Thursday, July 16, 2009

7 Things Silicon Valley Could Learn from Columbus, Ohio

7 Things Silicon Valley Could Learn from Columbus, Ohio
Author: Wil Schroter

Every month I make a pilgrimage to Silicon Valley to visit my startup brethren and soak in the startup vibe. And every month I return home to Columbus, Ohio thinking I've just visited another planet.

The problem with Silicon Valley is that the people there are absolutely in love with Silicon Valley.

So much that they tend to forget that the rest of the world doesn't operate anything like they do, yet ultimately they rely on the rest of the world to absorb and digest the products they create.

Having had lots of conversations with brilliant entrepreneurs and investors, I'm constantly reminding them of the way "the rest of the world works" which is odd, because everyone is more or less from places like Columbus, Ohio anyway.

Inevitably I keep reminding my friends the same things -

People Don't Care What Technology You Use - OK, so you're building a killer app using Ruby on Rails, or Apollo, or whatever. No one cares. People in Columbus care that when they log into a site they don't get an error, that's about it. You know who really cares about what technology you're using? Other people in Silicon Valley.

.NET Programmers Make $70,000 p/year and live great - That's because in most cities you can buy a 2,000+ sq. ft. house for just over $200,000 in a nice neighborhood and live great. You can party all weekend downtown for a few hundred bucks. More importantly you can hire a great developer for the cost of a Silicon Valley administrative assistant.

People Still Don't Know What Craigslist Is - While you're talking about how is already passe, keep in mind that most people still don't even realize what Craigslist is. I ask people all the time how often they use Craigslist and 9 out of 10 respond "What's Craigslist? Is it like Angie's List?"

People Don't "Need" Venture Capital - Because the costs of operations are a fraction of the costs in the Valley and frankly because there is so little of it outside the Valley. What happens when capital is so scarce is that companies are forced to figure it out without capital - and they do. Companies are run for customers and profits, not for VC's.

No One Throws Launch Parties - We're all too busy actually building companies to take the time to wallow in our own manufactured successes. We're also likely spending our own money, which no one would use to piss away on launch parties.

Your Customer Lives in Columbus, Ohio - Sure, all of your friends in the Valley think your new Web app is sweet. But getting a bunch of other nerds to use your app only buys you a small initial audience. Critical mass comes when you get the everyman to use your app, and the everyman lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Our Businesses Need to Earn a Profit - Maybe you can afford to squander $20 million of OPM on a product that has no revenue model in hopes you'll get bought. The rest of the world has to build real companies that make real money to sustain themselves.

The easiest way to explain this is that most of what makes sense in Silicon Valley only makes sense in Silicon Valley. The rest of the world simply operates on a much different schedule. Maybe someday my entrepreneurial brethren will make a pilgrimage to Columbus, Ohio to see how the rest of the world really works.


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