We’ve complained about the shitty aspects of Silicon Valley a lot this year.
For starters, there is the grand talk of failure in the Valley, but a recent reluctance to let things that need to fail, actually fail. We are blessed with a local and state government that frequently seeks to de-centivize entrepreneurship. There’s the increasingly jockey attitude taking over startup ecosystems these days. There are the mercenary MBAs looking for a quick buck, and then abandoning companies when they don’t get it. There are people who talk when they should build. There are the uber-douches who try to glom onto the allure of the Valley in even more pathetic ways. And worst of all may be the smankers.
And even when an entrepreneur’s heart is in the right place, there is the very real possibility of crushing failure — the story no one wants to tell.
But one of the reasons I bitch about the corrosive aspects of Silicon Valley is because I love it so much.
I moved here for my own ambitious, career-climbing reasons as a 22-year old reporter who’d graduated into the excesses of the dot com bubble. And I found I loved the Valley even more once the bubble popped, the douchebags left, and the true believers built companies that many other reporters (and investors) laughed at.
I never set out to build a company. I’ve never been one of those reporters who falls in love with the glamour of what they cover. To me, being a reporter itself is the best job in the world. But like many reporters — including the good ones, the shitty ones, and the ones somewhere in between — I found myself with fewer and fewer places I wanted to work with every passing year the Internet took a sledge hammer to our profession.
Last fall, when I finally decided — over tacos with my husband and 8-week-old baby in the Mission — that I had to start a company, it was jaw-droppingly easy to do it. As I rocked my baby with one arm, I emailed Marc Andreessen. “Okay, I need a job. Any ideas?” By the time we were stroller-ing home, we’d emailed back and forth a few times, and I had the sketches of a pitch and a meeting in place.
The next day, I had coffee with Andrew Anker. I was five minutes into explaining what I wanted to do when he cut me off and said, “I want to be involved in any way.” Around that same time I had dinner with Michael Arrington. “You have to do this. I’ll do anything I can to help you,” he said. Over a few weeks, I pinged a dozen or so friends, and the funding commitments came rolling in. By year end, we we had $2.5 million in commitments, I was hiring people and one of the best lawyers in the Valley was doing all our paperwork on spec until I got my checks. It went so quickly I barely had time to be terrified that I was actually doing this. (Plenty of terror would come later. Along with every other emotion.)
And, here’s the thing: I am an absolute nobody. I don’t get invited to Sun Valley or Davos or TED. I am just a reporter with an English degree who moved here and worked hard. This is why I get angry when people bitch and moan about discrimination or sexism in the Valley. Actually building a company is brutally hard, yes. But when it comes to getting started, this is a place unlike any other. We forget how good we have it.
And, astoundingly, it has only gotten better. As AngelList founder Naval Ravikant explained during our last PandoMonthly, even a few years ago, my life as an entrepreneur would be different. Part of that is dramatically lower costs of building something: Right now we’re focused on getting to profitability off of our seed round of funding, so we can maintain control and independence. Ten years ago, I would be obsessed with raising a series A to keep paying the bills. And back then, my investors wouldn’t be at arm’s length away, supporting me when I need it, but not intruding in the meantime. They’d be on my board, hounding me about why we weren’t already growing faster. Ravikant went a step further and talked about how Y Combinator was essentially an unofficial union: No investor would dare screw over a YC entrepreneur, because they’d never get into another YC deal again.
Some of this may be the point in the still frothy venture cycle we’re in. But some of these changes are here to stay.
Over the last year I have been lucky enough to viscerally live what I had only written about for more than a decade: The Valley supports entrepreneurship like no other place in the world. And the employees, investors, mentors, lawyers, accountants, and commercial landlords don’t support it through collective bargaining or some government program or because they’re all great people.
Rather, it’s through a combination of social pressure and capitalist self-interest that perpetuates decade after decade. While the thing tech entrepreneurs are actually building changes dramatically from cycle to cycle from semiconductors to Web sites, the machinery for building it just evolves and gets better. You could call the Valley itself the ultimate fab — even more impressive at assembling companies than Intel’s clean room is at assembling chips.
In 2008 or so, I spent a year traveling to fifteen entrepreneurial hot spots in North America and another forty weeks traveling to through Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East after that. Almost all of this was at my own expense. When PandoDaily started our event series, we didn’t just start it in the Valley, but in New York and LA as well. I believe in the power of entrepreneurs outside the Valley more than most insiders here.
But on a day like today, everyone who does what we do in the Valley should take a minute to be grateful for our own forefathers — Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, Bill Hewlett, David Packard, Fred Terman, and the rest. They created a place that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world and likely never will. (By the way, if you live here and work in tech and don’t know which one of them is pictured above, go read a book for Christ’s sake.)
Building a company is not glamorous. It’s backbreaking, emotional, exhausting hard work filled with self-doubt, betrayal, and pain. Birthing PandoDaily has been far more painful than birthing my human child was a year ago. (And, not to be all TMI, but he had a 32 centimeter head…)
But finding a handful of people who believe in you here is astoundingly easy compared to anywhere else in the world. And in the beginning, that’s all a great entrepreneur really needs. Had I moved anywhere else in the world, I’d be just another reporter hoping I didn’t get laid off this Holiday season.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers, staff, investors, and everyone else who has not only made building my dream possible, but made it their dream too.