At South by Southwest Interactive today, panelists from the Bay Area; Madison, Wisc.; Beijing; and Austin, Texas, debated the value of building your startup in the Valley, and the corrupting influence of venture capital on technology startups. The panel came to the conclusion that, if you want to build big and build fast, then you need to go to the Valley. However, few companies need to build big and fast.
The panel didn’t break any new ground with its discussion on the Bay Area’s proximity to capital, abundant talent and reverence of startup culture. However, cracks are beginning to show, as startups need less venture capital, California’s economy worsens and as the reverence of a startup culture that celebrates the go-big-or-go-home way of creating a startup fades.
The Bay Area startup ethos that calls for millions in venture funding and a giant business built in three to five years may be on the wane as the venture world faces its own tectonic shifts (see video below). “The model of tech getting used to VCs throwing crazy amounts of money at them is just crazy,” says Mike Maples, Sr., an angel investor who formerly worked at Microsoft and has funded several businesses.
Panelist Penelope Trunk, founder of the Brazen Careerist, who started her company in Madison, Wisc., called the VC model shallow and limiting for an entrepreneur. She pointed out that the traditional startup culture embraced by Silicon Valley comes at a personal cost that makes it hard for women and those with families to become entrepreneurs, and she championed building a business that generates sales and grows organically.
Panelist Kaiser Kuo, a business consultant in China, echoed the call to bootstrap, saying, “VCs should be the funding source of last resort.”
I walked away thinking the big debate for entrepreneurs is less about where you start a company, than an effort to reclaim the word “startup” for entrepreneurs who bootstrap their technology business — in or outside of the Valley. Many of these companies get less PR (they can’t always afford it), but they will likely become increasingly relevant as the downturn forces a realignment of the venture industry and forces entrepreneurs to build a startup that can make it as a business from day one.