Not The Valley

This post is from 2009. For a retrospective on wearing this button for five years, check out my follow-up post here.

(Click for full-size image.)

Those of you at the Atlanta CEO Exchange this evening may have seen the lapel button I was wearing. It generated a lot of attention.

If you’ve been paying attention to the buzz around Atlanta, it’s been almost a year since Jeff Haynie moved west, and left us his farewell message as to “What’s wrong with the Atlanta startup ecosystem and how to fix it.”

If you haven’t been paying attention to the conversation, here’s a quick guide to catching up:

Okay… ever since Hayes Microcomputer went bust, there’s been great wailing and gnashing of teeth about how Atlanta isn’t Silicon Valley. In my previous role as a venture capitalist, as my not-quite previous role running VentureLab, and in my brand-new role as the chief of economic development for Georgia Tech, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is “How can we make Atlanta the next Silicon Valley?”

Not to put too fine a point on it — but that’s a foolish question. Silicon Valley is a unique aberration… a confluence of people, ideas, cash, and culture that will probably never be duplicated. And it’s futile to try.

But, for most entrepreneurs and most companies, it’s also irrelevant. Build a fabulous product that delights customers while solving a real problem, and geography is irrelevant. To quote Fred Wilson from his post above, “You can build a great startup in any of the dozen to two dozen startup hotbeds around the world. Pick a place you want to live and work and possibly raise a family. And then get busy.”

Atlantans, repeat after me:

  • We’re not Silicon Valley.
  • We don’t want to be Silicon Valley.
  • We don’t need to be Silicon Valley.

If you agree, stop me and ask for a “Not The Valley” lapel button. If anybody wants them, I’ll print stickers, too. And, if you disagree… well, I grew up in Atlanta, and Delta has been my hometown airline for my entire life. For me, they’ll never have a slogan as memorable as this one from the 1960s and 1970s:

Delta is ready when you are.


  1. Well said, Stephen – I couldn’t agree more.

    Here is another post of mine that provides some of my more current thoughts on the subject:


  2. Stephen-

    Great post, and I completely agree! It sounds like the Atlanta community is figuring out how we must embrace what we do the best.

    On a personal note, I just got an email from Melanie Brandt earlier today detailing a digital entertainment proposal for the State of Georgia explaining how we are “uniquely positioned to meet the competitive challenges and economic development opportunities for what experts predict to be a globally proliferated, digital-technology-driven future, where consumers have the ability to not only be content consumers, but also be content creators.”

    Upon reading the rough proposal & hearing her desire to include Rank ’em, I could not have been more pleased to call myself a native. I think we’re in a wonderful position and situation to thrive as long as the community becomes whole and fully embraces our strengths.

    From my naive perspective, I believe that over the last year, I believe more positives have emerged for our local market than the last couple years combined. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead as we continue along this path!

    -Adam Wexler

  3. and Atlanta is ready when you are.

  4. Interesting discussion over at Hacker News this morning:

    In case that disappears, I wanted to capture my comment here:


    I remain amused by the casual bigotry exhibited by so many Silicon Valley denizens that OF COURSE all the smart, motivated, ambitious entrepreneurs will move to the Valley. Most of them would be incensed if a colleague displayed a comparable level of bigotry about race, or sex, or national background, or the rest of the litany. But it’s socially acceptable — at least west of I-5 — to dismiss 99% of the country as full of failures. “Sure, maybe they did great in AAA ball, but they couldn’t make it in the Big Show.”

    Which has led to the Valley being a hothouse of artificially-compressed geniuses building products for each other instead of for the real world.

    But not everyone is a brilliant 23-year-old willing to share a flophouse with three other geniuses while coding 20 hours a day. In the real world, people have spouses… kids… mortgages… elderly parents… heck, maybe they just like sweet tea! There are all sorts of reasons that they won’t move to the Valley, even if they have plenty of talent to compete at that level.

    I submit that looking for the best of the best among that 99% of the country is a heck of a good way to make money. It’s harder, because you can’t sit on Sand Hill Road and watch the universe rotate around you. But with some hustle and some brains, there’s plenty of opportunity for non-Valley entrepreneurs, and non-Valley investors, to do very very well.

    I’m not going to try to embed a picture here on HN, but check out the link and let me know if you want a button! (I think Fred Wilson would wear one; I doubt that Paul Graham would.)

  5. When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added-
    checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that service?


  1. […] measuring ourselves against Silicon Valley,” he says, expanding on that notion in his blog. Nevertheless, Fleming concedes that “the startup market has changed over the past few years. […]

  2. […] VCStephen Fleming's blog about academia, venture capital, and spaceships What's the button?Read more here… […]