I recently had a discussion with a blog editor who wanted me to edit pretty much everything I wrote to be in line with what pundits in Silicon Valley typically preach.
I was more amused than infuriated. And, to an extent, concerned as well--for he's not the only one who thinks in this manner. I've come across many entrepreneurs who blindly fall for Silicon Valley buzzwords and set out to follow them, without taking into account their own unique proposition, the customers they're serving, the existing market, and their goals.
There isn't just one way to build a company, and there certainly isn't a one-size-fits-all path to building a successful business. In fact, the unicorns or the billion-dollar businesses are the ones that have defied every common belief.
To give you an example, two popular beliefs are that you shouldn't to outsource your tech and you should build a product business (more scalable than services). With my venture, Arkenea, I defied both and have successfully run the company for close to five years. Having built three product companies before Arkenea, I didn't even blink an eye when inspiration struck for my current venture.
As long as you're passionate about serving the needs of your customers or solving a problem for them, it shouldn't matter whether it is service or a product, outsourced or in-house, or whether you're in Silicon Valley or outside of it.
You don't have to move to Silicon Valley to launch a tech startup
Chirag Kulkarni of Insightfully is a tech entrepreneur based in Boston, and he plans to continue building his startup in that same location. Not every tech startup needs to move to Silicon Valley to be successful.
"Through experience, and after hearing some of the stories about retention, hiring, and recruiting technical talent, I learned that the San Francisco Bay Area may not be what it's all meant to be," says Chirag.
He's hired some great people with expertise in their domains, has been able to leverage the startup and educational ecosystem in Boston, and has also received feedback from people across domains such as biotech, health care, etc.
Similarly, Shane Hvizdzak of Helpified, an online micro-learning platform for teams, built a userbase of 1 million individual learners and several hundred companies in large part from his parents' kitchen table in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Shane believes that as long as you have a vision, connections to talent, and a product/market fit, you can succeed from anywhere. He adds, "I focused on building a simple product that solved a problem, and I leveraged online communities and online teaching to find and interact with them. Really, being in a small town has helped me build a much better network online than I could have in person."
"The Valley is great if I'm building a product for companies specifically in the Valley, but I wasn't. It also forced me to use the Web to my advantage. You have access to millions of people, potential customers, mentors, partners online," he says.
Services businesses are the backbone for product startups
Andrew Kucheriavy, who has been running Intechnic for the last 15 years, has built a nearly $10 million successful services business. A services model is largely looked down on in Silicon Valley.
Services businesses are the foundation on which most products are built. Take, for instance, design and marketing agencies, development consultancies, managed cloud hosting, etc.--all services without which most products couldn't get built.
"The only way for a service business to scale is to 'clone' its top performers. To do so, identify who those performers are, analyze what they are doing right, and hire more individuals with similar skills and potential. Then, follow closely with rigorous training and plenty of growth incentives, repeat this cycle over and over again, and never stop," says Andrew.
Do you need VC money for a successful startup?
"I firmly believe that you don't need VC money to succeed in life at a startup. It may take a bit longer, but you'll get there. If you don't get there, you wouldn't have gotten there with VC money either," says John Rampton, co-founder of Due.com, a startup that's gathered close to 100,000 customers in about six months.
John also built his product with a fully outsourced development team, something that Silicon Valley pundits frown on. Some of the most popular products you use today were outsourced in their initial days--Skype, Fab.com, and even the billion-dollar-valued Slack.
"Planning to start a startup with no cash takes planning. You have to scale the product quickly to profitability or you'll go under quick. It will change how you do everything. It'll change who you hire and how fast, etc. You make much more conscious decisions about money and where you spend it," adds John.
Success doesn't depend on the number of startup events you attend
A huge trend in Silicon Valley is to attend the maximum number of startup events you can. "Your reputation and network are everything, definitely, but there are lots of ways to build those things. Going to events is great, and I've had some amazing experiences with equally amazing people, but I've found more success just staying focused and keeping my head down and working. Providing real value is a much more time efficient way to build a network than handing out business cards," says Shane Hvizdzak.
You must attend an occasional event, but always keep a very specific goal in mind. I've personally attended many such events as an experiment, and I've often found that there isn't always a good return on the time spent. I would have been better off hacking on my computer than attending many events. Be conscious of the ones you attend, and your reasons for doing so.