The hottest startups in Silicon Valley (according to me)

A bold, if ill-advised, attempt to rank the most popular Silicon Valley startups; a slow news week otherwise; and introducing Reid Hoffman

Welcome to Silicon Valley Outsider, a newsletter for aspiring startup founders and investors who live outside of the SF Bay Area. If you’re not yet a subscriber, that’s easy to fix:

🕑 If you only have time to click one link, try this one: Sixteen lessons Reid Hoffman’s Chief of Staff learned from his boss about people, business, and living a great life.(Don’t know who Reid Hoffman is? Scroll down!)

🥽 Deep Dive: What are the hottest startups in Silicon Valley?

Most rational, logical ways to answer that question have already been tried.

Forbes released a “next billion-dollar startups” list based on revenue and founder interviews, Y Combinator has a list of their startups ranked by valuation, and LinkedIn released a list of startups with the highest engagement on their site.

But Silicon Valley is not a rational, logical place.

As much as startup folks and investors champion independent, first-principles thinking, the true currency of Silicon Valley is hype: how often other folks in Silicon Valley talk about a startup, firm, or idea.

Founders and investors alike want people to talk about their companies, and the chatter between VC firms about whose prospects are rising and falling, particularly among junior-level associates of those firms, is a sight to behold. Similar conversations take place within startups, whose employees are constantly assessing how green the grass looks on the other side of the fence, and among groups of friends and acquaintances at after-work happy hours, house parties, and virtual equivalents like Slack channels and Zooms.

The list below is an attempt at capturing the current state of Silicon Valley Hype. Many disclaimers apply, most notably that I am just one person with a particular set of interests (making me less likely to know about biotech startups, for instance). But without further ado, here are Silicon Valley’s hottest startups, according to me.

🔥 Tier 1: Hype Machines

The cream of the crop: small startups that are booming in popularity.

I think that the reality is that we’ve got a huge huge story yet to be told. We’re quite open about what we’re building and where we wanna go…

There’s a lot of people in our org just like me who are hungry, and when you see just how many consumers are excited about what we’re doing. Just the other day someone tweeted out “Fast, but for job applications.” And it’s coming. The world can already understand that there needs to be Fast in other areas. We don’t even need to tell them.

📈 Tier 2: Big and Booming

Large, exciting companies: these are only loosely “startups,” but are trending upward quickly.

Set aside their sibling banter and their (slightly California-flattened) Irish accents and John and Patrick seem like straight-up stereotypes of Silicon Valley founders: pale, male, Y Combinator-nurtured, Sequoia-backed, programmer-type veterans of multiple "30 under 30" lists… They're elite-college dropouts… and successful entrepreneurs, who became teenage millionaires when they sold their software business, Auctomatic, for $5 million.

⏳ Tier 3: Next Ones Up

Not quite hype machines, but close: startups that are on the verge of going big.

People had used Discord for non-gaming things from the early days of the service — as many as 30% of servers were about something else — but the team had never paid them much attention. Starting last year, they did. They ran focus groups and user studies, trying to figure out how millions of people were using Discord. One question they asked was, "What's the biggest misconception about Discord?" The overwhelming answer: "It's for gamers."

  • On Deck: Fellowships for founders, writers, and more

  • Palantir: National security software

  • Roblox: A game where you build other games

  • Webflow: No-code website design tool

🏆 Tier 4: Steady Stalwarts

Companies that are big and well-known, but not discussed all that often.

While you now know what I mean by “livestream,” you wouldn’t have known it in 2007 when Seibel and Kan launched, the company that would become, the world’s most popular streaming platform for gamers.

🐣 Tier 5: Startups for Startups

Companies that are universally known because folks in Silicon Valley use their products.

  • Airtable: Better Excel

  • Atlassian: Engineering collaboration software

  • Brex: Credit cards for startups

  • Canva: Easy-to-use visual design tool

  • Carta: Cap table management

  • Figma: Visual design tool for teams

  • Lattice: Performance review software

  • Notion: Better note-taking app

  • Plaid: Easy bank integration protocol

  • Rippling: HR software (payroll, benefits, IT)

  • Zapier: Easy web app automation tool

🙋‍♂️ Question of the Week: What did I miss?

Which startups are rated too high, too low, or missing altogether? Let the world know the depths of my folly (or, less likely, the perfection of these rankings).


✨What’s (not-so) new in the Valley

👨 Someone to know: Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn, an early employee of Paypal, and a venture capitalist at Greylock. He’s also just an incredibly kind, genuine, thoughtful person — I could easily see him holding political office in the future. (Additional evidence for that theory: he’s also a Democratic party mega-donor.)

The best way to understand who Reid is and why he’s so beloved within Silicon Valley is to read the amazing post (**highly recommended**) written by his former Chief of Staff and co-author, Ben Casnocha. Brief excerpt from the intro:

Often, Reid wrestled with [how to spend his money and time]. Author E.B. White once captured the essence of why. “I wake up in the morning unsure of whether I want to savor the world or save the world,” White said, “This makes it hard to plan the day.”

For some, savor is the easy answer to the task of planning a life. For those with no constraints, the plan is often straightforward: they put their name on a few buildings of their alma matter, buy a pro sports franchise, and call it a day. For the 99% of people with resource constraints, they might bag a 9-5 job, accumulate vacation days as diligently as possible, retire early, and maybe donate to their friend’s Walk Against Cancer. Reid likes to savor, albeit not hedonistically. Savor for him means arriving at intellectual epiphanies; it means spending time with friends.

But what he really wants to do is save. He wants to use his talent and network and money to change the world for the better and solve some of humanity’s biggest problems. He is among the most selfless and externally-generous people I’ve met in my life.

You can follow Hoffman on Twitter.

Catch you on the outside,