CREDIT: RICH REID
“Silicon Valley isn’t a place; it’s a mindset,” says Alec Wright, chief technology officer at GSVlabs, a start-up accelerator based in Redwood, California.
California’s technology giants have spread across the state, most notably to downtown San Francisco, home to Salesforce, Dropbox and LinkedIn. But the ideas of Silicon Valley have spread much further. Here are four of the best.
1. Find a great mentor
GSVlabs provides tech start-ups with coaching, connections and funding, with the aim of creating global businesses. Mr Wright says that entrepreneurs shouldn’t attempt to “go it alone” and that start-ups should be interacting with bigger businesses.
But crucially, he says, all entrepreneurs must find mentors. “Eric Schmidt said it best: ‘Everyone needs a coach’. “Even if you know your market and company better than anyone in the world, outside perspective from someone who has been in the trenches keeps you focused and honed.”
2. Unleash your global vision
Nicholas Shekerdemian created Headstart, a company that uses machine learning to help employers to find job candidates. BP and L’Oréal are among its clients.
He dropped out of Oxford University and set up his business in San Francisco after winning backing from The Thiel Fellowship, established by PayPal founder, Peter Thiel, and gaining a place on the seed accelerator programme, Y Combinator.
He says that investors and entrepreneurs value people who can express an ambitious vision in the simplest terms: “They’re vital in Silicon Valley, [where] the story is key. It’s often not the best ideas that take off and raise the most capital – rather, it’s the founders who can best inspire investors, customers and employees with their vision
for growth and success.
“Your elevator pitch must be so simple that someone could explain your product and vision to family and friends over dinner.”
3. Constantly evolve
Creating a winning product isn’t enough, even if it proves popular. Competition is fierce and entrepreneurs must constantly update and reiterate their offerings, or risk losing market share to their rivals.
Michael Gould is the founder and chief technology officer (CTO) of Anaplan, a cloud-based planning tool for companies. Mr Gould originally set up the business in his barn in Yorkshire, but then moved to Silicon Valley in 2011 to take advantage of its talent and access to finance. The business has since gained $240m in funding, has offices in 16 countries around the world, and boasts clients such as Procter & Gamble, Gatwick Airport and Kimberly-Clark.
But Mr Gould says that his business is constantly looking for ways to improve its platform.
“The stark truth of the era of ‘digital disruption’ is that, if you don’t innovate, you will quickly become irrelevant. Business models are changing faster than ever before and Silicon Valley teaches you that you must keep pace.”
4. Remember that it’s about people
Guy Pattison is the founder of Long Run Works, which has run the Clean + Cool mission since 2010, taking selected clean-tech entrepreneurs to San Francisco for a week of coaching and networking.
Mr Pattison works with entrepreneurs, many of whom have a strong science or engineering background, to help humanise their stories and make them easier to pitch.
The mission’s alumni include fuel cell business, Intelligent Energy, which is now listed on the London Stock Exchange, and rapidly growing solar energy company, Oxford Photovoltaics. Mr Pattison says that businesses need to show that they’re solving problems, making life easier for people and, critically, that they’re able to form relationships.
“It’s easy to get sucked into focusing on technology, but our most successful entrepreneurs had very human missions and pitched with true passion and purpose,” says Mr Pattison.
“Never forget that investors are people and want to connect on a personal level. Similarly, don’t treat corporations as such – look for the individual working there and think about how you can help them hit their personal objectives.”