Silicon Valley is known as the birthplace for startups bent on disrupting the world around them.
However, Spark Capital partner Nabeel Hyatt doesn’t see much invention going on.
“There is very little of building a startup right now that you would count as pure invention,” Hyatt told Business Insider. “I took a thing and didn’t exist in the world at all and I made it.”
Hyatt led Spark’s investments in Cruise, a self-driving car startup which sold to GM earlier this year for a rumoured $1 billion, as well as Postmates.
Today, he says, Silicon Valley startups are mostly adding innovations to an existing system, instead of inventing something that’s never been seen before. Copying another person’s product is something that’s looked down upon, but it’s also the root of a lot of companies who want to add efficiencies to an industry rather than remake it from the ground up.
“We will see and in fact we will invest in some wonderful innovative companies that have found a way to move that industry forward a little more,” Hyatt said. “But on balance, there’s just not enough people who are saying ‘I’m going to truly invent something new that never existed.'”
One of the few truly inventive startups he’s seen recently is Thalmic Labs, which recently got a $120 million investment from Spark, Amazon, and Intel, for a still-secret product.
Hyatt also cites both Twitter and SpaceX as another two examples where he thinks the company’s founders truly invented something.
“I think the reason people get so wrapped in the story of Elon Musk and SpaceX is not because they want to see rockets in space so badly — they saw rockets in space when they were kids — but it’s because they admire the fact that he had to walk a path that had not been trodden before,” Hyatt said. “How do you privately build rocket craft? That hadn’t been done.”
That’s a technical example of invention, but there can be creative examples too. Hyatt’s firm, Spark Capital, was an early investor in Twitter and realised that the service was being wrongly compared to existing chat apps, like AOL instant messenger and Meebo, when it was actually something new entirely.
“And obviously, that product has nothing to do with those products. It’s grown up entirely differently,” Hyatt said. “It’s a very interesting and unique communications mechanism that really still doesn’t exist anywhere else. They invented a new way to communicate, which is really fascinating.”