Last week, one of those never-ending topics of discussion came up at Twiistup on a panel about whether or not Southern California was a good place to put your startup. On one side, you had Mark Suster of GRP Partners and Mike Jones of MySpace who were saying “yes”, and on the other side, you had Jamie Montgomery of Montgomery and Co., and David Sacks of Geni/Yammer, who were saying “maybe/no”. It was, at least for me, somewhat of a downer way to lead into the last day of Twiistup.
The issue, highlighted by Sacks’ announcement that he was moving Yammer to Silicon Valley, was the perception that Southern California firms don’t get the attention and lavish praises, particularly from the press/Silicon Valley blogs/etc., and that there’s not as close of a community here as in Silicon Valley, and that there’s not enough executive talent available.
David Sacks–whose network and prior successes have been with the “in” Silicon Valley crowd, as a co-founder of PayPal, and only happened to surface here in Southern California after a stint in the film business–would naturally have lots more contacts in Silicon Valley in technology, and given his past successes would clearly have more to benefit from continuing cultivating that network. Jamie Montgomery–whose business relies on IPOs and M/A–and who already moved his operations mostly out of Santa Monica to San Francisco several years ago, and arguably that market is a larger one for the kind of work he does as an investment banker (though he admits the last few deals he’s done have been neither in Silicon Valley nor Southern California). I’d argue that there’s more executive talent flying north to Silicon Valley every day (between the BUR/SJC, LAX/SJC, SNA/SJC, BUR/SFO, LAX/SFO, SNA/SFO etc. flights) than there are open slots of executives at local startups in Southern California.
In any case, whether you want to argue the merits of either argument, I’d agree with what venture investor Brad Feld said earlier in the conference: Get over it. There’s enough examples of very successful Southern California startups, and there are going to reasons to locate your business here or Silicon Valley depending on what industry you’re in, who you are, what your existing professional network looks like, and what your startup is working on. A pointer to Boulder, where Brad Feld is located–no one wonders if it’s a good environment to start up a company: Feld has successfully cultivated Boulder as a great place to start a company, even if it had very few high profile tech startups in the past — but enough raw material in the form of technology companies, a university, and a professional workforce that between TechStars and other efforts he and others like David Cohen have done to attract startup founders to the area, that no one asks “Silicon Valley or Boulder”?
My personal feeling — backed by now years of observing high tech startups in Southern California — is you can be as successful, or more successful here in Southern California than you can in Silicon Valley. Or, more likely, you’d be successful no matter what you are if you have the right products, people, and market. It’s like the question of if a Ivy League college makes you more successful, or the fact that you got into an Ivy League college in the first place which indicates you’d be successful no matter where you are. Do the folks who graduated from Stanford do better than people who were admitted to Stanford but went elsewhere instead? There’s plenty of both successes and failures in Silicon Valley and Southern California, and I’d argue a company that is going to fail in Southern California is going to fail even if they were in Palo Alto. The reverse is true as well with success.
There’s a well developed ecosystem here in Southern California to support high tech startups, and plenty of prior successes, knowledgeable entrepreneurs, and executives. Stop getting “Silicon Valley Envy” and just start making your startup a success.
ps. The most amusing line of the conference: Jason Nazar of Docstoc, asking “Couldn’t anyone find a local investor to put on this panel?” that he was moderating at the conference.