The Three Rules of Silicon Valley

Posted on October 29, 2015
At the end of September, Velocity held its “Big Dinner” event, where entrepreneurs in our programs are invited to join us for dinner to meet new people and hear an amazing speaker.  Tom Williams flew in from California to share some of his insights and set a very high bar for future big dinner speakers.  One of my favourite parts of the talk was Tom’s three rules of Silicon Valley:
1) Always be helpful
2) Always be honest
3) Never play the short game
I thought it would be useful to evaluate Waterloo Region on how well we stand up to these ideals.
Always be helpful
Check!  We have been able to develop a solid “pay it forward” approach amongst the startup community in Waterloo Region.  When you combine that with the relatively small number of people (~500K) and the number of connection points amongst people, it is easy to maneuver across our startup community.  Founders will routinely take time away from their business to provide support for another founder.  Service providers are also likely to offer services for free as a starting point, knowing that pay it forward works for them too.  In general, I think we do a great job of embodying this ideal.
Always be honest
We have work to do on always being honest.  I am not suggesting that people are being malicious or lying.  As I mentioned above, people are generally very helpful and lying would go against being helpful.  I think the challenge for our community is that we are telling ourselves white lies every day by being overly positive when a little more constructive feedback would be beneficial.  This has actually become so ingrained in the culture that when someone from outside of the community shows up to judge an event and tells the truth, it is considered newsworthy.  Part of this comes from Canadian culture, where we want to be supportive of other people.  But it also comes from the size of the community and how participants are trying to manage their reputation over the long term.  It is much easier to be seen as the supportive cheerleader than to offend a founder with negative feedback.  I think we need to celebrate the people in our community who have the courage to tell the truth and to share the bad news – better to hear it from a local supporter than when pitching an investor in the Bay Area.
Never play the short game
We are getting better at focusing on the long game.  When Tom mentioned this rule, I smiled because we embody the long game philosophy at Velocity in every measurable way – we are willing to invest a lot of money to support and help entrepreneurs, with the hope that successful startups will recognize our contributions and make a donation in the future to help sustain the program.  It is a model where our entire livelihood is based on playing the long game and having the courage to bet on our ability to make successful companies.  Even the service providers, traditional bastions of playing the short game, are showing major improvements by delaying payment for services and reducing fee structures for common early stage work (e.g. incorporation) with the realization that they will get paid on future financing rounds.  We continue to have a fringe number of players who haven’t fully embraced playing the long game but I am confident that as the startup community continues to mature, they will fall into line.
Thoughts?  Did I get it wrong?

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