Bijan Sabet explains the "chilling effect" that prevents Boston from becoming Silicon Valley
Techies switch jobs faster than diseases move between hosts. This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where founders and employees alike have often worked at numerous companies before catching the entrepreneurial bug and founding or joining a new startup.
Spark Capital's Bijan Sabet thinks this mobility is what has allowed the Valley to become the hub of innovation it is today. "If you look at what's happened in the Bay Area over the last few decades, there's always connective tissue from one generation to the next," he said yesterday during a PandoMonthly interview. "You have one generation that energizes or inspires the next generation. There's domain expertise and learning and free exchange of ideas -- and if you cut it off you lose all that." Much like certain infections, it seems, innovation requires promiscuity.
There are plenty of examples of this working in the Valley. The people who founded Intel came from Fairchild Semiconductor. Sheryl Sandberg worked at Google before joining Facebook. If Steve Wozniak hadn't worked at Hewlett-Packard he might never have been able to create the original Apple computer with Steve Jobs.
The ability to easily move between jobs isn't found everywhere, however. Sabet, who lives just outside of Boston, said tonight that this is part of the reason why the region ceded control of the technology industry to the Valley. People just don't create companies that compete with their former employers in Boston, and this has been detrimental to the region and to the few large consumer companies that happen to call it home. (Many startups in Boston focus on un-sexy issues like health tech, clean tech, and the technologies that power many consumer tools.)
"You don't have this next generation thing in Boston, and I think it has a meaningful chilling effect [on the ecosystem," Sabet said. This is especially true because non-compete agreements, like the ones that have implicated some of the Valley's largest tech companies in recent months, are easier to enforce on the East Coast than they are in California. "The people who want the status quo will say they don't plan to sue [employees who violate non-compete agreements] but they sue all the time," he added. This has had a clear effect on Boston's tech industry, he said.
The message is clear: if other regions want to emulate the Valley's success: Competition is at the heart of any vibrant tech community.
[photo by Brandon Bakus for Pando]