The Poverty in Silicon Valley

Posted by Mark Sears

Thu, Jan 3, 2013

Silicon Valley => startups => high growth => quick and relentless change => extreme stress => broken relationships => Poverty?

The real Silicon Valley will never be televised. It's way too extreme for TV. I've seen two extremes happen to friends: making a billion dollars, and committing suicide. (Both of these, more than once.) — Dustin Curtis
A TV show about this life would look more like Intervention than The Social Network, where Internet addiction and delusions of grandeur are the drugs of choice. Sacrificing your savings, health, sleep hygiene, social life, etc. do nothing but destroy you and add unnecessary pressure to those around you. The startup gods do not exist. — Jesse Fornear

At CloudFactory we talk about poverty being more about broken relationships than simply a lack of money. If you want to get at the root of the problem you can't just treat the symptoms and that is why our social mission is about more than just job creation. It is about finding the future leaders in developing nations, putting them in accountability groups where "iron sharpens iron" and friendships are formed, challenging them with 40 leadership principles to become men and women of high character and integrity, sending these teams out into their communities to discover the needs around them and discover more about themselves at the same time. 

We dream of a bottom-up, grassroots movement of young leaders who are growing in competency and character while earning money and having job flexibility to get out into their communities and be change-makers. They will soon enter into positions of leadership in government, media, business, arts, education... not to mention be husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. Did I mention we may be a bit idealistic? :-)

But is the purpose of our company to just take this approach with our 500 (and growing!) cloud workers, or is it to search out and make a dent in the poverty all around us? Lately I find myself interacting with vendors, clients, competitors, investors, journalists, government leaders and many others who are the so-called "rich" in our world but I realize how broken and hurting we all are no matter how many zeros in our bank account. For the same reason I have spent my last 4 years in Nepal seeing some of the happiest people I have ever seen living in some pretty harsh physical realities (lack of food and medicine, no windows so bugs are everywhere and cold comes in, kerosene or wood burned inside the house, only one or two sets of clothes, only toys are sticks and rocks, etc, etc).

So through the many skype calls and interactions from Nepal with our industry home base of Silicon Valley I am reminded of the wear and tear of startup life can bring. Not to mention my own life! It seems the definition of a startup is rapid growth and extreme change that brings a crushing effect on many people and therefore families. Another way to say it is that startup life can eat people up and spit them out. It can be relentless.

  • How many founders took a week off for Christmas?
  • How many founders are able to unplug for even one day a week?
  • How many founders miss tucking their children into bed or eating meals as a family?
  • How many relationships are trampled by the startup train?
  • How many people think we'll sacrifice for a couple years and then everything will be fine?

There are so many people being consumed by the culture of Silicon Valley (or the poverty of Silicon Valley). Does it have to be this way?

Being a tech startup about 12,000kms from Silicon Valley means it is easier to create our own startup culture. Sure it is busy around here, we hired 21 full-time staff and over 200 part-time data entry operators last month alone. Thankfully I am home everyday at 6pm for dinner, see my kids and wife everyday at the office for lunch (5 minute walk away), try to tuck my kids in before hopping back on the laptop to skype during US hours, etc. Life is a moving target right now with the constant growth of our company and it means growing in capacity and adjusting priorities and schedule to find the right rhythm. I want to be aware of the poverty in my own life. I want to make the changes necessary to become rich and I sure as heck don't mean getting lots of money. I mean having my priorities right, being consistent and not flailing in the wind back and forth depending on how one day went, etc. I want to carry the appropriate authority as leader of my company while considering everyone from our top developer to our janitor as a friend and important part of our success. I want to be the best husband and father I can be. I want to learn more about and grow in love and respect for the nation of Nepal that I live in. Boy - there is a lot of work ahead in 2013.

Being aware of the poverty in our own lives is an important first step. Restoring and maximizing the relationship with ourself, families, friends and co-workers, God, our environment and community, etc is hard work. But I think it is the only way to be truly rich and "whole". Integrity is defined as being "whole" as a human. I think of integrity as living an integrated life where I am the same person with the same values no matter what situation or people I find myself with. Boy - there is a lot of work ahead in 2013.

There is a lot of people talking about what startup life looks like lately but my question is what should it look like? I'd love to hear words of advice on fighting the poverty inherent with startup life (knowing there is no silver bullet...)