Thoughts on Scale and Community (Cameron Robertson)
We have recently seen the airwaves and live feeds saturated with news of the impending Facebook IPO. Here in the Silicon Valley echo-chamber the conversation is amplified with founders chittering about every lurid detail – how much does Mark own, who is friends with soon-to-be Facebook millionaires, how many new Porsches and Teslas will soon crowd University Avenue.
What really fascinates me, however, is the mechanism of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley that allowed a company to reach such an immense size. Indeed, Facebook was well on its way to experiencing its hockey-stick before Mark left Cambridge, however, numerous other examples confirm that Silicon Valley is a genuine scaling engine. Drive around the peninsula for 45 minutes and you will see the fruit from these endeavors in names such as HP, Apple, Oracle and Google.
Coming from Boulder I was initially star struck by the notion of living at the center of technology. Boulder has incredibly high entrepreneurial density, however, nothing can prepare you for being surrounded by a thousand startups and an order-of-magnitude-more-eager founders and would-be-founders vying and jostling for press and funding. But when the glitter is mopped up and lights come on they reveal that the very same scale that allows Silicon Valley to bring technology to the masses creates [islands] [of] [community] that can difficult to break into for the unsuspecting transplants.
In Boulder the “C” word is hammered into entrepreneurs ad nauseum. You can’t escape a blog post or startup event without being barraged by community. Community in Boulder has an unusual stickiness that is traditionally only reserved for small towns and religious institutions. Plugging into the Boulder entrepreneurship scene is as easy as attending a few tech events and dropping by one of the town’s caffeine dispensaries.
What’s more interesting is how complete strangers are willing to help their founder brethren simply because they believe it is the right thing to do. Most top investors and entrepreneurs in Boulder are just a tweet away from meeting with you. In the same way that Silicon Valley’s size makes it possible for companies to scale infinitely, so too does it prevent a single over-arching sense of community like that of Boulder.
I think that there are two practical takeaways from this. The first is the immense gravitational field that Silicon Valley possesses in attracting and keeping the best entrepreneurial talent as well as the full spectrum of risk taking investors willing to fund their ideas. Those with the ability to make are inherently attracted to a place where they can perform at their peak and have their achievements measured against the greats of technology.
Conversely, for entrepreneurs with nothing more than an iPhone in their pocket and a head full of ideas, Boulder’s community is unrivaled when it comes to nurturing founders. Navigating Silicon Valley can be difficult even for those who’ve raised money, and everyone is constantly struggling for their startup’s voice to be heard against the din of other companies. A sense of community goes a long way in letting everyone take the mic when they are ready to proclaim “this is what I’ve made”.
Boulder will likely never see an IPO the size of Facebook, but that’s okay. Many will readily point out that Boulder doesn’t want to be Silicon Valley; I agree with this sentiment. Having been steeped in the Boulder startup community for a number of years I didn’t realize how unique it was until I came to Silicon Valley. Boulder shouldn’t attempt to replicate Silicon Valley, but rather continue to foster its biggest comparative advantage: community.
Cameron Robertson is a co-founder at api.gy.