Seattle skyline (Photo: Angela N.)

[Editor’s note: This is a follow-up guest post to a story on GeekWire titled “How do we make the Seattle startup ecosystem stronger?”]

First, let me tell you why I care. I moved to Seattle about 10 months ago to work on my own startup. No, I didn’t just quit Microsoft and I didn’t have a trust fund, I just really wanted to build a startup, took all the little savings that I had, moved and haven’t regretted it.

I love Seattle. It’s a beautiful city with absolutely amazing people. Seattle isn’t Silicon Valley and for many reasons that makes it sometimes charming and sometimes repelling.

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of talk about Seattle lacking the “right” entrepreneurial environment, and what steps need to be taken in order for this city to be just as hot as the Valley. I find these talks very frustrating and damaging to the ecosystem because Seattle now comes across like a sore loser in comparison to the Valley.

Hey, even Boulder sounds better than Seattle and I bet most people didn’t even know where Boulder was, five years ago! Let me tell you a story and with this example show you what actually needs to get done.

In high-school, and yes, I am still young enough to remember, I was a co-captain of our cross-country team. We didn’t have all the fastest runners. We didn’t have the coolest gear or come from the preppiest town in the district. But somehow we always won.

We didn’t just win during my Senior year. We also won the year before, and the one before and before … for very many years in a row our team was kicking ass.

Kirill Zubovsky

The secret to success was very simple. No matter what day it was, there was one simple rule: there was always a practice. If it rained, there was a practice. If it snowed, there was a practice. If we had to run knee deep in mud, there was a practice.

And at 8 a.m. on Saturday, there was still a practice. You get the point, no matter what happened, there was always a practice. Our team was strong because it consisted of runners who were capable of running no matter what. Our runners were mentally strong and could persevere, when others cried and wimped like little babies.

How does all of this apply to startups, you ask? It’s quite simple.

There is a group of people in Seattle who compare our city to the Valley, and then looks for all sorts of excuses why it’s so much harder to build a startup here.

Are they right? Of course they are right. Funding is dry in Seattle. Talent is scarce. There is no central hub to host all the aspiring entrepreneurs. And TechStars is the only accelerator that somewhat resembles the pace of the Valley.

So yes, these folks are absolutely right. It is harder to build a startup in Seattle, but it’s not impossible.

Tell me, would you rather build a company and know that everyone in your shoes could have done it? Or would you rather overcome the impossible and show everyone else what you are made of?

Seattle doesn’t need more discussion. Seattle doesn’t need more events that attract service providers and wanna-be-but-never-be-entrepreneurs. Seattle just needs people who are going to start something, work hard, sleep for 4 hours a night, and then do it again and again until their startup is worth talking about.

There are many people like this in Seattle. There are great small companies filled with brilliant and hardworking guys and gals who are working around the clock to make their dent in the ecosystem. There are pople who have a vision of a greater tomorrow and they are willing to suck it up and eat Ramen until that vision in realized.

You might not see these people at most of the events. They are too busy working all the time. When it comes to mentors, there are amazing people here too and they are willing and ready to help. They know who they are, and I am very thankful for their involvement.

We don’t have it all here in Seattle. But we have more than enough. Unlike the GeekWire article suggested, NO we don’t need to hop on a party bus and go to the other cities and tell them how good we are.

What we do need, is to go and build some fucking companies.

Kirill Zubovsky is a Seattle entrepreneur. You can read his blog, Geek at Sea, here

Comments

  • CodeMonkey

    Amen brother

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.a.bird Aaron Bird

    Exactly!

  • Ray Burt

    Whatever happened to the idea that Great ideas and execution build Great Startups?  Since what has location been such a factor?  I bet the percentage of failures here is the same as in Silicon Valley, or elsewhere  (lower numerator and lower denominator here).  Great folks create successful companies — not ecosystems or such. 

    • http://bexhuff.com bex

      The current data does not support your hypothesis. Ecosystems do indeed matter:

      http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/images/issues/200510/world-is-spiky.pdf

      Basically, there are “pockets” in the world where innovation happens much faster than other places. There are several theories as to why this is the case… but basically no man is an island. We are all affected by our environment.

      But… end of the day this just means Seattle needs to ditch the Silicon Valley playbook: there’s a million ways to build a great company. And if that means you just have to work a bit harder, then so be it!

      • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

        Definitely, there is no argument that a better environment would only help companies to prosper, but in my naive understanding the environment in the Valley was built by people actually building stuff that was worth talking about, not the other way around, that’s all.

        • http://bexhuff.com bex

          To clarify: I agree with Kirill that Seattle entrepreneurs need to work harder and quit whining… but I disagree with Ray when he says flat-out that ecosystems “don’t matter.” There’s a lot of data to show that they do.

          But… as long as you get the right people in a room collaborating in the right way, and coming up with a plan that “plays to their strengths,” then anything is possible.

      • http://twitter.com/paulbarthmaier Paul Barthmaier

        Passion and collaboration breed innovation.

  • http://www.yassume.com Rohit Mathur

    I don’t agree but many people say Seattle sucks. In winters, they are thinking about summers. In summers, they are fretting about upcoming winters and whiling away their summers. So, where do they actually get time to focus on starting up :) Having said that, I have seen enough and more entrepreneurs being the ED of TiE Seattle. And I have to say that people are friendlier in Seattle and much more eager to mentor. Of course, the wide network of Starbucks, Tully’s and lot of sunless days help the prospects of these coffee conversations.

  • Dan

    Well said Kirill! Results matter. We would love to talk with you at Maveron whenever you are ready.

    • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

      Thank you, Dan. I’ll keep you guys in mind ;)

      • Hmm

        Have you created a great fucking company?

        Many would be interested…

  • petec

    well said …

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak ‘Red’ Russak

    Solid work Kirill! From GeekAtSea, to Hacker News to STS, to GeekWire. Having said that, while it’s great to say “GSD”, there still needs to be an infrastructure to motivate and support those who need it. The Startup Foundation is a great start to bringing a centralized resource for initiatives that will ultimately stimulate growth in local entrepreneurship, specifically tech startups, leading to more investments, more jobs and more people “GETTING SH*T DONE!”. Kapeesh!

  • Anonymous

    couldn’t agree more. cut through the noise and focus on results.

  • http://www.facebook.com/efrizor Buntu Redempter

    Wow!

  • guest

    “What we do need, is to go and build some fucking companies.”
     
    Very articulate.

  • Huh

    Dear Seattle: Let’s stop writing stories about how we should be building companies and actually start building companies

    • RG

      This is so meta. Should we stop writing about stopping writing about building great companies? Maybe that’s a post in it’s own right?

      It’s kind of like Portlandia’s “Over” being over. Which is itself now apparently over.

  • web3dot0

    Is cross country a sport?

    Quantum leap as far as an analogy goes.

    • Mergathal

      Maybe if you got off your couch, you would know that it has been a sport for a long time. Gotta love it when people lacking intelligence post.

  • Anonymous

    Pssst right here

  • Founder2.0

    I can’t argue that Seattle’s ongoing insecurity can be tiresome and annoying. While I appreciate your confidence, I think you will likely wake up 5 years from now and move to the bay area. I used to be optimistic about Seattle and made all the lame arguments about how it is hard but can be done…blah blah. And it is sorta true, I was able to raise VC (from the bay area), grow to meaningful revenue (>$2m/year) but not significant revenue) and sold my start-up to a public company and made some real money in the process. But you know what, Start-ups are hard, and you’ll work as hard up here as you would down there, so you might as well go where the capital is available. If you really want to do a start-up so bad, then why let geography hold you back. If you want to make orange juice go to where they grow the oranges…it ain’t here. Folks can argue about it all they want, but capital access up here is horrible, and while it is a decent place to put a dev center there is no reason to have the HQ up here. So folks need to man-up and just go – otherwise we’ll keep talking about the same shit over and over again.

    • Mergathal

      Cry me a fucking river. It is not always about the money, it is doing something you are passionate about and hopefully make money also. Don’t let “where the money is” be the only guide to were your startup should be. Instead of “manning up” and running out of town with your tail between your legs like Founder2.0, grow some balls and make your startup be successful in places were it takes talent and drive, you will attract money, even in places others think the well is empty in.

      • guest

        “Cry me a fucking river”
         “grow some balls and make your startup be successful”

        Let me guess, you are the author. I am close?

        • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

          You are very close! There is a significantly high probability that both, the author (me) and Mergathal (whoever that is) live in Seattle. Congratulations, you are the winner of our trivia contest!

          • Hmm

            Neither one can post something more mature?

            You represent what is wrong with the whole idea of creating a compamny of value. Your lack of a true sensible mature post represents that.

            What have you done, just curious???

    • http://bexhuff.com bex

      In my opinion, the main reason for businesses to avoid the Bay Area is to get better software talent.

      I recently moved from Minneapolis to Seattle. Where I’m from, we call it the “Hollywood Effect.” Basically, if you are a “good” actor, you can probably find work in any major city. If you are a “bad” actor, your only hope is to move to Hollywood and get lucky.

      The same rule applies to software. If you’re a “good” developer, you can get a decent job in any major city. If you’re a “bad” developer, your only hope is to blend in where employers are dripping with cash and desperate for warm bodies: Silicon Valley.

      Easy access to capital is a major double-edged sword…

    • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

      I’ve moved around plenty in the last 10 years to know just how hard (and easy) moving really is. Would I go to the Bay if it gave me a strategic advantage? Sure I would. But, running away to the Bay for a promise of a better tomorrow, that’s not in my plans yet. That said, I will go there sometimes in the near future to meet people and to create dots, which I plan to convert into solid lines.

  • Mark Vadon

    Holy crap, you wrote what I’ve been thinking as I read all the excuses being churned up on this blog in post after post. We have everything here in Seattle to build great companies – I’m on my second – it just takes work. For people who think you can’t raise money in Seattle – you’re nuts. I’ve raised $150mm while sitting in Seatle. You just need to build the business and execute – the people and funding will follow.

    • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

      Mark, glad you liked the post and I am not the only “crazy” around here. I hope that people would realized that instead of looking at the Bay, they could rather look at you and other already successful people around Seattle and get inspired.

      The folks who advocate for better environment would argue that in order for entrepreneurs to succeed, they need easier access to people like you. I would argue that folks like you are already available, but tend to have a high barrier agains bs, which isn’t surprising and rather encouraging.

      All-in-all, Seattle’s got the culture and the means! #onward

    • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

      Mark, glad you liked the post and I am not the only “crazy” around here. I hope that people would realized that instead of looking at the Bay, they could rather look at you and other already successful people around Seattle and get inspired.

      The folks who advocate for better environment would argue that in order for entrepreneurs to succeed, they need easier access to people like you. I would argue that folks like you are already available, but tend to have a high barrier agains bs, which isn’t surprising and rather encouraging.

      All-in-all, Seattle’s got the culture and the means! #onward

  • Anonymous

    This article missed the two main problems with the startup community here.  
    1) Media.  Stop bashing all our companies and execs.  Start promoting them.  Look for the good things they are doing and talk about it.  Bay area media is always promoting bay area firms and building them up.  Here, we prefer to tear everything and everyone down.  Number one problem facing the community IMO.2) Government.  Uh, get a bit more business friendly!  WHy not call some up and ask what they would need to be more successful instead of take a bigger piece of a smaller pie.

    • Mergathal

      And again, this area really is not so business unfriendly as many people think. If you actually research taxes in this state versus others, this state is middle of the pack on business taxes. People are so stuck on the media’s perception of how business is treated in the area that people take it as fact when it is more opinion.

  • Tgowland

    WTG Kirill!

  • http://partybusorangecountyca.com/ rafaelnadal9588

    Awesome story!! Yap we’ll
    bring some companies by our own. Cheers

  • http://www.thoughtful.co Chris Lynch

    Hey I know a great startup you should be spending some time with… ;)

    • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

      Hey, I’ve got through some Node.js slides. Would love to spend more time with that wonderful startup. When you’re ready ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656608514 Anonymous

    Good post. You can build a company anywhere. Figure out what people are trying to do that they can’t, make a great product that solves their problem, and work your ass off to get there. It takes some luck, great people, and you creating your own opportunity.  Everything else is just an excuse. 

  • Geof Barker

    I’d like to see the Venn Diagram with one circle comprised of people who attend networking events and another comprised of people who have or will start companies.  Limited / zero intersection, I’m thinking.

  • Hmm

    Work hard, create value, bring in clients, make something happen.

    Why is this guy that says “create a fucking company” saying something novel?

    To be honest I think that hard work went out the door, and the Tech community is looking for the easy, fast score.

    Some young “Entrepreneurs” want the easy track to money, not creating value. The tech communtiy? Many are get rich quick ideas, no value or hard work behind the scenes.

    Much like a movie set in Hollywood. Looks great from the outside, don’t tip it over.

    If you have a great idea, people will invest. I don’t care if you live in Omaha.

    Bottom line is that today, too many people want it easy. What a joke..

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.karuza Andy Karuza

    I don’t think we can complain that there is lack of organization but rather a missing link in the system. Sure we’ve all seen the valley churn out company after company There are groups like Techstars, Startuplabs, and lots of other pockets of organizations that act independently of themselves  but they’re all making a positive impact. An entreprenuer needs to be at these events, at least the right ones, in order to network and make the connections needed to put together his vision. With every idea comes execution and frankly that takes building a team and relationships that are in line with the strategic needs of the business organization. There isn’t a lack of talent but rather a disconnect between the talent and other required needs of a business organization; financial backing, business and operations experience, marketing and strategy execution experience, development or technical skills, etc. A lot of the time they can’t foresee a solution to all of these immediate needs due to lack of startup experience or the relationships in place to mentor them. One recurring theme I see time and again is inexperienced entreprenuers lacking the right mentorship to guide them through the first and most important steps in startups. I highly encourage talented entreprenuers to get out there and make the connections needed to build a successful business organization. They are available and to really do it right you have to dive into the culture of the startup community, find out who the key players are, build a strong team, and start working tirelessly towards achieving your goals. At the end of the day there is always a way so keep approaching the task at different angles until you get it right. Most importantly have a good time and be positive when you’re doing it, the energy will attract the right people towards your vision.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.karuza Andy Karuza

    I don’t think we can complain that there is lack of organization but
    rather a missing link in the system. Sure we’ve all seen the valley
    churn out company after company but we have the ingredients to make for a hot startup scene too. There are groups like Techstars,
    Startuplabs, and lots of other pockets of organizations that act
    independently of themselves  but they’re all making a positive impact.
    An entreprenuer needs to be at these events, at least the right ones, in
    order to network and make the connections needed to put together his
    vision. With every idea comes execution and frankly that takes building a
    team and relationships that are in line with the strategic needs of the
    business organization. There isn’t a lack of talent but rather a
    disconnect between the talent and other required needs of a business
    organization; financial backing, business and operations experience,
    marketing and strategy execution experience, development or technical
    skills, etc. A lot of the time they can’t foresee a solution to all of
    these immediate needs due to lack of startup experience or the
    relationships in place to mentor them. One recurring theme I see time
    and again is inexperienced entreprenuers lacking the right mentorship to
    guide them through the first and most important steps in startups. I
    highly encourage talented entreprenuers to get out there and make the
    connections needed to build a successful business organization. They are
    available and to really do it right you have to dive into the culture
    of the startup community, find out who the key players are, build a
    strong team, and start working tirelessly towards achieving your goals.
    At the end of the day there is always a way so keep approaching the task
    at different angles until you get it right. Most importantly have a
    good time and be positive when you’re doing it, the energy will attract
    the right people towards your vision. 

  • Transmariner

    shut-up AND start-up. Well put.

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