Startup capitals are an out-dated concept.
Global startup culture is becoming more networked and less top-down. The fastest-growing startup communities aren’t trying to be the best-in-region or playing a zero-sum game, they’re embracing the connections to other places. At a global level, our community behaviour is peer-to-peer. Centralisation is becoming a liability; rivalries get in the way far too often.
There’s a lot we can learn and take from Silicon Valley’s example, but this is more often a distraction from building on our own strengths and on our own terms. Our Valleylust is often misplaced.
Silicon Valley has a strong culture of openness, a strong brand and still has an advantage with later-stage tech investors. We can learn from this. The Valley benefits from attracting loads of great talent, and a attracting lot of the world’s startup successes. As a city, it takes credit for a lot of those successes, but this is also a disadvantage.
Its culture is very introspective. People are super-open and helpful, but this is usually limited to access to The Valley. If you’re looking for global introductions, it’s the new, growing startup communities which better offer those connections.
Interconnection is a key advantage in Europe and Southeast Asia. Both regions have a strong history of founders actively traveling between cities, picking and choosing the advantages of each. Air Asia. The Easyjet-set. Let’s look at London, Hong Kong and Sofia as examples.
In Hong Kong, the government isn’t going head-to-head against Singapore. Singapore’s government offers some of the best seed-stage multipliers to investors in the world. (Close to 5-to-1.) Hong Kong plays to its local strengths, like its connection to China, manufacturing capabilities for hardware, proximity to a growing number of multi-national HQs, and business-friendly legal environment.
Sofia, in Bulgaria, had no such advantages. It wasn’t on any startup radar just a few years ago. Sofians have simply executed, launching accelerators, co-working spaces, meetups and then conferences, without letting internal rivalries slow them down. They’ve realised this is productive. It puts the focus on doing, not out-doing, on helping founders, not being better than “local competitors.” It allows outsiders to improve Sofia more easily, since outsiders can get needed intros, and things just happen. But the biggest difference this makes is that Sofians are active all over Southeast Europe. They just get in their car and go to Belgrade, Bucharest, Thessanloniki, Istanbul. They fly to Barcelona, Berlin, London. JFDI is the key attitude here, and the pie grows. JFDI pie! Yum.
In London, not even the government people think we’re in competition with Berlin. In my years there, I never heard any community leader saying “we’re going to be the best in Europe.” It was more, “we’re going to make startups the best, in Europe.” You’ll easily find visiting founders from Germany, Nigeria, Finland, The US and Bulgariam for example; connections to other startup communities are easy and forthcoming.
Image: Bittorrent traffic, 2009
All these cities are participating the global startup community, not trying to own it. And they’re flourishing!
They’re not trying to control or force their region through them, but simply enable startups. Rather than act like a hub, where every spoke should point to you, it’s peer-to-peer thinking, acting like super-nodes that connect others.
You don’t need to central to be a super-node, but if you act like one, the network tends to grow around you.
I’m in a cozy place, preparing for parenthood, dabbling with some art projects, getting my hands dirty with ZK and ML. One of my more “product-y” projects is a communication tool for community groups and unconferences. It focuses on autonomising teams rather than “coordinating”. Another is a set of primitives for “hyperstructuring” Free Software to help contributors get paid fairly.
I’m also part of Discover Mode - where I’m a solver-for-hire helping a Web3 projects with product design and strategy.
In the past, I've designed peer-learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures, The Royal Academy Of Engineering, and Kernel, careering from startups to humanitech and engineering. I also played a role in the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.
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