Silicon Valley’s Youth “Problem”: A Rebuttal

By now Yiren Lu’s “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem” has made it way around both my personal and professional circles. As a young person living and working in Silicon Valley, I felt a strong sense of resentment after reading the article. The author focused on specific and superficial examples to build a case against many of the talented founders and engineers I know, and thereby, completely missed what makes Silicon Valley great. 

In the section titled “Unhappy Valley”, Lu outlines a phenomenon that the layman knows as FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. But it’s not just a “Silicon Valley problem”, but a symptom of our generation as a whole. Sure, FOMO could make us feel like we’re trapped a giant hamster wheel, forever playing catch-up to the Jones. Every generation has a certain amount of FOMO, and given the speed of information today, our generation just feels it that much stronger. I think of FOMO instead as part of the reason why technology cycles have shortened and innovation has accelerated.

The article also questions whether today’s Silicon Valley has created anything of value. To be fair, many of the buzziest startups are consumer-oriented ones, and the value of a Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter is undoubtedly tied to ad dollars. Money talks, and naturally, VC’s will continue to fund startups with advertising business models because the advertising market is enormous. Instead of asking whether Valley startups are doing anything worthwhile, shouldn’t the question be instead, what good does advertising do for society? By the same token, the author also discounts the importance of startups such as Uber and Airbnb, who have not only provided an additional revenue stream for thousands of people worldwide, but have also fundamentally changed some of the ways that humans interact.

Naturally, Silicon Valley will always have a so-called “Youth Problem”. Startups are risky, and by and large, younger people will have a higher risk tolerance. That doesn’t mean that substantial valley startups, like Dropbox and Stripe, are not striving to recruit tech veterans in leadership positions (in this example, former Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside and former Google executive Claire Johnson, respectively). Startups, especially venture-funded ones, do not have the hubris to believe that inexperienced 20-somethings are equipped to run billion-dollar businesses on their own.

Perplexingly, the author also tries to paint some of the most positive externalities of Silicon Valley in a poor light, for example, the democratization of tech and the consumerization of the enterprise. Isn’t it great that today’s teenagers, with just a conceptual grasp of computer science, could build an app for his/her own use and/or entertainment? Shouldn’t we support the notion of making enterprise applications easier to implement and more user friendly?

Most importantly, I’ve always believed that the most innovative companies are not necessarily apparent at first. One very prominent example of this is Google, a startup founded by two 23-year-olds in a garage at a time when there were already several search engines on the internet. (Maybe yesterday’s search engine is today’s texting app?) Larry Page, in a recent interview, spoke about grander ambitions for Google:

Even Google’s famously far-reaching mission statement, to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, is not big enough for what he now has in mind. The aim: to use the money that is spouting from its search advertising business to stake out positions in boom industries of the future, from biotech to robotics.

NaNoWriMo returns!

2011 marked the first year I attempted my own version of NaNoWriMo, where I blog daily for the month of November (instead of attempting to write a full novel, phew). 

2012 was a stumble; I attempted by didn’t complete the month. Last year, it seems that NaNoWriMo came and went without me even noticing. 

I’ve been meaning to develop habits lately, partially influenced by The Power of Habit, a book I read a couple of months ago. The more I blog, the more I am compelled to blog… writing is one of those activities I enjoy more with practice. So here’s another attempt at NaNoWriMo – hopefully one that can spark a longer-lasting habit. 

New Numbers Reveal Asian Wage Gap in Tech – NBC News

The article points to the fact that many H1-B workers are Asian, which contributes to depressing the average salary across the tech industry. As an ethnically Chinese person on the H1-B, I think the stat actually demonstrates that Asians are culturally and systematically discouraged from being demanding or confrontational. 

As an Asian woman, I don’t always feel comfortable in negotiating what I want and promoting myself to an employer – a shortcoming that I learned the hard way when interviewing for an investment banking position alongside other white male candidates. The real action point from this data is that Asians need to better learn how to negotiate their salaries (and not let “karma” take care of it, à la Satya Nadella.)

New Numbers Reveal Asian Wage Gap in Tech – NBC News

Marriage Success Rate as a J Curve?

My friend, an Econ PhD candidate at Berkeley, and I have often debated the merits of online dating. (Fun fact: we actually met on OkCupid.) Our conclusion is that online dating is best for folks with edge preferences, as it offers better filtering and wider top-of-the-funnel. 

I like Yagan’s answer on the paradox of choice because it proposes marital satisfaction in America as a “smile” or J curve. Social media and online dating has decreased friction for unhappy relationships/marriages to end and for folks to start new relationships. At first, this could contribute to an uptick in divorce rates, but over time, the hope is that more data and wider top-of-the-funnel will result in happier couples.

Marriage Success Rate as a J Curve?

Found: The Manhattan Apartment that’s the Farthest from any Subway

iquantny:

If there is one thing I learned while living on the Upper East Side many years ago, it’s that York Avenue is quite a hike from the subway (at least as far as hikes from subways in Manhattan go). That fact can sometimes help keep housing prices down, at least until the 2nd Avenue Line comes in.

Found: The Manhattan Apartment that’s the Farthest from any Subway

First Thoughts on Meeker’s Internet Trends

I’ll always remember how excited I was every time Mary Meeker’s report came out – especially when I was still a banker at Barclays. It not only contained tons of useful market data (a gold mine for analysts), but it also marked the steady passage of time. You could always count on a new Meeker presentation every 6 months, or so, and the topics she discussed often had a nice continuity. Today, these reports are a pleasant reminder of how lucky and excited I am to work with companies that will shape our future.

Some of my initials thoughts:

  • Slide 8: Very surprising that PC users are still lagging global TV users. This data shows that technology platform shifts can leapfrog each other. The “next big thing” (in this case, PC’s) may not be as big as the “next next big thing” (mobile phones). 
  • Slide 9: It’s no longer enough to be the “largest in the U.S.” – companies need to think globally. It’s disappointing that those of us in the Valley still tend of think of tech as being very US-centric. For example, most people can name tons of early-stage startups in SF, but haven’t heard of companies like Alibaba or Baidu. Meeker goes long on China later in the presentation (slides 127 – 136).
  • Slide 10: If it wasn’t clear enough already, platform wars are over and Android is a clear leader (though not without its problems).
  • Slide 15: Meeker has underlined the disconnect between “time spent” and “ad spent” for years now. The hold that print advertising has comes from the strength of traditional advertiser/publisher relationships and the traditional budget split between branding and performance campaigns. 
  • Slide 55: Meeker positions the “Internet Trifecta” as getting a critical mass of content, community, and commerce. I believe these criteria mainly fit e-commerce companies. Other consumer web startups, such as Dropbox or Uber, have focused instead on delivering unparalleled value to the user, without the 3 C’s.
  • Slide 161: This slide is probably the most valuable to founders & entrepreneurs. Particularly this piece of advice: great companies grow revenue, make profits, and invest for the future. 

I’m an investor, and since most of Meeker’s analysis is backward looking (historical trends and “re-imagined” use cases), I try synthesize some of her forward-looking takeaways. Most prominently, Meeker’s presentation sheds light on three major markets: Online Video, Healthcare, and Education. Some of our most recent IVP investments tie directly to these themes, such as ZEFR and General Assembly, and I’m excited to discover other great startups in these verticals.