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How a foreign startup should prepare for Silicon Valley?

How a foreign startup should prepare for Silicon Valley?

You’re a budding startup, growing from strength to strength. You’ve captured your market and the heart of your customers. However, even with your achievements at home, your ambition and quest for success does not let you settle. Where next? Where does the successful and elite play? Your thoughts and curiosity turn to the land of the tech titans – Silicon Valley.

Your time and budgeted is limited, and your connections to the Valley are virtually non-existent. How can you capitalise on any potential opportunities and make the most of the time you have there? How do you pave the way to start getting some visibility amongst the right circles?

I caught up with Karim Nurani, the Executive Director and Partner of Bay Angels, and asked him on how a foreign startup should prepare to break into Silicon Valley.

I’ve just landed in SFO, what homework should I have already done before arriving?

“Before arriving, clearly define why you’re coming to Silicon Valley. Too often, foreign startups only hear about how Valley startups are getting funded, that there’s a lot of money and they believe it’s easy to get funded.”

It’s imperative to understand how you fit in to the landscape: identify who you are, what you’re doing and who your competitors are. Specifically, understand how you are better than your competitors, what value are you bringing here and determine what the others don’t already have. First understand that, and then you can create the value proposition in your messaging.

Secondly, be specific in targeting who you want to meet, be clear in your messaging with why you want to meet them and consider why they should even meet you. Once you have your message down right, it’ll be much easier to say ‘I’m coming to Silicon Valley, this is who I am, this is what I’m doing, I want to understand the landscape and get educated on the competition and potential customers’.

“If your potential customers are early startups, consider asking to meet their investors also.”

As a foreign startup with no connections in Silicon Valley – what’s the best way to start building my network?

Identify all possible leads and connections to Silicon Valley and seek to build them out from home; you need to be absolutely relentless in finding all possible pathways. Once you establish one or two connections willing to help, you’re on your way.

Are there any government or trade associations that you can connect with? Are there any schools or universities that have affiliates or partners in Silicon Valley? Would your bank have any possible connections to a Silicon Valley counter-part, or would any banks in Silicon Valley have affiliates in your native country? Would local incubators or accelerators have any leads?

Consider speaking to professional service providers that have an active interest in the startup space such as law firms, accountancy practices or consultancy firms.

Also, what events are happening during the dates of your trip? There are so many events happening, register or get invited to as many as possible that are relevant to you. Lets say for example you’re a fintech company, plan your trip around fintech events, not necessarily just in the Bay Area, look at other major events happening around the U.S., and start socialising there.

There are endless possibilities – don’t be afraid to take a creative approach.

What are some strategic approaches to raise my visibility and company profile amongst potential customers and investors?

“Put some creative work on LinkedIn or some creative work on blogs, talks about who you are, what you’re doing, mention competitors and potential partnerships etc.”

“If you’re trying to raise funds or find customers, look at similar companies who’ve been funded, look at the profile of their investors and reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to reach out to as many people as you can because response rates could be low. Also be aware that the effectiveness of cold emails is awful; very few people would take a serious look at cold emails. You always want an introduction.”

Also, look into all the incubators and accelerators and try to meet with the people there. Let them know you’re coming to San Francisco, who you are, what you’re doing and ask for any possible feedback. Ask to visit their space to understand the types of companies they take in and their typical investments. This will be an easier gateway to expedite your exposure and distribution channels and get you the right visibility with key ecosystem partners. “It will open a lot more doors a lot more quickly.”

And if you do opt for the sometime-necessary-evil of cold emails, be sure to mention that you’ve set up a meeting or have met someone who is a relevant common connection. Tell them about what you’ve done and whom you’re meeting. “This is better than just saying who you are and coming in blind.”

What are the most common mistakes a startup makes venturing into Silicon Valley?

“They underestimate the cost of being here and underestimate the time it takes to build relationships. At a minimum, you should look at doubling what you have initially estimated for both time and money.”

All this can be mitigated if you do your work at home. “Do as much as you can from home base, and your time and expense will be a lot more controllable instead of trying to impulsively do it here. It makes it easier and more time efficient.”

Also, while it may not be a common mistake, be sure that the advisors, investors or customers you list have strong relationships with you, as potential investors can and will qualify who they are.

What would spark your interest in considering a foreign startup?

“Firstly it would need to come through a warm introduction. Secondly, in order to spark my interest, for me to take you seriously, be specific about your industry and tell me how you fit in with the incumbents.”

“Be specific with laying out the landscape by providing some context on what you know about your industry, throw in recognisable names of competitors or customers, and tell me a little about how you’re going to do what you’re doing.” Talk about what niche you may have found, or how your solution can augment an existing process flow or make things more efficient. “If it’s vague, it doesn’t create a sense of knowledge.”

Above all, the founding team is the most important criteria in what’s deemed as an investible company. “I want to meet the founders and understand what makes them special and understand what they’re looking for. It’s the people before everything else and their motivation.”

It doesn’t matter what it is you’re building, there’s always going to be someone else out there doing what you’re doing, and the ultimate question is if can you do it better.

So in conclusion, to all global innovation citizens intending to come to Silicon Valley, prepare, prepare and prepare some more. Knock on every door possible and speak to anyone and everyone. Your time here would be much better spent and a lot more fruitful.

Homage to the hustle. Good luck with your journey!

Bevis Cheng  |  September 9, 2016

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