We have just returned from the Silicon Valley trip with Startup Sauna and here are some quick notes about the trip.
1. Do your car rental homework
We’ve booked a car through Avis (via Lufthansa) even though “on paper” it wasn’t the cheapest option. But I got tired researching cheaper options and booked with Avis. In the end there were no surprises (except for free upgrade from intermediate to a full-size class) and we’ve paid $250 for 8 days. Other teams tried to save and paid $500+ in the end (because insurance, etc. wasn’t included in the quote).
2. Leave your car “at home” when going to San Francisco (unless absolutely necessary)
We were stationed in Palo Alto but had to go to SF quite a few times. First time we went to San Francisco by car even though we had no use for it in the city. The morning trip was during rush hour and took as long (if not longer) as train ride would, parking cost $22 and is hard to find and messy. Our friends got their car towed away and ended up paying $400 to get it back. Next time I had to go by car (cause I had meetings in Palo Alto and in SF back to back). I chose the wrong lane on the street – only 1 of the 3 lanes turning left was actually turning left and the other 2 were going “slightly” left and I ended up on the Bay Bridge and had to go extra 5km over the bridge to Treasure Island and back in heavy and slow traffic. Ended up being 30 min. late to the meeting. Next time we went by train and it was an absolute pleasure and relaxed experience.
You can get prepaid plans at AT&T and T-mobile but you have to go to the actual stores and go through a rather lengthy procedure. It literally took AT&T guys an hour to figure out how to set me up with a $25 prepaid option that would include data. T-mobile were quicker but (as far as I understand) 3G won’t work on most European phones when using T-mobile and you’ll be limited to 2G. The quality of the cell networks is pretty low too. Lots of times I have literally no bars on the phone and I wasn’t in a forest or something.
We’ve also tried to buy a Nokia Lumia 900 w/o a contract and unlocked, but failed miserably.
4. Things just happen in Silicon Valley
I had a few meetings planed upfront for the trip but a couple more happened just because of the Silicon Valley ecosystem and the fact that lots of companies are based there. At the same time as with all the densely populated communities, the startup community in SV is filled with all kinds of “leeches” trying to sell their services to you during the networking events.
5. Silicon Valley VCs are not that scary and Sandhill Road is a nice place
It is often stressed that European VCs are just a bunch of nice “bunnies” compared to sharks in Silicon Valley. We didn’t go there expecting to raise money or something, so maybe that was the important factor, but I found pitching to VCs that we’ve met to be a pretty nice and not really stressful experience. That said the level of technological expertise and diversity of some of these guys was really impressive.
6. Entrepreneurs think big in SV… often too big, imho
Several times I’ve met entrepreneurs who pivoted not because their initial idea sucked, but because they figured it was “only” a $100 million idea, not a billion. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but that pretty much describes the difference I’ve noticed. We’ve also got feedback from VCs that our group was noticeably different from local startups in a way that our businesses were built around our passions and most of the SV entrepreneurs are in the game for the sake of game itself.
7. Co-working spaces are quiet
It’s always pretty noisy in the Aalto Venture Garage but 2 co-working spaces I’ve been to in SF (RocketSpace and I/O Ventures) are pretty quiet. That is definitely a plus in my book.
8. Office space is expensive, but everyone takes twice as much as they need
I guess it’s a mix of optimistic growth expectations, scarcity of available office space and rent terms, but it feels that companies get offices at least twice as big as they currently need.
9. It seems that the technical talent in the Valley is pretty scarce
Provided that you have a proper visa (or other form of work permit) it should be really easy to get a job for technical people in the Valley. That should make it an unattractive place for R&D activities of startups (imho) but the counter argument is that only there you can find people with proper experience building really massive and scalable projects. There’s probably some truth to that, but in general I think it’s BS. There’s lot of talent all over the world and only a few companies manage to grow to a scale where real high end scaling skills are necessary. So I would say moving a technical part of your company to SV is pretty much lame.
10. If you ever plan to look for funding in the US, establish a Delaware corp. now
There’s lots of crazy law and accounting stuff involved but the bottom line is that a non-US startup should establish some “empty” company in the US at least a few months before it starts seeking for funding. There aren’t many expenses involved in keeping this company alive, but it’ll pay off beautifully if/when you decide to “flip”.
11. Startup Sauna rocks!
And most importantly, thank you to Startup Sauna for getting us there, taking us places we wouldn’t get to otherwise and organizing a great Silicon Valley demo day (even though I had to start a pitch to a half-empty room due to the last minute champagne stunt).
And thanks to all the other Sauna teams for the company. You guys rock!