I have just returned from a seven-day trip to San Francisco to learn more about how the tech scene works in Silicon Valley and what makes it so different to London.
The reason I am there is to make connections so that if and when some of our portfolio companies decide to raise capital or enter the US market I can be of some help.
I joined a trip with 25 entrepreneurs organized by one of our angel investors; Jack Gavigan. The trip is known as LDN2SFO.com.
Hats off to Jack, he did a sterling job and considering it was his first attempt at this I found the trip invaluable, it will allow me to create a contact base on which I can now build on through subsequent trips.
The places we visited were:
UKTI: Talks by Andy McLoughlin from Huddle and Scott Allison from Teamly. Andy gave us some great advice on the being a British tech company coming to the Valley. Andy has some great slides on this here. If you are considering staying there for a while or even living there you should check out Andy's post on his experiences.
Elliot Loh gave a talk on product. Elliot is a mentor at 500 StartUps.
Bjoern Herrmann spoke about the Startup Genome, a project that surveys thousands of startups to learn about how and why they can fail or succeed. Anybody working in startup should check out their research and use their online tool.
Tour of Twilio offices.
Visit to the offices of Orrick, San Francisco’s oldest law firm and the firm most connected in the tech world. For these very reasons Orrick represent EC1 Capital in London and work with us in completing our investment legal frameworks.
At Orrick Phil Black, Managing Partner of True Ventures who gave some great insights into how the US investment scene works.
Duncan Logan from Rocket Space, one of the leading co-working spaces in San Francisco then spoke about how they have incubated more than 600 companies in the past few years.
After lunch we visited a startup called Cloud Flare followed, currently 3% and risiing of all internet traffic goes through their servers
This was followed by a visit to a bootstrapped company called Mashape, five guys who rented one of the oldest houses in San Francisco (110 years old) and lived and worked in this house.
Finally a visit to Pivotal Labs, a 'guns for hire' development company.
We left on a minibus to Silicon Valley. First stop was at the Vodafone Innovation Labs followed by a visit to the Plug ‘n’ Play Tech Center, a little like the UN for tech companies.
After that, a visit to another successful start-up WePay who provide an alternative to PayPal and offer an easy on boarding process for merchants to take and manage payments.
Then, a visit to BlackBox. This place had lots of energy, it’s a ‘start-up mansion’ with a pool!
Photo: Blackbox Startup Mansion.
For any entrepreneur wishing to get plugged into the valley quickly it offers a two-week program for $10,000 or potential equity swap. You would achieve here in two weeks what might take you six months to achieve on your own. There are also social gatherings so you won’t be on your own, you can make friends too.
Finally an evening out at The Crunchies, the annual tech awards show. This was a lot of fun but what was amazing was that the you were literally rubbing shoulders with famous tech folk such as Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Meyer, Peter Thiel, Om Malik, Max Levchin, Marc Andressen who were freely moving around in the after party and posing for photo opportunities.
This was the best and most relevant day for me starting with a visit to Sand Hill Road, where all the legendary US VC’s are based.
Photo: Sand Hill Road
What struck me here, was that they literally live next door to each other and often mix in the local café.
First off, a vist to Glynn Capital one of the oldest VC firms and a family business that is now run by the founders’ sons. We heard a presentation from David Glynn who had an uncanny resemblance to John F Kennedy. I loved his style and deep knowledge of the valley, it was interesting to note that they never take board seats and just have informal meetings every quarter with the founders but this is often in a situation whereby they are in a syndicate.
Next door, a visit to Sequoia Capital, one the most powerful and legendary VC firms in the valley.
We then visited Singularity University. This was quite amazing; if you took a course here I think you would never look at the world the same way again.
A visit to Y-Combinator, the World’s most successful accelerator program followed. The entire building was deserted except for a few people here and there and it is only fully occupied when they run the intakes twice a year. Harj Taggar gave a talk, he went through YC in 2007 and created a startup called Auctomatic which was acquired by Live Current Media. He was then invited to become a partner at YC and has been there ever since.
Photo: Y Combinator
Finally after a long d with nothing after graduating and Kurt Varner who joined the panel spoke of how he even slept in his car for a period while his start-up grew legs.
Photo: Electonic components vending machine @ Hacker Dojo.
Here are some useful links:
http://sfbeta.eventbrite.com – startup mixer/meetup tonight in SF.
www.svnewtech.com – demo meetup in Silicon Valley tomorrow night, usually features 5 startup pitches and generally well attended.
www.liquidspace.com – this is an app that allows you to locate and book desk space by the hour. Several incubators and shared workspaces in town (including RocketSpace I believe) have open desks on there. If you’re itching to get working and don’t feel like sitting in Starbucks all day, Liquidspace is a great option!
Thanks to @jspeckle from UKTI for the tips.
The Big Takeaway
It is probably unfair to compare London to a far developed tech eco-system like Silicon Valley which has had far more time to mature.
However standouts are: