There’s a world beyond Silicon Valley.

The south side of the Googleplex building in M...

Image via Wikipedia

The Valley is what it is and we love that about it but it’s NOT the rest of the US. Or the rest of the world.

At some point in the conversation with founders, government bodies, officials within public/private partnerships,  or sometimes investors in Durban, Hong Kong or India, I’m asked (a) about Silicon Valley.

What it’s like in ‘the valley’? How often do I need to visit Sand Hill Road. Have I been to Facebook or Google? I heard they have sheep that eat the grass at Google and they pick you up. How do we replicate their success here? Can you help us make that happen? 

Some truths, some myths — always interesting. I’d be no different if the tables were turned.

Silicon Valley’s success isn’t a fluke.

It’s not new. It’s not going anywhere. It can’t be entirely replicated. You can copy and try and emulate but as Sifry-san says, “it’s not just the water”.

It’s not one company or one person but a long standing ecosystem of interdependent and opposing interests fighting for local, national and international success. What once was an idea on the back of a napkin in a budding founders mind can mix with an accommodating talent pool, funding, time and a bit of luck to live to see the day their startup is a household name in the remotest parts of the world and with a multi-billion dollar valuation. Google, Facebook, Cisco .. instantly recognizable names that either started or rapidly expanded within Silicon Valley. BECAUSE of the Valley some would argue. ONLY in the valley others would vehemently argue.

The flip side to this uniqueness comes in Silicon Valley being an inaccurate representation of the rest of the United States.

I fully agree that trends start in the Valley and permeate out. No argument there. I’m looking at a shorter time frame than this — I’m looking at the time it takes a founder to get buzz in the valley and the 6-18 months it takes them to look beyond the Valley for customers.  That’s where the disconnect between norm in the valley and the norm elsewhere hits founders in the face and right to their bottom line. If your entire and foreseeable target client is within Silicon Valley, this post doesn’t apply to you.

The headquarters of Intuit Inc. in Mountain Vi...

Image via Wikipedia

If you look around Silicon Valley, iPhone and iPads reign. The rest of America is now getting the iPhone and that’s because it’s on sale at AT&T.

BTW, the iPhone grew.2% in total US smartphone subscribers from Feb 2010 to Feb 2011 according to Comscore.

In the valley, the only computer you see are Mac’s — do I need to talk about MS Windows % of the OS market. If your startup builds software — yes the kind you download and install — do you have both operating systems covered or just what you see the most around town?

People still build software? Isn’t everything on the cloud? I love SaaS, invested in SaaS companies, advised SaaS companies, use SaaS company services and can appreciate the time to market value it provides startups (everywhere) but don’t take “being in the cloud” as automatically being a GOOD thing. You’ll get a sharp rebuke from clients, partners and investors in many parts of the world.

Google isn’t the #1 search engine in every country. Facebook isn’t the #1 social network in every country. Are your growth projections based exclusively on Twitter and Facebook?

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Are you building for a wider common denominator than just iPhones? You’d never hear ‘mobile friendly website’ in the Valley — you’d hear App. Guess what; if you’re selling to most parts of the world, you’re better off with the former.

If you’re a video streaming startup, not everybody is like South Korea with blazing fast Internet or Finland with unbelievable Internet penetration. In South Africa, you pay per megabyte downloaded in many cases. You thought the 400 MB ‘download patch’ from was unappealing before — try paying to download it. (yes this trend is changing thankfully which will make my next trip there all the more enjoyable ..)

If your startup needs to embrace customers beyond the Valley — are you basing your success on shaky or incorrect assumptions? 

If you’re from the valley, your investors are from the valley, your mentors are from the valley, you went to Berkeley or Stanford and initial “traction” came from a post on TechCrunch — those are all wonderful things and should not be discounted — but is there an ‘outside’ perspective you’re missing?

I’ve highlighted international differences but this arbitrage occurs within the US.  Not everybody is going to open “convertible notes” with open arms in Los Angeles or Orange County. Don’t make those assumptions and find out the hard way.

My net is to be cognizant of the way these regional and international disconnects affect your personal or professional success.


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