The Tragedy Of Calling Things Silicon Blah
I was in LA for the past three days hanging out at Oblong, meeting with a bunch of entrepreneurs I know, then spending time at MuckerLabs, giving a talk at SCVStartup, and finishing up my trip with a half day at LaunchPad LA followed by a dinner that LaunchPad LA and Mark Suster put on. Even though I still felt fried from my 50 mile run, I had a great time and I’m sure I fed off of the energy of all the people I spent time with.
At the dinner I gave a short talk on Startup Communities and then answered some questions. The first question was “what do I think of the phrase ‘Silicon Beach’ for the LA startup community.” I responded that I thought it was stupid. I hate Silicon Whatever. LA should be LA. When I was in downtown LA at Oblong I didn’t notice a beach. Before I could go on a rant about why you should not call things “Silicon Blah” I got a round of applause.
In the late 90’s a wave of “Silicon Blah” appeared. Silicon Alley, Silicon Mountain, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Gulch, Silicon Bayou, and on, and on, and on. The rallying cry was “we are going to be the next Silicon Valley.” Whatever. At the time, my opinion as someone who disliked generic marketing was that this was the worst branding ever. I feel even more strongly about this today.
If you are going to create a startup community, build your own identity. People now talk about “New York” and “Boulder” as amazing startup communities. They don’t talk about Silicon Alley and Silicon Flatirons. Well – I suppose some do, but I don’t hear it anymore (or at least my brain doesn’t process it) – I just hear New York and Boulder. And when someone says “Do you like living in Denver?”, I say “I live and work in Boulder.” Sure – Denver has a startup community also, but it’s distinct from Boulder.
Even within a city like LA there are startup neighborhoods. I made this point when I spent a month in Cambridge, MA in January. Sure, you’ve got Cambridge, Boston, Waltham, and Hopkinton. But you’ve also got Kendall Square, Central Square, the Leather District, and the Innovation District. In New York you’ve got Union Square, and Brooklyn’s DUMBO. These are the “neighborhoods” – high density areas of entrepreneurs and their startups. And, in a small town like Boulder, you’ve got – well – Boulder.
LA is huge. The startup community in LA isn’t “Silicon Beach.” It’s downtown, Santa Monica, and I’m sure a few other neighborhoods that I don’t know the name of. Brand the neighborhoods locally so the entrepreneurs know where to go, since you want them clustered together. Then brand your city (LA) which should be an easy one. And dump the Silicon Blah.