Silicon Valley is inexplicable, a phenomenon unto itself. You can start an internet company anywhere, but your experience starting one in the Valley will be remarkably different from starting one elsewhere. The Valley’s perfect blend of support (funding, legal, media coverage, and social) plus an inexhaustible talent pool makes it hard to replicate. But what is it about the Valley that makes it so special?
Paul Graham wrote an article a while ago about how to be Silicon Valley. He claimed that the two main requirements to duplicate the Valley are nerds and rich people. So, Pittsburgh has lots of nerds, but no rich people. Hence you don’t hear about the next Google coming from the Steel City. The same applies to Miami, which has lots of rich people (and professional athletes), but no nerds. In considering things like personality, creativity, and youthfulness of a city, I like the following passage:
…Most good startup ideas seem a little crazy; if they were obviously good ideas, someone would have done them already.
That’s the connection between technology and liberalism. Without exception the high-tech cities in the US are also the most liberal. But it’s not because liberals are smarter that this is so. It’s because liberal cities tolerate odd ideas, and smart people by definition have odd ideas.
Conversely, a town that gets praised for being “solid” or representing “traditional values” may be a fine place to live, but it’s never going to succeed as a startup hub.
Being “a fine place to live” describes Cincinnati to a tee. If our company is successful, it will have been in the face of the extraordinary limitations of where it started. I love this town, but this is no place to start an growth internet startup. Advertising or manufacturing, maybe. One of the reasons I joined was the idea of being a part of maybe the first real consumer internet success in this city. But I digress.
This article in the NY Times, “Seattle Taps Its Inner Silicon Valley,” talked about how Seattle is becoming the next Silicon Valley. The article rightly found Seattle following in Silicon Valley’s footsteps, with its influx of venture capital and transformation from timber and aerospace to internet, based around U-Dub and of course Microsoft and Amazon:
“A start-up ecosystem needs social networks, support businesses and a business culture that views failure as a badge of honor, not shame. All of that is in place in Seattle.”
That article generated a small firestorm of opinion. Glenn Kelman, Seattle resident and CEO of Redfin.com, took issue with the comparison in his blog “How Green Was My Valley.” Kelman’s pointed out why Seattle is indubitably not Silicon Valley, and never will be, thankfully.
“My first roommate spent four years building a company in San Francisco without ever buying furniture. When his startup went bust, he packed for the trip home to Toronto the same day. Seattle is different. People live in Seattle because they love Seattle.”
Michael Arrington of Techcrunch, and defender of all things Silicon Valley, reacted with “An Outsider’s Flawed View Of Silicon Valley,” a post defending the region from the Kelman’s blog. Arrington eloquently, if not arrogantly, proclaimed Silicon Valley as the supreme center of all things internet entrepreneurship, and anyone claiming that it’s better to start a tech company anywhere else is delusional. I wouldn’t disagree, I guess (emphasis his):
“But the best of the best come to Silicon Valley to see if they’re as good as the legends that came before them. It’s a competitive advantage to be here. And if you aren’t willing to take advantage of every possible advantage to make your crazy startup idea work, perhaps you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur… Making lifestyle choices is fine, but don’t delude yourself into thinking those choices are anything but a tradeoff. If staring at lakes and skiing after work are important to you, don’t pretend to be surprised when your startup doesn’t cut it.”
Doing what I do, where I do, certainly comes with a cost. But the benefit is that I don’t abruptly move my family to California (oh to be 22 again). Whether the cost or benefit was the bigger factor remains to be seen.