problems for average people everywhere else? Even if you’re the “wealthy working people” type that feels contempt towards homeless people on your morning commute, you probably learned in your business school that you should go where markets are least saturated. The problems with the fewest solutions might be the most complex, but they are also the problems with the least competition. By focusing on these problems you might, at the very least, end up exploring issues and challenges that are actually worth building products for.

I’m not saying everyone in an exposed brick apartment should quit their Blue-Bottle-in-the-breakroom jobs to become selfless Mother Teresas. I’m saying if tech innovators are having a hard time generating revenues and differentiating their hipster problem tech products, we might have better success if we try building tech products for demographics that won’t be found at SoulCycle.

Mobile is opening up a whole new world. It finally makes sense to build tech for underserved communities on a global scale.

Mobile networks now cover 85% of people in emerging markets. The 1.1 billion people on the planet who make between $2–8/day spend about a thirdof their incomes on non-essential consumer goods, communication, and entertainment. That’s up to $2.7 billion of daily spending that definitely does not have the saturation of tech products and services to choose from that people living in the Mission do. That money is waiting to be spent on digital goods that can improve quality of life. There are already a few ways to start collecting it.

Here are some very simple tech products that help underserved markets, while also making money.

TextIt and Voto Mobile, are creating amazing communication tools that are used to understand rural and marginalized communities in emerging markets.

Pigeonly builds products for inmates and their loved ones.

Atipica is building algorithms to help companies source and hire the right people to diversify their work environment.

FrontlineSMS is beta testing lots of new APIs and products that let you leverage SMS, mobile payments, and radio stations.

But we don’t even need to go across the planet to identify unmet needs, we can probably just look around our neighborhoods.

I’m excited to see thought leaders like Mark Suster pioneering the discussion about diversity in technology, pointing to example companies like Bevel that are created and led by minorities. But the problem isn’t just about diversity among founders or diversity within the workforce; it’s about diversifying the actual problems we explore and try to address with technology.

Building profitable products for the underserved is hardly a new concept. It’s just that we, the tech-forward Millennial “creative class” seem to have been too busy fighting about Javascript frameworks to notice.