entrepreneurship, Firefox, Israel, London, Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good, Silicon Valley, Twitter, Valley Girl, venture capital, Web/Tech

Valley-Ho!

If there's one theme that I've thought about, talked about and written about the most over my career covering tech and finance it's the debate of whether you need to relocate to Silicon Valley to be successful. In my case, there's no doubt I've had a better career just by covering business in the Valley, so it's hard for me to believe anyone who wants to profit from the startup ecosystem wouldn't be more successful here. Over the years, I've read a lot of weak treatises that say Valley isn't all that great, ultimately coming off either bitter or just naive, but here is a pretty nice piece arguing against Valley relocation. Although, I'm still not convinced.

The strongest point the writer makes is about the damaging affects of the temptation to bulk up on venture capital and not figure out a real business. There is a certain "Valley game" you can get sucked into that can cloud good judgment. Although, I think tying that to Web 2.0 is a bit misleading since the hottest Web 2.0 companies all bootstrapped themselves or lived on angel funding for most of their early days. And besides, really, isn't knowing when to take money just a test of a good entrepreneur? Hell, I've been offered money to start a company before. It's not access to cash that defines your worth, it's the discipline to know if that's the right thing for you and your business.

Per the point about it being harder to retain great people in the Valley, that argument can go both ways. Pro argument for the Valley: the Valley has more talent than anywhere else and they all know the costs and risks of being at a startup. Con: the best people always want to flock to the next hot startup. Personally, I think the latter is overstated. There are certain momentum seekers who will flock to the next pre-IPO name, but those are the people most entrepreneurs don't want working for them, so actually that phenomenon can be a nice filter. After all smart people work at Mozilla, a company that has said it will never go public. Also, if startups are worried a hotter name will steal their coders, doesn't that put a healthy pressure on startups to be the best they can. I just generally think competition is good for business. I guess it comes down to what you want: a nice business that might get acquired or to really build something big and lasting. If it's the latter and you can't make it in the Valley, are you really good enough to be a billion dollar company?

For good measure, here is a nice piece Evan Williams wrote about it earlier this year. As you'll see he's mixed too, but I think his story underscores the more practical point: There's an undeniable correlation with being in the Valley and success, so if it's easier why wouldn't you just move? Evan also points out the social advantages of living in a place where there's so much creativity and entrepreneurial spirit in the air. Indeed, that seems to be the part people outside the Valley miss. Because it's one of those things you need to be around to understand. It is the norm to want to build something here-- that's incredibly powerful to entrepreneurs in other parts of the world who are used to feeling like outcasts or silly dreamers.

I'm thinking about this a lot today (while everyone else still seems to be obsessing about Micro-hoo!), as I finish up a column on Isreali entrepreneurs for BusinessWeek. I talked about this a lot over there: Whether all Israeli startups have to move their HQ to the Valley or not, so check out my column this week for more. Israel has benefitted greatly from this symbiotic relationship, but the question is whether it holds them back from being a true technology hub. One interesting note: the people who tend to argue you don't have to move usually aren't in the process of building a company. They have either already made their money (frequently, by relocating to the Valley) or are investors, attorneys or other members of the startup ecosystem in markets outside the Valley. In other words, there's a logical argument that boosters of Atlanta, Austin, London or Tel Aviv can make, but when it's actually your business and you're the one trying to mitigate risk of failure, it's another matter.

There's something about it that's like looking at a baseball team's lineup in April. It could look like a killer team on paper, but somehow on the field they just don't gel. A city could have every natural resource a startup needs, and somehow lack that cultural glue, support system or whatever you want to call it that is really the intangible reason people don't leave the Valley once they are here. A lot about this in my book, and I'd love to hear thoughts from any readers once it's out and I (hopefully!) have readers.

And with that hackneyed analogy, I am off to a Sunday baseball game! Any Israelis: send me some final thoughts before I file!

Comments

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Hi Sarah,

I'm an Israeli based in Silicon Valley. I founded VC Cafe (www.vccafe.com) in 2005, showcasing early stage startups and venture capital news with a spotlight on Israel.

I'll be happy to connect and provide my
comments on the question of relocation to Silicon Valley.

Shoot me an email if you want to chat today.

Best,
Eze

Great post Sarah. I've taken consulting gigs all over the world with a lot in DC and NY but there's something special about the bay area. It's the people, the buzz, the speed, the innovation. Without sounding hyperbolous, it's unique.

Only I, Blue Steele, Hammer and Cranky G REALLY know to what your title refers ;)

Suite!

Seems like this is a debate that could be settled pretty quickly with some data about success rates, with "success rates" being defined as consecutively profitable quarters, or an exit with a 15x multiple, etc. Perhaps the NVCA or somebody keeps data like that.

Having moved from the Valley to Austin and worked with startups in both, I can't say that I've noticed anything about the latter that makes it harder to build a successful company than the former. I suspect the ratio of quality startups to quality local talent is roughly equal, and a good company can get VC from all over the country (I've worked with Austin companies funded by Benchmark and Battery). The Valley seems to be more enamored with consumer internet plays, which can lead to more lucrative exits, but which also attract a lot of employees and investors who are clouded by a 1990s-era mentality of eyeballs-over-profits. Whereas the B2B tech plays (which seem to be the hallmark of non-Valley tech hubs) seem stodgy by comparison, but they do lend themselves to recurring revenues and greater sustainability, if not Netscape-like IPO potential.

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Srah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is an award-winning reporter who has covered high-growth entrepreneurship for more than fifteen years. She is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of PandoDaily.com, the site-of-record for the startup ecosystem. She lives in San Francisco.

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