Malkovich Manifest: Surveying A Year Of Responses To Paul Graham’s Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas

Originally published on: Riparian Data

Last March, Paul Graham wrote an essay entitled “Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas,” in which he spelled out seven massive problem areas/voids and ideas that could possibly fix/fill them. The adverb may be hypercorrection, but the essay isn’t hyperbolic, and it inspired throngs of intrepid entrepreneurs[1] to roll up their gingham and get crackin’.

Now that nearly a year has gone by, I thought it’d be fun to take stock of what’s been built. Of course, not all of the following applications and products are responses to Graham, but each of them are, I think, manifestations of the ideas. If you disagree, or have more to suggest, let me know in the comments!

The Idea: A New Search Engine

The way to win here is to build the search engine all the hackers use.

The responders:

  • Ark: People search, based on Facebook data. Now that Graph Search is here, I’m guessing Ark will need to harvest other data sources if it wants to stay in the game.
  • Izik: Izik was built from the ground up for mobile devices. CEO Richard Skrenta says mobile searchers are “more likely to be relaxed and in the mood to flip through many search results,” so Izik has swipeable magazine-style results and related topics.
  • is a search engine for academic research and its authors. Results pages are split into two columns, one for publications and one for authors. Currently, it’s limited to computer science, but more branches are a’coming.
  • What Would Paul Graham Do: To answer queries, WWPGD plumbs the archives of Graham’s essays and HN comments. It’s maybe the simplest way to build a search engine all the hackers use. Suggestion: offer a trickier flavor: What Might Paul Graham Do, which would use machine learning to predict answers based on Graham’s corpus.

The Idea: Replace Email

 I suspect that tweaking the inbox is not enough, and that email has to be replaced with a new protocol…the new protocol should give more power to the recipient than email does.

The responders:

  • Mailbox: Even if you’re not among the million+ who signed up for Mailbox, you’ve probably heard of the triage-focused iPhone app. Mailbox lets you swipe to delete, defer to specific date/time, or mark as done.
  • Mail Pilot: Desktop client Mail Pilot also approaches email from the todo list angle, but it categorizes all incoming messages as Incomplete. Users then mark them as done, defer them to a specific date, or move them to folders.
  • Gander: <shameless plug> Gander is a responsive app that sorts incoming mail into Inbox (people you have a history of responding with) and Skimbox (robots, strangers, Aunt Kathy’s FWD:FWD:FWD joke emails). Gander also uses swipe-based triage, allowing users to swipe messages to delete, mark as done, and move to skim.</shameless plug>

The Idea: Replace Universities

There will be many different ways to learn different things, and some may look quite different from universities.

The responders:

  • Thiel Fellowships: So, this one isn’t technically a response, as it started in 2010, but there is no higher profile example of the skip-college movement than Paypal founder (and Stanford alumn) Peter Thiel’s fellowships, which award high-achieving high school grads $100k, provided they don’t go to college.
  • Udacity: Udacity offers free college-level courses composed of short videos and interactive project. When it launched late last February, it had two courses, both in computer science. Today it also offers courses in mathematics, business, and physics.
  • The Minerva Project: Minerva is billed as the place to get an online education that surpasses that offered by the country’s top universities, for under half the tuition price. How: through combination of ace professors and constant individual assessment, plus a non-profit institute , led by former senator and New School president Bob Kerrey, that will “create new programs to finance students’ education and recruit top-level teaching talent.”
  • Apprenticeship programs: Apprentices get paid—and paid well—to learn the skills required for a specific trade. Presently, only .3% of the American workforce are apprentices, but American University economist Rob Lerman told NPR he’s optimistic that number will grow. One example: Siemens expanded its four-year apprenticeship program, which ends with a guaranteed job, to the states last year.

Read it in full


Comments (



%d bloggers like this: