The Tragedy Of Calling Things Silicon Blah

I was in LA for the past three days hanging out at Oblong, meeting with a bunch of entrepreneurs I know, then spending time at MuckerLabs, giving a talk at SCVStartup, and finishing up my trip with a half day at LaunchPad LA followed by a dinner that LaunchPad LA and Mark Suster put on. Even though I still felt fried from my 50 mile run, I had a great time and I’m sure I fed off of the energy of all the people I spent time with.

At the dinner I gave a short talk on Startup Communities and then answered some questions. The first question was “what do I think of the phrase ‘Silicon Beach’ for the LA startup community.” I responded that I thought it was stupid. I hate Silicon Whatever. LA should be LA. When I was in downtown LA at Oblong I didn’t notice a beach. Before I could go on a rant about why you should not call things “Silicon Blah” I got a round of applause.

In the late 90’s a wave of “Silicon Blah” appeared. Silicon Alley, Silicon Mountain, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Gulch, Silicon Bayou, and on, and on, and on. The rallying cry was “we are going to be the next Silicon Valley.” Whatever. At the time, my opinion as someone who disliked generic marketing was that this was the worst branding ever. I feel even more strongly about this today.

If you are going to create a startup community, build your own identity. People now talk about “New York” and “Boulder” as amazing startup communities. They don’t talk about Silicon Alley and Silicon Flatirons. Well – I suppose some do, but I don’t hear it anymore (or at least my brain doesn’t process it) – I just hear New York and Boulder. And when someone says “Do you like living in Denver?”, I say “I live and work in Boulder.” Sure – Denver has a startup community also, but it’s distinct from Boulder.

Even within a city like LA there are startup neighborhoods. I made this point when I spent a month in Cambridge, MA in January. Sure, you’ve got Cambridge, Boston, Waltham, and Hopkinton. But you’ve also got Kendall Square, Central Square, the Leather District, and the Innovation District. In New York you’ve got Union Square, and Brooklyn’s DUMBO. These are the “neighborhoods” – high density areas of entrepreneurs and their startups. And, in a small town like Boulder, you’ve got – well – Boulder.

LA is huge. The startup community in LA isn’t “Silicon Beach.” It’s downtown, Santa Monica, and I’m sure a few other neighborhoods that I don’t know the name of. Brand the neighborhoods locally so the entrepreneurs know where to go, since you want them clustered together. Then brand your city (LA) which should be an easy one. And dump the Silicon Blah.

  • Joshua Cyr

    I was just doing research into this yesterday.  Consensus from my interactions in person and on twitter was largely the same.  

    Our area is an interesting case.  It was branded in 1999. (eCoast) At that time things were hopping and there was a lot of energy / momentum.  2002 all momentum and energy dropped.  The chamber, who control it, did nothing with it.  Fast forward to today and we are left wondering what we should do.  We have lots of great people, companies and stories.  Should we try to resurrect a brand that has almost no value and wrestle control away from an org that doesn’t’ really get it, or just walk away from that and start clean by branding our seacoast as itself.  Others argue we should just brand the state of NH.  However that just wont work.  Manchester, NH is great, but a very different animal for example.

    After a few days of reflection the answer seems pretty clear. :-)

    • bfeld

      I love examples like this since they make the point. I have no idea what eCoast is. It could be 100 different things, including a toothpaste (well – that would be eCrest).

      I like Manchester, NH!

      • Joshua Cyr

        Now that you have typed it, someone is surely now working on some eCrest app to track our lack of flossing.  

        Great to see some NH love.  Next time you are nearby, check out Portsmouth, NH.  Pretty much the best place to be north of Boston.

  • Rohan

    Agree. It’s good to copy best practices..

    but jesus christ.. be yourself.

    • Carl Rahn Griffith

      Indeed, Rohan. This is where I get some discomfort with the likes of TEDxBlahblah – undoubtedly some great speakers have participated but there’s also a great deal of vacuous pretentious guff therein – but, if someone is a part of the TEDxBlahblah roadshow they are given instant gravitas (to many) because of the hierarchical brand as opposed themselves and their own merits. Same problem with obsessing over using the ‘Silicon’ prefix – it means nothing and just because your startup is based within one, wherever it is, it doesn’t mean your product is cool/will get funding/be acquired by Facebook for a trillion or two. 

      Be a Purple Cow. 

      Move to Yorkshire… 😉

  • Alex Gourley

    Not mention most techies loath in-authenticity – how is changing your name going to appeal to them? 

    • bfeld

      Yup – that’s a subtle point that is often missed.

  • Raul Mihali

    good point but I think they all grow up regardless, these pseudos are just to pump rookies up. Semantics. It’s a broader thing, basic dna, everyone aims to be the next something so they orbit that and eventually if they manage to break free it’s all forgotten and they’re somebody else. 

    • bfeld

      Some grow up, some don’t. But wouldn’t it be better to build off of the notion of a “startup community” rather than “we want to be like Silicon Valley?”

  • Scott Yates

    You are spot-on, and this is something I per-agreed with you on a couple years back when they were trying to do the same thing to Denver.

    Silicon Valley didn’t have a name before, so it needed on. Boulder has a name.

    In my posti make the case that this is a boomer-Gen X argument.

    • Scott Yates

      ps, that new onswipe thing is annoying on the iPad.

      • bfeld

        What don’t you like about it?

        • DaveJ

          I don’t like it either. It doesn’t work right, sometimes I can’t get to the whole article. Just as important, it doesn’t add anything. It’s just annoying.

          • bfeld

            You know you can disable it, right?

          • DJ

            Yeah but it’s not obvious and seems to sometimes forget between sessions.

        • Scott Yates

          It doesn’t *do* anything other than get in the way.

          • bfeld

            You know you can get rid of it if you don’t want it.

  • DaveJ

    So should we rename Silicon Flatirons Center? I think so.

    • bfeld

      Yup. Phil told me that when someone shows up with a $5m check the name will change. It’s a lot more expensive than a bathroom.

      • Daniel Horowitz

        Yeah, but how many bathrooms are in it, and are the naming rights included. 

      • Phil Weiser

        We can make it a community effort and we can come up with a couple of bathrooms–or other facilities–as part of the package. 

  • Kat

    It’s easy to have an opinion about this after the fact, however when you are starting out cheap marketing tricks work. Every big brand has used cheap marketing tricks in the beginning. Small cities should use every trick in the book, because every big thing started just the same way.The only authentic idea is one that you don’t know where it came from, yet. Innovation is in the execution.  

    • DJ

      Meh. The best thing you can do is showcase some locally successful companies and entrepreneurs. I would never move anywhere based on a brand name. But if I knew of some people in the area that I wanted to emulate, that would make a big difference.

      • Kat

        Exactly, it’s about excellence

    • bfeld

      I’m not sure I agree that small cities should rely on cheap marketing tricks. Boulder is a small city (100,000 people) and we’ve been branding ourselves as “Boulder” for as long as I can remember. Authenticity works – don’t waste energy on cheap marketing tricks that have a short half life.

  • William Mougayar

    Can’t argue with your point. Every tech community must focus on who they are, not who they are like.

    Imagine if cars were named after each other. We know they all take design elements from other cars, but each car has its own name & identity at the end.

  • awaldstein

    What’s silicon have to do with anything anyway?

    The web and innovations around it are about people.

    • bfeld


    • Carl Rahn Griffith

      Lol, spot on, Arnold!

  • Pingback: This Is Not The Silicon Prairie | Points and Figures()

  • Jim Franklin

    Maybe it’s semantics, but I think of the “city” as Colorado (ok, Front Range) and the neighborhoods as Boulder, Lodo, DTC, C-Springs and Ft Collins. Boulder has a lot but key service providers like Cooley and SVB are in Broomfield and investors like EON are in DTC. Ping, ReadyTalk, IP Commerce and other great Colorado companies help to give Boulder the critical mass of mentors and Founders.

    As for Silicon Flatirons, we should rename it. We already have the Bard Center, so maybe this one should be the Brad Center? (Bernthal, of course)

    • Brad Bernthal

      Like the prospect of a Brazillian-style, one name “Brad” Center.  Pele will cut the ribbon. 
      Regional identities are funny things to develop.  The Meetup fueled a regional branding effort 3 years ago through a crowd-sourced effort.  Everyone agreed we’d all use the winning name.  Mile High Tech won. No one used it.  Except maybe me.  I think I ended up as the last person still referring in interviews to the “Mile High Tech” scene.  It was like being the last guy to own a Zune player (yes, me, too).   

      Yet, identity matters.  It helps people within the network to recognize something larger than themselves.  And it sets off an interesting cycle as people come to understand a set of values attached to the common identity that emerges. 

      • bfeld

        The experience with “Mile High Tech” was a defining one for me. We put a lot of energy into figuring out a “good name” and then no one used it. We could have spent a lot of time branding it and getting everyone to use it. Whatever. Better to spend the time and energy doing stuff.

    • bfeld

      I’m working on articulating a clear taxonomy in my Startup Communities book. “Colorado” is the state, “Boulder’, “Denver”, “Colorado Springs”, and “Fort Collins” are cities, and “Lodo, DTC, Boulder” are Communities. The taxonomy matters a lot because the connections between Boulder and Colorado Springs, or Colorado Springs and Fort Collins are currently very weak. One of the things we can do as a startup community is work to integrate more activity between communities (e.g. Boulder + DTC), cities, and then across the state.

    • bfeld

      Ironically, one of my nicknames is “Bard Fled” (an homage to mild dyslexia)

  • andyidsinga

    Hey what do you think about The Bit Brewery for Portland ? 😉

    • bfeld

      I think it should be called Portland. Maybe Portlandia.

      • andyidsinga

        yeah! I see where you going with that!

        How about PortlandIO …see it?

        Or Bitlandia 

        :) :) :)

  • Appeos

    We have Silicon Roundabout in London.

    • bfeld

      Given that London has something like 92,437 roundabouts, while this is clever branding, it doesn’t say anything about what’s really going on. I’d encourage London to focus on branding itself as – London – and then getting the neighborhoods named correctly. London has a rich history of naming by tube station – leverage that!

      • Pete Griffiths

        Bear in mind that ‘Silicon Roundabout’ is being used ironically. Brits do have that sly sense of humor.
        btw My first company was located at what is now Silicon Roundabout. I had no idea we were pioneers.

        • Carl Rahn Griffith

          You think so, Pete? Interesting, never perceived it in that subtle way as being a parody of the ‘Silicon Blahblah’ syndrome. Whenever in the area/talking to people involved in SR they think the term is ‘cool’ – to me it is just a cheap/poor UK version of an already dated USA term. We do this too often, still, over here. We should be confident/original – grief, Blighty has been a powerhouse of marketing and design for decades, we should embrace it within tech, also! 😉

          • Pete Griffiths

            Probably my generation then. Young people – watcha gonna do? :)

          • Carl Rahn Griffith

            Bloody whippersnappers! Harrumph! 😉

      • Appeos

        London does have a great opportunity this year, with the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The government have a few initiatives which are designed to generate press which suggests they are helping small businesses and especially startups, hence Silicon Roundabout. The truth is, they don’t get it and it is like the blind leading the blind. Conveniently, business is sensible enough to ignore government and succeed in spite of government.

  • Pingback: The Tragedy Of Calling Things Silicon Blah « Tom Denison's Blog()

  • Jeff Slobotski

    Good post overall Brad, and agree with the concept of tagging “Silicon” to something simply to try and rally the troops around creating “the next Silicon Valley” is the wrong reason.

    The approach we’ve taken in calling our area the Silicon Prairie is to have a name & brand behind an area where many emerging startups exist. Historically it’s been easier to discuss the activity taking place within the “Silicon Prairie” – which includes Omaha, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Lincoln, Kansas City and others – rather than trying to lead or talk about the emerging startup coming out of city XYZ for instance.

    For the cities here, which reside in an area that isn’t commonly associated with emerging startups and high-growth / technology companies, I feel it’s a way to connect the communities here under one brand, to lead the discussion into exactly what is taking place within each of the cities – yet not with the goal of working towards creating the next Silicon Valley. What we want to create here is unique to each of our cities – and region – rather than solely trying to emulate the strengths of others.
    We want to put the cities of Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, and others, into the national conversation around other emerging entrepreneur ecosystems – like Boulder, Austin, New Orleans and countless others.

    Lots of discussion around “we want to be more like XYZ…” when there should be more heads down, focus on building, scaling growing where you’re at…

    Keep up the amazing work in Boulder and beyond!  :)

  • Pingback: Some Thoughts on Branding Startups and Communities | Freeex Blog()

  • Carl Rahn Griffith

    Well said. The ‘Silicon Roundabout’ epithet adopted in London is truly cringeworthy. Largely seems to be the mainstream media to blame for this, admittedly, but this could be corrected/rebranded if the imagination/desire was there within the community…

  • Pingback: Some Thoughts on Branding Startups and Communities()

  • Dmitri Leonov

    Brad, I respectfully disagree.  The name of the brand matters much less than what the brand has come to symbolize.  I don’t associate “Silicon” with “hey let’s be like Silicon Valley”.  I associate it with “tech”.  It’s catchy, and it conveys the message brilliantly – we’re a tech hub that’s located on the beach (or 30-60 min away, depending on traffic).  IMO naming conventions are like nick names – they develop organically, and it makes no sense to fight them.  If tomorrow the name of the LA startup community changed to “Bob”, it would make little difference on what’s going on here.

  • Drake Sutton-Shearer

    Silicon Beach is lame. There is enough silicon in LA of the implant variety.  LA is uniquely positioned to promote whatever new name they want to due to the high concentration of media and celebrity access here. I hope whoever initiated and crowned the LA area with such an original name has a far more unique product offering.   I’ve had meetings with tech entrepreneurs in Silver Lake, Downtown, Hollywood, Los Feliz,  Burbank, Miracle Mile and of course Venice/Santa Monica.   Then you have Pasadena and the South Bay where there is plenty of action.  Sure, you have a higher concentration of tech entities on the beach in addition to Google et al planting their flag in the sand but that does not represent the LA tech community.  Maybe Silverlake should just be Silicon Lake…..but then again, that would be stupid. 

  • Dale Allyn

    I could not agree more, Brad. I just commented on Mark Suster’s blog post on this topic and had not yet seen your post (sorry ;). I should have just typed “what Brad said”. (Sorry, been head down, making cool stuff for a spell 😉

    The “Silicon Wannabe” syndrome is sad. As you say, Boulder is spectacular… and has tech (as one of many industries). Boise has a couple of pissy little tech companies like HP and Micron 😉 and some keen startups, etc. Referring to NYC’s technology representatives as “Silicon Alley” is lame IMHO. Look at Seattle, Portland, Ohio, Wisconsin, Bend, Oregon, Lancaster, PA, etc. It’s time to grow up and own the turf and the opportunities without waiting for the “nod” from those in “Silicon Valley”. Innovation is global. Build it where you love the air. (And for the record, I’m in northern California… for now.) I’m not suggesting anything but respect for what is done in the Bay Area (S.V.), just suggesting that there’s no need to compare. Just build it.

  • Mark Essel

    50 mile run… you’re still pushing it! How do you make the time, are you resting only a few hours a night while travelling? Or running early and scheduling meetings later?

    The way you discuss startup hubs is how I feel about products, I loathe seeing false clusters or product analogies. You’re not the X of Y, you f’ing Z, say it and be proud.

  • Pingback: Some Thoughts on Branding Startups and Communities | | EspadaSoftEspadaSoft()

  • Pingback: Insights: Some Thoughts on Branding Startups and Communities | DeFevere Advisory Group()

  • Pingback: The Tragedy of ‘Silicon Blahs’ is not ‘Silicon,’ but People Themselves! « Sesiri Pathirane()

  • Manoj Ranaweera

    There is another debate at instigated by @Hermioneway

  • Pingback: xbox 360()

  • Pingback: penisadvantage()

  • Pingback: edu link building()

  • Pingback: hostgator coupon()

  • Pingback: free ipad()

  • Pingback: best led tv brand()

  • Pingback: penis advantage reviews()

  • Pingback: backlink service()

  • Pingback: free xbox()

  • Pingback: portable dvd player for car()

  • Pingback: truth about abs review()

  • Pingback: truth about six pack abs review()

  • Pingback: penis advantage()

  • Pingback: does penis advantage work()

  • Pingback: penis advantage()

  • Pingback: Cordell Quinoes()

  • Pingback: Juliette Scheuring()

  • Pingback: Carlita Cheers()

  • Pingback: how to get edu backlinks()

  • Pingback: hostgator promo code()

  • Pingback: how to get a free ipad()

  • Pingback: best 55 led tv()

  • Pingback: penis advantage scam()

  • Pingback: buy cheap backlinks()

  • Pingback: cheap portable dvd player()

  • Pingback: the truth about abs()

  • Pingback: penis advantage()

  • Pingback: Gillian Boehringer()

  • Pingback: Chong Spizzirri()

  • Pingback: Vada Tolman()

  • Pingback: Irvin Canela()

  • Pingback: Pamella Hohensee()

  • Pingback: Deja Tuell()

  • Pingback: Kareem Henton()

  • Pingback: Cecile Gerson()

  • Pingback: Tamica Sebold()

  • Pingback: Deja Tuell()

  • Pingback: Lynn Repenning()

  • Pingback: Daryl Hoosier()

  • Pingback: Florine Tatge()

  • Pingback: Roland Creese()

  • Pingback: Willis Morre()

  • Pingback: Everett Schoening()

  • Pingback: Riva Wolfing()

  • Pingback: Jerold Auter()

  • Pingback: Sophia Kufner()

  • Pingback: Princess Guidaboni()

  • Pingback: Stefany Eberth()

  • Pingback: Mica Westrup()

  • Pingback: Pablo Syrstad()

  • Pingback: Jack Lemke()

  • Pingback: Arnulfo Aquas()

  • Pingback: Portia Vanderen()

  • Pingback: Luciano Lavigna()

  • Pingback: Gretchen Bowers()

  • Pingback: Son Heckle()

  • Pingback: Olene Tisher()

  • Pingback: Fleta Worthley()

  • Pingback: Renetta Saltis()

  • Pingback: Mario Arguellez()

  • Pingback: Mistie Trim()

  • Pingback: Marlin Linebrink()

  • Pingback: Ariel Kurylo()

  • Pingback: Leroy Cosio()

  • Pingback: Kristofer Lavongsar()

  • Pingback: Clarita Mehtani()

  • Pingback: Wilburn Niglio()

  • Pingback: Gilberto Bartolotta()

  • Pingback: Glen Dansby()

  • Pingback: Tammi Razinger()

  • Pingback: Graham Burgees()

  • Pingback: Hobert Dentel()

  • Pingback: Replica Enables()

  • Pingback: Hugh Knepshield()

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: iOs()

  • Pingback: Clotilde Watzke()

  • Pingback: Kenisha Casali()

  • Pingback: Orville Fuschetto()

  • Pingback: Irving Bubolz()

  • Pingback: Randy Croteau()

  • Pingback: Derick Stiel()

  • Pingback: Tyrone Defazio()

  • Pingback: Mervin Jackola()

  • Pingback: Sharda Tuorto()

  • Pingback: Pierre Spanner()

  • Pingback: Harold Staubin()

  • Pingback: Valentine Tenley()

  • Pingback: Lawrence Jonah()

  • Pingback: Cristen Duda()

  • Pingback: Elvis Sharron()

  • Pingback: Thaddeus Gehring()

  • Pingback: Renae Koenigstein()

  • Pingback: Teisha Milite()

  • Pingback: Sherron Connerly()

  • Pingback: Oralia Stockhoff()

  • Pingback: Lorrie Breese()

  • Pingback: Hazel Marples()

  • Pingback: Morgan Frodsham()

  • Pingback: Emanuel Polakowski()

  • Pingback: Lu Boccella()

  • Pingback: Anita Dura()

  • Pingback: Winnifred Kirchmann()

  • Pingback: Many Veldkamp()

  • Pingback: Jessika Windfield()

  • Pingback: Maurita Jackiewicz()

  • Pingback: Leandro Williamsen()

  • Pingback: Marcelino Zetina()

  • Pingback: Teodoro Giannotti()

  • Pingback: Reena Mcatee()

  • Pingback: Carmelina Mruk()

  • Pingback: Evonne Staples()

  • Pingback: Luciano Gasquet()

  • Pingback: Jerrod Teakell()

  • Pingback: Martin Feerick()

  • Pingback: Pearl Connerty()

  • Pingback: Miyoko Saracco()

  • Pingback: Renaldo Seda()

  • Pingback: Mireya Croswell()

  • Pingback: Lillian Delcine()

  • Pingback: Victor Hulin()

  • Pingback: Andy Watson()

  • Pingback: Garrett Yamane()

  • Pingback: Wallace Caiafa()

  • Pingback: Irvin Ulicki()

  • Pingback: Vance Chadburn()

  • Pingback: Bryce Jacobellis()

  • Pingback: Corene Argudin()

  • Pingback: Hiram Pluhar()

  • Pingback: Ute Abshear()

  • Pingback: Tim Bonaventura()

  • Pingback: Amado Kummerow()

  • Pingback: Charise Degear()

  • Pingback: Cliff Atchinson()

  • Pingback: Deb Leberte()

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: Karissa Sobczynski()

  • Pingback: Marian Dalal()

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: Rich Arashiro()

  • Pingback: Jeremiah Bastien()

  • Pingback: Hosea Maiers()

  • Pingback: Elke Elnicki()

  • Pingback: Alanna Calamity()

  • Pingback: Winfred Wendel()

  • Pingback: Desirae Mozie()

  • Pingback: Jesse Sautter()

  • Pingback: Norbert Ahuja()

  • Pingback: Daphne Berrell()

  • Pingback: Erma Cominotti()

  • Pingback: Antone Tsau()

  • Pingback: Jamey Zager()

  • Pingback: Jeffie Trevis()

  • Pingback: Janina Thwaites()

  • Pingback: Edmundo Machak()

  • Pingback: Margeret Sammer()

  • Pingback: Cassondra Velazques()

  • Pingback: Don Malusky()

  • Pingback: Rosalina Gillam()

  • Pingback: Nana Zacher()

  • Pingback: Tamra Bertus()

  • Pingback: Olympia Arabian()

  • Pingback: Wesley Lamison()

  • Pingback: Five new year's resolutions all marketers must adopt | Francis MoranFrancis Moran()

  • Pingback: Tiffiny Frenette()

  • Pingback: Allene Tietjens()

  • Pingback: Terresa Ganem()

  • Pingback: Carry Venus()

  • Pingback: Robbie Vollmar()

  • Pingback: Bonny Czech()

  • Pingback: Maragaret Challa()

  • Pingback: Penelope Rickie()

  • Pingback: Na Sonza()

  • Pingback: Lorinda Berggren()

  • Pingback: Scot Przedwiecki()

  • Pingback: Kacy Koskela()

  • Pingback: Eduardo Gosey()

  • Pingback: Sherrie Bainard()

  • Pingback: Christeen Salazan()

  • Pingback: Brittanie Clary()

  • Pingback: Errol Costella()

  • Pingback: Christoper Dandrea()

  • Pingback: Marilou Burnstein()

  • Pingback: Zachariah Fogler()

  • Pingback: Philomena Hedgepath()

  • Pingback: Christopher Sutkus()