The most important thing to know about the next big thing is not what it is, but that it can come from anywhere. And the one thing that’s more important than finding the next big thing is fostering it. That enables everything.
We’ve all been watching the highly-anticipated IPO of Alibaba, headquartered in Hangzhou, China, which until now was known more for its natural beauty than for its startup scene. This is awesome and exciting. It proves to us what we already know: Innovation happens everywhere.
That is something to be celebrated. The rise of new tech hotbeds in places like New York City and lesser-known Provo, Utah doesn’t mean the demise of existing ones. It’s not a zero-sum game. Silicon Valley is not waning; it’s getting better and stronger every day.
This trend of seeing innovation everywhere is not being dictated by changing geographies. In fact it has more to do with the Web untethering us from geography. The real driving factor for the rise in innovation is economics. It’s easier than ever to start a business because it’s less expensive to do so and there is more “friendly” money available than ever.
Not only is there more early-stage angel money, but new models like crowdfunding enable more ideas to actually get off the ground. Investing is happening by the masses and it’s bigger than we could have predicted. Consider how Indiegogo empowered Solar Roadways to raise more than $2.2 million from more than 48,000 backers in 170 countries for an innovative idea that can power homes and businesses connected through driveways and parking lots. (A nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than the country uses as a whole!)
With something like Indiegogo, it’s about more than the dollars raised — it’s about having a good idea and empowering a global community to make it happen. This community is a particularly invested and incented audience of contributors who are dedicated to helping ideas become reality, and that’s really why the system works. We are seeing a similar idea defining all of the funding options out there: It’s about more than just the money.
Venture capitalists are almost all founder-friendly these days. Many of these firms such as Sequoia, Benchmark, Accel, Kleiner Perkins, and Andreessen Horowitz, use their experience and network to help founders succeed and scale in their roles. Founders know that more money is not synonymous with smart money. Making wise investment decisions comes down to deciding who you want alongside you for the long haul. It’s about community.
The hottest companies today are able to get money from a lot of different places. This is why I founded the Webb Investment Network, my angel network, wanting to provide more than money — I provide help to entrepreneurs. I looked to my friend Ron Conway, one of the most impactful super angels, for advice on how to create our model. He helped me with the idea of celebrating all entrepreneurs, even the ones we don’t fund, and assisted in adding a few younger members to my team who spend time in the startup scene and source deals. He also has been great at providing ongoing advice and sharing deals and insights.
At WIN we have 90 “affiliates” (friends of mine whom I’ve worked with and respect) who invest alongside me, but the expectation of them is to also invest their expertise and time. We probe founders to see what they need help on and tap the network for advice if they run into legal problems, culture clashes, issues with scale or searches for engineers. We open doors and give them access to big companies. We are still in the early days, but we are also building an online platform that helps founders and affiliates exchange ideas and codify the expertise of our community for others. We have offline events too, including an annual retreat where 120 founders and affiliates can interact and exchange thoughts on topics of interest (we have sessions on topics such as go-to-market strategies, building enterprise sales teams and creating culture). We also have a lot of fun. This kind of experience is a way for founders and affiliates to get to know one another in a way that’s far more interesting and ultimately meaningful than the transactional aspects of working together.
At WIN we don’t just fund startups — we build an ecosystem that helps create companies. As we know, achieving the next big thing has less to do with where you are and everything to do with what you build around you.