Rainforest Rev: Farewell, Silicon Valley

Farewell, Silicon Valley

This is bittersweet to write.  After 9 years in Silicon Valley, I’m moving.

It has been a journey at times thrilling, surprising, and agonizing.  But never boring.  I want to share with you a few takeaways.  We’re also making some changes at T2 Venture Creation, and I want to share those with you too.  We’re spinning out our consulting practice into a new firm, Rainforest Strategies.  And we’re ending our lovely newsletter.

Starting next week, I’ll be the Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City.  The job truly excites me.  It’s an opportunity to transform the startup economy and touch millions of lives.  If I had to design a “dream job,” this would be it.

But I’ll miss the Valley.  I admit it – when I moved here, I wasn’t sure I’d like the Valley.  But we were starting a new and unique venture firm, and it felt obligatory.  I had to be in the Valley.  So I dived in.  I breathed it, absorbed it, dissected it.  And eventually I became a part of it, helping shape its ecosystem and hopefully making it even better.

In the process, I developed a deep understanding of what makes the Valley tick. I wrote and co-wrote a few books about it.  I started a conference for “ecosystem builders” from 50 countries.  I co-founded a startup making the world’s fastest, finest filters for safe drinking water.  We even won TechCrunch Disrupt – you can check out our awesome product here.

Here are a few parting reflections from nearly a decade immersed in Silicon Valley.

First, culture is everything.  People talk about culture a lot.  But until you’ve spent serious time “in the trenches” of an innovative, high-speed, high-risk environment like the Valley, it’s hard to really understand.

How to describe it to someone on the outside?  Remember that time in your life when you stuck your neck out for something. It was scary; you faced criticism; things didn’t work right.  Now imagine sticking your neck out three times as far.  Now imagine doing that day after day.  And now imagine doing that for years. There are a ton of people doing that the Valley.  It’s impressive, even heroic.  When they say that Silicon Valley is not a place but a state of mind, it’s true.  Talented people are everywhere in the world. But right mindsets are precious.

Second, the headlines are a head fake.  When you read the major media covering the Valley, you find mostly stories about big companies: Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Tesla, etc.  These are exciting, dramatic stories of titans doing battle.  But the stories aren’t what really make the Valley the Valley.

The real Valley happens under the radar, when no one is watching, when no one cares.  It happened when Larry and Sergei first met at Stanford.  It’s the day Zuckerberg moved here from Boston.  It’s the moment Jobs and Wozniak finished their first circuit board.  The New York Times missed those headlines.  But the lunchtime serendipity, the coffee shop napkin sketches, the flashes of insight, the first prototype tested – that’s where the breakthroughs are made, where imaginary barriers are smashed.  Those are the sparks that years later can improve countless lives, provide valuable goods and services, and even topple dictators.  The real Valley is made of all the little stuff that never makes the news, but someday changes the world in huge ways.  Don’t be fooled by the easy headlines.  Look for the unwritten headlines.

Third, the new economic paradigm is already here.  But it’s mostly a secret. What do I mean? Today, more and more wealth is derived from values that are manifested as certain behaviors.  Open-mindedness, high trust, diversity, team-building, information-sharing, willingness to take risks, experimentation, rapid iteration.  Those are soft and fuzzy.  But innovation thrives in those environments.  Take a walk down University Avenue in Palo Alto; look in the cafes at the entrepreneurs working.  You can actually “see” those values buzzing everywhere.

Why is this recipe still a secret?  Because we’ve been taught for decades – by the “experts” – that economic activity is value neutral, that reason should overcome emotion. But Silicon Valley has flipped the model upside down.  The Valley is living proof that values – practiced by living, breathing, emotional human beings – are core to innovation, and thus critical to modern wealth creation. That’s a huge shift in the economy.  Most people have a hard time believing it.

The Next Chapter  

As we turn the page, we’re spinning out our consulting practice from T2.  The new firm, Rainforest Strategies, is being led by three brilliant practitioners that have been doing the work on our team for years.  If you are seeking to drive innovation in a company, community, country, or organization, these guys are the best in the business.  They are using the science of innovation ecosystems and creating universal tools for enabling systemic change.  It’s complex stuff, made simple.  It really works.

We’re also shutting down our newsletter, the Rainforest Revolution.  We’ve been running this service for three years, reaching about 20,000 people every week or two.  I am proud that the newsletter was a pioneer. When we started, the idea that entrepreneurial ecosystems could be intentionally and scientifically “designed” was considered odd, even laughed at.  Today that idea is everywhere.  I hope we played a small role in that.  Viva la Revolution.

So farewell, Silicon Valley.  I loved you most of the time.  I couldn’t stand you more times than I can count.  But you’re the Florence of the innovation economy.  And it’s been a privilege and honor.

Life moves on, but certain truths will always remain.  Innovators and entrepreneurs already know them intuitively.  Handshakes are more durable than contracts.  Altruism is more efficient than selfishness.  And silly things like trust and dreams and love… they really do power the world.

Time to turn the page, but stay in touch…

Victor W. Hwang
CEO, T2 Venture Creation