On Monday, a Washington Post article was published discussing the AOL exodus effect and the impact on the local D.C. technology community. Since that article was published I’ve had a number of conversations with individuals active in the community. There are a few points that I think are critical to this conversation as I’ll outline below but ultimately it’s the participants that decide what will really happen.
Is there a lack of community?
According to the census bureau, D.C. has the second highest technology population outside of silicon valley. If there was anywhere else that would have a vibrant tech community outside of Silicon Valley, I would imagine D.C. would be it given our “tech density.” There are a number of people that have been criticized for not being highly active in the community and I still think that’s the case but it’s changing rapidly.
In Silicon Valley, company executives of larger companies attend events and brush shoulders with aspiring entrepreneurs. This exposure helps both the entrepreneurs as well as the companies that these executives work for. In D.C., many of the technology companies are multi-billion dollar companies and having the executives of these companies hanging out with aspiring entrepreneurs may not paint the right picture nor may it be necessary.
If you attended the Refresh DC event last night you would have seen that this community has grown rapidly over the past 12 months and I would imagine that this continues for at least the next 12 months as well. While we may not have the same mixture of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, developers, designers and tech bloggers as Silicon Valley, we definitely have a great mix.
What is missing?
Currently I believe that there are only a few things missing from the community that would help contribute to the growth but I also think that we are well on the way. One of the primary things is positive press about the D.C. technology community. The Washington Post is consistently critical of the D.C. technology community. In their most recent article, Kendra Marr and Zach Goldfarb describe the AOL exodus as throwing this community into turmoil.
Perhaps their article may not have been as critical as I have portrayed it but time and time again, there is negative press about this community coming from the Washington Post. I have personally spoken with writers at the company and each time I do, they speak with a tone that implies there is no chance this community will materialize into anything significant. With our without the post this community will succeed and I think that it’s going to happen through a highly active blogging community which has already begun. It simply needs to continue to grow.
The second thing missing is a culture of risk that exists out west. I don’t think we’ll ever have the same culture of risk but we can sure embrace it and encourage others to take risks. Rewarding failure is critical. Part of this risk taking includes the need for venture funding. There are already a few venture companies locally but without local universities that consistently produce entrepreneurs, this community will always have less entrepreneurs than Silicon Valley and we won’t see the influx of continuous web focused venture funding.
There is plenty of room for discussion surrounding the culture of risk in D.C. and the supposed “lack of funding” so feel free to post about it in the comments.
Where do we go from here?
As long as the local people including Jason Garber, M. Jackson Wilkinson, myself and others continue to host events, we’ll see this community continue to grow. I think involvement with the local universities would be a great thing and we have already seen a little of that with the University of Maryland but there is plenty of room for growth.
We need to keep the buzz going so if you aren’t blogging regularly, start blogging more! Seriously, this may be one of the most important things to the success of any community. Right now the tech blogs are mostly a silicon valley echo chamber. That needs to end now and D.C. needs to be one of the top participants in furthing this effort. Any other ideas about what should be done?