Hi, I'm Yishan Wong.
First, has anyone else here ever been quoted in a book or online publication and had it end up making you look like a douche when that's not at all what you meant? Especially when you spent like hours talking to your interviewer and they paraphrase it down into words you didn't actually say? Well, please don't hate until it's happened to you.
Secondly, I should obviously clarify. The quote makes it sound like we were thinking, "By Jove, what if it's possible that there's intelligent life outside of Silicon Valley!" That's not what we were thinking! C'mon!
Rather, the situation is more like this: it's pretty obvious that there are great engineers everywhere. The problem is, if you're a startup in the Valley, your recruiters don't go looking outside the Valley for you. It's just this insular thing where everyone is trying to recruit (poach) from everyone else. It becomes a zero-sum game of talent competition for a limited pool. We were this tiny startup that no one took seriously so we couldn't compete against the other players in the Valley (e.g. Google, who was crushing everyone else at the time at recruiting). So instead, we're like, "Okay, we should figure out a way to get all the talented people *outside* the Valley to join us, because we can't win the in-Valley echo-chamber local recruiting game."
The problem is, as I noted above, recruiters aren't really going to work very hard trying to find some random guy in Portland, Maine, they just try to hand you resumes of local people at other Silicon Valley companies (especially the kinda-crappy contingency recruiters we were working with back then - we were small, we didn't have uber-headhunters with a global reach or anything). So we needed a way to reach these "brilliant people" "languishing in ordinary tech jobs who hadn't made it to Silicon Valley." The recruiters don't even know to look there.
If you're brilliant and you're in the Valley, the recruiting machine is so strong that you'll inevitably get swept up into some company or other. But if you're in some podunk town and you're brilliant, that's not likely to happen. You just get a regular tech job where you end up being unusually productive. No recruiter is going to come looking for you, because recruiters look for big-name experience keywords (e.g. "did he work at Microsoft/Google/Apple" etc) or sexy technology keywords on your resume. If you're brilliant but in an ordinary tech job, you might have not have the Hadoop keyword on your resume (you might not have an online resume at all because hey, you have a fucking job already) because your crappy ISP job doesn't need to crunch terabytes of data. But you're still smart enough to do it. I know this because I'm from Minnesota, and before I happened to move to Silicon Valley because a girl I liked said that I should, I worked at an ordinary tech job just like Evan Priestley (the guy they mention in the article), where I was just an unusually productive guy. So we needed to find people like that, because the current system wasn't doing it, even though it was obvious to all of us from the Midwest or wherever that smart people are hidden in little pockets everywhere.
So yeah, we "developed this theory that occasionally there were these brilliant people out there who hadn't found their way to Silicon Valley." Unfortunately I guess it came out sounding like the opposite of what we meant. :-/
PS: if you're reading this while procrastinating your crappy job at a small-time firm where all your work is too easy for you and you're like the smartest guy there, you're basically who I'm talking about. ;-)