There’s plenty of advice out there about how to make it in Silicon Valley. Some things are required for innovation success anywhere in the world, but the valley is a special place with different rules. As someone who’s spent a lot of time there, I think there are a few important elements to Silicon Valley’s success that others should know about if they’re trying to bring their ideas to life there.
Be Helpful: Successful People Help Others
You hear a lot these days about “corporate greed,” but even with so much money and prestige centered in Silicon Valley, the overall attitude of people there is very generous. According to James Hong, whose company HOTorNOT got its start in Silicon Valley, one of the biggest assets that the valley was able to offer him and his then-startup company was an abundance of riches, both financial and intellectual, when it came to helping others in the area succeed.
For example, Hong points out that in the mid-1990s, he attended several parties where Apple’s Steve Jobs also happened to be. At that time, Apple was still trying to find its way, and at those parties, Jobs was appreciatively soaking up the wisdom of “old timers” like Andy Grove (the linchpin of Intel Corporation, the world's largest provider of semi-conductors). Grove was happy to provide advice, which in turn helped Apple become the success that it is today.
The helpful spirit of the valley also helped Hong launch his own company. Amongst the many technological giants who helped HOTorNOT along in its early days were Larry Page of Google, James Joaquin of Ofoto, and several executives at Yahoo!
Hong's company is not unique in having this positive experience, and it's this “giveback” that's part of the true success of Silicon Valley. Seek out the advice and support of those who came before you, but more importantly, share the resources and knowledge you have with those who ask. This is the best way to build a network that will help your idea get off the ground.
Create Value, Then Ask for Value Back: If You Build It, They Will Come
You know that your idea is a good one, but the rest of the world doesn't (yet), and the only way that is going to change is if you get some much-needed financing to tell the world that you're a success. But don’t get ahead of yourself.
In the valley, to be successful, you have to create value before you can ask for it. What does it mean to create value? It means doing quality work and providing quality products or services that create some change.
In pitching an innovative idea, you need to demonstrate to potential investors and your industry peers that the idea has legs and makes a measurable impact on the world. Show that you're willing to outwork, and out-network, the competition to continually improve your operations and provide more value to your users, customers, industry, etc.
Think of a potential investor as a bank that you go to for a mortgage: a bank won't lend money to you unless you can show that you can pay that money back. The same thing goes for any investor: unless you demonstrate to that investor that you can create value doing what you do, they're not going to invest into you.
So, how do you create value within your company? Think of this three-fold tack: create new value, create more value, create better value. New value is what you create when you do something that hasn’t been done before. More value is what you create when you approach a wider swath of the market. Better value is what you create when you do something better than you or anyone else did it before. By approaching your work on these three fronts, you'll attract high-quality investors. If you build your business, they will come.
Silicon Valley Moto: Don't Ask For Permission: Just Get Up And Do It
The unofficial motto of Silicon Valley is “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.” You’ll never experience success without a certain degree of risk, and you just have to decide what kinds of risks you’re willing to take. But one thing you shouldn’t be afraid of is creating something that disrupts the status quo and might make others uncomfortable. Like Nike, when it comes to innovation, “just do it.”
And this doesn’t just go for others in your space: don’t spend too much time asking for permission from yourself, either, even if you’ve failed in the past. Tina Seelig of Stanford University describes the overall attitude of Silicon Valley as one that sees “the bottom” as lined with rubber, not concrete: the best entrepreneurs and innovators use failure to bounce back. Fear of failure or rejection should never keep you from taking risks.
Also, importantly, you’re more likely to impress people in Silicon Valley if you go for something big and fail than if you have success with a safe idea that doesn’t really change anything.
Silicon Valley is a unique place, and having success there isn’t a matter of a simple recipe. But keeping these three ingredients in mind will give you the best chance of making an impact and creating something truly game-changing.
For more information about how you can have more success as an innovator, contact me.