Published in UT San Diego, November 25, 2013
Rule No. 330
Follow your own star. At least that way, you know where you are going.
The positive feedback loop. The self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, you want to become a thing before you actually are that thing, but in the becoming of the thing, you actually are it. Welcome to Silicon Valley.
We recently wrote a column about Silicon Valley, and we received a few thoughtful responses, including one from Bill Reichert, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, which is based in Santa Clara, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
With respect to the dearth of venture capital in San Diego, he says, “The frustrating thing for most every community is that there is not enough venture capital to sustain the multiplication of innovation that you desire. So anyone who wants to play that game goes to Silicon Valley, where the ecosystem already exists. The honey pot of capital already in the Valley creates the self-fulfilling prophecy that even more concentrates the venture-funded startups here.”
Now, in fairness to Reichert, he also points out that for every grand-slam entrepreneur who crosses into the promised land up there, there are 1,000 who fall into the chasm and fail. But the odds of jumping the Grand Canyon increase if you rev your motorcycle at the edge of the canyon, i.e. Silicon Valley.
Reichert had two investments in San Diego that didn’t cross, IP3 Networks and Cogensys, so again let’s be fair — Valley money does travel south. He has also invested in two deals in Chicago, and they are doing very well. So the real theme is that if you have greatness on your racket, geography is no impediment. The money will find you. However, if you happen to be standing next to a trillion dollars on Sand Hill Road, it is probably a bit easier for the money to just cross the street than to get on an airplane.
A local entrepreneur who is mostly under that radar, but with ties to both San Diego and points north, is Matt Michelsen. Michelsen is the co-founder of Backplane, which started with the idea of developing a social media platform for a minor nobody want-to-be celebrity who became Lady Gaga with her LittleMonsters.com community. A trillion impressions later, they have created an infrastructure that allows like-minded people to connect around their shared interests in a private community where the brand or celebrity can control and monetize the content as compared with Facebook. Backplane’s engineers are in Silicon Valley, and the marketing and operations functions reside in San Diego.
Before Backplane, Michelsen built a financial trading firm in San Diego, and he points out that finding talent in San Diego is actually easier than the Valley, where Google and Facebook suck up the best and brightest. In fact, Michelsen suggests that our weather and lifestyle are conducive to engineers who want to solve hard problems — and also like to surf.
This conundrum of money and talent and geography is a tough nut to crack. Our city is awash in organizations devoted to helping the entrepreneur, and one might reasonably argue that we may have too many. Since we have a limited pool of money, maybe we should pick fewer organizations and fund them better.
Sometimes, Barbara and I wonder at the apparently limitless number of pitch-fests and mentor nights, almost ad nauseam. If you only have a few bullets, don’t use them up in a machine gun. Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes.
At the same time, the process of trying to jump the canyon does weed out the best from the good. I am not suggesting we build a suspension bridge.
At the end of the day, success breeds success. That should be the continuing goal here. It will not be sudden. San Diego will need to create its own self-fulfilling prophecy, one company at a time.