Years ago I ran a startup in New York, where I saw the city develop as a new tech hub. Recently, I co-founded and operated AcceleratorHK, the first startup accelerator in Hong Kong, where I worked with startups from around the world. The experience in those two cities, often compared to each other in so many other ways, was radically different for startups.
Now that I’ve relocated again — to Pasadena, California — I have had the opportunity to reflect on the different experiences of startups around the world. As a part of that, I interviewed entrepreneurs and organisers in small tech communities around the US, Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America and collected their experiences as well as a series of often contrarian recommendations from my work. All of this came together into a book, appropriately called Startup Sacrilege for the Underdog Entrepreneur.
What I discovered while working with people from smaller tech communities is that the popularised Silicon Valley story does not help their efforts at home. Every place is different, with different needs and different strengths. Working as though you’re in Silicon Valley when you’re not, or wishing that your home location was the Valley when it isn’t, does not help anyone.
My advice to startups outside the Valley is to ignore it.
Startups, especially in communities that are not yet tech hubs would do themselves a favour by building for local problems and strengths, building their support system and in general looking at the world through different lenses. Here are some examples.
Build for local problems and strengths
What are the strengths and major industries of your location? Finance, logistics, entertainment, telecom, manufacturing, tourism? Play to local strengths and you can actually make your local community more diverse than the tech hubs. If you work with your strengths and involve industries and local domain expertise, you will find people who typically haven’t participated in the startup world and who could add a lot of value.
What are your local problems? Transportation, water shortage, pollution, obesity, education, infrastructure? Build for local problems and you have your first group of customers who can educate you on what you need to do.
Avoiding the consideration of local problems and strengths means that you limit diversity. This is why there are lots of startups addressing the not so crucial problems of how to share photos and find dates, but few addressing difficult problems like those listed above. These are problems that Silicon Valley startups might never learn.
Build a support system of “local heroes”
“Local heroes” are people who can help move your startup community forward, often in ways you might not expect. A local hero might be someone from an area of local industry strength who is willing to share their expertise. Or someone who is actively looking for solutions to problems they deal with in their industry. They are not necessarily aware of what a startup is or does, but they have ability to share deep industry and domain expertise. They can also have an impact because they know the specific needs of the local area, have the interest to invest back in the community and can make things happen.
In general, learn from other developing tech communities and be willing to take alternate viewpoints
If you would like to hear a lot more about how other emerging tech communities are working things out in new ways and recommendations for your own situation, take a look at Startup Sacrilege for the Underdog Entrepreneur. I hope that it will help your own progress, wherever you are.
The views expressed are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them.
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