DC is not Silicon Valley… and that’s a good thing.
DC is not Silicon Valley and here’s why
It’s starting again. It’s going to be different this time. No, it isn’t! GET OVER IT! It’s not going to happen. All you guys who are going to make a big difference… keep pushing on that rope. Keep peeing into that headwind. No matter how hard you try, Even if You’re an Evan Burfield who can somehow convince “journalists,” that three successive raging failed businesses were wins… even if you were the Burfmeister, you still couldn’t make DC be Silicon Valley. You can’t even make a government-funded Frat House branded as the epicenter of startupatude succeed. How you going to make something real happen?
Wake up DCTech because being DC is not a bad thing. And if you think not being who you ain’t sucks, then pack a bag, book a flight on United to SFO and pray that the flight attendants don’t beat the crap out of you (Not because you’re moving to hipsterville but because that’s what they do on United).
DC is DC. It is never going to be anything but DC and DC is a good thing to be to me. I’d rather be what we is than what we ain’t. Because what we ain’t ain’t so good anyway. So sit back and embrace our DC-ishness. F#ck Silicon Valley with their hipster scooter riding douchebags pretending to be world-changing app-building growth hackers and hustlers. Screw those guys with their trash drawers filled with discarded Google-Glasses.
No kids, not only are we not the valley, we’re setting our sights too low if that’s who we aspire to be. Why the hell would we choose Doucheland (no offense Germany) when there are so many better choices. Why don’t we aspire to be someplace great like Mau? After all, just like Maui we also don’t have a subway system (Take that you useless tools at WMATA).
DC Startup History
In the late 70s when most of you kids were just a gleam in your parent’s eyes and some of your parents were just a gleam in your grandparent’s eyes, and only half of those gleams were caused by cocaine and LSD, this town rivaled Silicon Valley. Hell the largest Venture Capital firm, bi-coastal, New Enterprise Associates, was founded in 1977 Chevy Chase, MD and Menlo Park, CA.
In the late 1970s, Mainframes were as high-tech as high-tech got. Mainframe manufacturers were headquartered in cities like White Planes NY, Detroit MI, Blue Bell PA. No dominant computer manufacturer was located in Silicon Valley. The Mini Computer capital of the world (Digital Equipment, Data General, Wang Labs) was along the 128 corridors in Massachusetts…. not Silicon Valley. DC was the mecca of software developers thanks to local software giants like VM Software, and Landmark, and Morino Associates (later named Legent).
In the late 90’s there were like a gazillion active VC’s in this town. Here’s a bunch of them that have expired, died or just haven’t made a new investment in DC in years. Most of them gone.. and forgotten.
- 3Si (Whoops! Where did Feimster’s Web Site Go?)
- Blue Water Capital
- Darby Overseas
- Disruption/Crystal Tech Fund
- Emerging Technology Partners
- EMP Global
- FBR Ventures
- The Fort
- GIV Venture Partners
- K Street Capital
- Lazard Technology Partners
- Leg Mason
- NextPoint Partners
- Portview Communications Partners
- Toucan Capital
- Walker Ventures
- Winston Partners
As further proof, even the phony VC’s have tanked and can’t make it in this town. Gone is Evan Burfield big-time non-investing investor, his K Street Craptial was never really a thing except for a PR stunt. And how about debunked, deflowered and run-out-of-town like a medicine show snake oil salesmen, Moneyball Monkeyballer, Paul Singh? Forced to pack up his bags and run out of DC with his tail between his legs in the middle of the night. He’s moved on to more fertile rubes in rube-ville towns across North America as he embarks on his Paul Singh Airstream Traveling Minstrel and Medicine Show Tour.
The assembled hoards stormed the ramparts of Jonathon Perrelli’s Fort? Most of his Limited Partners would like to see one friggin meaningful accounting on Jonny-Boy did with their money. Even the no account, punchline to most Venture Capital jokes, Ross Blankenship, the only #1 Ranked VC who no one ever heard of had to leave town to pretend he wasn’t worthless somewhere else.
A History of DC Startup Events and Superstars
Since 1978, when I started working in DC’s high tech startup shtetl, this borough has been just one small step away from being the next Silicon Valley. In the late 90s, Mario Marino created the Potomac Knowlegeway and Netpreneur projects sponsoring Coffee and Doughnuts. It was fun. It was cool. It was going to put DC on the startup map. You kids never heard of it so it obviously didn’t move the needle and in 2003, Mario got sick of his Sisyphus act, left for his hometown and home of the Rock and Roll hall of fame, Cleveland while the DC-startup rock rolled back down the capital hill.
In the late ’90s, the hottest ticket in town was the Indian High Tech Council’s Meetup. It was frequented by real, legitimate VCs, in the days we had real legitimate VCs and real legitimate C level execs of real companies. It was a hot get! It was the ticket. Every CEO who was a CEO of real companies and every top tier investor in town would be there. Today, we have the DCTech meetup, a hot ticket with kids who work for consulting companies and government that are just waiting for the right moment to create the next dating app for people who love snakes… not exactly a hot ticket, but a ticket just the same. We have Connectpreneur which has a casual relationship with startups, but really more of a schmoozefest for old farts like me who use to do stuff. None of these events are moving any needles of import, except maybe the needle of a decibel meter (which by the way you can buy for just $22 if you order now from Amazon).
In the 1990’s DC Startup Giants like John Sidgemore would pal around and joke with Bill Gates. Gate’s to UUNet CEO, Sidgemore, “someday bandwidth will be free.” Sidgemore to Gates, “No Bill, someday software will be free,” or Irfan Ali, founder of the ATM Forum and a former President of 3Com to Gates after Bill kept asking the same question repeatedly, “Look, Bill, I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.”
The Journalist Scene
In the turn of the Century, the Washington Post had a crack team of journalists without quote marks, covering the DC Startup Business Scene, Ellen McCarthy, who has moved over to the papers Style section, The Post’s Shannon Henry, author of The Dinner Club, (The Dinner Club was NextGen Capital before NextGen Capital was NextGen Capital) was doing great work… before she retired.. Steven Overly tried to carry that baton for a while until he moved on to greener pastures covering DC’s real natural resource… politics (Overly now covers the intersection of Technology and Politics for Politico).
In the ’90s the National Monthly Magazine for VCs and Founders was the Red Herring. It was a glossy, high-production. DC had it’s very own Washington-Post-backed, bi-monthly Glossy Magazine. It was slickly produced and a very good read.. dare I say even better than DCInno of Mr. Cranky’s blog? Today with the exception of one legitimate, overworked, under-resourced and probably underpaid, Journalist without quote marks, Washington Business Journal’s, Andy Medici, it’s difficult to really determine what is happening in DC’s Tech Ghetto. No other legitimate news organization has any dedicated resource covering the scene. Not even the Washington Post.
False Prophets and Fake Havens
We’ve had waves of Tech Hubs! Starting with Teqcorner, on to Launchbox Digital, Affinity Lab, Fishbowl Labs, The Fort, 1776, Acceleprise, Disruption. All failed… all toast (Acceleprise didn’t fail, it relocated to Silicon Valley and the failed 1776 was purchased by Benjamin’s Desk and is now more a competitor to WeWork than Y-Discombobulator).
We’ve had a ton of pretendpreneur startup leaders organizing our startup ecosystem, Peter Corbett, Paul Singh, Jonathon Perrelli. We’ve had more crazy false prophets than the Pastafarians, Scientologists, Branch Davidians, Westborough Baptist Church, and Popeyes Chicken combined. Today, there is no one to passionately reinvent the lives of citizens by empowering kickass startups and hacking government.
What prompted this crazy tirade? A few weeks ago, I read a Washington Business Review article, It’s time for a new approach to innovation, by Jonathan Aberman. Jonathan is a good guy and he works tirelessly, as DC’s own Job (Not Steve, you Cretans) trying to move the needle. In his article, he cites the hard work of his DC Startup initiatives. To quote his article:
I helped lead two significant community groups that emerged as leaders of this movement toward mentorship and advocacy. The first was StartupAmerica, an initiative launched by Steve Case, and the second was FounderCorps, a not-for-profit I launched with a group of prominent regional entrepreneurs. Both initiatives focused on bringing experienced entrepreneurs into contact with emerging startup founders so that they could share their war stories, lessons learned and enthusiasm for the entrepreneurial journey.
In retrospect, these efforts were very successful. Many of our region’s best-known accelerators, incubators and mentorship programs were started by FounderCorps members and StartupAmerica leaders, including StartupVA/DC/MD, 1776, iCorps, TandemNSI and Connectpreneur. We were also able to influence various governments, as some of us worked directly in federal and state government in leadership roles. Today, of the more than 120 accelerators and incubators in our region, many have FounderCorps and StartupAmerica alumni providing active mentorship.
“these efforts were very successful,“ by what measurement? I’m sorry Jonathon. Valliant efforts all, but hard work is meaningless when it is absent of results. The needle is moving, yes. It just isn’t moving forward.
The DC Region is in worse shape today and less of a tech hub then 20 years ago when we led the world in communications technology, with MCI, UUNet, PSI. We were much more legitimate as a tech hub when we led the Mainframe software market or when we had 3 times the amount of legitimate check-stroking VCs in this town than we have today (not counting Jason Feimster and top-ranked (by him) 3Si).
It’s time to stop fooling ourselves. The DC region has 99 problems but not being Silicon Valley is not one of them. We are barely a second-rate power as a commercial startup ecosystem. As a region, we are constantly ranked 8th in venture funding received behind the undisputed king, Northern California/Silicon Valley. We’re not even close to 2nd tier startup regions like New York, New England, Austin, or Southern California. The combined market capitalization of the top 10 DMV startups would not eclipse the individual value of any single top 20 Silicon Valley startup.
It’s Good To Be Who We Are
There’s nothing wrong with not being Silicon Valley. There’s nothing wrong with Being DC, except maybe the fact that Dan Snyder has taken our Football Team Hostage, we don’t have any form of Mass Transit System and where the hell can a human get a decent slice of New York Style Pizza?
With all our weaknesses and faults, we are a well-diversified business region. Our major employers are Government, Lobbying or Advocacy, and Defense Contractors. We have a huge dominant, commercial-tech-resources-sucking, non-commercial Government Tech industry. We have iconic hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton and Choice International. We have great companies like Capital One, We have more lawyers Associations and Lobbyists in DC than cockroaches. Numerous Universities. We’re relatively recession-proof. We’re affluent, educated, and best of all no one on K street ever wore Google Glass… ever. Although there was that guy who worked for Social Radar who wore his Glass everywhere, even to bed.
Top Inside the Beltway Universities
Universities Within a 3 Hour Drive
DC is not Silicon Valley guys. Think about how cities form. Think about how the industry in those cities evolved. Cities like Pittsburgh had natural resources like iron, coal, and navigable rivers. It was those natural resources that created that city. The textile industry evolved and dominated the south because there was cotton and there were rivers that could be harnessed to power mills. Nobody tried to create a textile industry in Phoenix AZ.
Alaskan’s export oil. You don’t ever hear anyone in Alaska bemoaning the fact that they don’t grow cotton. Not one person in Anchorage ever uttered the words, “why can’t we be more like Natchez Mississippi? Why don’t we grow more cotton?”
Silicon Valley has the natural resources to dominate the tech world. It is the primary industry of the region. Stanford and Berkley feature unrivaled computer engineering programs and Stanford’s Startup Business School. While we have great Universities, none rivals the quality of technology, entrepreneurship and startup programs of Stanford. Stanford Alumni form an army of experienced mentors, Angel Investors, and credentialed cheerleaders. Hell even Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, supports his Grad School, Stanford over the school where his dad worked and where he got his BS, at the U of MD.
For every exited multi-millionaire in DC, there are 100 worth 10 times more in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley has more legitimate Venture Capital Firms than DC Firms have dollars. They have more startup talent with experience in every phase of building valuable Tech Companies than Evan Burfield has excuses for why he constantly fails. Even their criminals like Theranos’s, Elizabeth Holmes steel 10 times more money from their investors than our top criminal, Danny Boice.
Silicon Valley, has more experience, more time, and more interest in fostering and keeping their ecosystem growing. Nope… DC isn’t Silicon Valley. DC is DC.
We have a nice little cottage startup industry. We’re strong in Cyber Security, Ed Tech, Biotech, and Med Tech. We’re not Silicon Valley. We’re not quite as Douchey. We’re not quite as shallow. And we have a Stanley Cup Championship, Hockey Team. Silicon Valley has a Hockey Team.
We’re DC and that is a good thing. Now let’s get back to higher aspirations. Let’s work on being Maui.