The bubble effect: entrepreneurs must understand other markets to scale


MEF, the global community for mobile content and commerce, recently held a conference in Silicon Valley that focused on innovation, monetisation and growth. At the heart of the tech universe, emerging market entrepreneurs connected and networked, hoping to soak up some of the success secrets this place holds.

For tech entrepreneurs Silicon Valley is hallowed ground. It’s where you come to pay homage to great companies, tech giants started from harebrained ideas. This is the home of Google, Yahoo, eBay, Apple and so many more. It’s hard not to be beguiled by what the place has to offer, between Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Cupertino. Everyone wants to walk down Hacker Way or at least build their own, or something close to it.

The emerging world is quite obsessed with this idea of building its own Silicon Valley. What’s interesting is that, by its own admission, Silicon Valley is an isolated ecosystem. “We forget we are in a bubble here,” many tech entrepreneurs in the region said during the conference.

Step out or move out

“Everyone who wants to build a successful tech company needs to come out to the valley and see what it is like, just like Silicon Valley companies should see what else is out there,” Mark Bartels, CEO of StumbleUpon told me. He reckons that if you want to do this tech thing properly you have to spend some time in the place that made it a thing in the first place.

“Travel and understand problems and products. Inspiration tours are important for ideation and motivation. There’s a concentration of human financial capital in Silicon Valley which creates fertile soil,” says Bartels.

He has a point.

Silicon Valley may be a bubble and may be building products that don’t necessarily address the need of the African ideal or the South American or Asian. However it can create products with mass appeal and there is cutting edge technology being developed, albeit not for the things you expect — Google Glass will change things, I guess.

The Hollywood effect

Techpreneurship is the new celebrity. Twenty years ago the thing in vogue was to become an actor/actress or a musician or something that requires you to walk a red carpet. These days being a tech entrepreneur seems to deliver the same effect. Young 20-somethings are no longer waitress/actors any more, now they are waiters who are running their tech startups on the side.

“So what do you do?”

“I run a tech startup,” is the way the conversation goes these days. “I am looking for a round of funding,” is the precursor to “wait, aren’t you friends with that venture capitalist/investor?”

There are good entrepreneurs out there, but sometimes I get the feeling that a number of tech entrepreneurs are in it for the fame. That is interesting to me; unless you build a super hipster app that makes photos pretty and get bought by a social network without a solidified business model, or you invent a questionable photo messaging app — things are really easy. Most of the fame that comes with techpreneurship is more the on-paper type, not the red-carpet-flashing-lights-with-the-mansion-off-the-coast-of-Italy type.

Emerging markets, it’s time to collaborate and scale

Silicon Valley is not the only ecosystem in a bubble. For every new ecosystem that tries to mimic the tech Mecca, it runs the risk of isolating itself in a similar bubble.

The good folks at MEF asked me to moderate a panel that discussed global innovation, with panellists from emerging markets talking about their products and the innovations that come out of their regions. What also strikes me about these regions is the amount of isolation that these ecosystems seem to promote. There is very little collaboration happening. Why isn’t there co-investing and co-creation? Why are these regions recreating Silicon Valley when there needs to be something new?

Is there not an opportunity to create something high impact and possibly longer lasting? A solution developed in an emerging market region may not work in Silicon Valley, however it may work in other emerging market regions, strengthening ties of global business and scalability.

So what are we waiting for? Shall we begin?



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