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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Irrelevance of Silicon Valley Envy

Comments (7)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the AEA survey that ranked Boulder as the #2 CyberCity in the US.  I suggested that this was misleading since #1 was "San Jose/Silicon Valley", which is not actually a city.  If you’d decomposed "San Jose/Silicon Valley" into the various cities that actually make up Silicon Valley, they would have been #1 through at least #5 and Boulder would have been #6.

Ever since I’m moved to Boulder in 1995, the "what do we need to do to be more like Silicon Valley" meme pops up ever regularly.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, have lots of friends and colleagues there, and have made (and continue to make) lots of investments there.  It’s a special and unique place. 

Over the years, I’ve asserted that Colorado has no business trying to "be like" Silicon Valley.   There are lots of things that Colorado can learn from Silicon Valley and a lot of them are happening / being created in Boulder right now.  However, it’s a great example of the cliche of "applying best practices" (where Boulder is learning from and applying the best practices of Silicon Valley) rather than strict emulation.

This came up in an interview with me on ColoradoBizTV that just went up today. I have a three minute riff on why "Boulder, Denver, and Colorado in general ebbs and flows with Silicon Valley envy and that’s an error" and why "the Boulder entrepreneurial scene is as healthy as it’s ever been."

  • http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com Chris Yeh

    It's foolish for Boulder to try to become more like Silicon Valley when most of the people who move there do so precisely because it is *not* the Valley.

    I've always admired the folks I know in Boulder, who seem down to earth and outside the echo chamber that is Silicon Valley. It would be a shame to see Boulder become a cheap knockoff, rather than what it is now: a worthy original.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Well said Chris!

  • Bradley Joyce

    Amen! I just wrote a post on the Texas Startup blog about where to locate your startup and how you should really consider simply staying put rather than moving out to the valley because “that's where startups go.”

    Many cities across the country have great entrepreneurial communities and they should all be themselves!

  • nitinbadjatia

    It's funny, we get the same meme running through conversations here in Pittsburgh. We're lucky to have a vibrant tech scene in a wide array of fields, software, hardware, clean-tech, robotics, but people keep obsessing about Silicon Valley. As a very frequent visitor to Silicon Valley, I love the place, but it does have drawbacks.

    I think Guy Kawasaki had a great post a while back about getting beyond the obsession: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/how_to_kick_s

    Boulder seems like a great place to operate from; I've love to check it out someday.

  • http://friendfeed.com/seanammirati Sean Ammirati

    I completely agree and often say the same thing about Pittsburgh (although must admit we are certainly less developed in terms of adopting those best practices.)

  • http://blog.nicholasnapp.com NickN

    And we do the same in RTP. Did you know we're the “Silicon Valley of the Southeast”.

    One of the biggest practical differences I see is in hiring. When I was in Silicon Valley, we would find good engineers, make an offer on a Friday and have to up the offer by Monday because of the fierce competition. In RTP, you're not fighting that, but you are fighting the “why should I leave a safe job and join a startup”.

    In general it's a different game outside SV, and I like it that way.

  • Richard Stump

    It really is true. Most cities and states follow the trends instead of lead. They all benchmark some city that is doing great things and looks similar to their city so they try and apply the same policies etc. Instead of being original and playing to that cities strength. In Kentucky, we have good quality of life, low cost of living and a highly educated workforce and research universities. We need to focus on the things that make us unique and not try to emulate every Boulder or Austin that comes along. In relation to start-ups, trying something new like Brad & David did with Techstars is a better model then trying to recreate Silicon valley in Boulder. (would ruin Boulder, anyway)

  • http://techburner.com DJ Burdick

    I agree you shouldn't try and copy the valley if you're in another area. Just like if you're trying to compete with an entrenched/dominant company you shouldn't try to copy them either. You need to play to your strengths. However, if you have a chance to be in the valley I highly recommend it. A lot of people put on blinders and say things like “we're the silicon valley of the midwest etc…” Why not just move to the valley if that's your barometer for a great area?

    I recently made the move and love it.
    See my experience here:
    http://techburner.com/2008/07/31/a-fire-in-the-va

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Well said Chris!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bradleyjoyce bradleyjoyce

    Amen! I just wrote a post on the Texas Startup blog about where to locate your startup and how you should really consider simply staying put rather than moving out to the valley because "that's where startups go."

    Many cities across the country have great entrepreneurial communities and they should all be themselves!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/nitinbadjatia nitinbadjatia

    It's funny, we get the same meme running through conversations here in Pittsburgh. We're lucky to have a vibrant tech scene in a wide array of fields, software, hardware, clean-tech, robotics, but people keep obsessing about Silicon Valley. As a very frequent visitor to Silicon Valley, I love the place, but it does have drawbacks.

    I think Guy Kawasaki had a great post a while back about getting beyond the obsession: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/how_to_kick_s

    Boulder seems like a great place to operate from; I've love to check it out someday.

  • NickN

    And we do the same in RTP. Did you know we're the "Silicon Valley of the Southeast".

    <sigh>

    One of the biggest practical differences I see is in hiring. When I was in Silicon Valley, we would find good engineers, make an offer on a Friday and have to up the offer by Monday because of the fierce competition. In RTP, you're not fighting that, but you are fighting the "why should I leave a safe job and join a startup".

    In general it's a different game outside SV, and I like it that way.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/richard_st59861 richard_st59861

    It really is true. Most cities and states follow the trends instead of lead. They all benchmark some city that is doing great things and looks similar to their city so they try and apply the same policies etc. Instead of being original and playing to that cities strength. In Kentucky, we have good quality of life, low cost of living and a highly educated workforce and research universities. We need to focus on the things that make us unique and not try to emulate every Boulder or Austin that comes along. In relation to start-ups, trying something new like Brad & David did with Techstars is a better model then trying to recreate Silicon valley in Boulder. (would ruin Boulder, anyway)

  • DJ Burdick

    I agree you shouldn't try and copy the valley if you're in another area. Just like if you're trying to compete with an entrenched/dominant company you shouldn't try to copy them either. You need to play to your strengths. However, if you have a chance to be in the valley I highly recommend it. A lot of people put on blinders and say things like "we're the silicon valley of the midwest etc…" Why not just move to the valley if that's your barometer for a great area?

    I recently made the move and love it.
    See my experience here:
    http://techburner.com/2008/07/31/a-fire-in-the-va

  • Chris Yeh

    It's foolish for Boulder to try to become more like Silicon Valley when most of the people who move there do so precisely because it is *not* the Valley.

    I've always admired the folks I know in Boulder, who seem down to earth and outside the echo chamber that is Silicon Valley. It would be a shame to see Boulder become a cheap knockoff, rather than what it is now: a worthy original.

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