Friday, April 29, 2011

The Flow of Capital

I'm sitting in a cafe in Mountain View, if you can call Starbucks a cafe. I'm biased; if it's not independently owned, it's not really a cafe, it's just a place that serves coffee and feels comfortable.

A cafe to me is more of a community. Starbucks is that in this location because it's right between a couple of upscale apartment complexes, but this place is ripe for a real cafe.

Like Coupa in Palo Alto.

I spent the afternoon there on the advice of Steve Blank, who mentioned it in his blog. Everyone here in the biz knows Coupa, but I didn't. Then again, they don't know Chestnut Hill Cafe in Lancaster.

Coupa is a community. Yes, the salad was great. It looked like the baked goods (to which I bid adieu weeks ago in a serious attempt to regain some semblance of my pre-movementless self; 14 lbs so far) were amazing.

But the community was striking. Stanford kids hammering out homework. Founders hammering out business models. Angels and VCs shooting the shit about companies X and Y (they looked like VCs. Some of my favorites don't look or dress at all in the uniform).

This particular community is part of a startup, innovation, aspiration, and investment community. The ecosystem is large, thriving, full of capital to fuel the engines, and complex in a positive way.

The most prevalent and powerful capital is social capital, though. People trade their networks like pork belly futures. Everyone seems naturally helpful. I've know this for a long time, but it's always striking to me when I'm in the think of it.

New York is evolving its ecosystem, which is smaller but smartly concentrating around parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan (maybe from 30th down to Canal; I'm re-learning the geography and scene there so forgive me if I don't have it quite right). It's a long way from my time there in 2000-2002.

So when I hear some governor somewhere talk about creating the next Silicon Valley, I cringe. You can't. It's not something you can export, because you can't give your region another's history. It takes time, and the ecosystem evolves for cultural and business reasons that aren't the same as your regions.

Lancaster, which will always be my hometown, has its own ecosystem. It is not a startup haven, though we have some startups there. The capital still flows like molasses, as I said in 1997. (For which the state Treasurer at the time blasted me in an op-ed, protesting that PA was a great place to build a business, yadda yadda. Yeah, but I wasn't just building a business, see...oh nevermind).

Philly has a small but newly thriving startup community--the energy there is great. It's one of 4 places I'm considering for Jawaya (which we'll likely rename). The others are obvious: the Bay area, New York, and Philly.

You can build software anywhere, you can do video conferences and online demos from anywhere. But you can't accost Ron Conway on his way into a cafe in Lancaster, or visit 95% of the world's venture capitalists in Philly, or hire top talent out of top companies simply because they want a nice change of scene and a cool new challenge unless you're in the Valley.

Now, there are downsides: cost, for one. But you can factor in cost. Capital is cheap these days out here; I'm almost certain there's an East Coast premium on most deals, perhaps 20-30% over the price of money in the Valley.

Traffic. Everyone drives here, it seems. And with your ecosystem spread out over a 60-mile region, you pretty much have to drive unless you're willing to spend a lot on last-mile cab rides.

But there's a compelling case to be made for relocating here where the deals are done, the connections made, the competition fierce, and the weather, well I'm just enjoying these blue skies.

I love local, I love the hometown. We'll see what happens.

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