Rambo, Meet Silicon Valley…

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.


  • cyranodabum

    Nice non-rebuttal! I dislike how TC can get so easily confrontational, so I’m glad to see your thoughtful response that doesn’t take offense to his remarks but holds to your original position that there’s opportunity to build companies outside of the Valley. Since I work for a non-Valley startup (Southern California), I’m glad to see your company’s success.

  • http://http:www.SoundBiteBlog.com Sparky

    Glenn: Having grown up in the Bay Area, and now residing here in the Puget Sound, I think there is truth to what both you and Michael have stated. There are strengths and weaknesses to each area with regards to business models. One size doesn’t fit all. Personally, I much more prefer the quality of life here in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll take the Renton ‘S’ curve over the ‘Nimitz’ any day. Plus, I’m only 15 minutes away from popping my boat in the water and pulling up all the crab I can eat!

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  • Bad Advice

    big “shrug”. I, for one, didn’t bash Seattle as a place to start a business. I just didn’t see the need to bash Silicon Valley (or Stanford) in your essay (and frankly didn’t understand some of your hyperbole about self-righteousness or dingbat ideas).

    But to each his own……

    • http://www.newhomesteps.com New home building guide

      We shouldn't be bashing either place. They are both great.

  • http://blog.redfin.com Glenn Kelman

    Bad Advice, Thanks for the comment. I had hoped how I felt about Silicon Valley was obvious in the original piece if not in this one; if that wasn’t clear because of the poor writing in the original post, our previous exchange on the matter still should have cleared it up. I love Silicon Valley. But there are things to love about Seattle, too. Regards, Glenn

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  • http://www.peterkretzman.com Peter Kretzman

    As someone who just spent two years commuting M-F to San Francisco from his home base in Seattle for the sake of a CTO gig at an Internet firm down there, I am particularly interested in this discussion. I tend to think that regional comparisons are often overstated (I love both San Francisco and Seattle, if for different reasons), but yet there’s a reason I didn’t move permanently to SF for that gig. Seattle is different. Seattle, after 20 years, is now home in a way that I don’t think I could find in the Bay Area (and didn’t, after three different spells of living there). And as for technical competence, focus, frenzy? You find it both places. It’s just that I can’t walk to the latest conference at Moscone Center anymore. Oh, well, I think I can stay current anyway.

  • http://onwebapps.com/ Shanti Braford

    There’s something to be said about San Francisco, too. =)

    When I moved to the Bay Area, I took a look around SV. Culturally, it’s just a bunch of suburbs & fast-food joints, with Stanford + Sand Hill Road nestled in there for good measure.

    Seattle seems like a great town too. You can make it happen anywhere, if you have enough drive + the right idea.

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  • Econ 101

    The fact of the matter is whether you are in Bellvue (sp?) or Mountain View, you are still in a suburb. Let’s be honest, Silicon Valley is really boring so the only thing you can do is work. The only people who have escaped the boredom of that world are those who:

    A) Are doing something in a town like Boulder
    B) Are doing something in Manhattan, downtown Chicago, or the Financial District of San Francisco

    Doing business in (b) is very expensive but if you have the right talent, you can make it happen.

    At the end of the day, it’s really a question of what being an entrepreneur means to you. Certainly, creating a successful business can be done anywhere. If you want to raise lots of money and go to blogger parties, you should be in the Valley. If you want to live your dream, you can do that anywhere.

  • pixie

    Bah humbug. I just go where the jobs are.

  • http://gwhiz.wordpress.com/files/2007/10/xserve_bank_i.JPG Gerald Buckley

    Lookit, I know we’ll lose the wrestling match here… There are so many startups popping up all over the place… there’s a geographic longtail to successful startups too. Not everything of consequence happens in the Bay area.

    When talented folks from Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, Dallas and Boston are cashing out and coming to places like Tulsa, Houston, San Antonio and Omaha (because we’re wired out the yaya, the cost of living is decent and the exchange is massively in favor of the move)… well, I personally think you’re both a little nuts to stay in either place a moment longer than you have to.

  • http://none.com Mike N Ike

    WOW – HOW ABOUT IT IS CALLED THE INTERNET! THE WWWW – THE World WIDE WEB. information is all around us, I spend time in LA, SF, and the Valley. Never been to Seattle – but I can find some pretty pictures online if I want to see it I assume.

    Wherever you go there you are, if you have brains a computer, read some blogs and etc. Anything is possible.

  • http://bigideas.typepad.com Robi Ganguly

    Hey Glenn, I took issue with Michael’s response to you, since I didn’t think that you’d been particularly negative on the Valley in your post. Let me know what you think if you check it out: http://bigideas.typepad.com/index/2008/02/silicon-valle-1.html

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/glenn%20kelman Glenn Kelman

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful essay. Pomona is a wonderful college, by the way; several friends of mine studied there or at Harvey Mudd.

  • http://bigideas.typepad.com Robi Ganguly

    My pleasure – it’s always nice to see Seattle startups succeeding. It’s even nicer to see Seattle retain its character and create its own idea of what success really means. Thanks for speaking up for it!

  • http://www.ERAHouston.com Thomas Johnson

    “coming to places like Tulsa, Houston, San Antonio and Omaha”

    Houston! Somebody said Houston!

    #2 most diverse city behind NYC.
    -4000 sqft on about an acre for $330,000 and no state income tax. Don’t want grass?
    -The same price new will get you a hip townhouse less than .5 mi to downtown.

    We proudly provide the world with their carbon footprints (feetprints?) and some pretty good medical research, too.

  • http://www.investmentpropertiesinfo.com/ John

    Yeah, I don’t think location matters so much these days. The key is the people that you surround yourself with. But even still, the Internet allows individuals to build amazing things. That’s what’s great about it. I Enjoy reading TC, since it’s all about companies striving to make something happen but glad you’re taking a stance and not backing down. Shows your own spirit and desire.

    I went to school in Seattle, and I think that’s what makes Seattle a great town, it’s a place of learning – that’s probably a better driver of companies, being close to good colleges and schools.

  • http://shmooth.blogspot.com/ Peter

    The Valley has a ‘manic urgency to change the world’?


    ‘The Valley’ is a place where self-important egomaniacs go to dream up worthless ideas, convince themselves that they are smarter than people in Seattle because they’re willing to move to Palo Alto and pay $1,000 for 1BR in a 3BR share, and do all this in the hopes of making a fast buck – regardless of how that buck is made.

    There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but if the phrase ‘change the world’ is going to have any meaning at all – that is, in the positive sense – then we can not, generally speaking, accurately apply that phrase to the culture or people of The Valley. That’s just bullshit – a fairy tale we tell our children – a Randian philosophy that ‘entrepreneurs’ in The Valley try to convince themselves is honest and good.

    But, at least comments work in Firefox in the Valley.

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