“Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth’s crust.” (Wikipedia). There is something rare about Silicon Valley as well, but what exactly? That is precisely is what I sought to find out. Read about why I decided to go.
What makes The Valley what it is?
Springboard of leadership & talent
There is a huge source of thought leadership and talent in The Bay Area. Leading schools like Stanford University, Berkeley University, Singularity University and UCSF attract an immense amount of potential and provide a spring-board for talent to find their ways to the most promising giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, HP not to mention the bustling start-up scene.
Ecosystem and density
The Valley, measuring from San Jose in the south to San Mateo in the north is no more than 50-60 kms in distance, give or take. In addition to thousands of start-ups (combined with San Francisco), the valley is home for 40 headquarters in the Fortune 1000. There are hundreds of thousands of qualified talents squeezed into an area the size of Uusimaa.
“Capital isn’t scarce, vision is.”
Money. Money. Money.
50$+ billion of venture funding money in the entire US, about 80% was invested in The Valley. Another 5% in the rest of California and the remaining 5% in the rest to the country.
From an investor’s standpoint, the opportunities are almost limitless. The efficiency in investing is mind-boggling. All you need to do is walk around and almost everyone you meet is either and investor (many of them) or an investee (most of them), pitching their stories and their asks. It is a non-stop Slush event…
You need to be there to be able to play the game. Competition in the Valley is a paradox. On one hand, to be able to tap into the massive funds and to get the best talent, you need to be on the top. Someone said that a fair analogy is that of the Olympics – you need to be a gold medallist of your discipline to succeed in The Valley. Nobody will remember silver medallists. On the other hand, there is very strong culture of collaboration, cooperation and paying forward.
Pay forward and give back
In spite of the competitive environment, everyone bow to openness and helping each other out. You hear pay forward here and again. It is a mantra that is understood by everyone. Help others because there will come a day that you will need help. You also hear about giving back. If you succeed, help others to succeed and don’t forget who helped you succeed. Don’t forget your scholars, those who helped you along the way anyone without whose help you wouldn’t have made it yourself.
Thinking big is no longer good enough, you need to think HUGE. Nothing is impossible. Magic is normal. You need to wow everywhere. When you think about doing something – anything – you should always think about what impact this will have. You need to thimpact. If there is no foreseeable impact, just don’t do it.
Clock-speed & culture
What is so different in The Valley? I just tried to explain the more visible reasons why The Valley is what it is. Perhaps more important is what is not so visible to the naked eye.
This is something a little hard to explain also, you need to witness it yourself. There is a built-in ‘sense-of-urgency’ attitude. If you see there is space ahead to move, you need to advance. Impatience is a virtue. Standing still will kill you. Mario Andretti once said it well: “If everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough”. Facebook’s motto coins this as: “Move fast and break things”, which is synonymic to learning fast.
For me, it was a cocktail of can-do attitude, entrepreneurial spirit, “clock-speed” and networking. This was probably the biggest eye-opener and the hardest attribute of The Valley to really internalize without seeing it personally.
It is about working from a garage and rejecting neckties. It is about not complaining of the workload. It is about failing well.
“Never confuse motion with movement”
So was my finding that The Valley is truly unique? Well, yes but…the start-up of the start-up scene in post-Nokia Finland has some similarities. It is still in its infancy, but e.g. the annual Slush megafest gathers about 17.000 attendees including 2.300 start-ups, 1.100 investors and 600 journalists. Interestingly, Finland also has a “Bay Area” – Slush was born in in a former cable factory in Ruoholahti (Grass Bay), Angry Birds’ nest is in Keilalahti. The new start-up community house Maria 01 is located in a former hospital campus on the brink of Ruoholahti and has a vision to expand 10X to have over 100.000 square meters of space.
The investors represent at total of 60 billion euros of capital. The momentum has been building and gaining weight. The event has now spawned to Shanghai, Tokyo and Singapore. Finland has pegged itself on the map of potential hot start-up environment especially in the tech-space. In Helsinki alone, there are an estimated 740 start-ups with the total collected funding (last 12 months) of a fairly modest US$185 million.
Finland’s unique start-up movement
There is a good article in Forbes, which identifies Finland’s start-up movement and its originality. The article raises some interesting points about the attitude attributes with which I have no problem concurring with: simplicity, resilience and confidence.
Most of the visible success and evidence of making-it still come from the gaming industry. The mind-set and guiding principles of how this industry has developed is being shared to other industries, to companies small and (especially) large and in any given business extravaganza, you will have the now iconic gaming CEO’s telling about their rebellious leadership mantras and what they have done or left un-done to accelerate to hyper-growth.