Weekend Reading on Startup Communities

Amy and I had a very quiet weekend hanging out with each other, Brooks the Wonder Dog, and Super Cooper the Pooper. We like Memorial Day weekend – it always feels like the beginning of summer to us.

I read three books over the weekend. Since I was home, rather than reading on my Kindle, I grabbed some books from the infinite pile of physical books I have in my office. New stuff shows up every week – mostly business and entrepreneurship books, and the occasional “I think you’d like this” book. In addition, whenever I want something that isn’t on the Kindle, I just buy the physical book.

So this weekend was about startup communities with a bonus book on the startup visa tossed in for good measure.

The first was The Making of Silicon Valley: A One Hundred Year Renaissance. This book was written in 1995 and published by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association so the updated subtitle should be “A One Hundred Year Renaissance – 20 Years Later.” Anyone interested in Silicon Valley, what it means, and how it came together should read this book carefully from cover to cover. There is so much shortened history out there, where the most extensive typically only goes back to Shockley, Fairchild, The Traitorous Eight, and the founding of Intel. The history is so much richer, the one page stories about the companies the shaped each era are just awesome, and the perspective of what 120 years really means for a the startup community that is undeniably the most robust in the world right now is very powerful. It also ends just as the rise of the Internet begins, so it’s the long arc of Silicon Valley is not overshadowed by the last twenty years.

The next book I read was Screw the Valley: A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture. I don’t like the title – it’s too intentionally provocative for my tastes because I’m not anti-Silicon Valley but rather pro-building startup communities everywhere – but the book is excellent. Timothy Sprinkle interviewed me early in his process and then set off on an almost one year trip across the US where he spent real time in Detroit, New York, Las Vegas, Austin, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, and Boulder. He writes extremely deep stories about each startup community, along with strengths, weaknesses, and things that are going on that shape them. I show up in a number of times, both personally along with references to my book Startup Communities, and Timothy does a nice job of using some of the concepts from Startup Communities to draw out major themes in each city. This is a great snapshot in time – right now – to show how startup communities develop anywhere.

The last book I read was The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth & Economic Prosperity in America. Tahmina Watson wrote an extremely clear and easy to process book on the problem of the startup visa, why the US immigration system and visa process doesn’t work for entrepreneurs, why this matters, and makes recommendations about what to do about it. She also gives a nice history of the various bills in Congress, going back to S.3029 in 2010 (Lugar, Kerry) titled “The Startup Visa.” It’s disappointing that it’s five years later and Congress can’t seem to get a bill on the Startup Visa passed – or anything on immigration for that matter – but that’s life in government.

If you want a real punch line to the whole situation, read the short article from the NY Times Magazine – Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant by Adam Davidson. Amy handed it to me on Monday and I said “I don’t really feel like reading another thing on immigration because I’m so annoyed by our lack of progress.” But then I did, and it was a great read.

  • Sounds like “Screw the Valley” is a good read apropos of your talk in Colorado Springs last Friday. One question I was thinking about over the weekend was if you have seen any of these nascent startup communities like ours connect remotely to other ones or does much of the exchange between them have to happen in person (and typically at the individual level)?

  • Matt Kruza

    Brad, on the immigration I suspect you will best separating high-skilled from low-skilled. High-skilled definitely leads to economic growth in the long-term, and pretty much in the short-term too. And from a practical tech sides these are the employees we need, not $8-10 per hour workers who will never materially make the key difference in the companies we work for (again, tech is not the only concern, but within the world you and I are in that is the most common reference point)
    Low / unskilled immigrants impose pretty severe costs on unskilled / low skill americans. These are not the people who you and I and others in the tech community interact with in our business lives, but their economic plight is a very serious matter (note, I am not accusing you of saying they are not, but the article you linked to is very misleading to say the least). First Borjas is not alone, he has another major academic in Lawrence Katz in his studies. Secondly, common sense does indeed say that an unskilled immigrant with a family four coming here earning $25k a year WILL impose costs on society. For a family of four they will not pay income taxes on the federal level until somewhere between $40-50k per year. Almost no unskilled immigrant will earn this much in a decade, and probably never in their whole life. Secondly, at that income level social programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance etc. will be likely tapped (there are some time limits on when those can be received for immigrants – trying to be EXCEEDINGLY fair in this analysis). One refrain is that social security taxes will be paid. And that is true. But social security taxes are underfunded, and the only epoeple who come close to funding their actual retirement benefits in social security are those who earn well north of 40-50k on average on their working career. Again, clearly not many unskilled immigrants. I debated heavily posting this as the tech community seems to skewer anyone who doesn’t fall into the typical more liberal position of “open boarders” and “collaboraton for all”. What I am trying to do is provide a rational analysis, which clearly the NY Times writer was not. A fair argument is “lets subsidize” people immigrating here,as that makes for a better world. I can accept that argument, whether I vote for that or not. But to argue that economically an unskilled worker that will be paid $8 an hour in the US is good for the majority of the people is economically untrue, intellectually dishonest, and is used to make it so that only “racist” people can object. Nothing can be further from the truth. I have huge interests in economic and cultural diversity, so that is why it is important to call out bull shit arguments that do nothing but let honest people have even LESS faith in those in power who are trying to hoodwink them

    • Steve Lincoln

      But, Matt, what you neglect is the “ratcheting up” effect of adding more (largely) unskilled workers that is mentioned in the article: that workers who are more skilled will be freed from doing lower-skill tasks and be able to fill roles that are more productive (for their employer) and more profitable (for themselves). Surely, this off-sets to some degree, or even completely, the cost of benefits that you mention as associated with lower-wage workers.

      It seems to me that the NYT article is not saying that increasing the number of documented immigrants would increase the number of low-wage workers or low-wage jobs, but rather would displace many workers filling lower-skilled jobs by moving them into higher-skilled jobs, many of which are begging for employees to fill them now. Sure, this might require some additional training or education. But, again, that adds to overall productivity. And, isn’t that what we want: more people working up to their true abilities?

      • Matt Kruza

        Steve, appreciate the detailed, constructive response. I of course want more people working up to their true abilities. The issue is currently over 40-60% of workers are already “under-employed”. You have masters degree holders working at starbucks and other retailers. There are not enough jobs as currently structured for the displaced workers to take over. low-skilled blue collar workers have been destroyed for 30 years. The big 3 auto makes used to pay a 70k life style (in todays dollars). The new workers make 28k. I am actually an optimist that we can reverse some of the middle and lower middle class destruction that has occurred with globalization (which overall has been good for the world … 2 billion people have left poverty). However, if we had open borders we would literally have tens of millions of immigrants coming in, and it would make it impossble to deal with those making less than 30k already and find ways for business, social, and political solutions. The author of the article is crazy if he thinks in 2015 that the reason people are doing “lower skilled jobs” is because there are not enough workers to do the lower skilled jobs (which supposedly the immigrants would help). The issue is there are not enough high-skilled jobs. Basically probably 2x number of qualified people for the number of middle income jobs. Now at the very high level of technical skills there may be some gap (still exaggerated in my opinion), and that goes back to why I think brad should focus just on that

  • Have your views changed at all since you penned “Startup Communities”?

    Ever since your visit here to Miami things have progressed greatly. A lot of what was brainstormed, unfortunately, has not been acted upon – until now. A few of us took on the effort implement what we feel can help shape the community. Any new insights or revelations you may have would be quite useful at this pivotal point in our efforts.

    Your thoughts on how each different startup community should be viewed as a different neighbourhood is one that resonates with us greatly. Taking it one step further is our attempt to cross-pollinate entrepreneurs from differing neighbourhoods, industries, cultures, and experiences. Currently there are numerous “silos” operating in Miami with each trying to own their piece of the pie, rather than growing the pie as a whole. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll be able to connect communities across the nation and globe – there is a lot to be learned at this level of collaboration.

    Maybe one day you’ll come back down for a visit and see how far we’ve progressed!

  • *Sigh* Visa’s stopping so much, I am sitting in New York today, doing startup stuff out of a random lobby somewhere, it’s an amazing feeling to know there are a community of like minded individuals all around.

    My favorite was yesterday when my co-founder and I were on a MegaBus and sitting across from two ladies who were clearly working on a Organic Fruit startup and hearing their discussion whilst we were preparing a presentation for a potential new client – whilst almost everyone else had dozed off.

    That bus, this lobby and most places in the world are just little hot-spots of startup buzz, and it’s an electric feeling being part of that. Going to need to expand my reading list, thanks Brad.