The “Backbone of Silicon Valley”

I just had the most gratifying conversation with Carol Sands, founder and managing director of The Angels’ Forum.

Later this month, a group of young Taiwanese Web 2.0 entrepreneurs will be coming through the Valley. A few have aspirations to move their companies to the United States, and they certainly have product concepts that are every bit as fundable as a lot of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. But, The Angels’ Forum, like most investors, has a clear policy that it doesn’t invest in companies that are not local. So, most of the half-dozen pitches that might be thrown to the Forum’s management are not even in the batter’s box, let alone the strike zone.

“But,” said Carol, “If these companies just want practice pitching, we’d be glad to spend some time with them and offer feedback.”

A generous offer, and I gave Carol every opportunity to back away from her good intentions. “Chris, the backbone of Silicon Valley is doing favors. We do something good for you and somehow, someday it’ll come back. That’s how it is.” Carol was so matter of fact that I almost felt embarrassed to have given her an out.

Carol is right, of course. But it struck me that she approaches the Network of Good Deeds from a refreshing — and perhaps, sadly, dated — perspective. Carol trusts in karma and good will and giving.

Too often, in the wonderful world of go-go Web 2.0 entrepreneurship, the coin is flipped. This generation of entrepreneur trusts in a “take-take” culture. I take from you, someone will take from me, hopefully, when the music stops, I’ve taken more than the other guy. We take because we know someone later will take from us.

I experience this every day. People call or email to “pick my brain.” They want my expertise and perspective. Only very rarely do people offer to give back. And oddly, the vast majority of those who do have been around this business longer. They are, like me, sporting a few more gray hairs. They understand that you get as good as you give, and that the giving part of it comes first.

Maybe I’m becoming an old fart, or I’m an idealist, or I’m just not good at this take-take mindset. But it’s a sad commentary, I think, to find it remarkable and freshing when someone offers a favor, a bit of time without clear payback.

If the network of give and take is, in fact, the “Backbone of Silicon Valley,” as Carol suggests, then we all need to sit up a bit straighter or risk the bad posture that seems increasingly common place these days.

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