1. Don’t: Think what you’ve done is cool
While it’s always good to have a working prototype, established clients and incoming revenue from home, don’t emphasize that too much. The US, and especially the Valley, values “what’s next?”, rather than “what have you already done?”. Since your home market is probably smaller than the US, what you’ve done isn’t so impressive. You will want to get local references that boost your credibility. Having one well-known US brand spending $1000, is more powerful than several local or lesser known brands spending $10,000 back home.
2. Don’t: Refuse meetings
It’s your first time here, so what you want to do is to meet as many people as you can. Attend events (use Eventbrite, Meetup and subscribe to Startupdigest), even meet with people that are trying to sell you stuff. During every meeting, you can ask for quick feedback on your product /service, take it. Americans love giving feedback and it’s free, so take it. Of course, don’t take all feedback carte blanche, instead analyze them and learn from each instance. Meeting many people will help you build your local network.
Remember that switching companies very fast is common practice. Someone with a “non-interesting” position in company A, can be the “decision maker” in company B tomorrow. To build an even larger network, ask acquaintances to introduce you to someone. One thing you should strive to hear at the end of meetings is : “Send me an email with 3 names/companies you want to meet, I’ll do my best”. And they usually do! It’s a common thing, people are always trying to introduce you to their network, so prepare yourself for these questions (Linkedin can help :-).
3. Don’t: Think “petit”
It’s not true for every business, but some will need to rethink their core values, their name and design. Why? Because the perception in the Valley is different. Some names which sound cool at home, might sound old-fashioned here. Same goes for your pitch, while we advise you to stay humble back home, in the Valley you are either “awesome” or “boring”.
4. Don’t: Hang with only compatriots
It’s tempting to stick to what you know. Considering it has probably been a while since seeing family and friends, or eating your favorite foods from home, so you think “let’s keep in touch with this French Group" or “Swedish Association etc.”. Well maybe sometimes, but try to get in a network of locals, avoid isolating yourself. While keeping in touch with fellow compatriots is encouraged, it is also important to branch out. Get out of your comfort zone and network with new people.
5. Don’t: Think alone
A great way to accelerate your business and open more doors, is to assemble a Board of Advisors. What’s this? It’s a small group of qualified people who have the network, knowledge, and experience you don’t have. They might be former entrepreneurs, CEOs, VC’s, lawyers etc. They are people who are willing to provide feedback, some time, and introductions. If you are able to build a strong Board, it will help you when facing VC’s and clients. Useful tips from Inc.com.
6. Don’t: Work in a garage
The image of Silicon Valley we have is of technical founders coding in a garage or in a dorm room. It might be a great experience from time to time, but what you need is a real professional environment. If you want to hack all night in a garage, you can be 10,000 KM away from here, and save yourself the flight. In Silicon Valley garages are not special, network is, and only that matters.
One of the best ways to network is to be in an incubator/accelerator program. Be careful, not all incubators are created equal and not all trustworthy, but they can save you time and money (This ranking might help). Coworking spaces are also great, you can meet other "startups friendly people”, in addition to a fully furnished workspace, it’s an environment where you can meet other “startup friendly people and many have events on premises etc.
7. Don’t: Go back and forth
For several reasons, coming to the US, then constantly heading home for a few weeks here and there, isn’t a good idea. First, when you are not here, people don’t think about you. So once you come back, you have to remind them of everything and you lose precious time. Sometimes it can feel like starting over.
Secondly, border agents won’t like if you are continuously going back and forth. So my advice is to come for 6 months with a “B1 Visa”. Setup all of your meetings beforehand. Try to find all the events you can attend. Then, if after 2 or 3 months, you feel like you are going to stay more…. get a visa! Yes, this is easier said, than done, but very beneficial. If you have been employed by your company for more than 1 year, think of the “L1-A Visa”, if not the “E-2 Visa” might work, but you must demonstrate significant investment in the US.
Hopefully, sometime soon there will be a startup visa that makes it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to launch startups in the US. (www.startupvisa.com)
8. Don’t: Forget your business
The time difference and the excitement might take you away from your business clients. But don’t forget them! First and foremost, don’t neglect the clients and employees that rely on you back home. Secondly, if it’s not working here, you still have your clients back home. Finally, this established business will be a big help if you plan on staying and need to get a visa.
9. Don’t: Go to VCs
One of the first mistakes I made, and others have made, was to schedule meetings with all the VC’s I could. Sometimes it might work and at least you can meet them, but just so you know, they will be more interested if a mutual acquaintance introduces you. So there is no need to focus on VCs initially. First go to clients and strategic partners, get traction. Meet people that your potential investors know, that will lead to introductions. Even better, let them come to you. Setting up a profile on Angelist can be a good way to catch their attention (www.angel.co)
10. Don’t: Think Silicon Valley is easy
With hundreds of pitch events, VC’s, dozens of incubators and this amazing startup friendly environment, it’s common to think that the Silicon Valley is an easy place to start and grow a company. It’s not! It’s even harder because there is so much competition. Startups from all over the world come here dreaming of big success. Beware, they are just as hungry as you are, maybe even more.
So if you are moving here, you better, as they say: ”Go Big or Go Home“.