Don’t try to be Silicon Valley: a SXSW panel

I moderated a panel on the topic of cities branding their entrepreneurship ecosystems.

In case you haven’t heard my ranting before: I think it’s silly for cities to talk about being the Silicon Valley of anything. Find my rants here and here and here. Funny enough, I was leading that panel at SXSW, another important vibrant national tradition I don’t want cities to try to copy.

Below are some questions I asked and a wrap video from the Amplify Philly house, where I did the panel.

I went with my current favorite panel format: Hot takes. I give the panelists hot takes and they have to agree or disagree and explain why. It went quite well.

  • Hot take: If your community doesn’t already have some college or university, it doesn’t have a shot of being a tech hub.
  • Hot take: You really can only build a consumer-facing web or tech company in 3-4 cities in the country.
  • Hot take: If you want to build a tech cluster, the first best move is to throw a bunch of money at the smartest people you can find locally and walk away.
  • Hot take: We should let smaller cities and towns that depended on a different business era (local retail, regionalized manufacturing hubs) die out.
  • Hot take: Every city with, say, at least 50k residents should be building a tech business cluster.
  • Hot take: Innovation clusters are literally the oldest form of commerce ever, just with new cute branding. (ie. For most of human history, we only had small businesses and startup ventures, just with different words). All the COOL tech stuff — venture capital and sweet offices and SXSW parties — is all just nonsense.
  • Hot take: Any PR, branding or creative firm that today recommends a city or region adopt a Silicon Valley-inspired pun name should be fired.
  • Hot take: 10 years from now nobody will be talking about a “tech community.” What about 5 years?