(And it hasn’t been for awhile)
One of the things I’m most thankful to my parents for* is growing-up in Silicon Valley. To me, that means “a place where starting your own business wasn’t mythology, it was what the neighbors did.” When I started my first company with friends, back in 1989, in my last week at TheUnderstandingBusiness, co-workers would approach me concerned for my future: “how are you going to make a living, pay rent, etc.?” I remember being a bit bewildered, thinking “what’s the big deal, I’m just starting my own business.”
That’s when I realized that I grew-up differently than most people. I’m not saying that entrepreneurship is for everyone but it’s distinctly less scary when you’ve seen others do it and watched them succeed and fail. The culture of the Valley back then was different, too. It was a privilege to be directly exposed to this culture when it was worth being exposed to—and for what I chose to do later in life.
I remember the fruit-drying racks throughout Cupertino—you could see them from 280 South as you rounded the corner ahead of the Foothill Expressway exit. I remember the actual cherry orchards behind what it is now only the Olsen Family Cherry Stand in Sunnyvale. I remember nearly everyone that came into our home (and had political discussions) describe themselves as “economically conservative and socially liberal”). I saw the result of a culture that didn’t penalize honest failure. My own father owned his own construction business and I saw the exalted highs and the agonizing lows. I lived those along with the rest of my family. I know about working nights, weekends, and summers in the family business, making less than everyone else and working harder to prove that I was actually pulling my weight. “The Valley” wasn’t a perfect place or time but it was a hopeful one—an aspiration one—and it wasn’t based on optimizing money over quality of life, freedom, or equality. All of that seems so distant, now, and not just because of the building boom. The entire SF Bay Area is more like a different planet, now—and a different era.
Today, when journalists and commentators decree “the Valley” and all of it’s problems, I bristle a bit because I don’t think they see the Valley at all. Or, maybe they do but it doesn’t reflect the previous culture that was responsible for…