Code.Coffee.Cows

Code.Coffee.Cows: Growing Up in the Field

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I’m a native. Yes, I was born and raised in the North Bay, first living in Marin County (San Anselmo and Novato) and then when I was around the age of seven my family moved up to Cotati. I’ve been in Santa Rosa though for all of my adult life.

I wasn’t raised in a startup culture, per se. I didn’t know any entrepreneurs, any business moguls. My dad was a computer programmer (like father, like son!), but he bought into the job security idea of working many years at one job and then retiring. To his credit, he did join a startup at one point (I must have been around 10 at the time) that was going to introduce handheld electronic devices and networks to the restaurant industry. Cool idea, unstable founders (not my dad, the other guys), and the thing never went anywhere. It’s too bad, really.

My mom on the other hand was an Artist with a capital A. She was an innovative, demanding, perfectionist who could never hold down a regular job because, frankly, learning a new langugage or studying 13-th century Scottish poetry was far more engaging. I’m not the scholar she was, but I attribute much of my creative drive to her. She passed away several years ago, died of cancer. (Aside: the recent loss of Steve Jobs, also due to cancer, hit me rather hard. The similarities in personality are rather striking.)

So I was raised in a creative culture, yes. But it wasn’t like being in the Valley, or Harvard, or even New York. I knew nothing about how to structure a business. I didn’t even know what venture capital WAS until a few years ago. Still learning how it works (from the outside — I’m still bootstrapping).

I’ve become a voratious reader of tech startup news. If I don’t get my TechCrunch fix, I’m a wreck. But it’s frustrating too — like I said in my last column, I don’t want to move to Silicon Valley, or Boston. I worked in San Francisco for two years and enjoyed my big city experience, but it’s just too noisy and crowded and expensive. And the valley, while less crowded in an urban sense, nevertheless is just way too much civilization in one spot for me. I love driving from Santa Rosa to my office in Sebastopol and seeing the grassy fields, the oak trees, the wildflowers, and — of course — the cows. I love the grape vines and the quaint little villages. I’m a native North Bay-er and have no wish to change course.

The frustration is the ways we are behind the curve in this area when it comes to startup infrastructure. There’s probably a bit more going on in Marin County than up here in Sonoma County, but otherwise I can tell you in one word what is the dominant business paradigm up here: wine. Yes, if you are into the wine industry, this is the Epicenter. Ground zero. This is Wine Country. Sonoma and Napa are to wine and gourmet food what Silicon Valley is to tech. So if wine is your thing, here is where you need to be.

But walk away from wine, and it’s slim pickings. And that’s a shame. You see, I happen to be a huge believer in the tech industry being an agent of change in so many other industries. In other words, you can build a business on top of a tech core that solves problems that are totally unrelated to technology per se. Do you have a passion for Fair Trade goods? You can use tech to build a business around that desire to lift the third world out of poverty. Do you have a passion for wildcrafting, using herbs to promote greater health? You can use tech to build a business around that need for more education and support of natural medicines.

In short, we need more startups to innovate, disrupt, and grow the new economy, and tech is invariably a huge aspect of that. And that’s why we in the North Bay must continue to trumpet this reality and do whatever we can to support the entpreneaurs in our midst.

And if you disagree with me, I will have a cow. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)



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Comments 2

  1. As we discussed the other day I totally agree. I think it’s really up to the current entrepreneurs along the the past successful entrepreneurs in this area to focus on figuring this out. I would say one of the issues is that the businesses that have been successful around here are wine and medical devices. We need more people with consumer internet startups creating businesses.

    Joe McMackin on November 3, 2011 as 9:43 am
    • Very true, Joe. Another sector that’s growing in this area is alternative energy (solar in particular), and maybe that will have positive influence on the startup climate as well.

      Jared White on November 3, 2011 as 10:10 am
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