Silicon Valley is Not Over

A New York Times article published yesterday declares that “Silicon Valley is Over.” It does so by citing a few anecdotes of Silicon Valley investors fantasizing of living in “cute” Midwest cities with more reasonable house prices, and a several-month trend of more people leaving the Bay Area than moving in.

This follows a recent Wired article declaring that “Everyone Hates Silicon Valley,” in which the author tries to make the case that people everywhere are focused on how terrible Silicon Valley culture has become and are using that to contrast with their own tech and startup communities.

While this does make for attention-grabbing journalism, I worry that it sets unrealistic expectations in other parts of the country. Silicon Valley is not over—not even close. And when you suggest that it is, you are implying that a Silicon Valley downfall will be a big win for everyone else. That’s zero-sum thinking and I don’t agree with it.

Moreover, it ignores a fundamental truth—success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes decades of sustained commitment. In Startup Communities, Brad Feld writes about the need to take a very long term view—at least 20 years (and that the 20 year clock resets every year). By all accounts, Boulder has just completed a very impressive 20-30 year cycle. But even that was impacted by decisions made decades in advance.

Both Brad and I have read about and discussed the history of Silicon Valley—the seeds of which were planted more than 100 years ago. The “Big Bang” event, as I like to call it (the Traitorous Eight leaving Shockley Semiconductor to start Fairchild Semiconductor), which fundamentally shifted the culture there, occurred more than 60 years ago in 1957. It’s easy to point to today’s successes without understanding what it took to get there.

Think about where your own city was six decades ago.

A second point I want to make is that the constant obsession with Silicon Valley is a distraction. Entrepreneurship is fundamentally a local phenomenon—the most important startup community is your own. I have had the opportunity to speak with founders and community builders in cities around the world this last year, and most of them are focused on what’s in front of them—not the reported excesses occurring several thousand miles away.

It isn’t that Silicon Valley does not affect them—it does. Silicon Valley is a major magnet for talent and capital, and to suggest that doesn’t affect other cities would be naive. But, it isn't a central concern for them either.

So, rather than declaring Silicon Valley as being over, let’s acknowledge that it’s definitely not over—not by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, let’s look at the green shoots occurring in many other places, celebrate them, but also recognize that it’s still early days. Let’s be realistic about what can be achieved and over what timelines, knowing that it will take many decades for a vibrant startup community to take hold. For if we don’t, and we come up short of our own inflated expectations, frustration sets in and momentum is lost. That’s not good for anyone.

It's time to get over the idea of Silicon Valley being over.