Hey everyone, Jeff Bezos lives in Seattle and Amazon is not a ‘Silicon Valley’ company

Jeff Bezos portrait

Jeff Bezos

Maybe I am splitting hairs here, or quibbling over something that really doesn’t matter. But, I’ve got to just say it: Am I the only one who gets annoyed when folks refer to the giants of the Seattle tech community as part of the mythological Silicon Valley ecosystem?

It happens often, especially when big news stories break, like the one yesterday when Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos announced that he had purchased The Washington Post for $250 million.

The Silicon Valley comparisons and remarks appeared with the regularity of food trucks in South Lake Union.

For example, here’s what Emily Bell at The Guardian had to say on the matter:

“A great American institution is bought by an internet entrepreneur, part of a Silicon Valley elite, whose rocket-ship ride to stratospheric wealth has coincided with the implosion of the galaxy of influential brands born before the era of the microprocessor.”

Bell continues:

“Bezos is more personally successful in Silicon Valley than most of his peers, with a fortune of $28bn, but from a background that has brushed more with the world outside Palo Alto.”

I am not the only one pointing out that folks are playing fast and loose with their geography:

Meanwhile, here’s the take from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who purchased the New Republic last year, in his publication:

It turns out Silicon Valley does give a damn about Washington. With Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post and the efforts of Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us, the Internet’s enormous riches are showing up on the doorstep of Washington’s elites.

Meanwhile, Politico’s Dylan Byers actually made proper reference to Bezos being based in Seattle, but his column, titled Silicon Valley East, is laced with references to the Valley in order to back up his point.

Given that upstarts like Hughes and Bezos can buy venerable media publications for a mere fraction of their wealth, its tempting to see Silicon Valley as the top dog in the East-West relationship — to interpret such acquisitions almost as a favor for us poor Beltway saps who can only dream of California’s golden shores.

(Or, Seattle’s white-capped mountains).

I understand why journalists and writers make this leap. Some see Silicon Valley not so much a geographic location as a state of being, especially those from the East Coast or Europe. Any successful tech entrepreneur, in this view, whether from Denver or Des Moines, is part of the Silicon Valley elite.

But is Tumblr’s David Karp part of the Silicon Valley digital elite? Or what about Michael Dell?

It just seems that Seattle — the distant mossy land in the Northwest corner of the country — sometimes gets lumped in as another Silicon Valley suburb along the lines of Mountain View or Cupertino.

As I said, it’s not the worst thing in the world. And Zillow co-founder Rich Barton notes that we here in Seattle need to embrace our “little brother” status when it comes to Silicon Valley, using it as strategic weapon to elevate the tech community.

I agree. I just wish folks would brush up on their geography a bit, and listen to what Bezos actually wrote in his memo to Washington Post staffers.

“I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day,” he said. “I am happily living in “the other Washington” where I have a day job that I love.”

And, just so people know, that’s Seattle, Washington.

  • ProudSeattleBoy

    Love this!

  • Ceosherpa

    You are definitely not the only one annoyed! It’s HIGH TIME we fix this misconception…

  • Brian Myers

    John, maybe Geekwire should commission an artist to do a map of the U.S. like the famous New Yorker magazine cover, but from a tech point of view. http://strangemaps.files.wordpress.com/2007/02/steinberg-newyorker.jpg

    Note BTW that neither San Francisco nor Seattle were on the New Yorker map when it was drawn in 1976.

  • http://www.marketingeek.com/ Michael A. Parker

    John,

    As you know I am a Seattle boy, and we have always been that odd place in the corner, that always has had an oversized impact on the rest of the country starting with lumber, then planes, and now everything else. I have had folks in the east suggest that I drive to San Jose and meet them. They cannot fathom that we are over 800 miles away from San Jose. I find them humorous, especially their lack of geographical knowledge. Remember, they think Maine is further north than Seattle.

  • boop

    Yes, it annoys me just as much as it annoys you–if not more so!

  • John

    It’s widely accepted (though it may not be true) that the smartest guys in the room are in SF. This Silicon Valley — Seattle connection is hugely beneficial in terms of drawing more talent into the PNW. Seattle is being invited over to the cool kids table. Enjoy it.

    • scott_mcleod

      Exactly

    • Someone

      San Francisco is not in Silicon Valley. The Valley is way south of SF.

  • http://www.puzzazz.com/ Roy Leban

    What, Silicon Valley isn’t the entire West coast? Shocker! I feel the same way when people refer to Redmond as Seattle.

    • umeshunni

      Yeah, damn those bridge and tunnel people from the Eastside claiming to be Seattleites.

  • Wistar Kay

    As one who goes overseas trade shows to market the tech community in our state, I always start every presentation with a map of the US and a big arrow to the Washington under disucssion! When followed by the logos of our most famous companies, I always get a big reaction of amazement. Sometimes our state name branding issue works in our favor – like when they mistake us for the USA pavilion !

    • Craig Hummel

      Wistar, I always love your approach!

  • Yabbly

    Amen brother.

  • Viet Nguyen

    Reminds me of our poor neighbors in the southwest part of our state: Vancouver, not BC; Washington, not DC; Clark County, not Nevada; near Portland, OR – not Maine.

  • scott_mcleod

    Its being used as a term for the culture and industry around tech companies. As a former Seattlite in San Francisco I don’t see a problem with using the term Silicon Valley in reference to Amazon.

    Its like using the term Wall Street in discussions about trading even if they are located elsewhere.

    • RogWilco

      This has been my interpretation as well. Geography was the original inspiration for the name, but it no longer refers to a specific geographic place with defined borders. Heck, even San Francisco isn’t in the valley and yet is regularly grouped as such.

      If current trends continue, most of the jobs that used to exist down south will soon be within SF anyway, in which case referring to the tech industry as “silicon valley” will be even less geographically relevant.

      Granted, some of the examples in this article clearly are indeed showing people simply being incorrect, but I’d suggest recognizing your pride in the PNW’s contribution to the industry. Try not to get too caught up in the semantic details and understand the distinction between a geographic reference and an industry reference.

      Having lived in Tacoma for about 10 years before returning to the Bay Area, I am quite familiar with the dynamic of larger more influential geographic areas being incorrectly credited for things I was proud to say came out of gritty old T-town. ;-)

  • Jamie

    The Gaurdian is a newspaper with terrible journalists with a vendetta against Amazon! Thanks for pointing this out..

  • MobileHudson

    Since most school age children can point to Germany on a map, I am not surprised than an accomplished author hasn’t figured out that Seattle is not a suburb of San Francisco…our beer is way better, our hipsters are hipper, and our women are much better looking (I married a great one)!

  • smonlux

    From today’s Wall Street Journal on the purchase…”shift of power from old media to Silicon Valley.” And they wonder why old media is having problems.

  • Guest

    Dear John,

    Sorry.

    Love,
    The Media

  • jack daniels

    ha. on my first read i thought his quote said, “I won’t be reading the Washington Post every day.”

  • Olivierf14

    We should embrace it and call ourselves “Silicon Valley, Seattle Office!”
    If the newspapers had called him a “Seattle entrepreneur” it wouldn’t have the same ring to it. Calling ourselves “Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in Seattle” helps the branding be recognized worldwide and associates this city with all the other cool stuff happening in Cali.

  • Rich Barton

    It is a little annoying, JC, especially when the snooty Valley press gets to pick and choose who they “adopt” as being “of the Valley”. Every other startup and entrepreneur is basically invisible to them. This is why we need you to get huge, dude.

    • johnhcook

      Ha! Yes, we are trying… :)

  • Rick Goddard

    I find it annoying Silicon Valley is linked to Seattle. What a way to slam Seattle. However, there are so many ex-SV people that have moved to the Seattle area (like myself), it’s a distinct subculture with a large presence. Another commonality is how little we all miss living in the south peninsula area.

  • RainCityGrl

    If they’re that stupid, let’s hope they never find Seattle.

  • art thiel

    Welcome, John, to the same prism through which Seattle sports are seen. Despite a 35- to 40-year presence in the pro sports marketplace, and 120 years in college, contemporary and vintage athletes often look upon Seattle as “South Alaska” or, as ex-Seahawk Shawn Springs memorably put it, “Egypt.” It is a significant reason why Seattle was recently named the most miserable sports city by Forbes. All teams have difficulty in attracting free agents and recruits to a place that takes time and effort to reach. And until 3-D printing can replicate human flesh, there’s no telecommuting in sports.

    That’s part of why the Sounders had to over-overpay Dempsey. Seattle is America, but it isn’t his home state of of Texas, two time zones nearly four hours by air away.

    Your slap upside the head of the geography-fails in our media biz was a welcome injection of pain into their learnings.

  • Aaron Bird

    I agree. However, it seems that the masses & media have spoken and it appears for better or for worse that “Silicon Valley” may be analogous to “Wall Street”, or “Madison Avenue” as a broader concept rather than a geography.

    Although I agree that geography must play some here. These reporters may even go as far as to include David Karp or Micheal Dell with Bezos. However, I doubt Baidu’s CEO, Robin Li would be considered part of Silicon Valley. Although, maybe that will change with time.

  • Kristen Fife

    Dear Silicon Valley, thank you for being so crowded and overpriced. You make my job as a tech recruiter in Seattle so much easier in so very many ways. The Pacific Northwest will remain a haven for your discontented workforce and other technical talent that loves a culture of social responsibility, green lifestyle, and world-class education and arts. Love from Seattle!

  • Dave Cannon

    I love writers who know how to crank out copy, but not much else.