South African tech industry: don’t succumb to Goldilocks syndrome

Hey, South African tech industry?  Meet me behind the rugby field at 15:00.  We need to talk.

I’ve been back in South Africa for 3 months now after 6 years working in Silicon Valley, and I think I finally figured out what’s been bothering me about the tech industry here ever since I got back.  The problem is that we have some serious Goldilocks issues going on right now.

This one is too cold

The first problem we have is a severe inferiority complex.

Remember: just because we’re not in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re doing.  Like Morpheus says in The Matrix: “Some things are true whether you believe in them or not.”  We’re good at what we do.  We’re really good.  Why does it matter if anyone knows it at this point?  They will, soon enough.

I know that many of those dudes in San Francisco treat us like the little brothers of the world — adorable but not to be taken seriously.  But that doesn’t mean we have to grovel.  Who cares what they think?  Haven’t you heard?  Silicon Valley is dead.  You can be brilliant anywhere.  So we might as well be brilliant in the most beautiful place on earth.

This one is too hot

But we also have a second problem.  Some of us tend to overcompensate.  You see, since we have this inferiority complex, there is a danger in wanting to “show them a thing or two.”  So we livetweet from events that we’re not attending.  We write reviews of products we haven’t seen.  We fight about what the definition of a startup is, as if that matters.  We show up at conferences and give talks on who we are instead of what others can learn from our experience.

No, not cool.  There is no need to overcompensate.  We have some very unique skills, and we have the benefit of the element of surprise.  No one thinks the next Facebook is going to come from South Africa.  Let’s keep it that way — don’t let them know we’re here!

This one is just right

But there is an alternative.  We can make great products, build great companies, and take over the world without anyone even knowing where we’re from.  Does it matter where WooThemes are from?  It matters to us.  It doesn’t matter to anyone they sell their products to.

So, please.  Stop being apologetic about our skills.  Stop wishing we were Silicon Valley.  Stop pretending to be in Silicon Valley.

Instead, follow Seth’s advice.  And forgive me for quoting verbatim, but no one says this better than him:

Yes, I know you’re a master of the web, that you’ve visited every website written in English, that you’ve been going to SXSW for ten years, that you were one of the first bloggers, you used Foursquare before it was cool and you can code in HTML in your sleep. Yes, I know that you sit in the back of the room tweeting clever ripostes when speakers are up front failing on a panel and that you had a LOLcat published before they stopped being funny.

But what have you shipped?

What have you done with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world?

Go, do that.