Twenty years ago, starting a company in Silicon Valley was a tall order. You needed a lot of capital, a gaggle of engineers, marketing budget, decades of combined experience, and that was only the beginning. How many great ideas could make it through that gauntlet?
But, today, practically anyone with an idea can start a company. The cream will rise to the top. The best of the best will prevail.
Today’s entrepreneurial ecosystem reflects all the beautiful, hazy, one-word concepts that we wanted it to embody: evolution, simplicity, openness, real-time, connected… And it’s taking place in San Francisco now, which is 10 times cooler.
So, why all the long faces?
Evidently, there are a lot of disappointed faces in the crowd. How? To say that the ecosystem has improved in the last five years would be an understatement.
Silicon Valley now provides entrepreneurs with the four things that are necessary to have a perfect meritocracy:
- Development tools allow products and projects to be completed significantly quicker than ever before. During my first startup, I watched as AWS, Git, SendGrid, and many other life-saving tools were created to make engineers’ lives infinitely better. And it’s still getting better each day.
- Distribution has also gotten so much easier. Theoretically, once you are in the iTunes App Store, you have as good a chance as any face in the crowd. No Super Bowl advertising needed.
- Capital access is a dream come true. AngelList, accelerators, and angels on every street corner have made it much easier to get a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank. Sometimes you can even do it as a convertible note.
- Culture continues to become more entrepreneur-friendly. Failure is the new black. Investors expect to write off the majority of their bets. Quitting your “real” job is a rite of passage for any hipster.
So, again, I ask you… what is the problem? Why the murmurs of discontent? Maybe we’ve made it too easy.
The sacred act of entrepreneurship, and the dream of creating a product that everybody loves, is starting to feel like a cheesy Microsoft Office template. Any minute now, Clippy is going to swoop in from screen left and hold our hand through the company creation process.
Choose your theme from the dropdown:
- Content in the Cloud
- Social Discovery
Choose your investor from the dropdown:
- Y Combinator
- 500 Startups
Choose your motivation for starting this damn company:
- Hate your current job…
- Friend started successful company…
- I’m 21 and can’t find work…
And, unlike a Microsoft word file — which ends in “.doc” — your company name will end in “.ly”
Is this why we are so depressed?
It’s kind of like the middle of the 19th century, when steamships and railroads made it easier for all those damn immigrants to come take our American jobs that our pappies and grand-pappies fought the English to create.
“That $5 million term sheet from Greylock was supposed to be mine. Now, these damn immigrants from New York and Boston are coming out here and want their piece of the dream too. These days, all we have to subside on is a measly $250,000 from Keith Rabois. Who can start a company on such a paltry sum?”
Do you hear what you sound like?
Alright, maybe you deserve a smidgeon of sympathy. The truth is that Silicon Valley today will yield about as many big success stories as it always did. But so many more people are getting a little taste of it. And they’re not always failing because their products suck. Nor are they failing because they misjudged the market.
A lot of smart, beautifully designed products are just not catching on. And some are catching on, just not enough to warrant $3 million of capital on a $10 million pre-money valuation.
And that is what we are not used to around here. I meet so many startups with good products who are enjoying a modicum of success. But they are not sure if they are winning or losing. And, frankly, I don’t know what to tell them.
We expect the losers to deserve what’s coming to them. We expect Pets.com to die. And we want to know if we are winning or losing, so that we can dig in deep or move on with our lives. This is one world that is better in black and white — we can all live with a little less color.
And all these countless startups that are caught in the middle — their fates hanging in limbo, the scoreboard unclear, a breakout always just around the corner — they are unhappy for a reason.