I came across Brad’s post on ‘Silicon Blahs’ around the world right after we started calling Colombo start-up community, The Silicon Reef. The first question Shamal had was ‘What do you think?’ Then I replied him with my thoughts. I wanted to comment on Brad’s blog, but I guess a post on this would be better. Don’t get me wrong, I really respect Brad. He’s a Super Hero. I’ve always loved his books, articles. On this post I have a different take. I am going to copy the content from his blog and comment in front of it.
In the late 90′s a wave of “Silicon Blah” appeared. Silicon Alley, Silicon Mountain, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Gulch, Silicon Bayou, and on, and on, and on. The rallying cry was “we are going to be the next Silicon Valley.” Whatever. At the time, my opinion as someone who disliked generic marketing was that this was the worst branding ever. I feel even more strongly about this today.
I agree the fact that some of these words are really bad. You cant even spell them at once right after hearing it. Those words do suck! But there are some really cool names too; Alley, Valley, Island, Beach to name a few. Gunapala in Sri Lanka, Sadam in Sudan or even Chitti in South India can spell these words. I guess it’s pretty important to think of how easily you can spell it when you hear the name in branding.
There’s a reason for using the word ‘Silicon.’ When you hear it you know it’s about tech startups. I personally can’t of an any better way of doing that. It is OK to piggy back on the word Silicon. It would not hurt anyone. If I were to start another Cola, I would call it Colombo Cola (or whatever the name I would use) just like hundreds of other Colas that are out there.
If you are going to create a startup community, build your own identity. People now talk about “New York” and “Boulder” as amazing startup communities. They don’t talk about Silicon Alley and Silicon Flatirons. Well – I suppose some do, but I don’t hear it anymore (or at least my brain doesn’t process it) – I just hear New York and Boulder. And when someone says “Do you like living in Denver?”, I say “I live and work in Boulder.” Sure – Denver has a startup community also, but it’s distinct from Boulder
When we wanted to find a name for Colombo startup community, I wanted to call it Silicon Island first. There’s a Silicon Island in Canada so we changed it to Silicon Reef. The problem is not the word ‘Silicon’ it is the people themselves. If you google for Silicon Island, you hardly find anything about it. If you search for Silicon Beach in Australia, it’s the same situation. We are trying to achieve two things here. One is to get all all startup people under one flag. Using the same name that’s been there for ages would not do it. New York and Boulder has made it, because of the people not the name. Second is to let other people hear about your community. If we call the Sri Lankan startup community, ‘Colombo,’ it would not make much sense to a lot of people in around the world. The aim is to be global, not just within.
There’s another factor. The almighty $. To start things lean, you have to piggy back on whatever you can unless you are willing to invest a lot of money in to building the brand name like Singapore did. I don’t know how well that has worked out for them.
By the way, I am reading Brad’s book ‘Burning Entrepreneur‘ and it is super cool!