Stop local platforming, please!

So you’re somehow responsible for turning you city into some kind of hub, lab or cluster for innovative startups. And you think: well, what would I need as an investor or a young entrepreneur that would make life easier? And of course you come up with things like “matchmaking”, “knowledge transfer”, “networking”, “community building” and “visibility”.

Be reassured: the solution to these problems is most probably not another platform. Nope. Don’t. In case you did not know: there are platforms out there already. A lot of them. Some are even a bit bigger and kind of successful. Like, for example, Google or LinkedIn. That’s tools people use to find what they are looking for or to get in contact with people who might be helpful to their career. And they work quite well, believe it or not. They’ve even been around quite some time.

Paul Graham already explained it. 15 years ago.

I just read a longer text by Paul Graham on how to be like Silicon Valley. It’s a text he published in 2006. To put that in perspective: that was before the first iPhone was released. In his essay Paul points out that you can practically turn every city into a second Silicon Valley if you get the smartest people on the planet to move there. Combine that with rich people looking to invest their money into great ideas and — voilà, there you go. That was easy, right?

Of course, it’s not that easy. And Paul doesn’t pretend it was. But he makes clear that “Bureaucrats by their nature are the exact opposite sort of people from startup investors” and that having those bureaucrats act like startup investors would be comparable to Vogue editors running a math journal. I am not sure I can fully relate to this comparison, but you get his point.

Money left to burn? Create a new platform!

The thing is: I work in a field where the words “innovation”, “smart city”, “digital transformation”, “fintech” and “ecosystem” pop up several times every day. I worked on more than one project which included providing the regional tech community with a platform for networking, matchmaking etc. And one thing I learned about such platforms is: if you feel the urgent need to burn money, that’s a safe route to get there.

Nobody wants another platform, let alone startup entrepreneurs who could build them better themselves. Besides that: entrepreneurs who wait for a new, locally grown platform to grow their network have a high probability of not suceeding as entrepreneurs. Because as an entrepreneur the one thing you really need to be good at is: solving your own darn problems yourself and not wait for others to do so.

Entrepreneur solve problems. They don’t wait for them to be solved.

That’s what a lot of people in the public sector do not seem to understand. If you build an awesome product you do believe in, having to google for an hour and calling eleven people to get the information and / or contacts you need won’t stop you from innovating. If it does, your biggest problem definitely isn’t the lack of a platform provided by local authorities.

I can’t stress this enough: if you want to help your city thrive as a hub or lab or cluster, please stop developing another creepy pitch deck which explains what the community you think exists needs in order to show up at your doorstep and turn your home town into the next Silicon Valley. Just save the money, talk to the people who are already there and ask them were you find innovative projects — and then give them the money to work on their thing.

No doubt: this investment might be lost. 9 out of 10 startups don’t live past their second birthday. But a 10% chance of supporting a successful startup still is a higher probability than the 0.0001% chance your new platform will create a flourishing eco-system of innovators, incubators and investors.

Eco-systems grow. They aren’t created. Let alone by people who think they can reinvent the startup world by coming a with the 4579th crappy copy of some kind of business tinder.

Back to work now.

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Oh, and thanks Steven Lasry on Unsplash for the great photo of a lot of sheep following somebody wherever he leads them. One day I might use it as a metaphor…

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