TECHNOLOGY

So You Want to Move to Silicon Valley…

A recent transplant from Minneapolis dishes on what you need to know if you want to live in the start-up capital of the world.
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Moving your tech start-up to Silicon Valley makes sense on so many levels. It’s crawling with investors, mentors and start-up companies in every stage of development—all of which are jonesing to build relationships that morph into the next big opportunity.

But uprooting your company, not to mention the rest of your life, is a decision not to be taken lightly. Will you be leaving friends and family behind? Will it be worth it? What are the downsides to living and working in the Valley? How do you ease the transition?

These are a few of the questions I asked Jon Dahl, co-founder and CEO of Zencoder, who recently moved his cloud-based video encoding company to San Francisco from Minneapolis, which he and his family had called home for the last eight years. For him, his wife, and five-year-old daughter, the move was a big deal.

Now that the dust has settled, he offers good insight for others thinking about following the yellow brick road to California.

Build relationships first. It’s important to travel out there periodically and get to know people by going to events. It can help clarify whether moving to the Valley makes sense or not.

You might be a small fish, but it’s a friendly pond. One thing that surprised Dahl was how supportive the San Francisco start-up ecosystem is. Before moving he thought he’d be a small fish in a big pond, but now that he’s there he says it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, he’s finding help everywhere. It turned out the guy who owns his office building is a successful cloud entrepreneur who now acts as an advisor to Zencoder. Such serendipity is unlikely to happen anywhere else.

Extroverts get bonus points. Investors often like to corral their portfolio companies into conferences, dinners, or other events. And there’s a very strong culture of start-ups interacting socially. Dahl says they have open houses and parties all the time in the spirit of relationship building. If hobnobbing isn’t your thing, this might not be the place for you.

The Valley has a burn rate like no other. Living and working in Silicon Valley is going to cost you. The cost of basic necessities exceeds the national average by 62 percent. The average price of a single-family home is about $775,000. The average apartment rental is an unbelievable $2,241 a month. Some bootstrapping start-ups aren’t going to be able to swallow those kinds of numbers.

Finding a place to live can be tough. Craigslist is king. Everybody uses it to list apartments. The thing is, if you see one you want, you’d better call on it within a couple hours. If you don’t, it’ll be gone.

Or you can always stay home. You can build a great company anywhere. The hardest things to find if you’re not in the Valley are money and mentoring. Dahl says if you can solve those two problems then you might as well just stay home.

Thinking about moving? Here's a quick guide to navigating the area.

Already live there? What are your tips?

IMAGE: flickr/Michael Reuter
Last updated: Dec 7, 2011




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