Maybe Silicon Valley companies succeed because their founders care more about what they do than where they do it

By Sarah Lacy , written on July 22, 2013

From The News Desk

Michael has a great story this morning on why big companies tend to come out of Silicon Valley. It's in response to a story about why they don't come out of Canada. Meanwhile there's still handwringing going on over my post about why Waze shouldn't be the exit Israelis are high-fiving about. (Still.)

My guess is on any given day there are posts like these on blogs all over the world. I'm not aware of a city that doesn't want to be "the next Silicon Valley." And yet, New York may have come the closest -- and it's still a gulf away in terms of jobs, exits, and economic impact.

Carney brings up almost all of the right points. But as I was reading his post another one struck me. Forgive me if it is obvious: Silicon Valley isn't obsessed with how Silicon Valley is doing; its founders are mostly obsessed with how their companies are doing.

It all comes down to what your mission is. You can't afford two; or maybe you can, but they pull from each other. Is your chief mission to make your local city a startup ecosystem hub or is it to make your company great? Those two are rarely aligned, unless there is some specific industry advantage your local city gives you, or you grew up in San Francisco.

Sure there are always stories about why Silicon Valley is in a bubble or not as great as it used to be. The difference is in the response. When people write stories like this about the Valley, people either don't read them or roll their eyes. No one loses their minds with rage. No one takes it personally. Simply put: Silicon Valley has given them everything and yet, their loyalty is really to their startup. Silicon Valley can take care of itself.

I've even written about the correlation between startups that don't like to engage with the Silicon Valley "scene," and how they're usually the ones who outperform.

Part of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. At least in realms like the consumer Internet, many entrepreneurs who prioritize their company over everything else move to Silicon Valley, because there are simply more ingredients for success. Those who stay in other cities frequently have a split motivation: They want to be close to their families, or enjoy a certain quality of life, or give back to their local ecosystems.

I actually find those motivations very noble. It's another way to change the world -- specifically your corner of the world, your part of the world that helped make you. While impossible, given what we do, I would love the idea of building PandoDaily in my hometown of Memphis, TN. How amazing would that be to be the big, local success story?

But it means the idea and the execution of your startup has to be that much better to overcome this split mission. Or, you have to acknowledge that you may not build a $1 billion company -- which certainly isn't the be all end all. Either way, it's a matter of being honest with yourself about what kind of entrepreneur you want to be, and what changing the world means to you.

I was watching "Project Runway" last night, and there's an absurd guy on it this season who is all about eco-friendly, sustainable design. He refused to let his poor model be styled with any makeup or anything that could be plugged in, like a curling iron or a blow-dryer. But then he burned synthetic fabrics releasing all sorts of horrible toxins into the air. (Also, his design was ugly.) The judges didn't have a lot of time for him, and he almost went home. (Frankly, I think he only stayed, because he was good TV.)

Just like that designer, I don't have a lot of time for the people who jump up and down and scream whenever we write about the challenges an ecosystem has that aren't actually building a company in those places. Nina Garcia on "Project Runway" noted that if you're going to proclaim a sustainability mission, your designs better be that much more beautiful. Similarly, if you're gonna have the mission of making your hometown a great ecosystem, your company better be aim to be a Microsoft, Amazon, or Skype level of great, where location simply doesn't matter.