If you look at a list of US cities sorted by population, the number of successful startups per capita varies by orders of magnitude. Somehow it's as if most places were sprayed with startupicide.
I wondered about this for years. I could see the average town was like a roach motel for startup ambitions: smart, ambitious people went in, but no startups came out. But I was never able to figure out exactly what happened inside the motel—exactly what was killing all the potential startups. 
A couple weeks ago I finally figured it out. I was framing the question wrong. The problem is not that most towns kill startups. It's that death is the default for startups, and most towns don't save ...view middle of the document...
Having people around you care about what you're doing is an extraordinarily powerful force. Even the most willful people are susceptible to it. About a year after we started Y Combinator I said something to a partner at a well known VC firm that gave him the (mistaken) impression I was considering starting another startup. He responded so eagerly that for about half a second I found myself considering doing it.
In most other cities, the prospect of starting a startup just doesn't seem real. In the Valley it's not only real but fashionable. That no doubt causes a lot of people to start startups who shouldn't. But I think that's ok. Few people are suited to running a startup, and it's very hard to predict beforehand which are (as I know all too well from being in the business of trying to predict beforehand), so lots of people starting startups who shouldn't is probably the optimal state of affairs. As long as you're at a point in your life when you can bear the risk of failure, the best way to find out if you're suited to running a startup is to try it.
The second component of the antidote is chance meetings with people who can help you. This force works in both phases: both in the transition from the desire to start a startup to starting one, and the transition from starting a company to succeeding. The power of chance meetings is more variable than people around you caring about startups, which is like a sort of background radiation that affects everyone equally, but at its strongest it is far stronger.
Chance meetings produce miracles to compensate for the disasters that characteristically befall startups. In the Valley, terrible things happen to startups all the time, just like they do to startups everywhere. The reason startups are more likely to make it here is that great things happen to them too. In the Valley, lightning has a sign bit.
For example, you start a site for college students and you decide to move to the Valley for the summer to work on it. And then on a random suburban street in Palo Alto you happen to run into Sean Parker, who understands the domain really well because he started a similar startup himself, and also knows all the investors. And moreover has advanced views, for 2004, on founders retaining control of their companies.
You can't say precisely what the miracle will be, or even for sure that one will happen. The best one can say is: if you're in a startup hub, unexpected good things will probably happen to you, especially if you deserve them.
I bet this is true even for startups we fund. Even with us working to make things happen for them on purpose rather than by accident, the frequency of helpful chance meetings in the Valley is so high that it's still a significant increment on what we can deliver.
Chance meetings play a role like the role relaxation plays in having ideas. Most people have had the experience of working hard on some problem, not being able to solve it, giving up...