What My 70-Year-Old Mom Can Teach Startups About Competition

Aaron Dinin, PhD
5 min readNov 26, 2019

Growing up, I remember my parents recording their favorite TV shows on a VCR while the rest of the world had begun switching to DVRs. Like all petulant children, my siblings and I would regularly make fun of them for being “old” and “behind the times.”

“That’ll never be us,” we’d swear. We’d always be the kinds of people who bought the newest phones the day they came out.

Fast forward 20 years…

I was on my way home from the supermarket Sunday morning and decided to call my mom (incidentally, on a 3-year-old iPhone). When I mentioned I was driving home from a grocery store, she said, “That reminds me… hold on a second.”

Then she called out: “Alexa, add paper towels to my shopping list before delivering my groceries tomorrow.”

What the heck? My 70-year-old mother was using her digital voice assistant to get food delivered to her door while I was spending my Sunday morning in a long checkout line. Didn’t she worry about someone else doing a poor job of choosing the freshest produce? Didn’t she care about getting the brands that were on sale? Didn’t she want the free samples?

More importantly, when did my mom become more tech savvy than me?

The answer, of course, is that it was never an issue of not being tech savvy.

Thinking back on my trip to the grocery store, I realized the phenomenon that had caused me to laugh at my mom and her generation is now impacting my own generation. While the grocery store had been busy, most of the people there were my age… “middle aged.” People my mom’s age weren’t grocery shopping on Sunday morning. I wonder how many of them are using Alexa to save themselves the trip. And 20-year-olds weren’t grocery shopping. They’re perfectly comfortable ordering their meals through Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.

But lots of people like me — people with young families and young careers who are used to shopping for groceries on weekends — haven’t taken the time to understand food delivery, so we get our food the way we always have.

Mind you, this isn’t a post about food delivery. Maybe you’re a mid-30-something who, unlike me, is perfectly comfortable ordering groceries online…

Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com

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