Sorry, Mark. Facebook needed Silicon Valley

Could Facebook could have started in Timbuktu? Okay I am being a bit facetious, but in order to grow up it still would have needed to come to Silicon Valley, despite what what Mark Zuckerberg said this weekend. At the Y Combinator Startup School, the Facebook co-founder and CEO said that if he was starting Facebook now, he would stay in Boston. He is worried that folks in Silicon Valley think too short term and are transaction oriented.

“I knew nothing, so I had to be out here. Facebook would not have worked had I stayed in Boston. But I think that now, knowing more of what I know, I think I might have been able to pull it off. You don’t have to move out here to do this. But it’s not the only place to be. If I were starting now, I would have stayed in Boston. [Silicon Valley] is a little short-term focused and that bothers me.”

It’s no surprise that his comments got a lot of attention. While I certainly agree that the malaise of short-term thinking is quite well spread in the San Francisco Bay Area and is making people myopic, I still disagree with Zuckerberg’s viewpoint. And to be clear, I am not saying Boston or New York or London or Berlin or Tel Aviv or Shanghai are not good for starting your companies. There is nothing I would like more to see than all those cities become even bigger centers of entrepreneurial creativity.

After living in San Francisco for eight years and with many deep and close relationships, I remain ambivalent. I still think of New York as my spiritual home, more so than my actual birthplace. However, when it comes to the technology industry, the San Francisco Bay Area is the place to work and “work it.”

People + Location

There are certain kind of startups – networking companies for example — that benefit from Boston’s locale. Or media companies from being in New York. But Silicon Valley, at least for the next couple of years, has an advantage — and it is not VC money, which people mistakenly identify as Silicon Valley’s edge, or nearness to Stanford. Instead it is a very high concentration of talent and people with varied skills to accelerate and grow startups, especially those on a break-neck trajectory like Facebook was in 2007.

Facebook benefited from being in Silicon Valley because of the intangibles. How many casual conversations with Steve Jobs would Zuckerberg have had if he was not in the Valley? Or how about access to some amazing team members who helped Facebook on the right track?

The fact is that if there are many downsides to Silicon Valley, there are also upsides to this area. And whatever the faults of the Bay Area might be, one cannot argue with the richness of the talent pool. The talent pool for technology is bigger and deeper, mostly because the area known as Silicon Valley has been in business longer and has been attracting more people by the day. It is no different than Hollywood attracting cinematic talent. The bigger the talent pool, the more likely a company is to find folks with highly specialized skills needed to grow a certain kind of company.

I started following Facebook a long time ago — I wrote about them when they were just getting started, when they were hardly a media darling. They got good solid people in quick succession and that in turn put the social network on the right track. The Valley is where Facebook found the likes of Matt Cohler, Owen Van Natta and Jonathan Heiliger — and these are just the more well-known members of the Facebook team. COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Bret Taylor are also from around here. Just look at the sheer number of Googlers that Facebook has poached over past few years — try doing that elsewhere!

However, given that Mark Zuckerberg is headed back to Boston and Harvard on what seems like a recruiting effort, that comment makes for a great soundbite, and probably an awesome recruitment tool as well. And on that I wish him the best of luck.