I went to see and discover Silicon Valley (no, not the HBO one, the real one) in October 2016 and this is the story of how I found it to be. I will list down all important points here, as I assume, many entrepreneurs go through the same path and problems over and over again, and maybe, just maybe, this will inspire someone from my homeland to make a journey to the Mecca of entrepreneurs.
Why should you visit Silicon Valley?
Trust me, guys, you shouldn’t even be asking this question. It’s 45 miles of a stretch from the suburbs of San Francisco to Santa Clara, a population of hardly 3 million people that controls the trillion dollar tech industry.
[Of course, we all know that, don’t we?]
But, here is what I have experienced: No matter, how strongly I suggest here, you will not feel the power of an ecosystem if you have never tried, never failed and then never visited a place where a fully developed ecosystem actually operates!
- for the starters, all of those 3 million people actually belong to your own clan! Yes, I know you don’t belong to the clan of your father, uncle, brother, mother, sister, daughter … no! You belong to an actual clan that believes in dreaming the solution of world’s most pressing problems and then they are also crazy enough to actually go and try to solve them, that clan lives in Silicon Valley. Go there, smell that air, you will instantly be able to connect with everyone, just because they are You!
- secondly, the whole ecosystem is there. It’s not like you go from door to door, taking advice from people who have never made it for themselves, trying to raise from investors who don’t even have any clue about tech entrepreneurship, rest alone the rewards and risks such ventures carry! Not just investors, you will meet developers, product designers, sales people, teachers, mentors, who actually know what they do and as they all work with startups, they know and understand your problems. The speed at which you learn and connect is very very fast!
- thirdly and it’s very important, we live in a place where ‘negativity is in the air’, the number of times we are told ‘no, it’s not possible’, ‘no, you can not do it’, number of times people [sorry for being negative but you know it’s in the air] who go to their offices with grim faces and earn just enough to support their families] laugh at our faces just because we are suggesting something which is ‘not normal’ because that ‘does not conform to whatever our forefathers were doing from last 25,000 years’. [Also, trust me, after my visit, I know that this ‘negative air’ problem is with every Spanish, German, Indian, Mexican, Canadian, Chinese and all the other nationalities I met there, so just forget about it].
That air, makes us doubt ourselves, this is exactly why a voyage to the valley is very important! That is where you actually find yourself, again! That is where you see others going through the same path but at different levels. You will share your room with people:
- who have raised some seed money
- who had raised millions, blown all of them off, now raising again
- who carry a working prototype of a good product-market fit, they meet investors just for ‘making relationship’ and not to raise [because that happens after the Kickstarter, at cheaper rates]
- who had successful exits in the past, had millions of dollars in the account, poured them all in a new startup and now sleeping again on a bunk bed
- who are there to explore and be inspired!
In a nutshell, you will learn that you are not crazy and even if you are crazy then you are not alone, there is an actual support system where help from peers is available, from validating your idea to all the way to building a successful company and that all happens simply by asking the right questions! Everyone is eager to help and when you come back, you don’t go back to doubting yourself anymore, you simply start something, again!
What to do in Silicon Valley
I was also searching for the same question when I was planning my visit. This article gave me a lot of information and now I can confirm, all of that was true! I don’t want to repeat the information given in there but just to stress again:
- Download Meetup and Eventbrite apps, tons of events happen daily, find free ones and drop-in [there is also a way to get into the paid ones but for that ask me once you are there ;)]
- Stay at Startup Embassy, its an all inclusive community just for entrepreneurs. You can stay a day or for all the way up to multiple months. I stayed all of my time there, the location is right in the epicenter of Palo Alto which is also the epicenter of Silicon Valley, so you can connect the dots here. The hosts are warm, they look after you and also try to create an environment where people could talk to each other and become friends. In actual words, they provide soft-landing without being too pushy or too judgemental. They also have a competition going on, where you can win a free 14 day stay along with a plane ticket. [No, they are not paying for me this advertisement, although, I may want a compensation, later ;)]
- Facebook and Google campuses are hot but trust me there is nothing to do there. They are just buildings. Find one or two events like FBDC or GDC, they happen in the company buildings, go there, listen to speakers and enjoy free pizza. [But yes, if you are looking for some contacts like I was looking to speak to someone at Google Home team and I found one at GDC, so, if that is your purpose, go with all your wings spread]
- Use Uber Pool to go to events, in most cases it’s actually cheaper than Caltrain. If you are staying at Startup Embassy, ask on their Slack channel, you will find somebody to go with and that will make Uber, even more, cheaper!
- San Francisco has a lot of startup activity now, I didn’t like to live there as its still a metropolitan city and Palo Alto was great! You can go to attend events in SF, Caltrain takes an hour to get there and if you are late on your way back then there is a hack, there is a late night bus that gets you back to the Palo Alto in just $2.25 😉
- Go to the hackathons if you like, I went to one, didn’t enjoy much but yeah got a free Raspberry Pi and learned something new!
- Try to have coffee at one of the cafes in evening. One thing unique is that everyone is pitching! All the time! Everywhere! Even when you are walking on University Ave. or having your coffee or having a meal at a restaurant, people just don’t stop pitching and that gives you a unique insight into the art of pitching and also, you can learn some tips on how to stay confident and look in the eye while pitching. That is where I learned the true meaning of “energy of entrepreneur”, if you believe it then you will reflect it and spread it!
- Just stay at the house, connect and learn from others! We used to have discussions going late into the night, they were fun and productive at the same time. I can’t stress enough on the need of being with like-minded people!
Here is the breakdown of what it will cost:
Flight to San Francisco from Pakistan is around PKR 120,000 ($1200)
One month stay at Startup Embassy is not around but exact $1200, for weekly and daily prices, just email them.
The house has a washing machine, fridge, and a fully functional kitchen so you don’t need to spend any extra on them. That leaves you only with our transport and food budget.
Try to cook your own breakfast, that will cost you a lot cheaper or at least that’s what I did. One meal at one of those University Ave. restaurants sets you back at least $10, however, if you do your grocery at Whole Foods, have coffee from 7 Eleven and cook your breakfast at home and keeping all your Uber Pool and SF trips costs included, you should have at least $30 per day budget for the duration of your stay. That will cover you, mostly!
Do the maths, I am not telling you how much in total it is but trust me, that is nothing in the face of what you will spend on your startup without experiencing and learning from the people who go and try to do it at the epicenter.
Also, another important tip, Silicon Valley is a land of opportunities, that means even a visitor can recover his trip costs either fully or partially, I won’t tell how I did that but yes, just being yourself helps!
Just be yourself!
The very last advice is that people are just like you and me but also don’t forget they are just like you and me, means, harder to fool! Just be yourself, it will be the most meditative state you will ever be at but just don’t BS people, they see-through it very fast. At once, being genuine and being true to yourself makes your respectable at that part of the world!
A world which is just 20–21 hours flight away…
And oh, yes, if you have any questions from visa to stay to food to who to see there etc. Just ask me in comments or at my twitter handle @hammadtariq
All the best!