I have slowly become more and more disinterested in the 'startup scene', a place where the exit is often the purpose.
This blog post has been a long time coming as I have had these thoughts for a few years. A talk by the tremendously inspiring Irfon Watkins at my recent Practical Takeaways event, and subsequent babbling in the pub afterwards has got me enthused to put my thoughts down (I suppose this is technically, up).
I am a fairly active member of various entrepreneurial groups around Wales, and I suspect there are hundreds of other groups with similar attitudes around the rest of the UK. I also work alongside many startups and entrepreneurs at FoundersHub. The general consensus within these groups is that they wish their town/city to duplicate the successes of the worlds tech superpower; Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley has become the magnetic north of the tech industry with the big players all having a presence in Palo Alto and the surrounding neighbourhoods. Acquisitions happen over breakfast and the big players get bigger by the day, snapping up any potential threat to their business model before it becomes a problem. A lot of these big players don't even have a business model, just a desperate attempt to grab talent and a strategy to see what comes out in the wash. For some, an acquisition by Google/Apple/Yahoo is the holy grail. I know of a ton of businesses who operate with the sole purpose of being bought out. I have a problem with this.
Last year I was lucky enough to spend time with Zach Klein, founder of Vimeo at the Do Lectures. Zach spoke about the day after he sold his company; the day he lost his purpose. Zach has since gone on to do great things with his new company (DIY.org) but it was quite obvious that he regretted selling his beloved Vimeo.
I can't for the life of me work out why anybody would commit to building a business with the sole purpose of selling and making a ton of money. Building a sustainable business is hard and requires grit and determination alongside bucket loads of that over used word, passion. Obviously, some people may look to an acquisition as a new challenge and this is an entirely different matter.
There are also those businesses that try to mirror the Silicon Valley culture. Long hours, few holidays and a general attitide which promotes burn out. Give me time to unwind with family over a swish office and an onsite sushi chef any day. The Valley sounds vile to me, I am quite happy where I am thank you very much.
Don't get me wrong, I am not against acquisitions, I have been involved in an acquisition myself - just the companies that form with the sole purpose of being acquired.
What ever happened to building a product/service that supports you and your staff in a sustainable way? I have a lot of respect for people like Drew & Rachel who run Perch - a great little product which has grown over a number of years. The business supports its founders and they have full control - a rare privelege these days. We need more people like Drew & Rachel.
Another issue I have is with funding & support. For some reason, a lot of people in Wales seem to think we are hard done by. I call 'bollocks' on this. The fact that some companies are set up purely to chase the various funding streams set up by Welsh Government is proof that we have more than enough funding. As for support, we all have access to the greatest support resource we could ever wish for; the web. The only thing we are lacking in Wales is conviction and the ability to validate ideas.