I just came back from a quick lap through Silicon Valley. After each trip there I come back with a new perspective. Contrast makes differences visible. My takeaway this time surrounded what it takes to make a startup ecosystem into an industry.
In short, the answer is that startup careers need to become “just a job.” Let me explain.
When every new major innovation enters the marketplace, there are early adopters. Those adopters seek more than utility from the product; they seek identity. The parallel holds true with startup ecosystems. When the communities are burgeoning the early adopters sign up because entrepreneurship defines them. It’s how they think of themselves. It’s a way of life.
But there are only so many people with that perspective. To scale a startup community into a full-fledge industry, a lot more people need to enter the game. So how does a community attract talent that may not bleed startups? The startup arena needs to be considered a “traditional” career path.
It occurred to me that in Silicon Valley, a college graduate considering a career in business would include the idea of joining a startup on their short list. Out East, the startup industry lurks in the shadows behind Wall Street, Madison Avenue, Corporate America and the legions of consulting shops. In this paradigm, for the most part only those inspired by the innovation economy stray from the more predominant options. The East Coast has historically only attracted the early adopters.
That said, things are changing rapidly here. Startup communities, like the one I founded at Columbia, are bringing the startup career path more to the fore. Additionally, as there are more companies becoming well capitalized peppered through the landscape, salaries are more competitive with traditional East Coast paths. I can see a horizon where New York increasingly feels like an industry.
There are some downsides to scale, however. While becoming an industry brings greater efficiency to doing business, it will inevitably dilute some of our community’s soul. When everyone in the room entered startupland for the way of life it offers, there’s a palpable energy that’s contagious. That spirit is unlikely to be as sustainable as we transform from a deep and rich community into an industry.