In one night, Michael Arrington wrote a dazzling refutation of this week’s post on leaving Silicon Valley for Seattle. I have often wondered what midnight fuel propels him through essays that are as pure, perfect and straight as an arrow, which is now plunged to my great surprise into my tiny, heaving chest…
But Michael probably already knows that I would be the last person to “explain away” Silicon Valley’s massive advantages. Michael’s point of view is where I started from when I left Silicon Valley, and one which I still largely share. The appreciation for Seattle’s outdoors that he mocks as irrelevant to a startup was what I already described as “something I still barely understand.”
It was the Valley’s scalding concentration of talent, its profusion of ideas, its manic urgency to change the world that made me want to belong to something for the first time in my life. It is why I fell in love with startups, and it is why I am still in love with what I do.
Growing up in Seattle’s suburbs, my twin brother Wes and I used to talk about an eternal fight against lameness — suburbs, station wagons, screaming kids — that I felt for the first time I had begun to lose when I left the Valley. My first two years in Seattle, I rode home every night yelling at myself. I ticked off the days until I could go back.
While Realtors were accusing me of already preparing the ready-made excuse that Redfin would fail because of industry resistance, I was stomping around with an even lamer excuse, saying we couldn’t succeed because of Seattle. Redfin opened a San Francisco development office as soon as we had the money.
But now I am here to say that bashing Seattle is bullshit. Sure Seattle will never be as good for startups as Silicon Valley. No place will. But that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in Seattle. There are people here too who burn with a hard gem-like flame to make something beautiful. They have become my friends and colleagues at Redfin. We are keenly aware what all the freaks are up to at 2 a.m. in Silicon Valley, because we are freaks too. No one will outwork us.
So even though all of us in Seattle would probably concede that Silicon Valley is generally better for startups than anywhere else, that doesn’t mean that we have to agree with Michael that Silicon Valley is always better, or better in every way. For starters, people in Seattle have helped me in an open-hearted, small-town way that I might not have found in the Valley.
And where Michael and I really disagree is on whether it is good some times to be away from all the me-too Valley companies trying to make money on Internet ads, even though he complains about them every day on TechCrunch.
I don’t have many examples beyond Redfin of Seattle-based startups taking a different approach, but it is definitely true that folks in Seattle have stood by Redfin when nearly everyone in the Valley ran screaming from the idea of a business that wasn’t purely digital.
Purely digital businesses like Google are more profitable and easier to grow than a hybrid like Amazon, but there are too many companies trying to be the next Google in Silicon Valley rather than trying to be the next Amazon in Seattle. And nobody ever got a Christmas present — or bought a house — from Google.
So we are going to take our shot at doing our own thing here. This is how I believe a startup in Seattle can succeed: not by crying about what Seattle doesn’t have, but by going straight at the Valley. As Rambo says while strapped by sadistic communists to an electrified steel mattress skeleton: SILICON VALLEY, WE’RE COMING FOR YOU!
We aren’t afraid to be wrong, and we can’t be so afraid of failure that we never try.
Post script: Robert Scoble chimes in, noting that he is in the Valley because “the range and diversity of tech companies is a lot greater here than in Seattle” but nonetheless recommending the Boeing factory tour for anyone who visits.