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Don’t Buy The Lies Of Silicon Valley

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Silicon ValleyThis is a short post, because it contains links to the two biggest Silicon Valley lies.

I realize that lies aren’t nearly the big deal they used to be, but when the source of those lies is the MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) prevalent in a critical piece of US infrastructure the lies take on a life of their own.

They carry so much credibility that their insidious spread is guaranteed.

The first lie is that success requires constant hustle. Whether starting a company or working in an existing one, hustle means giving up everything else — family, friends, recreation, relaxation, whatever, no exceptions — and work 24/7/365 (more if you can figure out how).

But for some, “hustle” is just a euphemism for extreme workaholism. Gary Vaynerchuk, a.k.a. Gary Vee, an entrepreneur and angel investor who has 1.5 million Twitter followers and a string of best-selling books with titles like “Crush It!,” tells his acolytes they should be working 18 hours a day. Every day. No vacations, no going on dates, no watching TV. “If you want bling bling, if you want to buy the jets?” he asks in one of his motivational speeches. “Work. That’s how you get it.”

Which, as anyone familiar with productivity research knows, is a pile of poop.

The truth is that much of the extra effort these entrepreneurs and their employees are putting in is pointless anyway. Working beyond 56 hours in a week adds little productivity, according to a 2014 report by the Stanford economist John Pencavel. But the point may be less about productivity than about demonstrating commitment and team spirit.

The second lie is that Silicon Valley is special. But Silicon Valley’s special is completely self-serving.

Silicon Valley has a lot of self-interested reasons for preferring to maintain a facade that its culture is special, and that its industry is more innovative, virtuous and productive than every other industry. It serves as a great recruiting tool as the region competes for talent with other industries and areas. It allows insiders to maintain outsize control of their companies. And it is a way to prevent regulators from coming in and regulating Silicon Valley to the extent that it might otherwise seek to do.

Stop drinking the Valley kool-aid. Facebook doesn’t love you, it loves your identifiable personal data, which is slices, dices and sells to all comers. Google jettisoned its “don’t be evil” motto when it got in the way of revenue generation.

Read the articles.

Share them, tweet them and stop ruining your own life by believing them.

Image credit: Elektor Labs

If The Shoe Fits: Another Silicon Valley Myth

Friday, July 21st, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you believe that Silicon Valley is the best (only?) place to start a company? That there is some almost magical ingredient that isn’t duplicated anywhere else?

Many people do and more did back in 2010.

Demis Hassabis, co-founder of high-flying DeepMind didn’t believe the myth.

“I was born in London and I’m a proud born and bred Londoner. I obviously visited Silicon Valley and knew people out there and also I’d been to MIT and Harvard and seen the East Coast. There is this view over there that these kind of deep technology companies can only be created in Silicon Valley. Certainly back in 2010 that was definitely the prevailing view. I felt that that just wasn’t true.”

Investor Peter Thiel was one of the true believers.

“At that time he’d never invested outside of the US, maybe not even outside of the West Coast. He felt the power of Silicon Valley was sort of mythical, that you couldn’t create a successful big technology company anywhere else. Eventually we convinced him that there were good reasons to be in London.”

Hassabis convinced Thiel to invest; Google acquired it for $400 million, and DeepMind is still making AI history.

One of the major reasons Hassabis wanted to stay in London was the availability of incredible talent.

“One of the things was I thought it [staying in London] was going to be a competitive advantage in terms of talent acquisition,” said Hassabis. He went on to claim that there weren’t that many intellectually stimulating jobs for physics PhDs out of Cambridge at the time that didn’t want to work for a hedge fund in the city.

Unlike Silicon Valley which, in addition to its normal talent shortage, suffers a severe talent crunch in whatever tech is hottest.

Silicon Valley may be a great place to start a company if you are connected, but for the majority who aren’t there are plenty of locations that are just as good, if not better.

Of course, that depends on whether your goal is to found a company valued for funds raised, which is best done in Silicon Valley, or to found a company that is valued on actual revenue, which can be done anywhere.

In fact, for the latter, anywhere could even be preferable to Silicon Valley.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Power, Control And Insecure Male Egos

Friday, July 14th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAssuming you don’t live in a different galaxy, you’ve followed the aftermath at Uber, since Susan Fowler posted her experiences there.

You just saw the co-founder of Binary Capital resign after women founders claimed harassment and a woman who works at Tesla called the factory a “predator zone.”

So many women coming forward has led to headlines that the Silicon Valley old boy power elite is being toppled.

Ha! Not going to happen in my lifetime — and probably not in yours.

Especially when the bias is so ingrained that even the funding questions, including from women, carry that bias, as do professors of both sexes on college admission evaluations.

And consider this comment on a NYT article.

Laura Castaneda
WA July 1, 2017
These women do themselves a disservice by choosing to appear bare legged, in shorts and casual clothing for this article. Rather, all three ought to have posed in business professional clothing. Women say they want to be accepted as professionals and peers while simultaneously choosing to participate in age old ways of competing: showing some skin. They have even chosen to do it for this article which is about the very acts photos like these encourage. Women who want to be treated equally should hide their sexuality (skin) in the business setting. It’s always been accepted that women who stoop to short skirts and low cut blouses at work are not to be taken seriously. What has changed to make that untrue today, exactly? Magical thinking?

What skin? One woman has on cutoffs? Her partners are in jeans and a skirt (no stockings) and all have on T-shirts. Typical Silicon Valley startup garb.

The comment reminds me of the ageless rape defense: dressed like that she was asking for it.

An op-ed piece in Bloomberg makes a telling point.

But do the people with the least power have to shoulder responsibility for weeding out misconduct by people with the most?

Ryan Pew, who writes Ryan’s Journal here on Thursday, is a former Marine and a millennial father of three girls. I asked him what he thought.

As a father of girls, by my very nature I want them to succeed without their gender being an issue. I understand the differences between the sexes but do see us as equal. However I have also seen how, as a man, you see other men who believe otherwise and are not afraid of speaking to a woman a certain way. One of these posts talks about how one of the VC’s was pushing alcohol and then used that as leverage when he tried his moves. Sounds very frat boy to me. 

Hey, Ryan, it IS frat-boy, AKA, bro culture.

What I’ve never understood, and I’ve asked directly, is why these jerks think what they do is “NBD, business as usual,” but condemn anyone who treats their wife/mother/daughter/friend/etc. the same way.

One more thing. For some phenomenal satire on the subject out Sarah Cooper on Medium, especially Why Do All These Women Keep Accusing Me of Sexual Harassment?

Hi. My name is Brad. You may not have heard of me before, but don’t worry, I’m rich. (…)  Obviously I’m a smart guy, but one thing I can’t for the life of me understand is: why do all these women keep accusing me of sexual harassment? (…) And yeah, I use my position of power to get laid, but who wouldn’t?  (…)  Do I want them to fuck me? Sure I do. Will it affect whether or not I fund their company? Yes, it will. Does that mean I don’t respect them? No! Well yes. But it’s not personal, it’s business.

From ‘77 to ‘97 I was a tech recruiter and can’t count the times I was hit on by VCs and managers. I’m here to tell you that harassment isn’t about sex any more than rape is.

It’s about power, control, money, and insecure male egos that are terrified of women who dare.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Losing The Forest For The Trees

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/arturtula/15564944217/I was having a conversation this week about Silicon Valley companies. Some of them are doing amazing things.

When I was job hunting I would look at several and imagine myself there changing the world.

There were several though that also had great funding, great people, but I could not understand for the life of me what they did. They had a great list of customers, but I could not understand the value they brought.

There are two possible solutions to that conundrum.

One, I am just not savvy enough to understand (a very real possibility).

Two, they were full of hype and energy, but not substance. I can imagine that both statements are true when you look at the vast array of companies in the valley.

With that said, have we lost the forest for the trees? Have some companies been so hyped that people continue to pour money into them hoping for a huge payday that may never come to fruition?

Uber is in the news for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad. I recently read an article that Uber and Google are working on flying cars. While the concept of flying cars seems cool… I guess, I am more concerned with the participating companies.

Google provides value, products and that elusive quality, profit. They are well established, have multiple streams of income and could fail at this endeavor and live another day. It’s exciting to see them using their money for grand ideas, but it won’t decimate them either.

Uber provides value and services, but zero profit.

In fact, if Uber was run like a traditional company or household, they would have never even gone to market.

They operate more like a country that can print its own money. They take on debt, lose billions every year, yet keep on trucking.

Venture capital and perhaps greed are what allow this to occur. If they fail at the flying car concept what does it mean for the rest of the business?

I know there are very smart folks who are there and who are invested. I often wonder what their long game is. Do they believe they will become profitable at some point if they hang on long enough?

Another thing to consider is the economy. We have easy money right now with very low rates of interest.

For an investor it makes more sense to go with a high risk investment versus storing it in savings, because they essentially lose money due to inflation.

When the markets tighten does that mean Uber cannot seek out another round of funding?

My point is this.

Have we lost sight of the incremental steps it takes for us to achieve greatness by thinking we can accelerate the whole process with enough capital or am I the Luddite here?

I am a believer that debt can be good when there is a viable business model. I am less impressed though when a company has never turned a profit and had no projections to do so at any point soon, but can be valued so highly. What makes Uber so unique?

I say we need to keep dreaming the big dreams, but also look at the foundation.

Is it built on sand or rock?

Image credit: Artur (RUS) Potosi

Ducks in a Row: Make a Difference — in the US

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4395202521

Is making a difference important to you?

It should be, since most workers are happier and more productive in companies that give back.

That holds true no matter the age of the worker or the size of the company.

Companies, departments, teams or individuals can choose to make a difference.

Some go far afield and seek to mitigate the problems and tragedies of less fortunate countries.

Others focus on local problems, which makes sense since companies are usually urban.

That said, you don’t have to go overseas to third-world countries to find third-world problems to solve.

Tech could start less than 200 miles from San Francisco in Fresno, CA.

While Facebook wanted to wire India, it isn’t interested in doing the same in the US.

Though Central Valley harvests most of the country’s crops, tech workers often forget their neighboring region exists. In the Bay Area map according to Urban Dictionary, the Central Valley is jokingly referred to as “unknown parts.”

And consider this.

According to a recent Pew survey, approximately five million students still lack access to high-speed Internet. Experts have taken to calling it the “homework gap.”

Or turn your gaze to the other coast and some of the most beautiful countryside in America — Appalachia — home to some of the most grinding poverty and third-world living conditions to be found in the US.

And while you’re gazing, check out what’s being done to change that.

Crunching all the data imaginable won’t always yield a solution, since anomalies do happen (for an in-depth understanding of that read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, still brilliant/viable after 60+ years).

Back when I lived in San Francisco, it was often termed “49 square miles surrounded by reality.”

That’s expanded to 7,000 square miles (contained in the nine-county Bay Area) surrounded by the reality of places like Fresno.

Tech needs to understand that technology in and of itself is not a solution.

Tech is digital, while the world and the humans who inhabit it are, and always will be, analog.

So while technology itself isn’t a solution, the ways it can be applied may be.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One more request.

School is starting soon and most kids are shopping, whether at Nordstrom or Walmart, while thousands of foster kids are facing school without even a backpack.

There are dozens of ways you can help them.

Skip a few Starbucks or Peets visits, choose a charity, check it out and donate the coffee money you saved.

Flickr image credit: Duck Lover

Yelp Follows in Walmart’s Footsteps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/javmorcas/8528220016/

Have you read yet the story of Talia Jane?

She is a customer service rep at Yelp, whose pay puts her right down there with Walmart and bank tellers.

“I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 40 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes.” (Minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour.)

She was fired two hours after writing an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Medium.

Yelp, of course, says the letter had nothing to do with her termination.

Stoppleman has a solution.

“The reality of such a high Bay Area cost of living is entry level jobs migrate to where costs of living are lower. Have already announced we are growing EAT24 support in AZ for this reason.”

Stoppleman’s solution seems to be to kick out everyone who doesn’t earn a fat salary — how dare “them” have the temerity to want to enjoy the pleasures and opportunities of life in San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

That said, I’ve never understood why Walmart, banks, Yelp or all those who follow in their footsteps, pay their front-line people—the actual “face of the company”— what can amount to starvation wages in urban areas and then are surprised when those same people lie, cheat, steal or speak out publicly.

Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, Costco and Trader Joe’s are a different story.

What it comes down to is that the further away from contact with customers the greater the money, perks and benefits.

Crazy.

Flickr image credit: Javier Morales

Entrepreneurs: the Arrogance of Paul Graham

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

http://www.paulgraham.com/images.html via w:en:Image:Paulgraham_240x320.jpg

Paul Graham is a poster boy for many of the things wrong in Silicon Valley — unlike Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

Graham says he won’t fund people with strong accents or women with young kids or who are planning on having kids, whereas Altman believes that eliminating gender bias is very important.

It seems that Graham’s arrogance knows no boundaries.

January 27, Graham took to Twitter to condemn Shark Tank, and shows like it.

Startups: Instead of appearing on Shark Tank, spend that energy fixing whatever makes your product so unappealing you think you need to.

 Mark Cuban, a Tank investor, was not amused.

@paulg you mean like the sense of entitlement and arrogance they get when they become part of a YC class ? It’s hard to wash it out

Chris Sacca, a guest this season, chimed in.

@paulg Yeah, because a free 10-minute pitch to 7 million Americans is something every startup should turn down.

Beyond the sheer arrogance, it’s obvious Graham has never watched the show. He also doesn’t believe time should be wasted on marketing.

The entrepreneurs aren’t just in tech; they span multiple industries and many of them have already built their business and are at the point that they need not just money, but enterprise-strength expertise, which the Sharks offer.

Cuban hit it on the head when he said “arrogant and entitled.” Not to mention where he sees Y Combinator’s future.

@paulg the real question is why does a startup become part of YC any more ? The good old days of YC are just that

Read the whole thread here.

Image credit: Sarah Harlin via Wikipedia

If the Shoe Fits: Silicon Valley Groupthink, Should and You

Friday, January 8th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mOn one of the last days of 2015 I read a great article about the groupthink that pervades Silicon Valley these days.

It reminded me of how teens of every generation display their rebellion against society through their choice of clothes, while simultaneously making sure they “fit in” with their peers.

This is most easily seen in a subgroup like the goths, whose black clothing and makeup sets them apart from other teens, but within which a rigid dress code prevails.

Unlike the Silicon Valley I knew in the 1980s and 90s, today’s Silicon Valley is far more homogenized and undiversified, with little perspective on the “real” world.

The result is that it’s far less creative and exciting than it once was.

Silicon Valley groupthink is also the force behind what Danielle Morrill, CEO & Cofounder of Mattermark, calls the “tyranny of should.”

But sometimes when I am able to quiet that story down, I catch myself listening because it is just so much easier to have someone else figure out what I should do.

In the first days of this new year I urge you to choose between taking the easy road of groupthink and should or following Sam Altman’s path of most resistance.

“You should ignore what your peers are doing or what your peers or parents think is cool. (…) And that’s the hardest part. We’re all so much more susceptible to that than we think.”

Yes, another ‘should’, but not all ‘shoulds’ are created equal.

As always, it’s your choice.

That’s both life’s greatest joy and its greatest fear.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Losing One’s Humanity

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/28914176@N08/8135603742/

I’ve been writing a lot about Silicon Valley culture and, since I don’t live there any more, I usually cite/link to articles from those deep in the tech world who do or who write me directly.

Yesterday a question came in on my Quora feed that asked about the differences working in SV vs. the rest of the country.

If you ever wondered if media descriptions and commentary were hype, propaganda, sour grapes, ignorance or a combination thereof, then you really should take time to read the responses, especially Ken Miyamoto’s.

Miyamoto is a non-tech guy who, at the decrepit age of 39, moved to SV and ended up working for “one of the the most badass and innovative tech startups.”

We have this culture of brilliant kids that have a power that they can implement from a numbers perspective, but often (not always) fail miserably at implementing from personality perspective, yes, but even more so from a social perspective within the workplace and anything involved with that. (…)

There’s a clear disconnect, socially. I don’t know if it’s the generation. I don’t know if it’s the inability to balance responsibility of  power and position or ego or what have you. But there’s clearly a disconnect. (…)

The SV is an environment that is overly self-serving, self-rewarding, with little to no practiced responsibility of the social aspect of “the game.”

Beyond that, the SV proved too often be an overly analytical and knee jerk reactionary culture. Here you have young kids thrust into powerful (big or small) positions and, well, they act like young kids.

So to me, the Silicon Valley is a perfect storm of brilliance, power, new culture, money, money, money, and utter lack of social responsibility at times. (…)

That’s the major difference. Going from student to “rock star” so quickly. It leads to ego, blindness, paralysis of analysis, etc. And that culture is ever-spreading with Venture Capitalists young and old ready and willing to profit from it. 

Too many of the tech crowd have lost touch with the rest of society, don’t possess the skills to re-enter it and don’t see this as a problem, but the long-term result of losing touch with humanity is to eventually lose one’s own humanity.

(Funny how one’s mind works. I’m not sure why, but writing this reminded me of Isaac Asmiov’s Foundation series. In short, the series tells the story of mathematician Hari Seldon, who spends his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. It is disrupted by an outsider known as the Mule, who was not foreseen in Seldon’s plan, so there is no predicted way of defeating him. Although I can’t connect it directly to the current love of data analytics, I’m sure it does and highly recommend it to you.)

Flickr image credit: kristy

Ducks in a Row: Once Again Old is New

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/haerold/443213004/

I find it amusing how frequently I read something that is presented as totally new when, in fact, it was done decade(s) previously.

In this case, it was the agreement not to poach each others engineers, supposedly masterminded by Steve Jobs.

Just how far Silicon Valley will go to remove such risks is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit that accuses industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees.

The last time I remember this happening was in the late Seventies/early Eighties by the HR organizations in a group of semiconductor firms, including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel, among others I can’t remember.

The story was broken by a gossipy semiconductor-focused newsletter to which everyone in the Valley subscribed, shared and denied reading. (Sadly, I can’t remember the name, although it was published by an individual who lived near Santa Cruz.)

Word was that being caught reading the newsletter could get you fired.

When the information surfaced it was the EEOC that fined the companies involved.

It was a stupid corporate move then and just as stupid now, but back then the workers affected didn’t do anything; how times have changed.

Flickr image credit: Harold Heindell Tejada

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