I've debated for years whether or not I need to live in San Francisco to build a high-growth tech company, and to find investors. It's well-established as the most innovative tech startup hub in the world--just ask the people behind HBO's Silicon Valley.
I've decided that I don't, and the hype is exactly that. In my experience, a tech company doesn't need to be in a particular location--technology has advanced enough to allow convenient and remote communication from anywhere in the world.
That said, I believe it's still imperative to build my Bay Area network. So much innovation still happens there, and so many key tech figures and influencers continue to live there, that it's important to keep in touch with the community.
Here are my top six tips for getting into the Silicon Valley community without actually living there (sadly, teleportation isn't on the list):
1. Find a Silicon Valley-based mentor
Regardless of the industry, it's not easy to build a successful company. You're entering a new territory, and by definition, you aren't familiar with the rules.
You're going to need some sort of "in." A great mentor can teach you how to handle the Silicon Valley tech community, which events to attend (online, if not in-person), which influencers to contact, and how to understand your competition.
A mentor can also introduce you to their connections and spread the word about your company amongst their peers. It can be surprisingly easy to connect with someone you admire: My most trusted mentor and friend came from a tweet I sent him.
Mentors can help you become more confident with your leadership skills while keeping you firmly grounded. That's crucial when you want to break into a highly competitive industry like the tech community in Silicon Valley.
A mentor helps even if you're not trying to break into the valley.
2. Network on Quora
I enjoy Quora. You can ask questions and get great answers from people from different walks of life. You can share your knowledge and showcase your skills in any industry. It's more interactive and communicative than Facebook or Twitter because you ask questions and actively answer them.
I've made connections with several influencers and Silicon Valley experts this way. In some ways, I consider it far better than LinkedIn because I can provide actionable insights, get real answers, and showcase my skills. (Connect with me there.)
3. Network with Bay Area accountants and attorneys
Accountants and lawyers are the silent influencers in the tech community. These guys have connections to all of the VCs and entrepreneurs you need to know.
They can introduce you to the main people at networking events and help you gain new connections. They can also offer excellent advice on how to run your company by using loopholes and laws to your advantage and managing your finances effectively.
It never hurts to have these professionals in your corner, regardless of your goal.
4. Join an accelerator
Business accelerators can provide a nurturing environment to new ventures and entrepreneurs. They provide support services and funding opportunities to new businesses.
Accelerator programs typically last for several months and allow you to work under mentorship in a very supportive environment. Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Founders Space are just a few of the top accelerators out there.
Of course, this isn't for everyone--some people don't like the program supervision, and most will require you to give up a small piece of equity. However, such programs can be hugely valuable--not just in building your company, but in breaking into the community as well.
5. Develop your personal brand
My personal brand has afforded me tremendous opportunities. Some of the necessary assets that have helped me build a personal brand include:
- My personal website (which I've turned into a branding agency).
- Building companies that get lots of exposure (like Progenex).
- Contributing content through various outlets (including Inc.).
- Networking online and cold-emailing people I want to meet.
Now, people seek me out and send me networking requests. And it's much easier for me to get introduction or meetings with others.
Building a personal brand can be the spear point to getting your foot in the door not just in Silicon Valley, but any other community you're attempting to break into.
6. Get creative and viral
The best way to break into Silicon Valley is to create something worthy of being noticed. This is obviously easier said than done.
Sometimes, all you need is some digital creativity. I read a story on the Hustle last year about Jack Smith, who was building a startup when he came across an article about AngelPad, which had one spot left in its accelerator program.
Smith had about 12 hours to get the AngelPad team's attention. He used a highly creative LinkedIn ad hack to do it. He found the AngelPad founder's name and image, and created a LinkedIn ad with the text: "If you know Thomas Korte, please help us pass on this message."
The link from the ad went to a video of Smith and his co-founder discussing why they'd be great candidates for AngelPad.
The internet moves quickly. Shortly after the ad posted, they received an email from Korte and were accepted into the program.
Publicity stunts and press blitzkriegs are effective. Think outside the box, and do things that get people's attention.