How to get an idea for a startup: move to the Bay

posted 04 August 2008

It struck me the other day as strange that even today, the vast majority of web startups come out of the Bay Area. Cities like London and New York, which have no shortage of similarly smart, young, ambitious, tech-oriented people, produce orders of magnitude fewer startups. Why, in a world of instant, easy telecommunication, is your physical presence in the bay apparently stil essential?

My theory is that it's because you don't come up with ideas on your own. In fact, you don't come up with ideas at all. Ideas are accidents. Creativity is the process of creating new connections between disparate inputs. Working on your own, your inputs come from what you read. That can produce some creativity, but what you read is largely self-selected or at least filtered by your choice of blogs and news outlets.

Conversations produce accidental ideas. It's one of the most striking things about a conversation between two clever people: they nearly always end up creating new information -- even if it's just a joke -- rather than merely exchanging it. And in the bay, sheer density of geeks means there are more conversations between geeks, which means more happy accidents.

In other words, the bay area isn't necessary to run your startup -- all of that can, indeed, be successfully done remotely these days. The bay is necessary to get your idea in the first place. It's not because the people who live in the bay are unusually creative, it's because there are unusually large numbers of creative people in the bay. No matter how clever and plugged-in you are, you can't duplicate on your own the effect of constantly talking to hundreds of other smart, technical people, which is the social life (of geeks, at least) in the bay.

Which is sort of why I'm here.