Your Fiefdom Doesn’t Matter (Or Get your Head out of Your Regional Startup Ass)

Photo used under Creative Commons. Taken by Fellowship of the Rich

There’s this thing called Protectionism. Protectionism is largely a political word used to describe the retreat to self-isolationism for the sake of preserving well-being. It was a word tossed around in late 2008 and 2009 after the market crash when the international community joined together to try to stave off a global economic failure. There were some who believed the United States had their own issues and shouldn’t be worrying about bailing out Europe. This mentality still exists, for better or for worse.

But protectionism is also something that is hurting innovation, business, and startups in an Internet world. It seems like weekly, someone is writing a post about why NYC is the best place to start a company, or why Austin is better than the Valley.

Here’s the honest to God truth… your fiefdoms don’t matter. Your little land grabs and protectionist ideas are hurting the global collective that we all rely on and need. Austin is better than the Valley in some ways but the Valley is better than NYC in others and NYC is better than Europe in others and Europe is better than China in others. You get the point.

Let me pick on my Austin colleagues for a minute. Why don’t you pay attention to what’s happening outside of Austin for a minute? You touted Gowalla as the best thing ever. Why? Because it was from Austin. The data clearly showed differently. Foursquare was better. And now Gowalla is gone and in Palo Alto and doesn’t even exist anymore. Data can’t be argued with.

You think your little community (Austin and other places) makes any real difference? It doesn’t. It’s part of a global community and your little bubble can’t exist in a vacuum. It’s best you start understanding that. We need the Valley. We need Chicago. We need NYC. And they need us.

It’s best we stop pretending that Austin is the best place on earth. It’s not. It’s an awesome place among other awesome places. We are doing awesome things but we aren’t the only people doing awesome things. So let’s stop pretending, get rid of the navel-gazing myopia and get our collective heads out of our asses.

We need our regional fiefdoms for mentorship, collaboration and sharing. We are not the end of the story.

Austin. San Francisco. Europe. New York City. All of us.

7 Replies to “Your Fiefdom Doesn’t Matter (Or Get your Head out of Your Regional Startup Ass)”

  1. As much as I prefer and promote Austin, I’m ecstatic that we’ve started interacting and working with Dallas and Houston more and more. Each group brings a different perspective, background, industry, technology, and general culture to the table. And the same applies to technology.. the Rails community does it one way, PHP another, C# another and everyone wants to be “right”.

    None of them – technologies, regions, etc – are “right” but all of them have strengths to take advantage of and build upon and weaknesses to mitigate and work around.

  2. I think if you polled the majority of Gowalla users, they preferred it because it *was* a better experience. I’m using past-tense here because that changed as they evolved. That’s as someone who was using and touting Gowalla prior to being in Austin. I was using BrightKite prior to that — I don’t have a regional horse in that game.

    That aside out of the way, I’m with Keith, but from a different perspective. I’m so involved in some many sub-communities within Austin because there’s so much going on. Same would go if I was in Portland, SF, SV, or any other place.

    As for Austinites treating it like a bubble that exists completely unto itself — I guess we’re talking to different people.

    1. If that were the case, then I would have seen Gowalla being used more often in other cities as well. It wasn’t. Outside of Austin, Foursquare ruled. In Austin, people never shut up about Gowalla.

  3. Dude, you just haven’t been here long enough to get all that damn Yankee blood out of you. :-)

    I’ve spent plenty of time in Silicon Valley. Highly over-rated. SF and NYC too.

    That said, seriously, one of the things I’ve observed among Austin startups is that for most of them, marketing is an afterthought, whereas that’s not the case in other startup hotbeds. And as a result, I think (my impression) that we have in Austin a much higher percentage of products that make it to market (and maybe shouldn’t) and then flop.

    Marketing has to be a factor from the beginning — integral to the product design. It’s great to start a company based on a developer’s itch, but if you want to actually make money and build a sustainable company, include marketing at a senior level from the very beginning.

  4. As a technology reporter who has covered Austin and San Antonio, I would say that all the leaders in both cities need to think more regionally. The combination of Austin-San Antonio is truly a powerhouse of technology and biotechnology activity. As for the Gowalla vs. Foursquare story, I think a lot of people root for the home team. And Gowalla had a great product in the beginning. With global technology companies like Dell, IBM and Rackspace, I don’t think you could really say Austin doesn’t embrace the global marketplace. And thousands of engineers from Taiwan, China and Singapore have received degrees at the University of Texas and Texas A&M and go back to run industry in their countries. Every region must compete for scarce resources – primarily engineering talent – so that’s why so many cities tout every themselves as the best tech center. Now everyone’s scrambling to become the “Clean Tech” capital of the world and Austin has already claimed that status. Clusters in green or clean tech attract even more companies, researchers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists. (Citing Richard Florida’s enormous body of work here) So there’s a reason behind the slogans. It’s not just marketing hype.

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