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Automated Entrepreneurship

by on April 28, 2021

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Throw ideas into the marketplace and see what sticks

 
As part of our ongoing work building the Automated Media Network, we’ve been researching GPT-3 based applications and services. In so doing, it has been an interesting exercise both in the biases embedded into GPT-3, as well as the biases reflected in how the companies are choosing to use this technology.

Perhaps a succinct way to sum it all up, is via the concept of automated entrepreneurship. After all, these tools could be used in a wide range of applications, yet overwhelmingly they tend to focus on helping entrepreneurs automate as much as possible when it comes to conceiving and articulating a new business.

This is partly a reflection of the emerging world of automated marketing, which we’ll explore in a future issue. The assumption being that if you can automate all the marketing to promote a business, then the pre-requisite is the business itself.

Hence if you could automate the brainstorm, the brand, the products, the services, the mission, and the value proposition, you’re already up and running. Do this repeatedly, with any and all iterations, and you get the opportunity to throw ideas out into the marketplace and see what performs.

As most of us have limited capital, this remains an intellectual exercise. However for those who have (access to) capital, is this a viable means of business development?

Does it enable the velocity and diversity of niches that many suggest are the secret to contemporary business success?

I’m not entirely convinced, but rather suspect it is a kind of snake-oil used to sell AI technology that is not yet ready for the marketplace, but is being sold anyway. As if in wondering who would buy an imperfect but interesting GPT-3 based service, assume that those who are eager to start a business are exactly the kind of archetype who’d buy?

The concept of automated entrepreneurship is not new, even if you’re average substack author might think that they coined the phrase.

As an investor, I was very broadly familiar with the space of enterprise software for small businesses and startups, but it wasn’t until I actually started using services like Shopify and Printful that I realized how valuable they really are. Many of you probably have a pretty good grasp on Shopify – it is the end-to-end solution for starting an online store. No need to have build a payment infrastructure, or an inventory system, or really anything. It’s super simple, which is especially impressive considering how hard setting up an online store used to be (allegedly, it’s not like I ever really tried it, but I am sure I would have struggled with it). Shopify is as close to an all-in-one solution as you can get.

But you might be not be as familiar with a product like Printful. Printful is a drop shipping solution that can help back up your online store. My wife and I are using it to fulfill order for our initial line of products. All that we had to do was create the designs (we’ve had some awesome help there along the way too), match them with the product suite that Printful provides, and integrate with your online store (they have a bunch of integrations with products like Shopify, Squarespace commerce, and the like). It’s incredibly easy and seamless. And in an age of social media and microinfluencers, being able to monetize your brand easily through a service like Printful can be super helpful. And it’s not just influencers and esports stars – if you are a local grocer who wants to make product easily and sell it in store, Printful has capabilities for that too. As far as business startup tools are concerned, Printful is an example of what the future looks like.

There are several categories that these business startup tools (or automated entrepreneurship software) can be segmented into. Those categories, completely made up by me, are as follows: Customer Interfacing, Logistics, Communication, Back-Office Automation, and Financial Management. Of course, most of these can just be slotted into the enterprise software space. However, it’s important to note that these are specifically focused on getting businesses off the ground. And while that may sound like semantics, there’s a big difference between the logistics software you use if you are Kroger, and that which you use if you are the brand-new concept restaurant around the corner.

If you are starting a business and in the market for technology and services such as these, there are a couple of good resources that can be found here and here (GitLab open sourced its business tech stack, as one does when you are GitLab, and it’s a pretty exhaustive resource). While there’s a whole blog post out there dying to be written about what the best business stacks are for any business, now is not the time for that. There are plenty of resources out there already. Plus, I need to do a little more field testing myself to figure out what the best startup business stack actually is.

For many entrepreneurship is about making money, and the faster that can happen the better, right? Get rich quick? Isn’t that the game?

Or alternatively, it is about maximizing capacity, and doing the most with the least amount of resources, which is what makes entrepreneurship more accessible?


Or are we just kidding ourselves.

What if entrepreneurship is more often than not the illusion of freedom, the illusion of agency, and instead just another form of being a cog in the larger meta machine?

This is the concept of puppet entrepreneurship, which is an insight derived from critical analysis of how algorithms are changing franchising:

It obviously doesn’t have to be this way.

Skewing automated media tools towards low quality and high volume business idea generation is not the best use of the technology. Nor is it necessarily something that is going to result in successful businesses.

Rather it illustrates one of the fundamental biases of GPT-3 and AI in general, which is that it is both superficial, and amplifies dominant cultures and logic. In this case, that the purpose of life is to make money and build a business.

Which it isn’t. Even for those who enjoy doing that.

GPT-3 is touted as an advanced natural language processing engine, and yet based on our experiences so far, there’s nothing natural about it. Rather it skews heavily towards a business logic that doesn’t even make sense in a business context or culture.

This kind of narrow world view not only limits the potential of the AI, but also the potential of automated entrepreneurship.

Making it easier and more accessible for people to start a business is great. Of course not as great as it would be for people to organize and empower their communities. Though perhaps automated community development is not possible? Or just another future topic for us to explore?

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