An interesting debate has broken out between Glenn Kelman and Mike Arrington. Glenn is the CEO of Redfin, a Seattle-based startup that is trying to modernize the process of buying and selling homes. Glenn's a smart guy and a great entrepreneur. And he has always struck me as quite thoughtful. Which is why I was surprised to read his recent blog post entitled, "How Green Was My Valley." In that post, Glenn extolls the virtues of Seattle, while attacking Silicon Valley:
"the Valley's monomania is really just a kind of pubescence. What else could account for the Valley's self-righteousness, its congregations of frustrated dudes, its all-nighters, idealism, delusions of grandeur, mood-swings, longings, dramas, hero-worship and pranks? Anywhere else by contrast seems all grown-up."
Wow. Those are strong words. And the rest of his post is equally provocative. Glenn doesn't just praise Seattle. He berates the Bay Area.
When I first read Glenn's post, I almost took the bait. But I thought better of it. Mike Arrington, on the other hand, did not. Mike couldn't have Glenn badmouth the Bay Area as a "heartless amnesiac" without pointing out to Glenn that the Bay Area knows better than to waste its time focusing on the past. Mike couldn't let Glenn get away with praising the Seattle lifestyle without pointing out that it is just that, a lifestyle; the Bay Area has better things to do than worry about lifestyle. Mike couldn't let Glenn get away with baldly suggesting that Bay Area businesses are trendy and Seattle businesses focus on "what works" without giving a single concrete example; the Bay Area is all about specific examples, not baseless accusations. Mike couldn't let Glenn get away with any of it. That's just not something Mike can do.
I don't raise this to join in the rumble against Glenn. I am a fan of Seattle. My partners at August Capital have funded some great companies in Seattle, not the least of which is Microsoft. But I do want to take issue with one of Glenn's criticisms of the Bay Area. Glenn refers in a number of different ways to the obsessiveness of the Bay Area and suggests that the Bay Area's "monomania" is somehow a detriment to company building. I have to disagree. I love the obsessiveness of the Bay Area. It is the drug that fuels the Bay Area's startup economy. And it is the drug that fuels my every day as a tech investor. I love the fact that I can talk about entrepreneurship at AYSO. I love the fact that I can have conference calls with my CEO's at 1am. I love the fact that wildly successful entrepreneurs who could retire for life dive into their next venture within six months of leaving their last. I love the fact that Palo Alto's newest yogurt shop is a hotbed of tech recruiting. I love the fact that I funded a company after bumping into them at a local coffee shop. I love the fact that school auctions include items like "a tour of Facebook" and "10 hours with a trademark attorney" and "company logo design." Is it obsessive? You bet. Is it good for business? You bet.
To tell you the truth, I don't actually think that the obsessiveness of successful startups in the Bay Area is any different from that of successful startups in Seattle. I happen to know that Glenn himself is completely obsessed with entrepreneurship and building Redfin into the next great company. What is unique about the Bay Area is the pervasiveness of that obsession. It is everywhere you go. And I don't think that's a bug. I think it's a feature.