Get out of Town

I’m starting today with a confession: I wrote last week’s piece, “Who Needs Silicon Valley?” before I actually got there.

Well, sometimes I don’t know my own strength. Upon further review it seems that being from outside the Bay Area has become a prerequisite for coming up with something new in the area of Internet marketing.

The Bay Area start-ups I saw at the @d:Tech show suffered from equal parts “me-tooism,” “buzzword-itis” and an almost fatal impatience. Even when they had something, they couldn’t explain what it was in English, and what they had was usually the same thing as what was on offer from another start-up a few feet away.

On the way back from one event, I witnessed a young entrepreneur’s vent that spoke volumes. There are more good business plans than VCs willing to read them, he said. Financiers are getting “greedy” on second- and third-round financing. Start-ups are running out of cash, and small public companies, holding out for the prices they fetched a few months ago, may soon go completely broke instead.

There were complaints on the other side as well. One vendor told me in a cab that he’d been accosted by a young buck pushing a directory site, who actually yelled at him when he demanded proof that the concept prove its value to him before he bought its service.

Yelling at potential customers is never a good thing, I replied. I had to learn the hard way that no one had to talk with me, either. Even if I needed the interview for a story, even if the editor was breathing down my neck, they could still refuse me and hang up and several did.

That’s just the problem, we agreed. (No doubt shaking our jowls in unison, our gray hairs shining in the California sun.) What these young gazillionaire wannabes need is a little failure it’ll make ’em grow up. Why, in OUR day…

One old-timer (I think he was all of 31) complained that the new money is ruining the city. All this rush-rush, these sky-high real estate prices, what do they think this is, Los Angeles? (Yeah, responded an aggressive panhandler, thish ushed to be susch a nicsh town!)

On the other hand, I found two firms at @d:Tech from Wayne, Pa. (USA Technologies and 4anything), another from Blythewood, S.C. (Go4Media), and I took a boat ride from an outfit based in Bend, Ore. (Outrider LLC). The people I met from all these outfits offered patience, a long-term view, and the hope they could build a business that would last. Not one bragged about how fast they were burning cash they seemed to consider such talk sinful. They also seemed more interested in making money for their clients than for themselves.

I concluded long ago that the attitudes of the out-of-towners are precisely those that grow a business fastest. The Valley’s leaders Intel, Applied Materials, Sun Microsystems and Oracle weren’t fast-buck artists. They built value first, reinvested their profits (yes, there were such things as profits in those days), and stayed the course over the long run.

So if the dot-com stock boom has come to a serious end, maybe it’s not all bad. The business will spread across the country, the young people will learn a valuable lesson, and that homeless person will get his street grate back. It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

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