California Startup Gold – bring it here to scale it

CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, venture

Most of my 25 year career has been in California; about half of those in Silicon Valley. I’ve been involved with several amazing companies throughout Northern and Southern Cal; I have expanded, launched, M&A’d, relaunched, liquidated, succeeded and failed, you name it.

I’ve also had the good fortune to operate and sometimes live in several other fledgling tech corridors – Cambridge, NYC, Portland, Boulder, Santa Fe, Austin, Dallas, SLC, Frankfurt, Paris. In every case these other places aspire to be a self sustaining baby Silicon Valley of their own – Silicon Alley, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Coast. But they don’t quite make it. Some come close, like New York or now Boulder but it’s still not quite the same.

The term Silicon Valley is now a misnomer – it has moved way beyond silicon and way beyond the original Santa Clara valley to spread all over California. The new hot spots are San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, the east bay, etc.

San Francisco – San Francisco has actually successfully co-opted the Silicon Valley magic and even surpassed it in some ways (Twitter, Salesforce.com); it’s again a very hot place to be right now and this will continue. Talk about scalability! If you plop your company here, great things could happen. It wasn’t always that way – in the 80’s and much of the 90’s San Fran was a sub-par runner up to SV, trying to catch up. Great PR and finance firms, but not many startups. Houses were cheaper, you couldn’t get good engineers, etc. That has all changed. Now companies have bidding wars for office space amid a major national recession.

There’s a magic and complex dynamic to the combination of things that make California so different. Just say the word and people take notice. There’s a seriousness, a buzz, confidence, reliability, completeness, professionalism. An assumption that you’ll more likely make it there.

Southern California, The “Silicon Basin”  – – With the convergence of social media, the Internet, and digital entertainment, Southern California is now humming as a great startup region. In 2003 Electronic Arts actually moved their headquarters from Silicon Valley to Playa Vista, an crazy move at the time, and accelerated their growth as a result. Several smaller software groups, vfx studios and creative design labs are now benefitting from the movement south. Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and others are growing their employee base and presence in L.A. Venture Capital from Northern and Southern Cal is flowing into the L.A. basin. It has the key catalyst – several excellent universities spitting out young engineers and business people. It has a strong and growing angel investor base, tapping one of the largest concentrations of individual wealth in the world.

There are exceptions to the California phenomenon; several amazing companies have emanated from these other areas, always have, and many of these ecosystems are now of course self sustaining, but they’re not the same as California. Countless companies have moved there for this advantage, reference Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook. Good move. If you’re somewhere else, it’s because you’ve made a tradeoff, a compromise. I know as I’ve done it myself several times and I’m glad I did. I’ve rooted for other places to approach California’s ecosystem, but  I know they’ll  never come close.

If you want maximum scalability for your business, you should be in California. If you seek maximum scalability, the best capital providers, the best people, the highest valuations, you gotta be in Cali. You could get more advantages from a couple of visits to a coffee shop in Palo Alto than spending a year in some other town.  @tomnora  @cowlow

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