Silicon Valley’s Culture Is The Result of Its Success, Not The Cause

Culture doesn’t always eat strategy for breakfast

First-Time Founder


Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

A recent article by NFX, a Bay Area-based VC firm, titled “Where to Build Your Startup” got many things right about where to build your startup, but still fell short on a key issue.

Most importantly, arguing that culture was the cause, not the result of Silicon Valley’s success. So the logic goes, replicating Silicon Valley’s culture can replicate Silicon Valley. The article states:

Now that the world is increasingly going remote, we believe that one big opportunity is to find people that share these cultural protocols and this same mindset, independently of location. This is the secret of success for a startup ecosystem and the engine behind Silicon Valley’s network effects.

However, in Silicon Valley’s case and other marketplace-like interactions, culture is merely the result — not the cause — of success. This may seem like splitting hairs, but the distinction is critical because it dramatically alters the decisions that you make.

If you think culture is the cause of success, you can create success by having the right culture. If culture is merely the result of success, culture is much less relevant and you should look to uncover the real causes of success. Mistaking cause and effect is like looking at the worlds most successful cities and noticing they all have tall skyscrapers and concluding that you need to build skyscrapers to be successful, not realizing they are merely a result of the city’s success.

So what caused Silicon Valley’s success?

In understanding Silicon Valley’s success, you need first to understand how cities and marketplaces form. Marketplaces are one of the oldest forms of human civilization, emerging around 3,000 BCE. The reason is simple:

Marketplaces solve an age-old problem: buyers need to find sellers and sellers need to find buyers.

It’s the reason why so many great businesses have been and will be marketplaces — Sears, Walmart, Amazon. Some of the most successful recent tech startups have also been…



First-Time Founder

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