How to get around in Start Up Disneyland
After spending some weeks in San Francisco we wanted to share our experience, especially for those of you that are interested in startups. We can just recommend to go there someday to learn and experience the vibe of innovation, disruption and creative thinking. These vibes are very different, compared to Germany, as there is still this feeling of the gold rush. However, the gold is not hidden in the ground anymore, but between the lines of code, written by developers. Today, the gold miners are not outside the whole day anymore, they hide in the shadows of huge office buildings and only come out for good reasons. But let’s get to the eight points:
1. What is the difference between San Francisco and Silicon Valley
The difference is distance and size of companies. In general there are many start ups in San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Bruno, San Jose and Redwood City. However, most of the new ones seem to be in San Francisco, as well as most of the meetups and conferences.
To get from San Francisco to Palo Alto, you need to take the CalTrain, which is about an hour ride. Many people working for Facebook, Apple or Google are commuting every single day, as they don’t want to miss out on a great city life. Therefore do not assume that locations are just next to each other. We have spent many hours to get from one place to another for a one hour meeting.
About the companies, there is a saying “the harder it gets, the more south they are”, meaning that depending on how much “hardware” a company has in its DNA the more south it is located in Silicon Valley. An example would be Apple in Cupertino and Twitter, Uber and Yelp in San Francisco. However, there are always exceptions like Facebook or Google.
2. When is the best time to go there? When you are running a start up, just started a startup, or you just have a start up idea?
San Francisco and the Silicon Valley is definitely worth a visit, if you want to learn more about start ups and technology in general. However, how can you maximize your personal progress and the effect for your start up? There could be the following stages:
o You have no clue what to do and just want to get some inspiration what could be your next step. No doubt, San Francisco and the Silicon Valley is a great place to get this. Daily meetups, conferences and different workshop will give you very quick insights of what is currently top notch in terms of technology. However, meeting the really interesting guys is probably difficult because those guys don`t appear at meetups. Try not to freak out, it can be very overwhelming how many ideas there are around and how well people are able to sell their idea. Take it easy, listen and let it digest before taking any action.
o You have a startup idea and would like to evaluate, if the idea could be the next google? We think that going to the Valley is probably not the best timing, as you need at least a prototype to show. You will see that an idea is not worth a penny. Many people have a bunch of ideas. However, finding the courage, the money and the right people to do it is difficult and without having invested the time in building a prototype, talking to users and nailing down the specific problem you are solving, you won’t get very far. The feedback you will get might discourage you. With just an idea most people will tell you how many solutions there are out there trying to solve the same problem. Furthermore, we would anyway recommend to start talking to your friends, family and neighbors, if you are in the initial phase of proving the value proposition of your product. These are probably the people you are building it for. San Francisco would just be another survey, another user group and I am not sure, if that is worth the journey.
o If you have a running prototype, but no running operations yet, it could be a great time to go. The good thing about San Francisco is that you might get better feedback from people in a bar, on the street, or your Uber driver, than from many business angels or VCs in other parts of the world. People are very exposed to new products in the valley. Therefore they have seen a thousand of apps, software solutions and websites to be able to tell why they like your product or not. Be aware of 2 things: First of, some people are annoyed by all that startup ideas. They actually don`t want to listen anymore. Second thing: Some people have lost their homes, because rents and costs of living are going through the roof, due to the number of rich employees from the tech industry (google, facebook etc.). If they get to know that you are working in tech, then you might want to start running.
o You want investment: You should have at least a prototype and even more important: You should have numbers. Some people say, the old Serias A is the new Seed Round. Investing in ideas became very rare and you should show up with some proof for your idea and product – then a lot of doors will be open for you. However, many Americans think that Europeans are rather conservative, and can not keep up concerning flexibility or pace. Proof them wrong, show them how quickly you are moving. Have a specific problem that you solving and a market where you product works. The market can be as small as your hometown only, but you have to have real user stories that happened to people using your MVP. Usually, Investors will also ask you to open an entity in the US and have at least one founder around. They don’t like investing in an UG (haftungsbeschränkt) of GmbH. Think carefully about the viability and costs (tax) of these options, if you want U.S. money.
3. How to get around
San Francisco is all about taking an Uber or Lyft. Probably, while I am writing this blog post everything has changed again, as those two companies move extremely fast. Everybody, who owns a car can be a taxi driver and it works just incredibly smooth. Drivers are very friendly, helpful and it seems to be that there is always somebody around, even at 4am in the morning. We were happy to sit in an Uber at 4 am in the morning, after a good evening in a few pubs and not walking the whole way. The driver was even so nice to offer a water. They do everything for a good review ;). However you need an US cell phone number to use that service.
There is also a metro line, the so called BART, which is quick, however has only a very limited amount of stops, but is definitely faster, than the car.
The Bus system is actually not too bad. They are quite frequent and go to most parts of the city. However, people in the startup community seem to never use it anymore, since Uber is around.
The Caltrain brings you to all major cities in the Valley, like Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. Renting a car is not too expansive. We have rented a car at “Rent a Wreck”, which worked just fine. We even thought about renting a car instead of a room to stay as it would have been much cheaper, but parking downtown is quite bad.
4. Write all your start up friends you are coming
Before arriving to SF and the Valley just tell your startup friends that you are going to the valley and many people will know somebody who knows somebody in the valley. We encountered the situation that people had already heard about us because a friend from Germany, who has connections to the valley told them. The startup scene in the valley is huge, but extremely well connected.
5. What about universities like Stanford and Berkley
You should see that. Stanford is like another planet. It is beautiful and well maintained. Join a free tour on campus to get some nice insights and join some lectures. You will find a list of lectures you can visit on their website. Professors are high class and very open for a short discussion after the lecture. We even made an appointment with a Junior Professor on the same day after his lecture to discuss some ideas. Stanford is in Palo Alto, about a 30 minutes walk, or 10 min Bus ride from the train station. Berkely is right across the bay and more united with the city of Berkley. It is as well a great place to go. There are sometimes meetups in the university to get some helpful information. Standford is No 1 for Computer Science in the U.S., while Berkely is more specialized in the fields of electrical engineering.
6. Great areas to go and to stay:
o Mission District
We stayed in the Mission District for some weeks. It is known for the rather alternative scene of San Francisco. There are many Mexicans around and you will see the influence of food, art and vibe. There is one taco restaurant next to the other. It has a great atmosphere and well connected with the BART.
o Market Street
This is the central road of San Francisco and Downtown. However, it got a bit sketchy, especially the further it gets from the seaside and around the district of tenderloin. On Market Street there are some huge companies like Uber and Twitter, however you should know where you are going.
o North Beach and Marina
Super beautiful, as it is right next to the seaside with beautiful houses. However definitely not the cheapest place to be.
o SOMA (South of Market), Howard Street, Folsom Street:
South of Market used to be more industrial with warehouses and car dealers, however now warehouses gets turned into loft apartments. Definitely not the most beautiful place to stay, but who knows what is inside the building. You might be surprised. Most smaller start ups and a lot of Accelerators / Co-working places are in that area.
This is where the hippie movement started and you can still feel it a bit. Nice houses but a bit hard to get there, as it is quite far from downtown and no BART station around.
o Financial District
Witali stayed also in the Financial District for a while. Everything is very easy to access from there: Either going south to Palo Alto, or East to Berkeley, going down to Mission or north to the Marina. There are many options to get around and we like to wander around those huge skyscrapers.
7. Where to work – Co-Working spaces:
There is a huge number of Co-Working spaces in San Francisco. Most of them are only for long term use though and for some you have to apply to be there, the well-known once are the following:
o Runway: Quite huge and in the same building as Twitter. There is also a pitchcontest going on each month, it’s called pitchforce. You have to imagine the size of two basketball fields entirely packed with chairs and tables.
o Parisoma: Here you have even short term deals to work for a few days. Nice building, good working environment and some cool ping pong tables.
o Rocketspace: Quite famous and pretty much downtown. Companies like Uber, Spotify have been in one of the two locations in the city center. To get to know it, you should just join one of their weekly wine drinking meetups. Very friendly receptionist and a nice place to network and meet with some companies.
o WeWorK: Seems to be very well know, but I haven`t been there.
o Startupbasecamp (http://startupbasecamp.org/): Co-Living and Co-Working at once. They have two locations and if you want to work where you live, it is great. Also in terms of meeting similar minded entrepreneurs. After staying and working for a while at the same place, you might make some good friends.
o Startuphouse: Same here, Co-Living and Co-Working. It can get quite crowded and a bit noisy as the kitchen and living room is also the working space. They have a cool pitch contest, called Start Up battlefield.
If you want to work in a café, then we would highly recommend the Workshopcafe (http://www.workshopcafe.com/). It is a coffee place but especially made for people that want to work there. You really have everything you need.
8. Visit existing companies, if you have the chance:
It is nice to get to know the story of some companies in SF and the best place to do so is to visit their offices. However bear in mind that you cannot just walk in and ask for an office tour. It is not going to happen, therefore you need to have some friends or friends of friends within those companies:
o Airbnb: They have probably one of the nicest offices in San Francisco. If you happen to know somebody working for them, ask for lunch in their office. You won`t regret it. They have a very nice atmosphere and visiting their wall of history, I found it quite impressive to see, how it all started.
o Google: They have two offices. One is downtown and the other one is in Mountain View. The downtown office has a great view on the Bay Bridge, the main office in Mountain View is just huge. Same here, only if you know people you can visit.
o Twitter: We unfortunate haven`t been in their office but we have heard that it is definitely worth being there. There are also some pubs around Market street that are known to be visited by many Twitter employees, so maybe it is worth to visit those, get some drinks with those folks and get a office visit. Same for Facebook, we couldn’t visit, but heard it is very impressive.
o Mozilla / Firefox: Mozilla is right next to the Google downtown office and also not far away from Yahoo. No wonder Mozilla just made a deal with Yahoo, as they probably met in a Starbucks between they offices. If you want to learn how to manage a worldwide community of contributors, then try to see if you manage to get to know somebody.
Overall San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are an awesome place to visit. The only downside is the very high costs of living. It is mostly sunny and it can be a great way to escape from the bad weather of your home country. In addition you learn a lot about startups, product development and you start to understand, why so many world famous companies evolved out of this tech-wonderland.