April 10, 2023

Startups, I beg you: please stop democratising access to things

You can make accessing your crypto app the most undemocratic event ever for all I care

Éanna Kelly

2 min read

Source: Lexie Yu and midjourney

"We’re democratising access to X": an expression I didn’t know before joining Sifted but one I now read every single day.

If a tech journalist leaves their laptop for five minutes, they inevitably return to find a new startup in their inbox claiming to have democratised some big swathe of life. 

You’re all at it. Fintechs are democratising access to investing. Spacetechs are democratising access to galaxies far far away. Someone’s democratising access to tractors that WhatsApp you about tillage. You can’t finish a chocolate bar without a founder popping up to democratise meditation. 


ChatGPT is democratising written language (and someday tyrannising me out of a job). Another person is democratising access to their squiggly NFTs (feel free to make access to your crypto app the most undemocratic event ever). And on it goes: the capitalist euphoria surging until 6pm, when we all log off. 

The expression usually has one meaning when used by a company: “We’ve made something slightly easier for you to buy.” 

Clearly I’ve entered the "old man yells at cloud" phase every journo slips into — or maybe I’m just inspired by editor Amy’s broadside on unicorns — but we need to retire this busted bit of jabber. And in any case, as far as I can glean from horrified gawps at political chat in the US, Israel and Hungary, maybe democratising access to things is outdated anyway? 

A cloud of blah

Sure, we've been just as guilty as anyone in the past. And being super truthful, I’ve come close to writing these words a few times myself in tired moments when I just can’t think of something better to explain — oh I don’t know — an egg whisk that’s on the blockchain. 

But when in doubt, just stop. Don’t feed the vast cloud of blah. You're hurting the ecosystem (a term, by the way, that deserves a take-down article of its own). 

It’s time to let democratise die in darkness. Here are some ideas to replace it:

  • “We’ve made a new thing that lots of you could and should buy.”
  • “This new thingamajig is attainable for a pretty big group of people. Come get it.”
  • “With our new SaaS gizmo, we’re striving for full market dilation." (Actually, don’t say this)

So then. Another small annoyance ticked off. Next week’s column: why all new tech — not just generative AI — should be paused, starting with your company.

Éanna Kelly

Éanna Kelly is a contributing editor at Sifted. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn