Dear Silicon Valley: It's A Post-Technology Startup World (And Very Few Seem To Know It)
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
One of the frequent topics I like to discuss besides the myth and meme that "Necessity Is the Mother of All Invention" is the fact many of Silicon Valley's most vaunted startups are all post-tech businesses.
Yes, you read that right. Post-tech.
They surely use technology in their day-to-day operations just as UPS does, the Hilton hotel chain or even Walmart. However, many of these startups may actually use even less tech than these brick and mortar firms. Examples of such startups and ventures that are post tech include Airbnb, Uber and Zappos which is analogous to an online Nordstrom in terms of the excellent customer service experience they provide. Further, the technology required to run these companies is often available right of the shelf for a pittance (relatively speaking). There are plenty of other non-Valley, post-tech companies such as Groupon, Gilt Groupe and Dollar Shave Club to name just a few.
What does all this mean?
As we've discussed many times before, this means that what many of these startups are facing (or will face) as their primary challenge is primarily human in nature not technical.
Specifically, the markets that post-tech startups will want to or tend to target are those which are massively inefficient (thus, having huge profit potential while populated with tepid or ossified competitors) due to the use of regulatory capture by rent-seeking incumbents.
Over the last 18 to 20 years (and especially during the last 7 years) the skills and knowledge needed to quickly and cost effectively build, mass produce and even consume these technologies and tools have now become almost completely common place. Consider that the amount of computing power (and bandwidth) we have in our smart phones to a person 10 years ago as is the ability to buy right off the shelf most of the things we need to create just about any product or business.
We're no longer concerned with the theory behind building a router or the design and development of packet switched (versus a circuit based networks). Even IPTV is no longer a hazy dream but a daily reality.
I could go on and on, but I won't so as not to bore you.
Beyond core technology, the Valley has now grown and matured in regards to the knowledge, processes, skills and resources needed to not only build a product but to launch a company and to make it successful (although, often times, the Valley still struggles greatly with market-based productization and ultimately the monetization off the product. These two sticking points, therefore, provide huge opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs to focus on).
For me, I'm glad I lived in the Valley and still do business there. It was a very huge turning point and chapter in my life, however, for many reasons, not everyone can get there, at least now.
Yet they worry and fret. Don't.
My advice, is don't worry or fret, do the best you can, with what you have, where you are. If the Valley is in your future you'll be there. And beyond that, there is a downside to the Valley -- too many posers, Drive-by entrepreneurs, Lottery Ticket Louts and so forth attending events and conferences rather than staying home or at the office building product or businesses. Better yet, spending the time getting in front of customers. The point is the Valley is a huge echo-chamber where luck and one-trick ponies are seen as "systems", "processes" and "truths" and where almost no one I have met can separate talent from systems, brand and product.
That's the downside. A major downside.
The upside is that even if you aren't in the Valley, you can still read and see what's going on, in real time, without being pulled into the Valley echo-chamber and backslapping "ataboys" that are often made with good intentions but damage companies and entrepreneurs in the long run.
The glorious fact, and I do say glorious, is that now with all of the knowledge, mentors, books, forms, templates and so on I question this "race to setup in the Valley" Further, we should consider and clearly understand that most of the "tech pain" and "tech risk" has been taken entirely out of the startup equation.
To summarize, in effect, so many of these startups are post-tech. They surely use tech in their daily business or operations just like KFC, Burger King and UPS does but they aren't tech firms. This doesn't make them better or worse than any startup. But it does mean they should acknowledge this new reality as should every startups, potential entrepreneur as well as incumbent.
By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Outside of questions pertaining to SiliconEdge's training and coaching services, two of the most common questions people ask us have to do with our company name.
Is there a particular meaning attached to the name? And if so, what is the philosophy behind it?
Simply stated SiliconEdge represents two concepts.
First, it represents the physical edge of Silicon Valley -- the millions and millions of miles of inhabited space where entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skills and knowledge have been rapidly diffusing or have already diffused and the exciting innovation and creativity that have been taking place or are about to take place outside of the Valley as well as outside of the United States.
Second, and mostly importantly, if we accept Silicon Valley to be the mecca of technology, creativity, innovation and risk taking, then this "edge" is the next step, the next evolution of this mecca; not a physical edge but a philosophical edge.
To me, it's been very clear that this next evolutionary step is a philosophical shift in recognizing and optimizing the human element and the strategic element and nowhere will this become more true and more important than in the Valley which is increasing becoming a "post-tech" world although very few seem aware of this fact. This shift means that business and people will soon need to recognize that most of the problems they face are not technical or financial in nature but human (we address this in great detail).
To be sure, the intrinsic importance and value of the human element is not new and it has always been of critical importance even when it has gone unrecognized. And due to a number of factors the actual importance of the human element has often been masked, misinterpreted and even when it's been recognized the response has often been to simply address it with platitudes.
A common example of this is found in the expression, "Necessity is the mother of all invention".
Is this really the case? We think not.
To us, this human element relates to being able to most effectively and efficiently select, acquire, develop, deploy, motivate, manage and retain the right people necessary for your business to reach or exceed its objectives and goals as well as ensuring your continued competitiveness and viability in the fast moving, global business environment that is today's reality.
More specifically, the concrete skill sets that now provide the largest ROI and ROL for companies (and individuals) include:
Beyond this human element, the essence and philosophy of SiliconEdge is to always question the official narrative as to why a particular person, company, product or strategy was "successful" or "failed" and to identify and unpack the most powerful myths and memes to find the real lessons to be learned.
SiliconEdge™ helps catalyze and drive the Productivity, Performance, Profitability, and Peace of Mind (4P's) of organizations, talent, and teams through our innovative, results-driven Talent Acceleration, Optimization, and Transformation programs.
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