What the Bubble got right
As far as technology is concerned, Paul Graham is one of the most perceptive essayists around. His Hackers and Painters book is lovely. Now he’s written an intriguing essay challenging the irrational pessimism that replaced the irrational exhuberance that fuelled the last technology boom. For those who are too busy to read even such seminal stuff, here’s the Doc Searls digest:
…investing in concepts isn’t stupid; it’s what VCs do, and the best of them are far from stupid.
I think the Internet will have great effects, and that what we’ve seen so far is nothing compared to what’s coming. But most of the winners will only indirectly be Internet companies; for every Google there will be ten JetBlues.
Eventually everyone will learn by word of mouth that you’re the best, but how do you survive to that point? And it is in this crucial stage that the Internet has the most effect. First, the Internet lets anyone find you at almost zero cost. Second, it dramatically speeds up the rate at which reputation spreads by word of mouth. Together these mean that in many fields the rule will be: Build it, and they will come. Make something great and put it online. That is a big change from the recipe for winning in the past century. increasingly the founders of the company are the real powers, and the grey-headed man installed by the VCs more like a music group’s manager than a general. Nerds don’t just happen to dress informally. They do it too consistently. Consciously or not, they dress informally as a prophylactic measure against stupidity. I found myself talking recently to someone from Hollywood who was planning a show about nerds. I thought it would be useful if I explained what a nerd was. What I came up with was: someone who doesn’t expend any effort on marketing himself.
The fact that a few crooks during the Bubble robbed their companies by granting themselves options doesn’t mean options are a bad idea.
What you want is to increase the actual value of the company, not its market cap. Over time the two inevitably meet, but not always as quickly as options vest. The press, ever eager to exaggerate small trends, now gives one the impression that Silicon Valley is a ghost town. Not at all. When I drive down 101 from the airport, I still feel a buzz of energy, as if there were a giant transformer nearby.
Silicon Valley may not be the next Paris or London, but it is at least the next Chicago. For the next fifty years, that’s where new wealth will come from.
Technology is a lever. It doesn’t add; it multiplies. If the present range of productivity is 0 to 100, introducing a multiple of 10 increases the range from 0 to 1000.
What would happen if you outsourced everything except product development? If you tried this experiment, I think you’d be surprised at how far you could get.
…in the coming century, good ideas will count for more. That 26 year olds with good ideas will increasingly have an edge over 50 year olds with powerful connections. That doing good work will matter more than dressing up– or advertising, which is the same thing for companies. That people will be rewarded a bit more in proportion to the value of what they create.