• November 3, 2015

How a Paul Graham Essay Inspired our Product

How a Paul Graham Essay Inspired our Product

Over the past several years there has been a lot of talk about what makes Silicon Valley so successful at launching startups. Less so today, but for many years it was a borderline obsession amongst the Boston tech community. From my experience of previously founding a media company focused on regional innovation economies, I know it is a hot topic for emerging tech communities in DC, Chicago, Austin, Boulder and probably other regions as well. With pretty much every industry being more and more affected by technology, it isn’t surprising that so many local economies want to replicate Silicon Valley’s success.

In 2011, Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, wrote a blog post explaining why startup hubs, specifically Silicon Valley, are successful at turning out successful startups. His realization, that many people still overlook when thinking about how to create a successful startup hub, is that most startups fail. Graham explains it well:

The problem is not that most towns kill startups. It’s that death is the default for startups, and most towns don’t save them. Instead of thinking of most places as being sprayed with startupicide, it’s more accurate to think of startups as all being poisoned, and a few places being sprayed with the antidote.

Graham further explains that the “antidote,” as mentioned above, consists of two components: 1) being a place where it is cool to work at a startup and 2) chance meetings with people who can help you. The first is pretty self-explanatory – LA attracts talented people from all over the world because it is cool to work in entertainment. NYC attracts people from all over the world because it is cool to work in media or fashion. Naturally, if talented people think it is cool to work in your industry in your area, this will enable success.

However, Graham’s second point has always fascinated me because while many people have chimed in on what needs to go in to creating a successful startup hub, almost all of those points can be rolled up into this argument. For instance, more technical talent, more design talent, more early stage capital, more pillar companies, more experienced advisors/angels, etc. – these things are only helpful to startups if they amount to chance meetings with people who can help a startup. This connectivity is what drives startup success. It requires more than just having a few people who can help – it requires a critical mass of people willing to help.

So, as our team set out to design the first version of our platform, we decided to create a software solution that enables startups to connect with people who can help them, but also take some of the chance out of it. This became our true north, and it was relatively easy to reverse engineer certain features we put in place earlier. All of our founding team members have worked at or worked with startups, so we immediately recalled the things that helped us along the way: advice, introductions, references, and suggestions on products and services to use. Imagine a platform where anyone at a startup could post a request for something they’re in need of, and others can see these requests and help. That’s what VENTUREAPP is without the limitation of physically being in the same location.

Now, we certainly don’t think VENTUREAPP will eliminate the value of working in a local startup hub, but software should be able to exponentially extend this basic concept of connecting with people who can help your business. We also believe it applies beyond the world of tech startups. It applies to entrepreneurs starting more traditional small businesses. It applies to folks working in scientific fields like healthcare and life sciences. It applies to those working at traditional, medium-sized service companies. It even applies to people trying to solve certain problems within big companies.

While getting connected to someone who can help your business could be a life or death situation for a tech startup, we think Graham’s concept of connectivity is more than just antidote for startups.  Ultimately, connectivity is what drives much business success. For now though, we’re interested in providing startup antidote in the form of software.