People seem to think that we here in Silicon Valley live in some sort of reality-distortion field just because houses have been known to sell for $1 million more than the asking price. They can't wait for those stock-rich young entrepreneurs, who have never experienced an industry recession, to be shocked when the market takes a sudden turn for the worse.
There's a feeling--call it jealousy--that our Internet entrepreneurs have become zillionaires just because they got into the business at the right time. The implied criticism is that their money is a quirk of technological fate and is largely unearned. Some people think the money will disappear when the world regains its senses.
My perspective is a bit different. I'm the chief executive of a computer company that's done pretty well out here. I have the benefit of 18 years in the business.
For all the instant Internet wonders, there are plenty of grown-up companies run by grown-ups. They're not going to go away overnight. The equity won't evaporate; the jobs won't just disappear.
As for the start-ups, the ones that will make it will be those that create goods and services that people want and are actually adding value to people's lives. In other words, those that make a profit. If you don't create value, you have a virtual company with virtual profits. A virtual competitor can blow you out of the water just as easily as you created your virtual value. For start-ups and established companies alike, the competition is just one mouse-click away.
One of the great things about Silicon Valley is that you can start a business on nothing more than an idea. The culture in Silicon Valley is ultracompetitive. For the new entrepreneurs, it's eat lunch or be lunch, really.
So there's no need to worry about all the young zillionaires getting soft. Some will succeed, some will fail--and then they'll all get up and do it all over again. That's another great thing about the Valley--you get the chance to learn from your mistakes.
Scott McNealy is chief executive of Sun Microsystems.
©1999 The New York Times. Distributed by The New York Times Special Features/Syndication Sales