It’s the dream of many tech founders to spend some time in Silicon Valley, and a few months ago my startup, RefLIVE, was offered a place in the Austrade Landing Pad in San Francisco.
Working out of RocketSpace, a coworking space in the financial district that housed startups like Uber, Spotify, and Duolingo in their early days, the excitement and anticipation quickly become overwhelming for a startup geek like myself.
Arriving early on my first day, I stepped into the outdated elevator not knowing what awaited me once the doors would re-open at RocketSpace. Aside from the elevator breaking down and trapping me and eight others for around half an hour, the on-boarding and induction was quick and efficient, allowing me to get to work straight away.
The area allocated to the Landing Pad in RocketSpace is more akin to an old library rather than the colourful ensemble of creativity usually associated with coworking spaces, but I didn’t care – it was a significant upgrade from the desk that was falling apart in our spare bedroom back in Ballarat.
Arguably the most important facet of the experience was the collaboration and friendships that were made from working alongside other Aussie founders.
Anyone who has transitioned to from a stable career to self-employment can empathise with the harrowing loneliness that accompanies it, the dilution of excitement in achievement, and the compounded perceived breadth of the challenges.
The Landing Pad was a supportive, learning, and above all, high achieving environment. You don’t get paid to go to the Landing Pad, you don’t get funding, you get an opportunity to prove yourself in one of the most competitive fields in one of the most competitive places in the world.
Incidentally, the cohort was made up of competitive, driven founders and was perfectly complemented by the Austrade staff, who worked tirelessly to provide contacts and run education sessions and networking events.
I was determined to put in as much as I possibly could and squeeze out every last remnant of opportunity in San Francisco.
I am younger than almost all the people I meet in the startup world, particularly as a founder. I’ve been a constant believer that I need to work twice as hard and read and learn twice as much to not only prove I belong, but show that age is merely a number rather than a competency metric in my abilities as a CEO.
Before I arrived, I had already signed up for as many events as I could, almost every night for the first month. I knew that I only had a finite amount of time in San Francisco and I was determined to maximise as much learning and networking as possible.
The time flew by. Countless events, introductions and hundreds of business cards, it is only a matter of time before I return to San Francisco.
Being open minded, and learning when to be aggressive and when to be patient, I implore all startup founders to consider spending some time here to experience it firsthand.
The more you put in, the more you get out, and we now have relationships with investors, soccer administrators, and other tech and business connections that will be invaluable to our company.
Here are my key recommendations to anyone heading to San Francisco with an early stage startup:
Listen more than you speak
There is an abundance of intelligence lurking in every co-working space, coffee shop and startup event in San Francisco. Ask a lot of questions. Always be thinking about your next contact as most people won’t be able to directly help you, but there is a good chance they know someone relevant who will. This is how I was referred to my best contacts.
Practice your pitch
Attending events and forcing yourself to meet new people will give you the chance to practice your pitch at least 10 times a day. This will naturally help to refine it. Watch people’s reactions to certain parts of it – do they start to nod more, is there a little smile, do their eyes light up, what questions do they ask? A/B test different ways of explaining your startup and maximise the opportunities you are getting.
Learn how to curate your opportunities
There were many benefits to filling up my calendar with events but also many disappointments. Some speakers were amazing and some were terrible, but after every event I started to see a pattern around what events attracted different types of people, what speakers were worthwhile and what events to avoid. Effective curation is the greatest skill to weed through and efficiently manage your time. (Hint: paid events, even those costing $5, greatly enhance the quality of attendees and speakers)
Embrace San Francisco
Don’t work all day every day. Get out on the weekend and check out the different neighbourhoods in the Bay Area. Talk to locals about the history and what you can find in the diverse range of suburbs. It is a quirky, vibrant place that encourages you to think progressively and embrace large scale challenges.
When you arrive in San Francisco, the first thing you notice is the hills. An easy mistake is thinking somewhere that’s half a kilometre or so away on your maps is an easy walk, only to realise it is atop what comes to feel like an Everest-like incline.
This is synonymous with having a startup in Silicon Valley; every time you feel like you are close to a milestone, there’s another hill to climb. The hills are steep and frequent, you wonder if they ever end, but they don’t.
When you think you’re at the peak, you’ve got some funding, signed a new deal, released a new product, these hills are so steep that going downhill can be just as challenging as going up. The hills in Silicon Valley are unavoidable. But just like any hill, if you’re prepared for challenges and determined and hellbent on success, you’ll realise there is always a way to the top.
By Simon Murphy, founder of RefLIVE, an app for soccer referees.
Image: RocketSpace San Fransisco. Source: VentureBeat.