Digital Divide?

You've heard about the mudslinging between the Valley and the Alley. Now hear the truth.

It could be the Match of the Millennium: In one corner is Silicon Valley, lauded for decades as the high-tech capital of the world. In the other corner: Silicon Alley, a relative newcomer to the high-tech terrain and an underdog in the struggle for dotcom dominance (albeit the world leader in just about everything else). The bell has sounded; the gloves are on! Who will prevail in this exciting interface-off? And more important, who cares?

In other words, is this so-called rivalry for real, or is it just a case of a few media types trying to stir up a bit of dotcommotion? That depends on what you read and who you talk to.

The tension seemed to reach new levels this past spring, at least in the media. This was spurred on by a spate of articles by East Coast journalists from such publications as The New York Times and Harper's Bazaar, which, upon learning that the Silicon Valley has 36 percent more men than women, decided to essentially reduce the region to a mecca for date-challenged millionaire geeks and the gold-digging women who want their money. In response, West Coast publications like San Francisco-based Web site Salon.com questioned the motivation of these East Coast scribes in perpetuating these pernicious myths. Salon's story concluded with a theory by San Francisco-based SFGirl.com's founder, Patty Beron, that "New York is jealous."

But while the media may be doing a lot more bicoastal mudslinging than muckraking, true denizens of dotcom culture question whether this coastal clash is all it's cracked up to be. "I do think it's overplayed in the media," says Mark Oldman, 31, co-founder of Vault.com, a New York City site that provides an insider's view of working in a variety of corporations from coast to coast. Oldman, a Stanford University graduate, spent 10 years in the Valley before moving back to the East Coast to start his Alley business. "There really isn't a Hatfield-McCoy situation between the two coasts," he says. "When you work at an Internet company here, there just isn't much time to care about the cultural differences on the other side of the country."

Even SFGirl.com's Beron, 33, whose Web site follows the Internet culture throughout the Bay area and beyond, has second thoughts about some of her comments in Salon. "I'm not sure why I said that about New York being jealous," she admits, trying to recall the context in which she was speaking. At the time of the interview, she explains, she was primarily annoyed about the implication that Silicon Valley women are all out looking for dotcom millionaires, when in truth, many are dotcom millionaires themselves.

"The main point I was trying to get across was that women are making lots of money in [San Francisco] and they aren't out looking for rich guys," she says. "It's so insulting to say we're out gold-digging and looking for husbands, when really, we're all thinking 'Forget that! I'm going to take care of myself and make my own money.'"

Rama Chiruvolu, 27, co-founder of New York City networking site THESQUARE.com, recently moved to San Francisco to set up an office on the West Coast. She says that, as a New Yorker, she believed there was truth to the Silicon Valley gold-digger stereotypes, but now that she's moved, she's found the image to be false. She's now one of the women focusing on raking in the millions herself.

Chiruvolu used to think there was a competition between the two areas but has found that Valley people don't often think about the Alley. "When I was in New York, I definitely felt we could go toe-to-toe with Silicon Valley, but since I've been out here, I don't even get the sense New York is on the radar."

That may be the sense in the venture capital arena as well. According to a survey by Pricewater-houseCoopers, the Alley only brought in about $2.5 billion in venture capital last year, while Valley start-ups attracted more than $13.4 billion. Murem Sharpe, founder of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, start-up strategy incubator 24x2 LLC, points out that Silicon Valley has been a tech center for decades.

Oldman believes this is starting to change though, particularly with more VCs, like Redwood City, California, VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson planning to open offices in New York. "Years ago, there was funding envy," says Oldman. "You'd hear: 'Why don't we [move] to Silicon Valley? All the VCs are there.' I no longer [hear that]."

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Digital Divide?.

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