Why Silicon Valley Is Different (to Me)
It's not Heaven, but it's the best place to learn and make things happen. It forges your ability to be resilient and heaps you pursuing your dreams.
Silicon Valley is not the only innovation ecosystem in the world, but it also has something special that makes it unique and different than any others.
Can we build a startup anywhere in the world? Yes.
Can we find enough talent and capital to launch a new startup outside Silicon Valley? Sure.
Why is then Silicon Valley considered so uncommon and not easily replicable?
Why do founders keep going to the Bay Area to create startups?
People ask me those questions all the time, and I must say that it's not entirely possible to understand what I'm telling you in this article, without traveling to San Francisco, Palo Alto or Stanford and spend some time in the area. Nevertheless, I'll try to explain it to you by sharing my experience.
The first thing I understood landing at SFO—the San Francisco airport—is that Silicon Valley is not a town or the actual name of a valley. There's no sign to read on Highway 101 with something like "Silicon Valley next exit." It corresponds approximately to the geographical area of Santa Clara Valley, south of San Francisco.
We often get said that Silicon Valley was created after World War II. In reality, the history of that place starts well before that. One of the region's first tech companies was the Federal Telegraph Company, founded by a teenage radio genius, Francis McCarty of San Francisco. McCarty, unfortunately, died in a car accident when he was just 17 years old. His financial supporters decided that wireless telegraphy still had promise, and, thanks to Stanford, they met an electrical engineer to develop and commercialize McCarty's ideas. It was 1909. The real turning point was not this one, of course. It was the 40s and 50s with World War II and the Cold War.
Stanford University had a fundamental role in everything that blossomed in the area. It was founded by railroad builder and California governor, Leland Stanford, as a deeply practical place of learning.
The truth is that business and science together really made a difference in this case.
I always tried to understand and describe why Silicon Valley works much better than many other places, and I guess that the real answer is time, perseverance, talent, and capital. During the decades, they all got together thanks to one simple fact: there were fast-growing high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, and those successful realities attracted all the rest.
Another distinctive difference in Silicon Valley's success is that it has been historically pretty far from financial and political games. Many people in the Valley are really convinced that technology improvement can "make the world a better place"—whoops, I said that in the end!
Back to our days, in my experience, I've been surprised many times by how easy things worked here. In 2013, I moved to California to create my first US company. I had previous experiences as an entrepreneur in Italy, but I didn't know anything about creating and managing a US corporation.
In the very few weeks of my "new life", I learned that I could set up and run the entire operations of my business with the help of people I had never met in person. All the tedious chores required to start up my company might have been done online. Starting from scratch and in just a few weeks, I picked all the services I needed to run the company and then got back to focus on the business. CPA, compliance experts, payroll, employee benefits management; it was all done thanks to external professional services designed to work online with me.
Starting a new business was hard, and we were working around the clock like any startups. But the simple fact of not being worried about "all the rest" made my days really pleasant as an entrepreneur.
I don't think this is so different than many other places. Still, in many ways, the local mindset makes the Valley pretty unique for most startup businesses. Let's see why.
A welcoming (business) culture
People in the Bay Area are incredibly welcoming—at least for me. I rarely felt an immigrant who struggled to get things done. There was always a way to get the right people or services to support me when I needed help.
People respect the rules
Everyday life was less stressful compared to my country, mostly because people respected the basic rules in everyday life. They wait on the line; there's traffic on the streets, but it's not a race to get first. With a set of simple things that work, you can be entirely concentrated on your job. All the rest will flow accordingly.
An independent voice
Silicon Valley is what it is today also because the people in that area could work without political interference. They have been working hard in the last 70 years despite the political and financial power. I'm not saying that the place is Heaven, but when you have enough capital and talent available, you can make things happen without asking anyone.
Silicon Valley investors are entrepreneurs
After the dot-com bubble of 2000, things changed a lot in the area. Startups that were previously funded by financial institutions raised capital directly from other founders who sold their companies already. That is extremely important because, with their money, they got access to their mentorship and network. That is the main reason why today is less likely we'll face another bubble.
Succeeding is good
In Silicon Valley, it's ok to be busy and passionate about your job. Work hard and achieve exceptional results is a good thing in the area. That might seems naive to many people, but it is not. Not every place works like that. Become wealthy is not an evil thing. With money, you can invest in a better society. You can finance research and other founders' dreams.
An energetic place
Maybe it's just me, but my morning mood is not always the best possible—even if I do train myself to stay positive. Silicon Valley mindset and its people keep pushing me to improve myself. When I'm there, I do workout regularly, and I wake up earlier in the morning. Maybe it's the climate of Menlo Park—I couldn't say—but I feel more energized.
Immigrants in the Valley are everywhere. They have strange accents, and most of the time, nobody does anything to improve it. Indians, Italians, French, Spanish people: they are all together keeping their distinctive accent. If you can get yourself understood, then you are fine. You don't get discriminated against by your nationality.
Don't be afraid to ask
In Silicon Valley, it's pretty easy to meet with people you don't know. During the years, I've had meetings with CEOs, investors, and founders outside my network. I connected with them through Twitter and LinkedIn. I just asked, and most of the time, it worked. The real important thing is to be very clear about the goal of the meeting, and if that is interesting for both parties, then it will happen.
A multitude of events
In the Bay Area are organized hundreds of events every month. What you need to do is to search for them and select the good ones for your case. Eventbrite, Meetup, Stanford, Berkeley, weekly founder breakfasts, and company parties are all good. Events are a great way to create a network. Take your business cards with you and learn how to mingle effectively.
A unique ecosystem
It's important to remember that great startups don't emerge to support ecosystems; ecosystems emerge to support great startups. Silicon Valley has been built in more than 70 years. Government investments in research and high-tech products had a significant impact on entrepreneurship and product price cut. That made high-tech affordable to private companies. This is happening again and again now, without any government help.
Many of the founders in Silicon Valley are definitely resilient. "Resilience is our ability to deal with setbacks. The more resilient we are, the easier it will be to pick ourselves up and get back to what gives meaning to our lives. Resilient people know how to stay focused on their objectives, on what matters, without giving in to discouragement. Their flexibility is the source of their strength: They know how to adapt to change and to reversals of fortune. They concentrate on the things they can control, and don't worry about those they can't." (from Ikigai book by Hector Garcia). Building your startup in San Francisco is hard, and, along time, you get through a sort of natural selection process. You learn a lot during the journey, and you often end up creating the right network for your next company.