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Venture capital and the meritocracy of Silicon Valley

Zafar Anjum | Nov. 4, 2014
In this interview, Somesh Dash, principal, Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), talks about his journey as a venture capital professional, and how Silicon Valley in inimitable.

What makes Silicon Valley so special?

"I think for decades people had tried to copy the model for Silicon Valley -inside the US, outside the US - but nobody had succeeded the level of Silicon Valley have," he says. "You can't just take Silicon Valley model and like take it to Mumbai or Singapore or Beijing and apply it blindly because the institutional framework of the market is so different. I think what makes the Silicon Valley a special place though is the combination of factors. Number one, it's all a bit of a melting pot where, you know there have been Indians and Chinese and Russians and Americans working together in a start-up like a meritocracy trying to build something. So, it extracts the best from around the world."

"Two, you have two universities: Stanford and Berkeley which firstly have the best engineering programmes in the world, and secondly, they have fostered, especially at Stanford, cultural experimentation of risk taking. As a student, you can get inspired hearing stories of people. The main thing is that (hearing them), you know that they are not much different from you, that they are glorified in the media, but actually they're normal human beings. It means that maybe you should go for it too. So, Stanford plays an important role, and the university actually supports entrepreneurship."

"Three, the great entrepreneurs, says Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, realise that technology changes faster than companies do, so enterprises need to change quickly. The only way to survive for ten plus years is to constantly question your existing business and try to disrupt from within. Why would you start a Kindle as a product if you are used to buying a physical book? Why would you start streaming if you are used to selling physical DVDs, like Netflix does? When you realize you can be part of that growth curve you can prolong your business. Companies that have been successful, such as Cisco and Google, are the winners and that's why these companies make Silicon Valley so special."

"In the Valley, people genuinely help each other out, and there is a more collaborative, constructive environment here," he says. "It amazes me that you can be up and coming and you can send an email to somebody who's established and they respond to your email, they listen to your pitch to help you out. Contrast this to other cultural models. I was in India for a year, and the bureaucracy and protocol there, it has some kind of importance but you have to go through the staff, go through the admin, check schedule, and so on, to finally get to meet someone important. Even in New York and London, you can send an email to the CEO and get a reply personally. So, it's that kind of openness which gets more collaboration and more mentorship naturally than any other place."

 

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