Just like during the Gold Rush, the promise of Silicon Valley has been attracting talent and venture ideas to California for years. The new American Dream, thanks to the last decade of the Silicon Valley reign, transformed into the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, secure easy capital and unlock quick growth to sustain capital consistently.
But if the Valley was a solid bubble for a while, it has certainly burst—or come close to bursting. We are witnessing major shifts in how the Valley operates, what it takes to succeed and what success even looks like moving forward.
There are a few reasons why this shift is inevitable and unraveling as we speak.
One, the change in consumer behavior on a large scale. There is more accountability required on the companies’ side as the users and end consumers demand transparency, authenticity and consciousness from companies. This is a lot an effect of the rise of Big Tech—the giants in tech that have been vilified due to their misuse of data, consistent leaks and cyberattacks, lack of laser focus on user privacy and data protection, as well as larger negative effects of their products on users’ day-to-day lives. Big Tech has become the villain of the Valley—and set a much higher benchmark for newcomers in the industry to earn consumer and investor trust.
This lack of trust has also been shaken by the rise of the “founder” persona—particularly the risky, untrustworthy, opportunistic kind whose outbursts and questionable behavior are no longer accepted and can be publicly judged rather than tolerated.
Two, the massive hit that growth “hacking” and digital advertising has taken. With the App Tracking Transparency changing the game and users becoming more educated on the way their data has been used for advertising purposes, startups are losing the opportunity to target users with the same granularity as before in order to achieve speedy growth and acquire a user base that reassures the investors in the company’s viability. Now, companies (and their founders) need to focus on trust development, strategies around the company’s impact on society and the development of brand capital that can facilitate everything above.
Three, lightning-fast acquisition and growth being insufficient for long-term profitability. With the examples of over-valued companies who are quickly losing their price tag in light of the economic downturn we are moving into, the venture capital and investor world has experienced a significant wake-up call in how they select the ideas and companies to channel their funds into. What were the winning criteria previously—fast growth, the “move fast, break things” mentality, focus on quick wins and short-term targets—these are not enough to win over investors anymore.
With all the above in mind, here are the qualities that the next generation of Silicon Valley companies will—and should—share in order to succeed.
1. Sustainable long-term growth.
The next suite of companies to come out of the Valley will not share the same story of skyrocketing growth, and the investors will not be blinded by quick acquisition numbers anymore either. Instead, long-term profitability and gradual, incremental growth will become the markers of an investment-worthy venture.
2. Retention and acquisition.
If user acquisition was the qualifier to secure capital, it wouldn’t be enough to show interest in getting funding—the bigger challenge will become the proof of concept through retention loops that showcase the ongoing interest and need in the product.
3. Conscious companies with intentional impact.
Transparency, intentionality and social responsibility will become key to long-term success for companies because it would mean winning and maintaining user trust. The user buy-in is becoming harder and harder to get—and it’s the most highly contested commodity for a company.
4. Carefully curated founder persona.
The era of charismatic yet intolerable founders is over—and with this, venture capitalists and investors will be channeling their funds into founders who are level-headed, have the necessary expertise, and show proof of the ability to take a company to the next level. Zooming back, founder personas will rarely be the centerpiece of a startup’s brand identity—in addition to ensuring a carefully planned founder repertoire, newcomer companies will focus on fortifying the brand’s reputation first.
5. Building brand equity and community.
Last but not least, the next generation of Silicon Valley companies will develop consistent brand identities tied to the social impact, benefits of the product and promise to the users. While this was easily overlooked in the past decade due to the fact that growth has been largely driven by product, moving forward, startups will need to focus on leveraging brand equity and community-building to solidify their growth trajectory, get user support and show proof of sustainable growth to investors.
Change is the only constant—and it was only a matter of time before this rule applies to how Silicon Valley operates as well. The romanticized notion of becoming a founder, easily securing capital, and building the next Facebook or Google becomes more and more like a myth. As this “bubble” of opportunity is bursting, true merit, strong branding, intentionality, impact, corporate responsibility, and, of course, retention, in addition to acquisition, become some of the many factors that will identify winning and losing startups of the next generation.
Succeeding in Silicon Valley won’t be a guarantee or a high-chance win anymore; instead, it will be a challenge only those who adapt will overcome.
Originally published in Forbes