I was fortunate enough to land myself a place on a trip to Silicon Valley recently and this came about through a friend of mine called Rob who sent me an email literally on the day I was leaving to go on holiday to Thailand last November. In fact, had the email come in an hour later, or perhaps I did not sign in the read my mails waiting in the airport lounge, I might have missed out on this trip.
The trip itself is the brainchild of Jack Gavigan, a mysterious, mischievous networker who has a grand idea of bringing the valley startup culture to the UK startup scene. This is indeed a grand idea, and it was something I personally wanted to find out more about myself. Having heard many stories about tech startups and about the VCs that fund them, I signed up literally instantly and paid on the spot whilst still in Heathrow. So from one airport to another, I'm writing this now in San Francisco international airport waiting for my flight back in 40mins.
So what did I learn?
The trip was one week in the Bay Area and around Silicon Valley, visiting and listening to VCs, startup founders, accelerator and incubator program's as well as other technology companies operating and supporting the ecosystem in place. One of the many myths I wanted to find out more about was this idea that investment money was much easier to obtain in the valley, and true to the myth, this is absolutely not a myth, but complete truth.
We had a story from a guy who raised $1.5m just from 10 PowerPoint slides. This wasn't just a one off occurrence or an anomaly, there were plenty of other stories of people getting investment anywhere between 50k up to the millions with considerable ease. That is of course as long as they had a good idea, was a promising new founder and either had a track record, or had already produced a prototype.
Another interesting difference in attitude was the notion of what bootstrapping means. I found some new startup founders would call their operation bootstrapped with 500k investment. In the UK, bootstrapped means literally nothing above 20k.
What a big difference.
They seriously think big here.
Suffice to say, this blew me away since it confirmed a number of facts.
- that UK investors are most certain more risk conscious
- that the just wasn't the funds in the ecosystem in the UK
- that investment is only made when the founder can produce piles of documented evidence to prove the idea.
- UK investors want financials whereas SF VCs are more interested in the idea and the founders themselves.
I want this not to be true, since I'm planning to build a family in London, so I am building my tech company there. This isn't to say its impossible, just not as easy.
The other real big difference in the startup culture here was born in the sixties. We met a really interesting guy at the hacker dojo called Chris McCann (founder of GroupTie and Startup Digest) who mentioned the fact that in the sixties, San Francisco was the epicentre of hippy culture.
Think about what hippy culture is all about.
- pay it forward, this means in complete selflessness, helping others with no gain to self.
- being nice to those around you
- looking for true mutually beneficial relationships
- having a lot of fun
- being disruptive against the system of doing things.
These 5 things have left their legacy because it is exactly these cultural behaviours that are prevalent in the Silicon Valley culture that makes it work so effortlessly to produce billion dollar startups one after another. Some of you are probably thinking, you do all these things.
Well that isn't enough for the ecosystem to work. In order to actually reap the benefits of this in a societal structure, the majority of people need to adopt this culture and that is what the valley has, and London doesn't. Lets face it, we've all met people in the London startup scene who are thinking of no one else but themselves. I myself have helped many a person for free with no agenda and in all honesty have never really had anyone do the same for me.
Let me finish with one last prevailing difference and that is the attitude towards the notion of failure. In London, failure is seen as bad. In Silicon Valley, failure is a badge of honour and in fact if you haven't failed miserably doing a startup, you are almost deemed as un-investable.
In the UK, people will try their utmost to keep a startup alive and going on, even if it is clear it will eventually fail. It's almost like the stiff upper lip syndrome is working its was through society there. In the valley, if a startup hasn't made significant progress in 3-6 months, it is trashed and the founder moves onto a new idea. Fail fast, this is the idea. Something I feel I must take on board myself.
So I've learned many more things, and have even considered the idea of moving to the valley. Silicon Valley really is the Mecca for the technology industry. If you are working in tech and have never visited the valley, you must do so in order to learn from the best.