Where vs. Why

In Why Facebook went west, Scott Kirsner suggests that Facebook‘s decision to relocate to Silicon Valley “either highlights Boston’s deficiencies as a greenhouse for a new generation of Web start-ups, or illustrates the incredible magnetism of Silicon Valley – or a bit of both.”

Short answer: It’s the magnetism of Silicon Valley, period.

True, if Battery Ventures or some other Boston-area VC had become the primary investor in Facebook, perhaps Facebook would have stayed. But good VCs everywhere pass up good opportunities every day. To ascribe those decisions to regional “deficiencies” is a stretch that verges on a smear.

What if Battery had invested in Facebook and the company had moved anyway? Would this say anything bad about Boston? No. It would confirm what’s good about Silicon Valley. If you’re a fast-growing tech company looking for the maximum quantity of high-quality local talent, there isn’t much choice. Silicon Valley is the place.

Back in 1984 I was a principal in a high-tech advertising agency in Raleigh, North Carolina. We had what was clearly the top high-tech agency in the state at that time. But one client said “Y’know boys, there’s more action on one street in Sunnyvale than there is in all of North Carolina”. We went and looked. He was right. We opened an office in Palo Alto, did very well there and within a year closed the North Carolina office.

That decision had nothing to do with the obvious advantages of our North Carolina location. But the business advantages to the Silicon Valley move were beyond clear. I suspect they were for Facebook too.

And that’s not to say Boston doesn’t have advantages of its own. Or else I wouldn’t have just moved here from California.

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14 Responses to Where vs. Why

  1. Rick Burnes says:

    So what do you believe are Boston’s advantages, relative to the Bay Area?

  2. Have to agree. I’m in the DC area which is consistently called ‘a tech hotbed’ but like other ‘Silicon Valley-lights’ it is a tech community of one sort or another. We have a bio area, and a telcom area, and a defense tech area, but not the overall tech industry where you can find a guy to do this this and this.

    I just tried to hire a PHP/MYSQL guy. Dime a dozen, right? No, absolute PITA! I was having to cut corners from my spec left and right to make ends meet. If I wanted a guy who knew heat seeking missile technology with a TS clearance–I had dozens, but something ‘simple’ was a bear.

    My only knock on the Valley, beside housing prices, was the sort of ‘staleness’ of the cities. They seemed like every other suburb in America. I know you have to live there to find a good local Chinese place and a favorite bar and a good movie theater, but it did lack for that sort of ‘character’ that other cities like Boston has in spades.

  3. One other thing that has always fascinated me about the desire of other towns to be tech hotbeds is the simple comparison. We’re the #x best city after Silicon Valley. I always wonder:

    What is the third best city in the US to work in politics?
    What is the fourth best city in the US to work in country music?
    What is the second best city in the US to work in agricultural financing?
    What is the fifth best city in the US to work in investment banking?

    You really need to go to the #1 if you want to get a start in any of those fields.

  4. Lance Knobel says:

    Define Silicon Valley in a slightly broader fashion and you can find the qualities that Andrew correctly is missing in Palo Alto and surrounds. Berkeley has lower (although still high) housing prices, an unimaginably high number of great places to eat at every budget, a highly diverse population, and great bookstores.

    I haven’t checked, but I suspect as well that there are more PHP/MYSQL guys than you could shake a stick at.

    What more could you want?

  5. Doc Searls says:

    Rick, when we were thinking about coming here, David Weinberger said something that stuck deeply in my mind: “This is the most intellectually stimulating place in the world.” I agree. There is a high density of schools, arts, museums, history and culture in general here. For much of the year the weather sucks, but the intellectual stimulation more than makes up for it.

    Andrew hit on another one: food. There are so many great restaurants here, with so many cuisines, and so much character — far more than you tend to find anywhere in the Bay Area outside of pockets in San Francisco and Berkeley.

    Public transportation rocks, too. I took my GPS to work today. The walk to the bus was .28 miles and took just a few minutes. The bus came immediately. It always does. I can also walk to a “T” station and fly underground to Harvard Square. Within two blocks of where I catch the bus are at least three outstanding restaurants, plus a coffee shop where the cappucciinos are even *better* than Peets, which is a lofty achievement. Plus there’s a homey little movie theater, a first-class diner and bakeries for several ethnic cuisines, a handy cleaners and several shops selling stuff you won’t find anywhere else — all with a neighborhood feel I haven’t experienced since i was a kid in New Jersey in the Fifties.

    Did I mention that the schools rock too? And the sports love?

    The only other downsides are the drivers and the roads. There must be something in the water that makes drivers — many of them, anyway — just freaking nuts. Maybe it’s the poorly marked roads, with their lanes that appear and disappear, their five+ corner’d intersections with no clear rights of way, their tunnels and bridges that are perpetually under construction or reconstruction… the list goes on.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love Silicon Valley. Business-wise, it will always be my pole-star, if not also my home. I also love Santa Barbara, where we built the dream house we’ll return to in a year or two. And I love North Carolina, where I spent a third of my life and where I still have more friends and relatives than i can count. But Boston and the Cambridge area are a fun new place to explore and get to know.

    Every place is home in its own way. And there’s no other place like it.

  6. Dave Ross says:


    You guys are making me feel homesick for a place I’ve never lived. It sounds like a whole different world out west, one I’d be so happy in…

  7. ‘Walking’ to the everyday things you need in life is so underrated. I grew up in a tiny town where everything was within a mile from the center of town. Go farther than a mile and you were in the corn. It was great as a kid because you could walk or bike anywhere.

    My wife and I have lived in NYC (56th and Broadway, which is around where Doc lived I think), London, and then in Hong Kong. Neither were totally walking cities, but within walking distance was nearly everything I needed, from breakfast, to groceries, to bookstores and parks. They had options (subways and the such) that allowed us to walk & ride to many other things as well.

    As I look at mixed used development (residential, shopping, etc in a close in environment) that is starting to occur on the East Coast near things like subway stations, I wonder if the Caltrain stations will soon spur on small little oasis of walkable living up and down Silicon Valley.

  8. Doc Searls says:

    211 W. 56th at Carnegie Mews? We were on the 26th floor looking north straight up Central Park. Tiny apartment, but it totally rocked. Perfect location.

    As for Caltrain’s influence on Silicon Valley, dunno. So far it seems to have minimal influence except on commuters.

    Here this morning I took my car in to the dealer, walked to the bus, took that to the Harvard Square tstop and took the train to a station a short walk from my house. Was back home in minutes, all told. Totally rocked.

  9. JTH says:


    Best cars for Boston seem to be beaters
    At least the “Big Dig” is done – I think

    Daughter was smart, sold her car before we moved her there.

    Check your mail, sent tips, before I saw this post.

  10. Yes, the Carnegie Mews as well. But we were on the 11th floor overlooking some air conditioners and just enough of 57th Street to here the sirens (but not much else). Still, it was close enough to get to things when I walked out the door.

    Small world….

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