5 Tips for Silicon Valley First Timers

January 28, 2014 Atlee Clark

Have a startup? Thinking of making your first trip to the Silicon Valley? Here are some tips from our Executive Director, Atlee Clark.

After three and a half years of working with Canadian tech startups, I have coached my fair share of “first-timers” to the Valley.  It’s not cheap to visit, so getting the most out of your time here should be your number one goal. Here are my top five tips on how to make the most of your first time to the Valley:

#1 – Plan!

This might seem obvious, but giving yourself lots of time to set up meetings is key to making your trip a success. Too often I get emails that say: “Hey! I am in San Francisco TOMORROW, would love to get together and get some introductions to VCs.” I’m all for spontaneity but this is really difficult for anyone to do, especially without a pre-existing relationship.  Giving people lots of notice and time availability options will increase your ability to land meetings.

#2 – Develop key objectives

This might sound too formal, but trust me, knowing what you want out of your trip here is the key to getting it. These objectives don’t have to be overly precise - and if this is your first visit - probably shouldn’t be. Setting objectives like, “spend time with as many people as possible who are relevant to our business to explore product-market fit” is achievable and broad enough to accomplish in a week.

#3 – Pick an anchor event

There are tech start-up events every day from San Francisco to San Jose. Events give you structure and ample opportunity to get “into the flow” of the tech scene.  Picking one to attend is a great way to build a successful visit.  Be picky about which event you choose though. My suggestion is to go for quality of attendees (Under the Radar or 48hrs in the Valley) and/or a particular industry or niche ( Women 2.0 or the Game Developers Conference).

#4 – Set up a few pre-visit calls

Using your existing network, set up a few calls three weeks before your visit.   Make sure these calls are with people you haven’t met before. On the call lay out a few things:

-       Who you are (you as a person)

-       What your company does

-       Why you are coming to the Valley (see #3)

-       What are your key objectives (see #2)

Remember, this call is not all about you! Know who you are talking to, research their interests and how they relate to your business. Focus on asking questions -  not on pitching. Also, have an ask. For your first visit, I suggest asking if you can meet them in person during your trip. This is relationship-building 101.  Too often people rush relationships and push too hard for follow-on introductions.

#5 – Observe

If this is your first trip, treat it like the observation phase of a science experiment. Don’t try to answer all your questions or accomplish all your goals in one week. In fact, if you can, plan two trips six weeks apart.  On your first visit, get the lay of land, make a few new connections and meet up with 3-5 new people in your network.   You can then do immediate follow up to jam pack your next trip.

#5.5 – Have fun!

Be prepared but don’t overbook yourself. Some of the best interactions come from times in between meetings, at bars or impromptu dinners. San Francisco is an amazing city to visit and play in, so make sure to save some time for exploring!

What are you waiting for? Go book your flight!


 Atlee Clark (@atleeclark) is the Executive Director of the C100 - a non-profit, member-driven organization dedicated to supporting Canadian technology entrepreneurship and investment. Atlee oversees and directs the C100's mentorship programming, start-up engagement, funding partnerships and overall strategic operations of the organization. Atlee holds a MA in US National Security from George Washington University, Washington, DC and an Hon. BA in Political Studies from Queen's University, Kingston, Canada.



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