Seattle vs. Silicon Valley: The debate continues (but this time with outsiders weighing in)

An infographic created by GeekWire and Killer Infographics earlier this year. Click on image for original story and full version.

We’ve heard a lot of discussion — even sparked some of it on occasion ourselves — about the differences between the technology hubs of Seattle and Silicon Valley.

Most of the time, it’s people in the Seattle tech community who are ranting or raving (in part because many folks in the Valley largely don’t care about what’s going on outside of the Bay Area echo chamber).

That’s part of the reason why I found the discussion at the TechNW event Wednesday in Seattle particularly interesting. Instead of Seattle area venture capitalists sharing their views on the region, one of the panel discussions featured Silicon Valley VCs weighing in with their thoughts.

Now, granted, you’ll have to take their remarks with a grain of salt. After all, Neil Sequeira of General Catalyst; Bob Abbott of Norwest Venture Partners; and Ray Bradford of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers agreed to be on the panel, which means they have some reason for investigating what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest in the first place. (Perhaps finding the next Isilon, Zillow or Zulily).

It’s also not common for visitors to rip a city while visiting it.

Still, they had some interesting things to say about the two regions, and why they think Seattle is poised to do well.

In response to a question from Washington Technology Industry Association CEO Susan Sigl, a former venture capitalist herself, Bradford pointed to the Seattle region’s strong lineup of software talent.

Ray Bradford of KPCB

“One of the things that’s really remarkable about the Seattle tech ecosystem is there is a really high degree of talent, and a large volume of talent,” said Bradford of Kleiner Perkins. “You’ll get quality engineers at Amazon and Microsoft and other companies in the area. It is pretty remarkable. So, you’ve got the talent pool, which I think a lot of aspiring Silicon Valleys, including New York, don’t necearsily have on the engineering side.”

But there is one really big difference: Density.

Bradford, a former Amazon Web Services exec, noted that the San Francisco Bay Area is very much an “industry town,” much as LA is built around film making.

“It is just in the water, and what that means is that there are a lot of serendipitous conversations that lead to business development opportunities, that lead to recruiting; that lead to new businesses being formed. And that’s the part that is the hardest to replicate,” said Bradford, adding that getting more people from Amazon.com and Microsoft interacting at startup-oriented events could help foster that density.

The arrival of big companies like Facebook and Zynga in Seattle will also help, but even so that will take time to fully form. And, at the end of the day, there’s really no place on Earth quite like Silicon Valley. (There’s a reason roughly half of all VC dollars flow in California). That’s not to say great companies can’t be built elsewhere, noted Sequeira.

But the veteran VC added that the City of San Francisco has done some smart things to attract technology companies, cutting payroll taxes in order to lure companies like Twitter. Now, that’s feeding on itself, with other upstarts like Square and Airbnb following suit.

“San Francisco sacrificed income” in order to attract those companies, said Sequeira. Cities like Portland and Seattle could follow suit, making it a priority to attract fast-growing technology companies.

Moderator Bill Bryant pointed to the stereotype of Seattle as a region of reserved Scandinavians, wondering if the entrepreneurial community simply needs to get better on the “propaganda front.” (I noted today that several important technology upstarts from Seattle were not included on Business Insider’s list of the top 100 private tech companies). Not necessarily, according to the Silicon Valley VCs. Things that are too “hype-y” or “embellished” don’t necessarily make the best deals, they said.

Previously on GeekWire from TechNWGame experts debate: Is Microsoft Kinect a passing fad or here to stay?Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff sounds off on the JOBS Act, calls it a ‘step backwards’… Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff: Startups that try to disrupt real estate commissions are doomed to failLive from TechNW: The future of e-commerceWhen venture capital returns rival T-bills, is something messed up with the model?

  • http://twitter.com/fijiaaron Aaron Evans

    Oh this is funny! I’d just change “tannish” to “pale” for SF and use “paler” for Seattle.