Adam Thomas Harper
  • CMO @ Papertrail

Your Motivation to Start a Company in Silicon Valley Sucks

This might be hard to believe, but startup companies can and do exist outside of Silicon Valley. Outside of Dublin. Outside of Paris. Outside of anywhere that has an Apple Store or a chain of coffee shops which charge $10 for a shit Americano.

A startup company is not free food, table tennis or branded black t-shirts. A startup company is not standing desks, unlimited holidays or tacky stickers on your MacBook. A startup company is not hackathons, emojis on Slack or drive-your-Tesla-to-work day. Building a startup is an attempt to provide value to people.

People forget this sometimes. Company culture is its own beast and — whilst it’s intended to drip down from the top — can often overrule the senior management who may conveniently forget why they started the company in the first place. Sure, to attract the best talent you have to look after your employees well, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to supplying sleeping pods and free haircuts.

In my opinion, the best employees will stay at your company if they believe in you and the values of your company; if they believe that they’re contributing to something that is going to create lasting value. If employees believe this and can sense it in the air around the office, there is no greater motivation to do amazing work. The perks come later. If you think that Silicon Valley is your shortcut to getting filthy rich and rubbing shoulders with Dorsey et al., then think again. Your shitty app idea is shitty because the motivation behind it is selfish.

I know this because I work in marketing. For those who don’t work in marketing, know this: it ought to be the easiest job in the world.

The first thing you’ll learn when studying marketing is the Marketing Mix: Product, Price, Promotion, Place. Offer the right product, at the right price, with the right promotion, in the right place, and you will be successful. Simple, right? The marketing mix will always be the foundation for the marketing strategy behind a new product or service.

However, note which of those four p’s I listed first: product. Remember, business is all about relationships, and relationships are all about a trade-off of value between two parties. Yes, even your romantic relationships. A romantic partner provides something you need (love, care, sex, emotional support, laughter, empathy etc. etc.), and you provide the same for them in return. Relationships end when one party can no longer provide what the other party needs. Apply this thought process to your startup, and you will soon realise something: if you’re not offering a product or service that enriches your target audience’s lives, then no amount of promotion, strategic placement or pricing is going to make people buy.

The thing is, you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley, or London, or Dublin, to create value for people. We live in a connected age. Whether you’re offering physical products, software, online or local services, there are infrastructures and supply chains in place that are intended to help businesses succeed. Whilst the relationships and associations you foster in Silicon Valley may help you when starting out, don’t think that you need to move to California to be a success. It’s fucking distracting you from what you need to think about most of all: what can we offer to people that meets their deepest, most urgent wants or needs?

If your motivation to move to Silicon Valley isn’t to provide greater value to your customers, think again about moving. No-one ever made a company great by serving themselves before others.