Doesn’t Anyone Realize Silicon Valley is About Business?

by francine Hardaway on February 2, 2015

The most disingenuous aspect of Silicon Valley right now, and by extension the rest of the world because the Valley is a trendsetter, is the disregard for “business” in the technology business. In all the startups that define the bro culture thepublicity goes to the guy who builds the product, forgetting that a product is nothing more than a product, and even if it is potentially world-changing, which some products are, it’s not a business unless somebody wants to buy it. And once there is a buyer and seller, infrastructure is required to scale.

We talk a lot about growth hacking, but that’s ignoring all the other aspects of scale: hiring, accounting for goods and sales, writing contracts, supporting the sales team. These are under-valued in the mythos that is today’s Silicon Valley. After all, there are aspects of the technology business that are no different than being in the garment business.

Some companies in the Valley are already foundering on the business side of things. Uber may be a brilliant business-model disruptor, but the company’s lack of regard for its drivers and local authorities may end up being limiting factors in its ultimate success.

Yahoo’s another company flailing on the business side. Marissa Mayer attracted many good engineers, but hasn’t really got the business skills to form relationships with advertisers. Her products are actually beautiful, but nobody sees them and they’re not generating enough revenue. That’s a business problem, not an engineering problem.

And Twitter. It hasn’t made enough of a use case for itself and is faltering on the marketing side. Users aren’t addicted to it the way they need to be for its business model to work.

Those are just the famous ones. I’ve seen plenty of examples of clever products that don’t sell, or products being sacrificed to lack of sufficient attention to the legal, accounting, marketing, and HR side of things. Business is not all about algorithms and venture capital; ultimately it is about customers. People must want to buy and pay for whatever the engineers develop, and there’s a necessary infrastructure to support that.

The infrastructure gets very little attention and even less hype. That needs to change if some of these products are going to turn into sustainable businesses and produce real changes. Scale requires different skills; it’s not just about knowing how to buy more servers.

I was trying to get at this point in my post to Medium a while back, which I unfortunately headlined “Women Shouldn’t Code.” I wanted to point out that there are many other roles in the technology business that could well be occupied by women, and many of them are. Most of the bro culture is on the engineering side, and while that’s totally misogynistic and has to change, it ignores people iike Sheryl Sandberg who plays a huge role in Facebook, and the many other women who are attorneys, accountants, marketers, and executives of all kinds.

But let’s allow the gender issue to rest for a while and approach the larger issue. What’s happening in Silicon Valley isn’t just engineering projects, it is the building of businesses, and you can bet that those VCs want their money back.

They’ll never make it without more attention to plain old vanilla business.

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