“The Valley is not just a place anymore, it’s a mind set, it’s a way of looking to things.” - Shervin Pishevar (@Shervin)
As someone who has ‘lived’ in three different startup scenes in the past five years (Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area and now DC), I get asked a lot about what separates them all and whether people should just up and move to the Bay Area if they really want to win.
Startups-a-roni, the San Francisco Treat There is something incredibly unique in the Bay Area, but it’s not the weather, the tax rates or the smart phone penetration. Turns out, the Bay Area (or the Valley as I sorta hate to call it) has something damn important: attitude. It’s that attitude that pushes people to think longer term, dream a little bigger and team up a little more. It’s a bit of a “we don’t really care what you think unless you are here” vibe. And frankly, it works. I didn’t understand that attitude while I was living in Seattle (I frankly thought it was a bit overrated), but once we plunked Zaarly down in Mint Plaza in SoMa, it became completely clear: the attitude to win is why more Bay Area startups with and is frankly contagious for the entrepreneurs that are living and working in the Bay Area.
It’s not to say that places like Seattle or DC aren’t great ecosystems in their own right. They are both creating companies and will foster startups, and I’m more impressed every day by the startups I’m seeing. BUT, you won’t get the attitude I see in ‘Valley’ entrepreneurs without spending some quality time with the people that make up the SF scene. I’d even go so far as to say that NYC has a touch of that attitude, but it’s not quite pervasive like I’ve experienced in San Francisco. You get the sense that it’s okay to dream big, talk a little crazy, and maybe screw up royally… but everyone else is doing it so it’s cool. That’s the attitude.
So You’re Saying I Should Just Up and Move to SF? Okay, so just what am I saying here? Am I playing the violin and saying ‘so sad for you’ if you live in Peoria or Dallas or LA? No, far from it. In fact, I think today more than ever it is okay to live wherever you are and start a company there (as Steve Case says, “It’s the rise of the rest.”) Instead, I’m saying any entrepreneur or startup person should be spending time in the Bay Area or with people who are from or have that Bay Area attitude. It’s a bit hard to describe, but you want to develop that same attitude that says, “It’s a bit crazy, but let’s give it a shot.”
Getting and living that ‘Valley’ attitude requires a bit of a different thought process. That may mean you forgo the safe lead gen revenue model for a shot at building a transactional marketplace. Or that may mean you decide to join four other talented people to cofound something rather founding five smaller companies. Or that may mean you move to SF for a month and just meet, learn and experience before you really start your company.
Rise of the Rest; Learn from the Best Okay, that was super cheezy and I apologize. But it sorta works. While I’ve met and hung out with great entrepreneurs in Seattle and new friends and entrepreneurs in DC, the ones that I’d invest in are those that embrace the uniqueness of the ‘Valley’ attitude. And I don’t think that’s to say they need to up and move their companies to San Francisco – it’s just that they are attending conferences, drinking with SF-based entrepreneurs, talking to investors on Sand Hill Road, and embracing what is going on there. And I don’t mean like doing an investor pitch session, but actually going to Sightglass or Blue Bottle or Coupa Cafe or Rosewood to talk with people and feel/experience their enthusiasm.
I’m bullish on the fact that entrepreneurship is being democratized in places like Des Moines or Tucson or Boulder or Detroit. But I believe that startup companies that move the needle, need to experience and “get” why the Valley attitude has been going strong for the past couple decades.
So get out there. Setup some coffees, some lunches, some meetups and some tours. There are plenty of great entrepreneurs, investors and community members who would love to show you around. It’s an investment in attitude worth making.