Bricleir | NFX's 10 Cultural Protocols that Powered Silicon Valley's
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NFX's 10 Cultural Protocols that Powered Silicon Valley's Network Effect

Author: Bricleir
Published on December 20, 2020

"The mental models that have made Silicon Valley an outlier include: 

Non-zero-sum thinking: The belief that someone else’s gain is not your loss, and can actually be good for you. There’s more than enough for everyone. We’ll make more together. This encourages collaboration and network connectedness. 

Anybody can be anything: Formal credentials and other status markers matter less in Silicon Valley. That’s not to say that they don’t matter. Of course, they do, it’s human nature. But in Silicon Valley, more than anywhere else, a person’s future potential isn’t judged completely on their past. This lessens the impact of preferential attachment and encourages interaction between nodes without undue friction from perceived status differences or past failures.

Habitual speed: In “Always be Moving”, I wrote that the #1 advantage of startups and entrepreneurs is speed, so they must embrace what we call the “shrew mentality.” This restless mentality of always moving and making speed a habit is a mental model that defines the Silicon Valley network in general. When most of the nodes in your network are constantly moving and building something new, you unconsciously want to match their pace.

Thinking Big: Thinking big is one of those things that sounds easy in theory, but hard in practice. Networks set the bar for success based on what the nodes in that network have previously achieved. In Silicon Valley, your next-door neighbor may have built a product with 100 million users, anchoring your expectations for what success looks like higher than they would be in a different network. 

Impact as the status marker: The way people signal status in SV is by “impact.” When people in Silicon Valley make a lot of money, in the past, they preferred to spend it on building the next new thing instead of buying flashy stuff. Status comes from the acclaim and friendships you build with other people who matter. Bling oriented money culture is anti-Silicon Valley. It’s anti-what works. Money is only a byproduct of obsessive focus and impact. 

Paying it forward: One of the most striking network protocols in Silicon Valley is the idea that you should pay it forward. That helping someone you may have just met by pushing information and resources to them will come back around one day, in an almost karmic sense.

Sharing information: This norm of transparency of information stems from a belief that the idea is not the value point, competing on the execution of the idea is what matters. The free flow of information and resources between nodes with weak ties leads to higher interconnectedness in the network and higher utilization of each link in the network. More potential connections materialize into actual connections unconstrained by tit-for-tat thinking, creating a more powerful network effect.

If you’re not weird, you’re weird: My Partner, Morgan Beller says this. Silicon Valley has created a norm of thinking outside the box. My co- founder Stan Chudnovsky and I always had the mental model while building companies that if everyone else was doing things one way, that’s a clear sign we should *not* do it that way. The mental model is to purposefully do things differently. If you do end up doing something like everyone else, it’s because you tried other options and arrived there from first principles.

Drinking the kool-aid: The norm of drinking our own kool-aid is a good thing for an innovation network. Getting swept away with enthusiasm for a new idea and doing something “stupid” is a core operating principle for people in a high-performing innovative network. It’s why someone would give Jack Dorsey a few million dollars to have people share 140 characters on what they ate for lunch, or someone would quit a high paying job to join an 8 person company with a silly name like Twitter. It’s why Jim Bryer at Accel in Palo Alto would give a young Zuck millions of dollars for a college networking site with only a few thousand users when three firms in Boston had already passed on investing.

The Concept of the Founder As a Hero: The way a network defines a hero or example of iconic success tends to produce more people trying to fulfill that role, and calls out to the people who it speaks to. In Silicon Valley, there’s a cultural perception that Founders are heroes. 

This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good start. All these network protocols add up to a culture with a distinctive network flavor."

From Where To Build Your Startup by James Currier, NFX General Partner 

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