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Information for tech enthusiasts, hobbyists, devs, tech startup founders and tech entrepreneurs

How to be Silicon Valley


This year i’ve had the pleasure to share some of my passion by speaking at several events. One of these was related to undersea fiber landings. And of course there’s the article I wrote titled “The Making of a Revolution” (which is arguably my most read piece of writing)

This has been the year of the long awaited, supernatural, amazingly awesome, we’re talking toast-your-bread-in-a-second event of cosmic proportions… i’m talking about the landing of fiber cables connecting east africa to the world (i’m still waiting for the earth to shift it’s orbit slightly now that this has happened) – of course, i’m over exaggerating here (and probably not very fair, my apologies).

SEACOM and other fiber cables really have started us off on a really cool path here. Their role cannot be minimized (though it has been blown out of proportion more than enough times already). And it is still too early to predict with absolute certainty how the tech scene in Kenya will evolve now. However, there are some good indications so far from what I’ve been observing.

There’s quite a bit of talk in tech circles about technology parks and other ‘infrastructural’ things that need to be in place for tech startups to launch into a Silicon Valley-level kind of tech cluster. The ministry of ICT is in the process of constructing some technology parks somewhere. This led me (a while back) to start researching on what made such technology clusters as The Valley succeed. In the process I came across some very interesting essays by Paul Graham (the guy behind that awesome thing called y-combinator) on precisely this.

One of them titled Can you buy SiliconValley? Maybe. Asks the exact question:

A lot of cities look at Silicon Valley and ask “How could we make something like that happen here?” The organic way to do it is to establish a first-rate university in a place where rich people want to live. That’s how Silicon Valley happened. But could you shortcut the process by funding startups?

And he answers:

Possibly. Let’s consider what it would take.

In a separate article (which gives a more elaborated answer this by describing what it would take to grow the cluster organically) he gives several things that make The Valley what it is. And he has some good points. One which I strongly agree with is that, creating ‘a silicon valley’ does not lie in buildings.

Buildings (technology parks) are important (don’t get me wrong).

But the people who would fill those buildings are more important. And those people interestingly may not need the buildings given that today you can run a startup from your house all online, and yes, even from half way around the world in a continent few still think much about. I think the most important component is finding those startup founders, then figuring out how to get them to found startups, and then help them grow those startups.

When I gave this talk/presentation, ‘The Making of a Revolution‘; I would say that if we had about 10 founders – 2 each to start and scale a company as big as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook – we would have sorted out the Kenyan economy and more! Then i’d add the caveat that (of course) this could be a seriously difficult thing to scale (given that some of these companies have been around for decades and other circumstances) but what if you got 20 founders, starting 10 companies which became half as big as these, or 30 founders, 15 companies scaling a quarter of the scale of these; or 100 founder, 50 companies… Scaling this latter model is much easier right?

Ok, back to Silicon Valley and my quest forinsight. Today as I was learning on the internet about startups (and learn a lot did I!) I came across this awesome video on Youtube and corresponding presentation on slideshare that just gave me way new insight!

Need I say, Steve Blank has just joined my hall of fame. I hope some day I can start 8 companies…

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