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While the publication of the Rich 200 list this week has focused most of your attention on established entrepreneurs, I’ve spent the past week in San Francisco where the next generation of burgeoning billionaires is trying to figure out how to go from start-up smarts to income stream
It’s day five of six that I’ve spent in the “Valley”, having lots of productive meetings with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and people in between. I’ve managed to drive (on the right!) between San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, down Sand Hill Road, up the 101 and have rested my head each night in Santa Clara. One of the questions that I’ve been trying to get answered is the “should I stay or should I go?” that vexes many entrepreneurs who come up with a great idea in the lounge rooms, garages and bedrooms of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Silicon Valley is where it all happens. “Start-up” is like oxygen, it’s in the air. Even my school friend who is a medical researcher at Stanford talks about coming up with a health IT start-up. Every café you walk into has a smartphone app they’re trialling, whether it’s Order Ahead (where you can… oh it’s pretty self explanatory) or Owner Listens (where you can leave feedback). People stride up the footpaths, talking loudly into their “cells” about “the parent company” or “my developer” or they discuss the “patentability” or of course the “monetisation” of this or that idea.
I tried so very hard to listen to a guy bragging to his mates on Monday as he walked down University Avenue, Palo Alto and started a conversation with a: “Did I tell you about my Facebook investment story? We almost lost it…”. But unfortunately he turned into an office and I wasn’t stealthy enough to follow behind. (But be sure… everybody has a Facebook anecdote).
When you arrive at a building and look at the company names on the lobby floor, there are plenty of familiar digital start-ups staking out their own suite (nobody has an office, everybody just has a suite).
With this kind of buzz, you might think you need to be in Silicon Valley to make it big, but I’m not convinced.
There certainly are reasons to be here. One, it’s a hub. If you have an idea that plays into one of the big companies or social media platforms, it’s almost a must to play in the Bay. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter you name it: many of the big digital companies have either a head office (actually nobody has head offices, they’re called campuses) or a presence here. And it’s not just software and social, biotech, clean tech, there are plenty of sectors swimming in cash here.
And cash is obviously top of the list for many local companies coming over. There’s so much of it flowing around. Competition among investors is high and company valuations are ostensibly higher.
But, I’m still not convinced. If you couldn’t possibly stand the idea of leaving Australia (and just as an aside, maybe you have bigger problems than getting your tech start-up idea off the ground) then I don’t think all is lost for you. Although I’ve found plenty of reasons why you would want to come to Silicon Valley, there have also been plenty of investors and entrepreneurs with advice and reasons why it’s not the only path. I’m going to write these up in a feature article for BRW, which I hope you’ll enjoy (yes, this is a teaser).
Until then… some more research. I’m writing this blog in a hotel lobby, next door to a Japanese restaurant where I’m about to have dinner with 20 Australian entrepreneurs who have made their way to start-up land to try their luck. They’ll have their reasons why they made the leap over the ocean to try on Silicon Valley for size. I’ll let you know these as well. But I can tell you one thing. It’s not the coffee.