Five things Aussie founders need to consider when making the pilgrimage to Silicon Valley

Onestack founder Gavin Appel recently returned from a week-long trip to Silicon Valley where he met with the likes of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Stripe.

Here he offers five important things that Australian founders need to consider when they make the pilgrimage to the startup capital of the world.

1. The purpose of the trip

As with all business travel, you need to ask why you are going.

Are you building relationships? Finding talent? Seeking investment? Acquiring customers? Or looking for general exploration?

Make sure you set out key objectives for your trip so that you can maximise your time on the ground, spending time meeting with the right people versus having meetings for meeting sake. Everyone is busy.

With all meetings, ensure you have prepared, setting out the objectives you are looking to achieve from each meeting to ensure you maximise outcomes.

Your trip has to be pre-planned, making sure you have the right time with the right people and in the right location.

The Bay Area is a big, spread out place; plan a day of meetings in Palo Alto and a day of meetings in San Francisco, be smart with timings between meetings. And whatever you do, don’t be late.

2. Craft a quick introduction

No matter what your objective, receiving a warm introduction via your trusted network is the most valuable way for a new connection to engage with you.

Everyone is super busy and time is their most precious resource so crafting your introduction is critical. Keep it short and being explicit about outcomes you’re seeking from the 30 to 60 minutes you may receive in a face to face meeting.

For investor meetings:

  • Make sure you are targeting an introduction to the right VC and more importantly, the right partner within the VC. VC partners in the Valley are different to VCs at home in Australia, in that they tend to have a focus – enterprise SaaS, IoT, API, marketplaces etc – whereas at home you can meet with any partner as the maturity of firms is different
  • Investors love introductions from founders they have already invested in. Try to secure an introduction from a founder in their existing portfolio as that will provide you with the greatest opportunity to secure a meeting

3. Be prepared and know your business

Prepare more than you’ve ever prepared before.

Americans will respect you for how much you have prepared, not for how little you prepare; winging it is not an option. Have an outcome in mind and when you start the meeting, be upfront with the ask.

For investor meetings:

  • US VCs are sophisticated in their approach. They have a lot of data available based on pitches they receive, businesses they have backed, and what is publicly available. In many cases, they may have more data than you on your problem area.
  • Know your business metrics inside and out. Know your industry dynamics, public company products and metrics together with funded businesses in your space. It’s likely they have seen a handful, if not more, businesses the same or similar to yours so you need to be able to demonstrate clear differentiation and defensibility of your startup.
  • Know the businesses the VC, and specifically, the partner you are meeting with have invested in as they will draw on this knowledge to drive discussions about your business.
  • Know their focus, what they look for, the stage, growth rates and quality of team dynamics. For example, some VCs will only invest in a founder if they are based in the US whereas others are more progressive and will invest if the team is in Australia.
  • Investment is just one piece of the puzzle, meetings with VCs are not a critical milestone, it’s a step on the journey.

4. Focus on building relationships

Make sure you are meeting with the right people and building early yet long term relationships as if it’s not this round, or this investor meeting, they may have a connection to another VC, prospective customer or talent hire in their network to help you achieve your objectives.

Be proactive and organise a breakfast, lunch or dinner and ask your contacts to each bring a guest along. This will help you build new and meaningful relationships in a more relaxed environment.

5. Soak it all in

Silicon Valley is an impressive and hyper connected part of the world.

Whether you’re in an UberPool with a VC, Snapchatting with people on the next table at dinner, spending time in the public open spaces of LinkedIn’s new second street offices or sitting on the rooftop of Dropbox looking out over the San Francisco skyline, the atmosphere is intoxicating.

Walk the street, visit some of the biggest tech businesses on the planet, speak to people, learn, and soak it all in.

Every experience and conversation will help you take one more step towards your dreams of building a global success story from Australia.

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