Silicon Valley is Lazy… Hey, Wait a Minute

By mtharvey | October 21, 2010

We here at STVP encourage the exchange of differing viewpoints. It’s a cornerstone of innovation. When venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Mark Suster recently spoke at our ETL seminar, he did not disappoint in this department. In fact, he actually referred to many of his beliefs as being downright heresies in Silicon Valley. Now, heresies are one thing, but calling Silicon Valley lazy is an entirely different matter. (Shocking full disclosure: Stanford is in Silicon Valley.)

Suster argues technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are often too lazy to do basic research before trying to launch a company or product. And he’s not talking about crafting a thick, leather-bound, business plan tome; he means Valley entrepreneurs often don’t do basic research on whether anyone will even be interested in paying for their new product. Suster comes to this position based on his direct experience, but is this charge too large a generalization of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs?

Fail Fast — Right or Wrong?

Another “heresy” offered up by Suster is that Silicon Valley’s fail fast mantra is just plain wrong. While some argue that failing fast helps develop more successes, Suster doesn’t understand how constant iteration, feedback, and pivoting constitutes failing. He also charges that a willingness to continually fail is used by many young entrepreneurs to justify pushing on to the next idea, abandoning loyal customers and investors along the way.

Does Funding Make My Startup Look Fat?

Suster charged into a debate on the definition and benefits, or lack thereof, between “lean” and “fat” startups. Proponents of the lean startup movement, such as Eric Ries, contend a lean startup needs to move quickly to discover the point of product reinvention, or “pivot,” to find their market before running out of money. Suster argues this definition is not about being lean or fat, but rather about being fast. Being lean or fat is more a matter of funding, according to Suster. And in raising too much funding, companies end up facing exaggerated expectations and limiting their exit options.

Skate Where the Puck is Going

Along with his strong opinions, Suster offered honest and invaluable advice, based on his experiences in the startup and venture capital trenches. One of his most compelling reminders was to “skate where the puck is going.” He urged the largely student audience not to waste time on technology concepts and web services that are already on the scene. On this point, Suster specifically called out the current love affair with badges and check-in services. As a venture capitalist, Suster really wants to see simple, well-built product prototypes in a new space, rather than hearing about retread ideas lifted from TechCrunch articles.

A video of Mark Suster’s entire seminar is available at ECorner.