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This is a guest blog post from Marty Kelly
Dubliner, Techie, Venture, Soul, Father, Rubgy
Why go to the valley?
Today, I’m returning from almost 6 weeks in the US. It has been an amazing trip which kicked off with SmartCamp
in New York in June and ended with a number of hectic days traveling up and down route 101.
I’m a relative newcomer to this scene and only started coming to the valley 4 years ago. My initial reaction
was one of confusion and disappointment as I tried in vain to ‘find it’. Those who come here regularly know
that the valley is more of a collection of discrete nodes better thought of as an area and community rather
than specific location.
There are many historical and cultural reasons why this place is the center of the technology universe. My
colleagues in IBM Venture Capital here are asked to host international delegations on a regular
basis. These groups are keen to understand the ‘magic sauce’ and bring some home with them. However like the
giant redwoods and sequoias you can’t uproot and simply plant in a new location. Many have tried and failed to
create their own version of Silicon Valley.
Over the last decade we have seen the gradual expansion of the VC industry into emerging market. There is a lot
of excitement about what is happening in China and Brazil at the moment. However, the valley still has the
lion’s share of VC funding globally by some margin.
The roots of this ecosystem are long and deep. They consist of a small army of experienced investors and serial
entrepreneurs. It also attracts world-class marketing, sales and engineering talent from all over the globe. In
effect a environment including investors, academics, lawyers, PR firms and many others who understand their
role in starting and scaling the hottest tech companies.
Some of these folks are in the middle of it. Working for a tech company, VC firm or supporting service
provider. Others are watching their brother\father\sister\wife\friend\husband experience the emotional roller-
coaster of a start-up or fast growing tech company. It’s mainstream here. More importantly there is collective
community knowledge of how this works. That is hard to copy.
There are however some major shifts. The venture industry is being disrupted in a number of ways. New models
for starting and funding start-ups (e.g. accelerators, crowdfunding, Angelist) are emerging.
In addition much of the ‘how to’ knowledge is being shared thanks to folks like Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Dave
McClure, David Cohen, Fred Wilson and Brad Fled to name but a few.
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So the veil is being slowly lifted and I think this will continue. It will be easier than ever to understand
how to seed and grow a tech start-up. However there is a big difference between reading a book about swimming
and successfully managing to survive in open waters. Experience and immersion are great teachers. Maybe this is
why accelerator programs are so fashionable right now. Who wants to read about it when they can actually do it.
For me the most interesting thing here is not the wall of money, the talk of inflated evaluations or the hype
around the latest stealth company. Rather it is watching the social connections and interactions which bind
together all of these actors. It is the immersive learning and the collective support for the wildest dreams of
the technology entrepreneur.
Martin Varsavsky gave a great
presentation at Inspire in London recently urging the audience not to go to the valley but rather to stay in
Europe and launch their latest project at home. His argument was ‘you won’t get into the inner circle – you
won’t be able to compete with Facebook or Twitter for the best engineers’. Besides Europe has more consumers
and Europeans know how to party Hard to disagree however the reality is that no where else on the planet has
this level of tactic knowledge and support for entrepreneurs. No where else celebrates the tech entrepreneur
like Silicon Valley. Richard Titus did a great piece in
February talking about what was wrong with European venture.
What struck me most from this experience – in addition to the casual clothing and laid-back atmosphere of Sand
Hill Road – was the absolute focus on the entrepreneur as the “talent”. Whatever Greylock’s interest in
investing (slim, as they are invested in our competitor, Auditude) their hospitality was impeccable; the result
of years of learning that a happy entrepreneur is a great source of both direct and indirect deal flow in the
It’s not just about the returns but rather the mindset and focus on the entrepreneur as the star.
As a European it is great to see media coverage like Forbes saying we don’t need Silicon Valley. Also the recent debate sparked by the Earlybird
presentation that European venture is more capital efficient makes good headlines. Seedcamp and StartupBootcamp have done an amazing job in help to create a pan European scene in a
short period of time.
Andrew Scott does a nice job explaining the background and giving a good summary of the history and coverage of
the debate in The Myth Of Silicon Valley. Also interesting debate between Hermione Way’s “The Problem With Silicon Valley Is Itself“ on The Next Web, which prompted a great
response from Robert
Scoble on why SV continues to lead.
Overall there are pockets of amazing entrepreneurial work happening in even the most remote places in the
world. We have previously covered some of this including young
entrepreneurs and activities in a number of emerging markets including the spirit of
enterprise in Haiti.
Daniel Isenberg is leading some
great thinking regarding what city officials, public servants and economic development groups should do instead
to constructively support entrepreneurship program in their cities.
However these activities take time to grow. Besides this is not a zero sum game. The more we can extend those
connections around the globe the better. The Valley in 2011 continues to be an amazingly complex and inspiring
So go and experience it. See how it works. Drink in the good vibes. Feel the energy. Let the goodwill fuel your
unreasonable vision. Then bring it back home. Spread the excitement. Stay connected. Try to build bridges. Find
excuses to return. This stuff is too important to so concentrate in just 1 place.
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