Andrew Chen, a Seattle native (more or less) who pulled up stakes for the Bay Area a few years ago, has a thought-provoking post up today on why he chose to move. His thesis is that Seattle is culturally focused on retail + SEO (e.g, Amazon, Expedia), while the Bay Area is more oriented to social + viral ideas (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). In his view, the latter category is the “world changing” one, and he wanted to be in the center of that action.
It’s hard to argue his basic point: that Silicon Valley has been (and continues to be) a richer source of web innovation than Seattle. But I wonder whether – in the long run – his view of (for example) Twitter as more “world changing” than Amazon will hold up.
More importantly, I think his argument points toward a more powerful – and changeable – aspect of the Seattle startup culture. Investment capital is a major input in the startup equation – many of the most successful angel and VC investors in Seattle made their biggest money on Amazon and Starbucks, and investors tend to look for patterns of success that are repeatable. It’s not surprising to see local money flowing toward the same kind of deals that delivered wins in the past.
Here’s a hypothesis that builds on Andrew’s assertion but takes it in a slightly different direction. If we want Seattle to be the kind of town that fosters a broader variety of software innovation, what kind of investment culture do we need to create? How can we attract entrepreneurs and investors to the Seattle startup community that are willing to pursue + finance different types of risk, based on different patterns of startup success.
We’ve been working on some projects at Founders’ Co-op that we think will move the needle on this question, in close collaboration with other folks in Seattle and elsewhere. Stay tuned…