Silicon Valley Where Dreams Are Made Of, (There’s Nothing You Can’t Do) When You’re Listening to Dave McClure

Most of you reading this probably know Dave McClure in Silicon Valley — the main (mad)man behind 500 Startups.

But I only know the Dave McClure from Asia.

I just returned from attending the 500 Startups Kobe Japan Demo Day for a pre-accelerator program they were running there with the Kobe government. And while the demo day was a standard affair (which 500 have refined to a science where it was almost the shortest content segment of the day, amongst a talk by Rishi Narang of AngelList and 500's legal counsel Neil Dugal on how KISS works) but the real star is Dave — not “Blow-up-Sumo-Outfit Dave” or the “Cat-in-the-Hat Dave” but the Dave I know best: Startup Evangelist Dave and what he calls the Silicon Valley State of Mind (herein known as SVSOM)

Remember Demo Day’s should be FUN NOT BORING! If this is the only takeaway in this post I will be happy.

The Dave I know, I met 6 years ago in Hong Kong — he hadn’t started 500 with Christine Tsai yet but it seems like he was about to. He came to Cyberport with an entourage of Silicon Valley investors at the peak of TechCrunch-investing-news-hype in the US and the trickle down effects it had in Asia (honestly 3–4 years behind at that point). The Venture Capital Forum was mostly getting people in HK excited about what was happening in Silicon Valley and how it was changing everything — at that point we only had Twitter and Facebook (and neither were that big yet) let alone Snapchat and Uber.

The day I discovered Dave in 2009 in Hong Kong.

The part that changed my life was when someone in the audience asked Dave:

“Hey Dave, great talk today, but when you Silicon Valley types leave us, what should we do to keep the momentum of what you shared today?”

Dave replied “You should get together in a coffee shop and start your own ECOSYSTEM!”

And like that, me and 5 other guys started meeting in a coffee shop and started what would become StartupsHK — arguably one of the most influential startup communities in Asia.

(funny that the only time I heard the word “ecosystem” was in high school biology class — and those first few meet-ups felt like AA meetings for entrepreneurs.)

Dave was like a startup missionary even back then. Dropping his “bible of change” and seeing what the city he was in would do with it.

(I sometimes like to refer to this as the “good version” of the Classic Star Trek episode Patterns of Force, the one where an entire planet turns into Nazi Germany because they are contaminated by an Earth historians knowledge of the 1940’s — but I digress.)

The reason why I truly love Dave and all he does (which if you follow 500 you know its more than just an accelerator) is because while he’s looking for unicorns like everyone else, he is also infecting people with the “founders virus.”

Dave is the Leonardo DiCaprio of startups — figuratively entering our dreams, planting that seed and watching it catch on or not (or slowly gestate.) He brings that SVSOM with him and infects everyone around him. How many times have you seen his ugly slides but still can’t help feel totally inspired afterwards? I know I have more times than I can remember.

Sure it’s easy to just move to the Bay Area and get infected but bringing a piece of it in your pocket and then exposing entire cultures, young people, old people, government people with it — now that is a top that should spin forever.

His 30 minutes in Kobe on stage talking about the 50o methodology and how to farm unicorns is insightful and an eye opener to everyone I’ve met that has seen it that is based in Asia. This is where the magic that actually happens — as I don’t see anyone else from the Valley coming out here and cultivating the market and building their brand so strongly and building mindshare in future investments. (Also why I am so happy that Paddy Cosgrave brought his RISE conference to Asia.)

Besides the famous beef, Kobe is the birthplace of Tetsujin-28's creator. A very important piece of history in my life ;-)

You can debate 500’s investment strategy if you like— and I’ve heard it. But if that concept is what it takes to get someone like him to Asia then great — more of that, less of that 5-mile radius stuff…

As I tour and mentor Asia’s startups cities I find there are passionate, smart people everywhere — but over the past 3 years expanding my reach outside of Hong Kong visiting cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok I’ve learned that it is really only half (or less of) the secret sauce to building an ecosystem, for it to really succeed it has to be everyone in it together!

The media, the investors, the mentors, your parents, your taxi driver, your barista, your fortune teller; everyone must believe in this future together!

The SVSOM is the ONLY difference that cannot be in other ecosystems because of culture — you can always add money, talent, design, mentors to any ecosystem but you can’t buy/add/conjure up sheer enthusiasm.

Every time I visit San Francisco it’s that enthusiasm, optimism and belief that I feel. It’s what makes level-headed, risk-adverse people throw caution to the wind and chase their dreams.

I’m glad many ecosystems in Asia have stopped saying “we are building the next Silicon Valley” like it’s a place. I’m not hearing, but I am feeling, that some cities are building the SVSOM and people like Dave McClure who go to a country like Japan so steeped in tradition and culture and gets the entire audience on their feet cheering about building a more entrepreneurial Japan is definitely something to marvel at.

Dave’s message never gets old. His F-Bombs never get old. His honesty never gets old. His ugly slides never get old. He is Dave McClure and we are lucky to have him on our side.

A version of this story was originally published on

The Kobe Institute of Computing was the venue for Demo Day