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.
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