Bicoastal Brain Scramble? Company Cultures Boiled Down to One Word, Part 2—Boston vs. Seattle

9/3/09Follow @bbuderi

This is a special, bi-coastal edition of the X Factor (it doesn’t usually run in Seattle). For my column on Tuesday, I surveyed seven Boston-area startup CEOs and asked them to characterize their company cultures in one word. Truth be told, I canvassed nine CEOs, but only seven got back to me before my deadline. The remaining two have now weighed in, so part of this post is to share their words with you.

The other reason behind this post is to compare the words chosen by the Boston CEOs I canvassed with the words chosen by some counterparts in Seattle. As you’ll see, there was a surprising trend that had at least one Xconomy editor (chief correspondent Wade Roush) wondering whether entrepreneurs on the two coasts have gotten their personalities mixed up in some kind of bizarre startup transporter accident. Read on for that.

Here are the last two Boston entries:

Taligen Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA)
CEO: Abbie Celniker
Culture: “Passionate”
Comment: Taligen, which moved to Cambridge from Colorado in mid-2008 and raised $26 million out of a planned $65 financing round in May, according to a regulatory filing, is developing drugs to fight arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. “We all passionately believe in the science. We are all passionate about winning and we are all passionate about how imperative it is to have fun while you are working to solve challenging problems,” Celniker says.

Visible Measures (Boston, MA)
CEO: Brian Shin
Culture: “Energetic”
Comments: Shin’s four-year-old company has raised nearly $30 million for its efforts to index and provide analytics around web video content. “We have a lot of eclectic and energetic folks and we try to foster an open culture to embrace and enable their success :),” says Shin in an e-mail.

Now to the East Coast-West Coast “word-off.” As I mentioned on Tuesday, I had “borrowed” the idea for my column from Greg Huang, Xconomy’s Seattle editor. Earlier in the month, in two separate stories, here and here, he had posted the one words (if that’s how you say it) from nine Seattle-area CEOs. He had nine, and now I have nine, so I thought, ‘Why not take this whole West Coast vs. East Coast thing to a whole new, no doubt meaningless, level and compare the words from both coasts?’

So, here, for your amusement and edification or whatever, are the nine Seattle CEO words stacked up against the nine Boston CEO words. As you will see, only one word, “focused” was mentioned on both coast. And only one other word, “passionate,” was mentioned twice (both times by Boston CEOs).

West Coast East Coast
Paranoid Synergistic
Execution Adventurous
Competent Passionate
Humble Focused
Easy Cool
Obsessed Magical
Focused Vibrant
Safety Energetic
Growth Passionate

When Wade saw this comparison, his first reaction was to accuse me of mixing up the two lists. After I assured him that wasn’t the case, he said he thought most of the East Coast CEOs gave New-Agey, feel-good answers that seemed more reminiscent of West Coast lifestyles, while the West Coast entrepreneurs gave hard-edged, down-to-earth words that are more traditionally associated with New England’s Puritan work ethic.

What do you think? Have East Coast entrepreneurs been studying the West Coast playbook too hard, or vice-versa? Do you see other patterns? Which single word do you like best? My own favorite is “vibrant” (I was born in Berkeley, after all). But I think the best word for a startup culture to be built around is probably “focused.”

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • Bob Metcalfe

    Wandering Boston’s entrepreneurial inferiority complex, we imagine what the hip culture of Silicon Valley must be like, and we get it wrong. So we say our companies are cool, passionate, … and magical? Oy. What I would say is no, I will not try to choose one word for my company’s culture. At least three words are required, and magical is not one I would recommend.

    /Bob Metcalfe

  • http://www.mffitzgerald.com Michael Fitzgerald

    Bob,

    What an intriguing post. Your sample is tiny, true, but it certainly flies in the face of demographic research. To wit, Richard Florida in “WHo’s Your City” cited research that showed the boston/new york mega region’s dominant personality trait was ‘neurotic,’ while the West Coast mega regions (both LA/SF and the Pacific Northwest) were “open to experience.”

    Mike

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    I think this highlights the misconception that Seattle is West Coast. You have to drive 4.5 hours to get to the ocean here! That’s my explanation, anyway. Let’s invite San Diego to join the experiment…