Silicon Valley’s relationship with time is perhaps what separates it most from the rest of the world, from what I’ve seen so far in these trips. The entire system in California is based, for solid economic reasons, on the speed of conception, execution and exit strategy (M&A or IPO). Its built into the way apps are developed, with the notion of a beta version being to get a product on the market as soon as possible, fine-tuning it with user input.
It’s a different story in the places I’ve visited. In Recife, Brazil, Silvio Meira, a computer-science professor who played an integral role in making the city the third most important technology hub in Brazil, behind São Paulo and Rio De Janeiro, says, “It took Silicon Valley 30 years to become Silicon Valley. India has been working on Bangalore’s development since this 70s. You can’t just wave a magic wand: you need to train tens of thousands of engineers, and learn how to execute systematically.” And always, you need to kindle an entrepreneurial spirit.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, Rama Mamuaya, the founder of DailySocial, took me to an incubator called Merah Putih. He told me that startups stayed there a long time, a year-and-a-half or longer. “Most are founded by really young people who have no business experience, like me. Our goal is to create stable businesses. There’s no time limit for that.”
In Mumbai, India, entrepreneur and investor Vishal Gundal has also studied Silicon Valley. Not only does “what takes 2 years in the U.S. takes 4 or 5 years here, and the long tail, 7 to 10,” he says, but the things only begin to build speed after one or two startups succeed, when a lot of young people want to follow that example and launch themselves into the entreprenurial adventure.
This idea is also taken up by Poyni Baht, the director of SINE, an incubator founded in 1999 at the Indian Institute of Technology. “We don’t have role models,” she says. “We don’t have enough successful entrepreneurs to grow a community. There’s limited expertise, and failure is still taboo. It’s all about the ecosystem.”
Mahesh Samat, formerly head of Disney India, is convinced that “Emerging markets don’t grow up overnight. It didn’t happen like that in the U.S. or Europe. Emerging markets will follow a normal curve – rapid growth is an exception.”
Money isn’t really the problem. It’s everywhere, but the people who have it aren’t comfortable with risk and don’t have faith in the intangible knowledge economy. They would rather “give it to an idiot son than to someone worthy but unknown,” says Mahesh Murthy, an entrepreneur and investor, who is himself from a Brahmin family. Things will change, but only through with the advent of old-moneyed digital natives.
The importance of time in the development of global innovation shows two things. The first is that the desire to move fast is perhaps a trap, both for regions that want to imitate Silicon Valley and for foreign investors who insist on applying their local model in other regions.
The second is that the world might flat, but it’s definitely not smooth. It’s polychromatic, working at several speeds at once. Innovation needs money, organization, financial growth, but in order to go forward, it has to interrogate the way some cultures and heritages change at glacial speed.
But make no mistake, the constant behind these multiple times is that they’re bubbling up everywhere.