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Superpowering the Silicon Prairie

About the author: Philip Rosedale is the founder and chairman of Second Life and co-founder of Coffee & Power.

Note: At Big Omaha 2012, Rosedale spoke about the future of work, a presentation that included a comparison between co-founders per 100,000 people in San Francisco, New York and the Silicon Prairie cities of Omaha, Kansas City and Des Moines. Rosedale has since blogged about that comparison on the Coffee and Power blog. He continues the discussion on Silicon Prairie News today.

Rosedale presents a comparison of New York, San Francisco and Omaha at Big Omaha 2012.

I recently posted on the Coffee & Power blog about Silicon Valley’s amazing lead in startups, and our analysis of why it is both so strong and growing. The summary is that Silicon Valley has more tech people per capita (and per square mile) than anywhere else in the world, making it a very safe place for startups and software development, and also that when you run into tech people in San Francisco, they tend to be unusually open and helpful.

The new version of Coffee & Power is an attempt to help make those two things happen in an app, and some of the thinking behind that design came from my trip to the Big Omaha conference earlier this year. I met lots of local entrepreneurs and asked lots of questions, while thinking… “How could Omaha become like San Francisco, with a self-supporting ecosystem of software startups?” It seemed to me that the people I was meeting were just as capable and enthusiastic as those in San Francisco, and that, taken together, the broader Omaha/Kansas City/Des Moines community was big enough to be producing even more interesting projects.

Looking at the raw numbers and comparing these cities to San Francisco (which I argue would certainly have a thriving/sustained tech ecosystem even taken in isolation from the rest of Silicon Valley) suggest that this might be possible, if everyone in the area could somehow come together and help each other.

San Francisco’s total population of 813,000 is comparable to the total of 1,084,000 residents for the three cities (I’ll just call them OKD), but, as mentioned in the earlier post, the fraction of tech founder/co-founders is much less, giving San Francisco 2,926 of these people versus 260 in OKD. Worse yet, these people are spread out over about twice as large an area, making it roughly 20 times less likely than in SF that they will run into each other.

The SF assessors office estimates that there are currently about 44,000 tech jobs in the city, so that’s about 15 jobs for each one of those LinkedIn co-founders, which seems reasonable. Scaling this over (assuming the same size startup companies) suggests a possible total of 3,900 jobs for OKD.

But, 3,900 jobs could be a very sustainable startup ecosystem: If the average startup’s life cycle (and therefore tenure at one job for someone working in the ecosystem) is two years, and if finding a new job/investor/partner takes about two months, there will be about 300 open positions that are hiring at any point in time! It seems likely that the ‘tipping’ point for a startup ecosystem to emerge is when people in near proximity and daily contact see a sufficient number of open positions to guarantee them a job when/if their current startup fails.

So it seems likely that OKD actually could have a vibrant/growing startup community, IF ONLY it could establish this high level of communication and proximity between a good number of its tech people.

Coworking spaces and parts of cities that become tech neighborhoods (like the Mission or SOMA in San Francisco) help to do this job of getting people in regular contact. Smaller metro areas like Austin and Portland, where the density of tech people and startups have been skyrocketing lately suggest that something is working.

Our hope with Coffee & Power is that an app that lets you immediately see where other tech people are currently working, as well as easily ask them questions of those nearby (giving them a chance to help each other and establish trust through face-to-face contact) can help to do the same thing.

Whether it is Omaha, or London, or San Diego that becomes the next tech hub, it seems likely that with better communication technology like Coffee & Power, we will continue to see rapid and interesting shifts in the geo-landscape of startups. Exciting times!


  • Omaha – 415,000 population – 118 square miles
  • Des Moines – 206,000 population – 77 square miles
  • Kansas City – 463,000 population – 318 square miles
  • San Francisco – 813,000 population – 232 square miles


About the author: In 1995, Philip Rosedale created an innovative Internet video conferencing product (called “FreeVue”), which was later acquired by RealNetworks where (in 1996) he went on to become vice president and CTO. In 1999, Rosedale left RealNetworks, founded Linden Lab and built a virtual civilization called Second Life, fulfilling his lifelong dream of creating an open-ended, Internet-connected virtual world. In 2006, he and Linden Lab received WIRED’s Rave Award for Innovation in Business. Since leaving Second Life, Rosedale is working on several new experiments in distributed work and computing, including Coffee & Power and Worklist.net.

Find Rosedale on Twitter, @philiplinden.


Credits: Graphics and photo courtesy of Philip Rosedale.

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