Last week, I attended a book release event for Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups, by Evan Burfield with J.D. Harrison. Evan is well-known in DC tech circles as one of the co-founders of the 1776 startup network. I’m not a fan of the term regulatory hacking, but the basic concept raised by the book is extremely important: the most exciting and consequential business growth opportunities today are mainly found in highly regulated markets. Examples include drug discovery, agtech, autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and artificial intelligence. Succeeding in these markets requires more than crafting a cool new app. Entrepreneurs will need to understand how regulations affect market development. They can’t just “hack” their way through problems, but will need to work carefully to ensure that new products, services, and technologies improve our lives and do no harm, while also making money along the way. As the book notes, “the easy problems in tech have been solved.”
Regulatory Hacking is very strong in making this case, and in providing a playbook for how to succeed in these new market structures. The new market realities also suggest that building businesses may become more challenging in the years ahead, as time to market and the cost to develop new business models will increase. Complex markets create complexity. So, while the potential for growth is profound, the path to success will not be easy. Hard problems will require sophisticated solutions that involve new approaches to business, closer collaborations between government and the tech sector, and a good dose of patience as well.