Culmination: Some thoughts on "The Valley"
Measuring The Valley
Even though I was no longer at a smaller company, as an intern, I got the opportunity to think more about the startup eco-system that the Silicon Valley has. In the Bay Area and there is always so much going on in terms of Technology. I can’t authoritatively say this or that makes the Bay area, but can offer some of my personal insights that may be more general and contrast/compliment my experiences as a South African in the Bay Area.
Given the history of the area, it has a lot going for it but I think one of the most important things are it’s “build it” attitude. Have an idea? Build it! Show it off! As a result of the shortcomings of such a system, people also become very attuned to snake oil salesmen. These are the people who sell the best, awesomest ideas that they have not even started building or have built but it might be questionable what hole they fill in the world. This reserved attitude might be the remnant of the bubble (earlier and pending), maybe?
What I think makes the area so great and what makes it create so much of the worlds startups is the resources that allow it to actually create them. Whether it is having Stanford University around [link], the old guard of technology is around[link], it’s history[link], funding for stages of the businesses[link] and the great weather. Having such an almost seeming endless supply of new companies springing up and them being supported is sometimes unbelievable. The willingness of so many entrepreneurs who take their ideas to market by making the jump of actually starting and working at their company full-time is commendable.
I attended OpenForum SiliconValley on my first weekend in Mountain View. It was interesting to see so many people who came not just to drink the kool-aid but also to learn, pitch ideas and recruit for their companies. What was more astonishing was the amount of children that were brought by their parents to also experience the atmosphere of experienced and young entrepreneurs discuss their ideas and take on tough questions. This further encourages the next generation to take the path less taken even at these tough economic times.
I further attended TEDxSunnyvale. I was a TEDxRutgers organizer for 2011 & 2012. It was interesting to attend TEDxSunnyvale. Not only for it’s different take on a TEDx event, but further it was hosted at TechShop Ssn Jose. The venue itself was interesting as it was
Another interesting thing I experienced while in California was how open startup people were about their ideas and startups. I also got the same feeling in NYC and when I met up with Michael Mayernick in Washington DC to talk about Proudly Made in DC. Earlier in the year I had also visited an incubator: Plug and Play Center. It was an interesting experience and I am thankful to my friend taking me there and for the people I met there.
My better half and I have had many discussions about startups and the reasons why we don’t have the similar culture in South Africa especially among those the culture would benefit most: The unemployed black youth of South Africa.
I will further qualify my statements and say they might be naïve to some, but that is why I invite discussion via comments.
There are a number of reasons South Africa does not seem to be creating a lot of small businesses or startups. In South Africa they would be terms Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs). One factor is the relative risk aversion. As a black professional it is much safer and short to medium term rewarding (remuneration wise) to just work for large multinationals. Zama Ndlovu covered this well in her opinion piece:
Why BEE alone does not lead to entrepreneurship | News24 http://n24.cm/Qh5T7t
Further you have historical factors. Funding sources for high risk ventures for young people are few and far between. They are hard to get access to unless you are part of the elite. South Africa also has a problem in also not seeing itself as a catalyst in the African technology scene. As a number of people say: “South African’s don’t see themselves as African”. Another insightful news blurb on this:
Wilcocks warns of SA entitlement towards the rest of Africa | TechCentral http://bit.ly/Q13rQm
I had the opportunity to be involved in outreach at Google. I acted as a mentor to students from surrounding high schools. The conversations during the short mentor session were interesting. One thing that did stick with me is that I had to simplify my approach to approaching the subject of careers to high school kids. I found myself speaking in jargon and the students lost interest. Once I tried again and was able to get to know the students a bit more and talk to some about their college ambitions. I appreciate the job of teachers even more now.
I also got to attend the Google science fair where I met a team from Swaziland that was representing the continent.
I also made two appearances on my PhD Advisors Udacity class. Mostly talking about my views on Social Media.
The class is here - http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/cs215/CourseRev/1 You should think of taking it if you are interested in computing. Most of the world runs on algorithms.
Well, that's it folks. It was hard trying to put everything in 3 posts. Unfortunately I have to end it here. You can contact me for specifics or comment on any of the posts with your own views. Thanks for reading up to this far.