Aug 24, 2018

Travelogue - Silicon Valley

"This company has the best shot at getting a $10 billion valuation in 3 years .. Thats why I moved over there.. I want to retire when I'm 30 man..".. Remarked a 20 something year old guy, who was walking behind me with a group of friends during a a windy & chilly night in Silicon Valley.

That was a prelude to what I was to hear and experience in the next six days in a place which is the epicentre of technology revolution thats sweeping the world. From health care startups working in cutting edge molecular & genetic level analysis to IoT companies working in precision irrigation based on atmospheric parameters, this visit to Silicon Valley really broadened my horizons.

Clusters of companies doing advanced work in many fields,  sky-high salaries and stock options, real estate & apartment prices that most people cannot afford,  the way this place has metamorphosed over the last 30 years or so means that chasing wealth is not an optionality but rather a compulsion and necessity for most people who want to live here.  Indeed from an economic perspective, it feels like all the financial returns from different parts of the world owing to technological advances are aggregated here. And that manifests in many different forms - be it PE funds, angel investors, corporations promoting startup clusters with huge investments  - and that works as a self reinforcing model for pulling in more talent and new innovations

I had a stereotypical image of  Silicon Valley -  or the area between downtown San Francisco in North to San Jose & Santa Clara in south  - as an urban jungle. However , it is a vast expanse of land with enough greenery and is dotted with clusters of companies in different parts. Made me think geographically what competitive advantage this place has.. The geography is arid and dry in most places. If not for this eco system of companies, I don't think people would have preferred to live here.  The expanse of the place is such that I really had to assess the commute distances from multiple offices in detail before committing times for different meetings. There are indeed only two things that I felt is unique to this place - access to talent & access to risk capital  - and both of them have evolved over a period of time such that it functions as a competitive advantage which keeps on reinforcing itself.  Indeed, it is  just like that famous sketch of Uber model with talent, capital , companies - all building up on itself

It actually dawned on me as to why Uber originated here , rather than in a city like NY, Boston , London or any other European city.

The access to capital drives an efficiency culture here. And given this expanse of land and clusters of companies in different parts, metro systems are not really scalable here ( I met many people who has rarely taken Caltrain / BART even after living here for quite sometime ) . So, the only way in which you can navigate to different parts of the Bay Area is by a solution like Uber that values people's time brings in efficiency and is scalable.  Having said that, being a metro enthusiast , I found BART and Caltrain to be extremely useful provided you plan your meetings considering the train timings etc.

This way of ruthless focus on maximising returns have a negative consequence as well. Many firms prefer youngsters who cal clock 16 hours a day at work. The economic value of someone who is married and have kids is in general lower than someone who is single and can slog. And thats one reason which many people remarked because of which people have moved into other emerging tech-hubs like Seattle , Boston & Austin - where family life is much more valued.

I stop here to make two bets

-  Human life span will greatly increase in the next 50 years or so. Given the advent of computing power and the kind of precision treatment technologies that are evolving, a lot of diseases that were incurable before is treatable now

- IoT revolution is going to disrupt a lot of traditional companies in the next 10 years . There is going to be IoT devices in all places where there is a scope of increasing efficiency. And that attracts hot VC money . Companies that don't get on to this movement are going to be left behind