By the end of March we boarded the plane to San Francisco, excited to spend more than a week in the Valley surrounded by top entrepreneurs and other great minds. After 10 memorable days in the capital of the high tech world we can conclude: San Francisco truly is an innovative and inspirational hub that everyone with a heart for tech should make themselves the promise of visiting. As preparation for your departure, do yourself a favour and glance through our list of 9 things we wish we knew before embarking on our journey to Silicon Valley.
- Dare to just do it!
It’s not always easy to get a hold of the people who matter. Sometimes you just have to be spontaneous, bold and follow your instinct to make it happen. It seems worth providing an example. We wanted to meet the CEO of Showpad, Louis Jonckheere, but with his busy schedule he asked us to send him an email to plan a meeting. We did, but… no response. In a second attempt, we tried to tweet him, but… no response. So, in a third attempt we decided to go for an alternative solution. We found the office address of Showpad, rang the bell, and in a convincing manner, we said we had an appointment with Louis, and BAM, we were in! A bit confused, Louis came out to greet us, and before we left the office, we had set a meeting the following day!
- Think big
You have an MVP? Fine. You’re running beta with a number of companies? Great. BUT, this is not enough to survive in the Valley! What you need is a bigger plan – a plan where you lay out what you aspire to achieve, a vision that all founders share that guides the daily work, maintains the motivation and keeps you focused. We left San Francisco inspired, and once we were back home we started iterating our vision. Now we have a clear roadmap in place outlining our direction for the future.
- Get a US phone number
Time is a scarce resource in San Francisco – just like everywhere else. So, if you are lucky enough to get in contact with important people, make sure to stay connected. It might be that one phone call that determines whether or not you’re going to get the meeting you want.
- Have others introduce you
Nothing is as important as getting introduced by other people. Luckily for us, this was easier than expected in San Francisco. When pitching your idea to someone, and (s)he shows interest or knows someone who might be interested, (s)he will introduce you to these people. Imagine this: you start talking to a sales man at a startup (Yes, Jaap, we’re talking about you), who writes introductions to CEO’s and managers of other startups. Before you know it, you already have three meetings with highly interesting people the next day.
- Be prepared!
Preparation is key. Make yourself clear what you want from a conversation. Do you want to get feedback? Perhaps broaden your network? Or help to figure out what your next steps should be? Maximise the output of a meeting by asking yourself these questions beforehand. Otherwise, chances are that you’ll be loaded with too much information that might turn out to be of no value for you. In addition, get to know the people you’re going to meet. Find your inner detective and make sure to know as much as possible about their backgrounds. Don’t underestimate a simple LinkedIn or Google search, as these will provide you with a lot of the information you might be looking for, and with this information at hand, use it! For example, build your pitch around it and show how your product can benefit them. You might only have 15 seconds, so make every second count.
- Everything goes faster in the Valley
If you’re lucky to meet someone in Belgium who is interested in your product, he might give you his business card, and after you’ve contacted him, he might reply with the answer that he might have time to schedule a follow-up meeting to talk about your product. Okay, this might be pushing it to the extreme, but the point is that a lot of these steps are skipped in the Valley. People are either interested in your product or not. If they are interested, they will say it explicitly. For example, after pitching to HackerOne, the response was: “We’ll buy it, here’s my card”. This is something you will (almost) never experience in Belgium.
- It’s okay to fail
This saying isn’t preached in Belgium, but in the Valley it almost goes without saying. If you’ve failed, it means that you’ve learned something. You simply conducted an experiment and it didn’t work out. Next time, you will not make the same mistakes and you’ll be one step closer to realising your dream.
- Money is crucial
Like a plant needs water to grow, your startup needs money. An excellent idea is to bootstrap your company, burning the least possible resources in the early phases. After all, the first stages are all about validating your idea and finding your first customers. A good start is to grow your business based on the revenue you get from your first customers, however, if you want to skyrocket your growth, you’ll need money – investors’ money.
- Nail it, before you scale it
Establishing a startup in the Valley is expensive. The costs for accommodation and hiring are ten times the amount of what it is in Belgium. Therefore, everyone advised us to gain initial foothold in Belgium, building a prototype, getting some traction, finding customers first and then consider going overseas to procure funding. Following this, you can start thinking about setting up a US office. However, this doesn’t mean that you should get rid of your home office. Having talented engineers in a lower-cost country will potentially allow you to hire more people resulting in a lower cash-burn rate, and ultimately increase the odds for your startup surviving longer without the need of extra investors.
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