Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Being An "Off the Grid" Startup

As it happens, I'm not Jewish. This will come as a surprise to a certain senior Manhattan lawyer who, for the first six months I worked with him, would send me memos addressed to "Ms. Dingwald" and, when he passed me in the halls on Fridays, would wish me Good Shabbos.

I'm not Baptist, either. My Alabama-born officemate could see that right away; if I came into our shared quarters, she would immediately find a reason to leave. Perfectly understandable. I mean, what if the Rapture came while we were drafting Hart-Scott filings? There she'd be, stuck spending eternity teaching me how to properly wear a scrunchie in my hair.

It's human nature to want to assimilate, or to be assimilated. In the business world, this imperative is captured by the concept of "best practices." And in the startup world, "best practice" is usually euphemistic for "that's how it's done in the Valley."

Now, I know that renaming my farfalle with pesto as kasha varnishkes won't make me Jewish. (It won't make it taste better, either.) What I don't know is why so many entrepreneurs persist in the view that blindly adopting the Silicon Valley practices is, well, kosher?

The reality is that 95% or more of North American startups are created outside of Silicon Valley. Many are created in fairly robust business generation centres such as Boston, and emerging centres such as Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. Just as many are created in regions where the startup infrastructure is small or non existant. Do the practices, deal terms, and operational decisions typically made by startups in the overheated Valley, with its cadre of serial entrepreneurs and super-angels, have any application for the rest of us, who are off the Silicon Valley grid?

Once we finish this whole "Selling the Startup" series we started, I'd like to focus blog entries on Off the Grid best practices. Thoughts, questions and comments are welcome ahead of time.

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