On the ‘startup craze’

Differences between Silicon Valley and MIT

Many students and other members of the MIT community have spent time working in Silicon Valley. While doing so, it is hard not to notice a “startup craze,” a natural product of a city with such a large proportion of entrepreneurs. One often hears (or overhears) questions like, “Do you think my idea is good?” or, “Do you want to be my CTO?” Socializing sometimes feels less like personal interaction than a networking opportunity.

I only moved to Silicon Valley two months ago. Last year, I graduated from MIT, and decided to settle out West for a new experience. Unfamiliar with the Valley, I put work aside and focused on meeting new people.

I found that the Startup Craze is real. When at mixers, strangers would pitch their ideas to me, and ask what I thought. These pitches often portray their products as the “Tindr” or “Whatsapp” of some other market segment or demographic. Often the proposals were refinements of other ideas — “Me-too” apps, as they are called.

Two realtors approached me telling me that they had the idea of starting a search engine that locates only healthy restaurants nearby, very much like Yelp, and that they were looking for programmers to create the app for them. When I asked, “Besides restaurants, would you add healthy supermarkets, such as Whole Foods, too?” The realtors said, “No, we weren’t thinking of that.” Many of the ideas lacked foresight, but these entrepreneurs were convinced beyond any doubt that their ideas would work.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley and MIT are day and night. My experience at MIT gave me four years of discussions around carefully thought-out ideas, be they a different mode of space travel, a novel drug delivery technique, or a computer vision model. Just watch annual 2.009 presentations.

Newcomers to Silicon Valley fancy themselves idea people. As soon as they get an idea, they’ll run with it. Their passion and drive are key elements to seeing that their products succeed. These are characteristics that more MIT students could learn. What is truly missing in Silicon Valley is the density of great ideas to the match the density of great spirits.

With garbage apps like FlappyBird or Yo, it is easy to think that a “Me-too” app would trick the public once again into downloading it. But entrepreneurship calls for serious product development; it should take time to think as well as time to build. While I think that everyone can do a startup, they must first ask themselves: why?

Andy Liang is a member of the class of 2014 and a former Opinion Editor of The Tech.

Stanislav Nikolov over 3 years ago

I've been in San Francisco for about two years and I also miss the kinds of discussion that took place at MIT. Although it's sometimes hard to avoid the mentality and conversations you describe (especially as a technology worker) there are communities of thoughtful people doing worthwhile things here. Don't give up on seeking them out!

- Stan, '11, MEng '12

Thomas Turner over 3 years ago

Yes! Search the alum database and seek out successful VC's like MIT Alum and Corporation Board Member John Jarve MIT EECS SB SM'79 Stanford MBA'83. Also, watch Bloomberg West at http://Bloomberg.com where other MIT alums are occasionally mentioned.