We try to stay above the fray around here – engaging in back-and-forth with other bloggers doesn’t seem to benefit the reader – but sometimes the posts just write themselves. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, based in Seattle, recently commented on the insularity of Silicon Valley, positing that perhaps one doesn’t have to suffer the hubris – and over-inflated real estate values – of the vaunted tech hub to succeed in technology. Blogger Michael Arrington zinged him for it, suggesting that, “If you don’t think you have what it takes to make it in Silicon Valley, maybe Seattle…is the place for you.” He even goes so far as to insinuate that if you’re not in the Valley, you shouldn’t bother starting a business.
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.
Emphasis his. And mine, actually. The hubris of this is astounding. What needs to be said here is that without the rest of the country Arrington dismisses so quickly, all the ideas formulated in the Valley are going exactly nowhere. Like it or not – and many in the Valley don’t like it – entrepreneurs in the consumer sector need to be ever mindful of Sally Stay-At-Home and Carl Cubicle (or vice versa). These folks don’t know a Twitter from a Pownce and don’t care to. They’re looking for technology that will make their lives easier; it’s as simple as that. Technology that doesn’t require they spend hours a day online, submitting articles to be dugg and updating statuses. Technology that insiders dismiss as “tacky garbage,” as Gizmodo called the digital picture frames that are selling well at Target and WalMart stores across the country.
This is not a new bandwagon on which I’m jumping. My ongoing (and some say annoying) mantra is to remember the outsiders. That until we recognize and strive to understand the real computing needs of everyday consumers, we can’t truly effect a change in people’s lives. And understanding everyday consumers means getting out of Silicon Valley. The majority of commenters on Arrington’s post echo this sentiment. One in particular hit the nail on the head: “…it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re working on something big that has appeal outside the valley.”
There’s one more point I have to make and then I’ll leave this rant. Arrington inadvertently bolstered one of Glenn’s arguments – that no one in the Valley can afford to grow up – with the following:
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.
There are many people like me and Glenn who, after networking our asses off in Silicon Valley and bleeding our bank accounts dry for rent, looked around and realized we weren’t happy. That immersing ourselves in startups 24-7 was getting a little old and that – gasp – we wanted to enjoy ourselves. That it turns out you don’t have to pay $1M for a 2 bedroom house that needs major repair and can instead buy a mansion and a T3 line anywhere in the world and still keep a close eye on all things technology.
Silicon Valley is a great environment. It is necessary to make some pilgrimages there when starting a business. It is a thriving hub of ideas that every entrepreneur should experience. But it isn’t the end-all, be-all. I don’t have the time or space to list the market-altering technologies that sprouted elsewhere. It really isn’t necessary; any seasoned entrepreneur will agree: innovation happens between the ears, not between San Francisco and San Jose.
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