The glamour surrounding Silicon Valley belies a toxic work ethic, set in place by myths created in the tech boom of the 90s and cemented by the web boom of the 2000s.
Among the side effects of that fantasy? Millennials are entering the workplace with unrealistic and unsustainable attitudes on what being part of a startup means. … If you’re not working at all hours of the day, you’re not committed. … Only bro-grammers will make it big.
So, let’s put our hoodies away, take off our sustainably sourced sneakers and talk about what successful startup life is really like.
THE LIES OF SILICON VALLEY
LIE #1: “FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT.”
Let me be clear, no one wants to hire someone who seems stymied and terrified by their workplace. But too many graduates enter the workforce riding a wave of bloated credentials, hoping if they bury their inexperience in enough buzz words, the HR manager won’t be able to separate fact from fiction.
What makes the “fake it until you make it” mantra so flawed is that while you can fake confidence, you can’t fake your competencies (at least not for long). When you misrepresent yourself, you set yourself up to erode the trust of anyone who invests in you.
Authenticity must be your core, whether it’s your resume or your business model. The days of bro-culture in tech and the “Old-white-guys Only” world of entrepreneurship are running out faster than bottled water at the FYRE Festival (that reference will not age well).
LIE #2: YOU MUST SIGN YOUR LIFE OVER TO THE STARTUP
A 40-hour week?!? Not in Silicon Valley pal!
Don’t feel like working nights and weekends?
One of those weak-willed sissies who want to see their spouses, kids or friends every day?
This is the world of startups. And in this world, no one sleeps and everyone is miserable until they instantly become gazillionaires.
This mindset must stop, not only for the good of your team but the good of startup culture.
Being married to your desk is a recipe for burnout and brain drain. Additionally, without a social life, you run the risk of disconnecting from your product’s users and startup investors. Some of our most valuable research is done simply by living in the world we seek to improve.
LIE #3: “STARTUP” MEANS “PROGRAMMING”
Tech mastery is an important component of creating a scalable tech-based company, but it’s not the only important skill.
Tech skills are definitely an accelerating component. But most ideas are not unique because of the tech. They’re unique because of the solutions, which tech allows for scale.
VRBO, for example, solves the problem of helping people find vacation rentals. The solution itself can be solved without tech, but tech allows for more people to access it. Success in startups depends on the innovation and the skills and backgrounds of those who develop solutions for it. You may notice once again this destroys the “fake it til’ you make it” myth.
A vision for something that can change the scope of an industry is not solely the realm of engineers and developers. Core competencies that are on par with or outrank programming expertise in building a startup include marketing, sales (Mark Cuban), finance (Mike Bloomberg), user experience (Steve Jobs) and product management (Interesting Name Not Found).
Rather than possessing one core skill (such as writing code), successful entrepreneurs possess a combination of skills and surround themselves with experts and culture motivators that accelerate the execution of their vision.
WHY NOT FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF SILICON VALLEY?
Our needs are different, our infrastructure is different and our definition of success is different. We must prioritize community building. We must include an examination of our unique population. We must consider community projects already in production (eg: mass transit, universities, a more walkable downtown). We must realize that no city is the same and our approaches to building communities are not cookie cutter.
The Valley of the Sun is attempting to employ an entirely different kind of entrepreneur, engineer and innovator. In fact, tier 2 cities and emerging markets are becoming way more attractive to talent and a massive migration is beginning. People are choosing a different path than the above hustle and grind expectations. The workforce is demanding freedom — financial freedom, social freedom to manage to their time, and the freedom to choose what drives them. These are the key benefits of being in an emerging city. Not only is the cost of living incredibly affordable so is the ability to live in/near urban areas, where most business opportunities often cluster. These things are all possible in markets where cities are allowed to take risks and be different. Where we aren’t chasing what we could be, but are comfortable owning that we are a bit nerdy and are the only ones who think it’s a dry heat. But really it is.
When the goals and priorities of Millennials and GenZ do not match those of Boomers and Gen X, how could we imagine the tactics would?
So let Silicon Valley be Silicon Valley and let Phoenix be Phoenix.
Jenny Poon is the founder of CO+HOOTS Coworking, a nationally recognized purpose-driven workspace for entrepreneurs and startups. The Business Journal named her the 2016 Businessperson of the Year.