So, You are Going to Silicon Valley. Are You Ready?


 

 Context For This Article

During the many years working in Silicon Valley with SRI, SBI and Silicon Vikings (see brief bio at end of article), I have met with hundreds of Nordic visitors, coming either as lone individuals, small groups or part of larger delegations—representing themselves, or an organization or company. And Silicon Valley continues to attract Nordic/Baltic and other entrepreneurs and especially those interested in innovation, technology, business development and entrepreneurship. Despite frequent prognostications over the years that the Valley would lose its appeal and interest (and be displaced by other regions) the numbers of people flowing into Silicon Valley from around the world continues unabated. And the Valley continues to be the dominant risk capital source in the world (according to a recent report, Silicon Valley VCs accounted for 67% of the total US VC funding of $29.8 Billion raised in 2014). No wonder the world’s entrepreneurs come to Silicon Valley in the hope of finding the risk capital they need—much more difficult, or impossible, to find in their home countries.


It is not surprising, therefore, that Silicon Vikings continue to receive large numbers of information/visitor requests from individuals and groups that plan to come to the Valley. The requests also result from Silicon Vikings’ international network of close to 30,000 connections, in part because of our social media reach. With a small volunteer staff, we do our best to meet the growing number of requests, but perhaps this article can answer some of the questions you have, help you prepare for your visit, and also help you utilize your time more effectively once you arrive in Silicon Valley.


Two colleagues in Silicon Vikings, Christian Olsson, a long time Board member of Silicon Vikings, also our Media Director, and Board member Knud Balslev, have kindly contributed to this article. I hope that many other Silicon Valley and Viking friends will send additional comments and recommendations after reading this article once it has been published, and what they send will be used in what I hope will be a follow-up to this article, with due credits to those who contribute.


Recommended Steps to Ensure Visit Success


1. Lay of the Land.


If you have not been to Silicon Valley before, get some maps to use when you plan your activity schedule during your visit. Think carefully about how you can get around most time-effectively, and (especially if you plan to rent a car and drive—but Lyft and Uber are viable alternatives to renting a car) know where and when traffic is likely to be very congested. Worsening traffic is, unfortunately, a consequence of economic vibrancy of Silicon Valley. You don’t want to have people you have appointments with waiting for you. They all have busy schedules and you need to be respectful of their time.


Silicon Valley—a region with amorphous boundary but often seen to include San Francisco (where startup activity has seen rapid rise in recent years, with more startup accelerators), part of the East Bay, and south San Jose (some would include Santa Cruz)—is a very dense business and technology ecosystem packed with thousands of organizations and companies. Familiarize yourself at least at some level with the main elements and dynamics of this ecosystem, and how it functions, so you can discuss it with people you meet (I have included below a very simplified ecosystem picture I created for one of my presentations to a visiting group).


2. Clarity around Goal and Objective of Visit.


Over the years, I have seen a lot of what I characterize as “techno tourism,” where visitors come with no specific goals in mind. Result: Interactions become missed opportunities for mutually beneficial connections. Meetings between such visitors at Silicon Valley company representatives typically result in unfocused and usually uninteresting dialog and discussion. And these visits seldom produce meaningful, longer term relationships and results. For those of us on this side who help set up such meetings, the result can be not only a painful meeting experience, but also reducing the interest of Silicon Valley companies in receiving future visitors.

So, here are a few tips:

  • If you intend to come as a “techno tourist,” try to avoid wasting the scarce and valuable time of others. 
  • Research the companies and the people you will see and come prepared with good questions and issues to discuss, i.e. Do your homework. Your preferred search engine can be a valuable friend.
  • Know past trends and recent developments to aide in establishing common background and your own credibility. Then focus discussions on the FUTURE—that is what most people in Silicon Valley are focused on and are most interested in.


3. Get Ready to Network.


If there is one thing that just about everyone agrees about when it comes to Silicon Valley, it is that a key characteristic is the extent and intensity of networking that takes place here. This is the “oil that lubricates the Silicon Valley innovation engine,” in a sense. And plan to take full advantage of available networking opportunities. Come prepared to engage in discussion and dialog, and to meet the great variety of people that attend these networking sessions that happen all over Silicon Valley. These networking opportunities give you a chance to very quickly meet and hear what a lot of people are doing, and to share your ideas and get reactions from others to your own ideas. And don’t hold back and forget about NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) as these usually see very little if any use in Silicon Valley, especially among entrepreneurs.

So where do you do to find the networking sessions? They are all over the place, including many of the universities, including Stanford (but if you want wine or beer and food, often for free, the incubators and accelerator events, with events typically sponsored and paid for by companies or other organizations, are likely to be a better choice). Spending a few hours doing online search will help you find the events that might be of greatest interest to you. But here is aare links to two event calendars Silicon Valley-SF Bay Area StartupDigest and the Silicon Valley / San Francisco - Bay Area Calendar of Business Technology Events and other useful Silicon Valley links can be found here. Finally, below is also a short list, organized by the type of organization that puts on the events (and more will hopefully be provided in the follow-on article)—and some of these organizations, including Silicon Vikings, often put on ‘Pitch events’ that always include networking:

I. Incubator and Accelerators:
Nordic Innovation House
NestGSV
Rocketspace
Plug and Play
Silicon Valley Pad


II. Networking Organizations:
Silicon Vikings
SVForum
GABA
Churchill Club


III. Others
Swissnex
Computer History Museum
• MeetUps—LOTS of them, on various topics; here is one: The HIVE Big Data Think Tank
PARC

Finally, as an organization focused on the Nordic/Baltic as well as Silicon Valley, I must of course not forget the Nordic Innovation House in Palo Alto, which opened its doors to Nordic entrepreneurs in September 2014. It houses Nordic startups, both physically and virtually, offers a variety of services, and holds networking events.

4. Give and Take.


Yes, I know that many Nordics may not be known as the most socially outgoing and talkative. Here is how Alexander Stubb, Finland’s Prime Minister described how Finns joke about themselves and not being big talkers: “How do you tell the difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert? One looks at his own feet when he's talking to you, the other will looks at yours.” This may have some truth, but my experience with the Finns that come to Silicon Valley is that most handle themselves quite well, and are no worse than their Nordic/Baltic neighbors. And in my humble opinion, Nordic/Baltic entrepreneurs are more talkative and socially adept than other Nordic/Baltic visitors I see.


And even if you are shy and not very socially active back home, make a big effort to open up when you come to Silicon Valley, and attend networking sessions and company meetings. Don’t just listen and trying to absorb all you hear. You must engage. Don’t just take. You are also expected to give—views and opinions and sharing something about what you do, and how you see the future, etc. This is an important and expected part of Silicon Valley, and you will not benefit fully from networking events unless you open up and decide to engage with everyone you meet. The notions of ‘giving back’ as well as ‘paying forward’ are well established social conventions in the Valley, which means you share what you know and what you have learned (in part because you have also likely benefitted from coaching, mentoring and other help provided by others with greater experience and wisdom). Knowledge sharing is thus a very important feature of Silicon Valley networking.


Also remember that the Nordics/Baltics have a strong and growing reputation when it comes to technology use and adoption as well as entrepreneurship activitiy, and for having well educated and smart people. Here are a few statistics that you could share with people you meet and when they ask you about the region you come from:

  • The Nordics claimed 4 of Europe's 20 biggest funding rounds in 2014
  • The Nordics represent 3% of Europe's population but 33% of its billion dollar exits, according to the Nordic VC firm Creandum. Here is an interesting infographic with interesting ‘factoids’ about the Swedish/Nordic startups scene.
  • 26% of all start-ups globally were launched in Nordics last year--more than Silicon Valley—according to Slush Co-founder Miki Kuusi.


5. Send Thank You Notes.


I know this may sound old fashioned, but I think it is good practice to send thank you notes—a brief e-mail expressing your gratitude—at least to people who received and hosted you at their company facility. Since sending thank you notes is not as common practice as I think it should be, it means you will stand out and be remembered, and thus make it more likely you will have a good chance of being welcome back, if you so decide.


If you lead a delegation that visits Silicon Valley companies during your visit, I also recommend you bring at least a small token present to the host. Something typical from the country you represent would be well received.


6. Follow Up.


Finally, if anyone you meet during your visit writes to you to follow up your visit and discussions you had, timely response is very important. Unfortunately, this is where many fail, and I have seen and heard of very poor performance in this area—including no response at all—I am afraid. Such behavior not only reflects poorly on you, but can also makes it difficult for subsequent visitors from your country or region who come here after you.


Selected Related Resources


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Brief Bio   

Eilif—a transplanted Norwegian who has spent his whole professional life in Silicon Valley—has led and participated in a number of syndicated research programs and numerous consulting projects during his 35 years at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) and Strategic Business Insights (a spin-out from SRI, located on the Menlo Park campus of SRI). He has also been Adjunct Professor of Economics at a number of Bay Area universities. Most of his work has focused on eCommerce, Learning, Innovation, and Virtual Technologies, and in recent years much of his work has focused on the Nordic region, especially Finland and Norway, including projects for Tekes and the Norwegian Research Council, and two projects funded by Nordic Innovation. He has been a Board member of Silicon Vikings for the last 5 years, and have been the Chair of the Special Interest Group on Entrepreneurship and Learning since its beginning.


Eilif Trondsen

eilif.trondsen@siliconvikings.com

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