THANKS TO LAURA AND CHASE FOR ALL THE HELP AND SUPPORT
Playing “the Silicon Valley game” isn’t going to get Chicago any closer to the kind of massive venture-capital dollars that flow through California, Holovaty told about 450 people gathered Thursday morning for the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center’s 2014 Startup Forecast.
He even offered a rebranding slogan: “Chicago. Be Your Own Boss.”
“There’s no way we’re going to catch up with Silicon Valley,” said Holovaty, founder of hyperlocal website EveryBlock, a 2009 NBC acquisition that
Bootstrapping generally refers to companies that fund themselves rather than look to angel or venture capital investors. Holovaty, who tweeted earlier this week that he’d be saying “some controversial things about our local tech scene” at the annual startup forecast, held at the Chase Auditorium in the Loop, offered a more specific definition.
“It’s an Internet company that’s made by one or two people, developers probably, working from home, working from coffee shops,” he said. “It’s revenue-positive. It makes them a great living. And they are doing what they love because they’re craftsmen and they love doing it. And they have no ambitions to take over the world, because, really, 95 percent of what is taking over the world is (B.S.).”
“These people have no place in the country really to gravitate to,” Holovaty said. “There are bootstrappers all over the country. But there’s no one city that’s really stepped out and said: ‘We’re going to be the place for bootstrappers.’”
“Trying to compete in someone else’s game never makes sense,” he said. “If you can change the game or re-characterize it, that’s great.”
But Tullman said Chicago’s appeal is the diversity of its economy, and this means its overall economy as well as its startup economy. He described the entrepreneurial life as offering a range of choices for people.
“If you just want to have a good life, and to take a week off whenever you want, OK,” Tullman said after the event, referring to a statement Holovaty made about the flexibility many small bootstrappers enjoy. “There’s a continuum. Change-the-world is over here. And have-a-good-lifestyle is over here.”
HAT LIFESTYLE CHART
Holovaty offered a historical example to bolster his argument, pointing to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Four years earlier, Paris unveiled the Eiffel Tower, at the time the world’s tallest structure. Some suggested Chicago build something taller. But, Holovaty said,
“The Eiffel Tower has already been built and it’s in the Silicon Valley,” Holovaty said. “Why don’t we build something that’s still tall but completely different.”
Jim O’Connor Jr., managing director of MVC Capital and the former interim CEO of 1871, also agreed that Chicago should form its own identity.
“We don’t want to be Silicon Valley,” O’Connor told the audience. “If we sit here and try to be Silicon Valley, we’re going to fail.”
O’Connor said Chicago should take advantage of its diverse economy, universities, supportive policy-makers and growing community of serial entrepreneurs.
“I call it Chicago-ness,” O’Connor said. “It’s real. You can feel it in the room today.”
Also speaking at Thursday’s event were Phyllis Lockett, CEO of New Schools for Chicago, who talked about her group’s efforts to foster educational improvement through technological innovation, and Shradha Agarwal, founder of ContextMedia, who talked about innovations in the health care sector.