Silicon Valley likes to present itself as the national capital of meritocracy where all that it takes to get ahead is a good idea, a big brain, and an iron work ethic. But as much as it's true that the place is crawling with those desperate to support good ideas, Silicon Valley isn't free of secret handshakes, insider lingo, and other subtle markers of who 'gets it'--and who just doesn't.
So if you're new to the place, how do you get up to speed quickly with the unwritten rules of etiquette and learn what you need to know to be taken seriously by the areas A-players? A recent Medium post by serial founder (and Minnesota native) turned entrepreneur in residence at 500 Startups, Tristan Pollock, is probably a good place to start.
"When I started mentoring companies at 500 Startups in my E.I.R. role, I started reflecting on everything I've learned as a Minnesotan who relocated to San Francisco a little over two years ago," he writes.
What did his musings reveal? "There are very subtle things tech founders and people should both know and do... My hope is that by sharing some of these mundane but incredibly important notes on communication, I can give founders and tech people that have relocated from other parts of the US or world a head start and the opportunity to break fewer things (i.e. relationships) in their first few months or years in San Francisco and Silicon Valley." Here is a sample of his tips:
1. Use the right email address
2. Always be closing
This might not come naturally at first to everyone, but according to Pollock in the Valley (and San Francisco) it's expected that you'll never let an opportunity to talk up your company pass unexploited. "Every email, conversation, or message of any kind is an opportunity to sell your company--subtle or not. Give people a link back to your company in both your signature and email address every single time," advises Pollock.
3. Rapid responses rule
Sure, we can all talk about getting off the busyness hamster wheel, but in truth if you want to impress, you need to get back to people with lightning speed, according to Pollock. When it comes to introductions in particular, "respond quickly (24 hours or less). The faster the better. It shows you are on top of your game, and that you care," he writes.
4. Keep it short
If you're asking for a call with a new contact, keep it short. 15 minutes is generally ideal. "I often suggest a quick 15-minute call to talk about X, Y, Z specific points in order to not waste someone's time that doesn't know me yet," suggests.
5. Don't rush it
Silicon Valley, like everywhere else, runs on personal relationships. Make sure you've built one with a contact before you start asking for introductions. "Don't ask for intros in an initial email to a founder; ask after the second or third conversation," Pollock cautions the impatient, adding you should "really get to know other founders and investors and understand their unique personality."
Check out Pollock's complete post for an example of an extremely forwardable introduction email, as well as advice from 500 Startups founder Dave McClure about what he likes to see in messages introducing a company.