I was born and raised in Cluj-Napoca, which is not Silicon Valley. Here’s why — Part I, II and III
I originally published these three posts on my personal blog, which is now closed. Since the articles gathered a lot of sympathy, I’m republishing them here.
1 I never thought I’d have to say this out loud, but apparently I have to. As one of the many people that have been involved in the tech scene of Cluj for the past 15 years, I too bear the responsibility of making sure the information that gets out is in fact, reality.
So I’m saying this as clear as possible: Cluj Napoca is NOT the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe. Media outlets, enthusiasts, politicians — please stay clear of this phrase.
It might very well be wishful thinking, but this town is very, very far away from being Silicon Valley. And before you dismiss this, let’s examine the facts.
Silicon Valley has the following key ingredients that make it what it is:
a long history of innovation
a large concentration of big-name tech companies
a LOT of capital (angel and venture)
a plethora of incubators & accelerators
a few reputable universities
Now, out of these, Cluj-Napoca has a diverse enough workforce (currently around 10,000 people employed by tech companies) and a couple of reputable universities.
You will see that TWO of the most important factors are missing: a long history of innovation and capital.
I’d add the lack of entrepreneurial education and a realistic (and healthy) taste for risk. We have a lot of Project Managers — but we don’t have nearly enough Product Managers. You know, the CEO of the product. The gal or guy that actually knows how to turn a problem into a desirable product.
We do have a few startups. Mostly copycats, but that’s a good enough start. It’s something. There are a couple of notable exceptions though.
What we’re really good at though is execution — and I can back that up with a LOT of examples. And I know literally hundreds of amazing techsters that can execute like no other. And good product people started to appear. Maybe some angels too.
So I believe that we’re heading in the right direction. But Cluj is NOT the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe. It never was and I hope it will never be.
I want it to be Cluj. I want us to set an example so people will call other cities “the Cluj of…”
So let’s start working towards THAT goal.
2 A week ago I published my views on why Cluj-Napoca is NOT Silicon Valley — an article that got way more attention that I expected. It seems I struck a cord, which I believe is a great thing — it’s the only way things can move forward.
The article in question prompted some replies on LinkedIn and a couple of Skype calls and emails with people from all over the world. Apparently Cluj is NOT even remotely as well known as we (the regional tech ecosystem) would’ve expected — and that is a good thing!
But this is not only a follow-up, but some sort of expansion of one of the articles I’ve read this morning: ‘Life is pretty good here for IT people’: Where techies earn five times the average salary. Normally I don’t read articles related to the local tech scene since they all seem to reference the same things, but this one was shared by my colleague Tudor, whom is also referenced in the article, so I gave a glance.
You’ll quickly get some facts clarified after reading the article: salaries in the local tech scene are on the rise, quality of life for techies is really good, they are not willing to relocate to other countries since they have it going really well here etc.
Now, if you’re good at reading between the lines you’ll also notice which a LOT of people noticed and shared their comments on both LinkedIn and Facebook: We’re really, REALLY good at EXECUTING. And good at managing (check out the salaries of Project Managers).
But you’ll also notice something else — there’s little to no talk about product managers, marketing specialists, business analysts, CIOs. And these people are few and far between in the realms of Cluj. Or even Romania. My colleague Mihaela even had a talk about the non-technical founder at cluj.pm a little while ago. I’ve blogged on Trubzi about The Other Founder. (by the way, you should really check out Trubzi, a new platform for entrepreneurs that will launch soon; disclaimer: I’m personally involved in Trubzi.)
Enough about the problem, let’s talk about solutions.
Since developers are “made” (formal education & practice), let’s try that with the non-devs as well. Classes are a must, but so is practice.
Second, let’s try and change the perception that non-devs are less important in tech companies. I know several people that feel they are not as appreciated as devs — a little bit reminiscent of QA vs. dev situation.
Third, let’s encourage “thinking and doing” as opposed to “doing then fixing”.
Fourth, and I can’t state this often enough, make it socially acceptable to fail. I’ve seen so many 1st time founders fail then never try again because of social pressure that it pains me. I’ve tried making this OK when I wrote about asiqo and I constantly talk about failure and the fear of it in different occasions. This social acceptance of failure is an issue of the Balkans and particularly Romania — because of the sheer number of techies that are willing to try building a startup.
And fifth, build it then give back. There are a few founders that have seen their share of success — mostly international success, through exits. I know that by the time that check hits your bank account you’re not left with much. Try to set aside a little portion of it and invest it in the dreams of others that remind you of yourself. Or make the time to mentor those that are promising and could greatly benefit from your knowledge.
There is no angel culture in Romania but I expect that to change soon enough.
I do believe that conferences, meetups and all sorts of gatherings play an important role in creating a good, viable tech ecosystem that can be COMPARED to Silicon Valley. And that will probably be the case in a while.
But that can only happen if we all pull in the same direction. And that literally means STARTING.
3I’m sincerely impressed — I’ve written about the problem of calling Cluj the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe, then about some possible solutions but never would I have imagined that so many people feel the same and they would be so eager to help in any way possible. I guess it’s one of those normal things we’re not yet accustomed to experiencing. Perhaps this is the “Romania of the properly done things” our President was talking about.
I’ve spoken to some great people from all around the world in the past few days — mostly Romanian expats — and we all agree that since now the facts are clear and some solutions are in sight, there’s no better time than the present to take action.
So with this in mind, on behalf of all the technocrats, medical specialists, consultants, lawyers and CIOs that have offered to get involved in helping the Romanian tech scene grow, I would like to extend an invitation to join us in Cluj-Napoca and find out what our lovely city has to offer in terms of brains, technical execution power, medical research & development, agricultural experience and to some extent, disruptive innovation to all interested parties — what we need is specific market knowledge, people that know how to build amazing things and then sell them, experts that are good at picking winning academic research and putting it on the market and many, many do-ers.
We’ll assist you with travel, accommodation, getting around and we’ll put you in contact with the right people that will help you build whatever you’d like — you just need to show up — so please share this invitation with you peers.
We’re indeed proud people, but we take pride in building things and acknowledge where we need help. But for that to happen we need that extra nudge that only comes with knowledge, which we’re eager to accumulate.
Cluj might not be Silicon Valley and I hope it never will be, but it was and still is The Fiber City — a place where optical fiber, clouding the city, facilitated the growth of the tech community and alongside that, all R&D in ways not found elsewhere. And I believe we need to work together to jump-start that growth once again.
November 2015 note: Things started to pick up — Cluj is now the home of several funded startups, a handful of local angels, good products and a few very good product managers. Two accelerators, one seed fund and more in the making. So as my friend Mircea Vadan from Seed for Tech put it, we’re only now starting to see the results of the last ten years.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on why Cluj is not Silicon Valley. I would appreciate if you’d also check out Neveli, a healthcare startup I co-founded that analyzes the data from smart devices and helps people better understand, monitor and manage their health.