Dharmesh Shah


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Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups

By Dharmesh Shah on December 12, 2011

The following is a guest post by Jason Evanish. Jason is the founder of GreenhornConnect.com, a hub for resources, events and jobs for Boston entrepreneurs and is presently working on a new startup. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evanish and connect with him elsewhere through About.me.


Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups

I've spent the past two and a half years in the great startup community of Boston, where the ecosystem has been quietly growing stronger every day. During that time I've had the opportunity to visit a number of other startup ecosystems as well as interact with leaders of other cities.  Despite this, I'd never really visited the Valley. With airline tickets cheap between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I decided it was time to finally make a pilgrimage to the center of the startup universe: Silicon Valley.center universe

When I set out to visit Silicon Valley, I hoped to get a taste of all the Valley has to offer. I heard that San Francisco, Palo Alto and Mountain View were the key hubs, so I spent a couple days in each area.  By doing so, I maximized the breadth of my experience as well as who I could actually meet and what I could see.  

The Valley truly is a unique place unlike any other ecosystem I've been to (including the runner-ups, Boston and New York). I wrote elsewhere about some of the myths and facts of Silicon Valley, and there I mentioned I'd love to be able to bottle up the Valley’s special elements. Below is my attempt at capturing what these elements are based on both my experiences and discussions with native entrepreneurs and investors I met on my trip.

#PayItForward

If there's a single thing that stands out about the Valley, it's the openness of everyone there. Every person I met was excited to meet with me even with the coldest of intros I received. More importantly though, at the end of every meeting *everyone* asked me "How can I help?" and insisted on working with me until we could come up with a way they could help.

Dial O for Optimism

It's easy to dismiss wild, big vision ideas that just don't make sense to you. However, in the Valley, that's not an obstacle. Everyone is encouraged to start a company and no one is doubted because they lack a clear revenue model or doesn't pass someone's analytical test. As one Boston transplant put it, "the Boston brain in me thought the idea of 'Pandora for Shoes' was dumb, but the more I thought about it, I realized it just might work."  

Beyond how people view others' ideas, there's an overwhelming sense of hope there; it's difficult to explain, but you get hit by a wave of it when you're there that makes you think anything is possible and that you’re surrounded by greatness.

Culture Counts

Yes, there's a talent war in the Valley, but there's a talent war in every tech hub. As one person I met put it, “the Valley is the Major Leagues”; there's more of everything: more founders, more capital, more startup employees, more competition. When that's the case, the only way to recruit and retain talent is with a great work culture and a fun environment.

I visited the Twilio office while in San Francisco and was floored. They have nailed culture in so many ways it can be its own post, but the key is that I heard that HR gets over *250* applicants for every job. The talent war is won and lost inside your office.

Everyone’s an Evangelist

Every person I met was telling me I have to move here. Every. Single. One. There's a "join a winning tradition" kind of attitude that I think is the same thing the Yankees do to recruit free agent baseball players. This attitude comes from a confidence in good things happening here (see ‘Optimism’, above) and also the welcoming environment; San Francisco was described to me as an incredibly transient population, so everyone is looking to make new friends.

These beliefs feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you think you can, you will, if you think you can't, you won't.  Believing you can succeed and so can others breeds optimism and a risk-taking attitude.

Winning with Weather

You can't change the weather of your ecosystem, but it is an advantage of the Valley. On a warm sunny day, you're more likely to go outside and not work from home. You're also able to move around before and after events more freely. Both of these cases leads to more serendipity and may contribute to the optimism (as a counter, see Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder).  

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign
box billboard

Startup signage is simple, but actually a big deal. There's a serious cool factor to walking or driving by a building and seeing the logo of a company you recognize.  It's also fun seeing startups on billboards. While on the 101 (the main highway running through the Valley) I saw signs for Box.net, Salesforce, Huddle, and Zynga. As a startup geek, I find this as cool as others do when they see a celebrity on the street. This omnipresence of startups goes a long way to thinking about a place being the home of great startups and is a hot topic in other ecosystems like Boston.

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Much of what makes the Valley special is hard to describe; you really need to see it for yourself to truly understand. If you’re starting a company, already running a company or just interested in startups, I highly encourage you to check it out.  Many great entrepreneurs in other ecosystems visit quarterly to take advantage of what the Valley has to offer and after visiting, I understand why.

Have you visited the Valley? What do you think makes it such a unique place?

Special thanks to @Wayne of Crashlytics for help in refining this post
Topics: guest strategy
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Cult of Product: Marketing Isn't Just For Losers Who Pay For Sex

By Dharmesh Shah on November 30, 2011

The following is a guest post by Mike Troiano. Mike is a former New York ad man turned venture-funded entrepreneur, now a Principal at Boston-based Holland-Mark.  You can follow him on Twitter at @miketrap, and connect with him elsewhere through About Me.

Product, product, product. More focus on product was at the center of Brad Feld's comments at last week's Silicon Valley Bank CEO event, in response to a question about what he'd do differently if he had it to do over. More focus on product is at the core of the Lean Startup Revolution we're all getting behind, and in the spine of the Steve Jobs bio we're all reading, and in the frequent posts of the startup bloggers we all pay attention to.

And it's all true. Product is the key, at the very center of building a viable business from nothing. And by implication, marketing is so 15 minutes ago. Marketing is for products unworthy of passionate advocacy, a crutch for nice-to-have startups who invest in sprawling web sites and launch parties like losers with no choice but to pay for sex.loser

I spend a lot of time fighting this perception, talking about the difference between the kind of strategic marketing that can corrupt your vision with the external reality, marketing communications, which consists largely of the promotional sham-ware of the mid-twentieth century.

But you know what? I'm giving all that up. I'm going to take another approach, one I think will resonate more clearly with the Cult of Product sub-culture which seems to be sucking all of the oxygen out of the shill-o-sphere.

Ready? Here it is: You should focus on the desired response to your product, not just on the product itself.

Why must you focus so intently on your product? Isn't it because you want people to respond to your product in ways that propel your businesses to greatness? Isn't your product, then, a means to an end? Isn't it a stimulus hoping to evoke the right response on the part of the customers who buy it?

In a very real way, I'd argue yes. More than that, I'd argue that the primary dimension of product response that propels businesses to greatness is emotional response.

What do great un-advertised, Billion-dollar brands like Dropbox, Facebook, and even (until recently) Google have in common? We love them. They make us feel respectively Liberated, Connected, and Empowered in ways that enrich our lives. They make us grateful, make us want to share with others. A brand is nothing more than an emotional response out there in the world, but building brands with products instead of print advertising doesn't make them any less important, or any less worthy of early focus, thoughtful strategy, and effective execution.

It's becoming a cliche to say your product is your marketing, in an era where customers trust each other more than they do media. Well if that's true it might be time to bring a little more marketing into your product, in the form of treating the softer science of brand development with the same respect you give the harder sciences of product management and engineering.

What do you think?  Where do you stand on the Cult of Product? Would love to read your comments.

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