Monday, September 2, 2013

For Paul Graham, the world revolves around Silicon Valley. For you, it may not.

I was listening to Loren Feldman's Monday Matters and heard about a recent tempest in a teapot that I had missed. It seems that Paul Graham of Y Combinator said something about accents in a recent Inc. interview.

One quality that's a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I'm not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can't if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you're going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven't gotten rid of their strong accent. I just know it's a strong pattern we've seen.

Apparently this caused a tempest, and Graham offered additional comments. Excerpt:

We have a lot of empirical evidence that there's a threshold beyond which the difficulty of understanding the CEO harms a company's prospects. And while we don't know exactly how, I'm pretty sure the problem is not merely that investors have trouble understanding the company's Demo Day presentation.

But for me, the interesting part of the explanation had nothing to do with accents.

Even talking on the phone rather than in person introduces a significant degradation. That's why we insist the groups we fund move to Silicon Valley for the duration of YC.

And therein lies a clue to what Graham is saying. Graham is right - to a point.

If you have a thick accent, the people IN SILICON VALLEY can't understand you. Not only does Paul Graham have a problem understanding you, but other people in Silicon Valley have a problem understanding you.

And that apparently is important, because everyone agrees that nothing happens outside of Silicon Valley. MySpace was doomed because of its Los Angeles location. TechCrunch was doomed because it replaced Michael Arrington with a New Yorker. The French are doomed because they take two hours to eat lunch. Silicon Valley itself is doomed because it has tract houses like the ones the unwashed have.

Psst...things happen outside of Silicon Valley. And if you're in Hyderabad and approach Indian Angel Network, India Angel Investment Network, or Venture Giant India for funding, they may also be concerned about accents - but in an entirely different way. Or take Robin Chan, who is based in several cities - San Francisco is only third on his list, behind New York and Beijing.

But who cares about India and China, anyway? The Indians and the Chinese do. And if you want to go after the largest smartphone market in the world, you're not going to talk to Paul Graham.

He has a funny accent.
blog comments powered by Disqus