Silicon Valley Time: How to Beat the Clock

Last summer, Aaron Zamost published a great piece on Backchannel titled “What’s Your Hour in ‘ Time’?” Six months later, I’m still thinking about the article and its overview of the Silicon Valley hype cycle.

A Vicious Hype Cycle

The article describes how tech publicity moves like a clock; starting at midnight and progressing through the day, with the tone and mood of the business shifting from positive to negative as the hours tick by. A company is born at midnight Silicon Valley Time (SVT) , or in other words, when no one cares. This is when a company is flying under the radar and desperate to gain attention. By 4pm SVT, it is the “hottest company in the valley” and everyone, everywhere is infatuated with what its doing. At 6pm, a company reaches its apex and is labeled the “greatest company in the world” and literally can do no wrong. But from there, it’s mainly downhill, with companies progressing from “their product kind of sucks” (7pm SVT), to “the company is a mess” (10pm SVT), to “worst company in the world” (11:59pm SVT), before finally being reborn.

Advice for Any Hour

Obviously the post has an element of humor in it, but to me, what’s most memorable about it is the advice Zamost leaves readers with at the end. In order to avoid getting too caught up in the hype cycle, Zamost advises companies to “focus on your product and your team.” Why do I find this guidance so remarkable? Because it’s a sign of just how frequently Silicon Valley companies (and investors, and the press) forget about business basics. That Zamost has to make this recommendation at all is strange. What else should a company focus on besides its products and customers? In and of itself, Zamost’s advice is an indication of how out of balance the world of Silicon Valley can be.

I’ve long thought that all the hype and publicity surrounding new start-ups creates its own type of alternate reality. As George Packer wrote in a seminal 2013 piece about Silicon Valley in the New Yorker, “It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.” Silicon Valley can exist in its own bubble where hype trumps substance and the ultimate value of a company—namely, it’s relationships with customers and its product—are divorced from the attention it receives from the press and financiers.

At the end of the day, there are few businesses that will succeed without customers, and so the mission of most companies has to at least in part be to find customers and then make them happy over the long-haul. Outside of Silicon Valley’s alternate reality, this is not revolutionary advice.

Living in a Dream World

Yet, we see this cycle played out time and time again. Think of every time a new open source project is announced. Even before the first few lines of code are written, the press and industry insiders are discussing whether established commercial products can survive against the threat. One of my favorite stories on this topic is about Byron Sebastian and a company he started called Source Labs. As he made the fundraising circuit for Source Labs, he frequently said publicly that the enterprise software model was dead. He received little pushback on this. Yet, companies like Oracle just kept on creating new products, focusing on their customers, and expanding their business lines, while Source Labs never really took off. Sebastian later found success with Heroku, so he understood how to create value, but what I take from his story is how pervasive the alternate reality is in Silicon Valley.

Ultimately, when a business is thinking about the press and hype cycle, its leaders must consider how to position the company to benefit from any attention it receives. The best techniques for this are to really cultivate genuine customer relationships, and then to use the press and the hype cycle as a way to broadcast out your crafted message. Companies need to be prepared to do this when they’re at their hottest, when they hit that four o’clock Silicon Valley hour.

So What’s B2B Got To Do with It?

From a perspective, the way to be ready to take advantage of the attention is to already have a strong foundation of content at your disposal. This should include a product blog that explains your product to customers, as well as a company blog that helps describe the product’s meaning to the larger market. Thus, when real customers visit your site, they have the information they need to want to connect with you.

For B2B companies, the first point of contact with potential customers is through content. Thus, the best way to protect your company from the machinations of the alternate reality of Silicon Valley is to create a marketing process that’s focused on the basics: product and customer.

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