I wrote this essay in December 2013 whilst spending 6 days on the Island of Hainan between events in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
It retains its relevance today in the context of the so-called Series A crunch and the Unicorn boom.
The original essay
Since early 2011 I have been working with early stage companies through my role at archimedes labs. We have 14 portfolio companies and have been fortunate to work with some wonderful founders. M.dot has been acquired by GoDaddy; Quixey has raised significant rounds of finance, including $50m from Alibaba most recently; Kwicr is revolutionizing bandwidth use and has recently announced significant funding; and more than 90% of the remainder have been funded since we got involved with them. just.me had the privilege of working with Khosla Ventures and True Ventures, Google Ventures, BetaWorks, Crunchfund and others.
I start the story here simply to indicate that what I am about to say — although I feel it quite personally — is not driven by anything other than my observation of the facts.
The Valley today is not the Valley I came to join in 1997. It is certainly different, and that is good. But in one regard it is worse, and significantly so. And we will all pay a price if that does not change. This is a manifesto of the need for that change as much as it is an essay.
There are many who believe that the Valley is as great a place as it has ever been. That the growth in the sheer number of startups and the number of investors, and the more recent trends to create syndicates of investors, establishes a new and viable means of supporting innovation. Much as I welcome these trends, I beg to differ in just one regard. A major part of the ecosystem needed to support true disruption is absent. This is a new phenomena, and a dangerous one. But more of that later, first a little context on myself for those who don’t know me.
What made Silicon Valley unique?
I came to Silicon Valley in 1997, fresh from 3 years as co-founder of EasyNet, Europe’s first consumer ISP (now a B2B company). EasyNet had never raised venture capital, and between 1994 and 1996 David Rowe and myself had…