For almost two decades, I have been exploring and experiencing the phenomena we call “Silicon Valley”. It has been a privilege, it has been exciting, and it has been a roller coaster. The diversity of people here is unprecedented. There are incredibly successful companies, and there are spectacular failures. You will see extreme wealth and equally extreme poverty. The common theme is “extreme”. However the sausage is made, many of the companies coming out of the valley go on to become icons. And, many more don’t. What is the recipe for this sausage then? How do we even define success? While it is a relative measure, I think success is anything that we can take personal pride in. I have noticed some recurring traits in successful people here. They tend to think “out of the box” (or, “think different” as Steve Jobs would say). They break rules. Constantly. Anything ripe for disruption is a fair game. Not always with the desired result of course. We move fast and we break things. We celebrate success as well as failure. We are great storytellers (the “pitch” is so important!). We never ask for permission and sometimes have to ask for forgiveness later. Sometimes it produces unicorns. A lot of times, it produces new cool products or new business models. And many times it produces duds.
There is this maverick attitude. Rules are meant to be broken. When success eludes us, it most often means time and money lost. Sometimes though, it goes horribly wrong with impact to health and even the lives of people. You may have heard the phrase “fake it until you make it”. You may think it is a fancy way to justify lying but it really isn’t. “Faking it until you make it” can be OK when you deal with software when you have a great idea, a viable path to implement it and a wickedly smart and resilient team. Eventually, with enough money and grit, you will figure it out. Not all industries are suitable for this approach. Take Theranos, a healthcare startup, based purely on an idea. A great pitch with no solution. This is when Silicon Valley goes wrong by substituting charisma-and-pitch for solution-and-execution.
The bottom line, execution is key. But, not even the greatest idea and impeccable execution can guarantee success. Timing is equally important. Unfortunately, we can never quite determine timing. Some people call it “luck” instead. Maybe that is a more accurate term, actually. So for Silicon Valley, it is really a numbers game after all.
With that, I am going to break some rules and cut a double black diamond by foot. Never did that before! Wish me luck!