Thought Leadership

View from the Valley: What it’s like to move to Silicon Valley

12th February 2019

Silicon Valley remains top of the global ranking when it comes to funding and deal value and is hard to beat when it comes to innovation. Many European scaling companies dream of relocating part of their operations to the Bay Area and building the incredible technology partnerships that will help them fast-track their business’s growth.

But in 2019, is it still a requirement to be based in the Valley? FirstCapital’s Sheana O’Sullivan and David Smith explore the options today’s European CEOs have when it comes to getting connections in the Valley.

Why did you originally take the decision to move to Silicon Valley?

Sheana O’Sullivan: When I’d finished my postgraduate degree in Ireland, I came over here on a graduate training programme. My original plan was to get a few years’ experience working in tech and then move back to work with a larger company back home – but the career opportunities kept on coming and here I am!

David Smith: I was working for Enterprise Ireland and grabbed the chance to work in the centre of tech for a while. With an 18-month-old child, it was a big decision, so I spent time talking to people who had moved over here beforehand to get a picture of what it was like. I originally came for three years and stayed for 11!

What makes the Valley a special place to be?

Sheana: There’s a real culture of innovation. People move here from everywhere – some of the smartest minds in the world live here. Plus, there’s the availability of funds: there is much less of a risk-averse approach to investment and this can-do attitude really fuels innovation.

David: In the Valley, you can meet the whole universe of tech in a week. Most of the major tech firms from all around the world have some presence here so it is a great place to forge partnerships.

What are the advantages of relocating?

Sheana: If you want to build partnerships over here, you really need to be on the ground. Companies are viewed very differently if they are local and are considered part of the ecosystem here. They understand the cultural way of doing business in the Valley and don’t arrive at meetings in suits!

But, if you can’t set up a base in Silicon Valley, the next best thing is to have someone representing you here. This is what I do at FirstCapital: our clients are looking to grow, to attract buyers and to find investors. They may come over here several times a year, but for the rest of the time I’m their Valley representative, meeting people out here on their behalf. There is definitely a big appetite for European companies, but most people prefer to deal with someone in their own timezone and who they can meet face to face when required.

David: Even if you are not based here, because of the proximity of tech companies, you can visit the majority of people you want to speak with in a short period of time, with good planning. For example when I worked in telecoms, with just in a week in the Valley, we could visit all of the US and European telecoms companies – from AT&T, T-Mobile and BT to Orange, Vodafone, Docomo and NTT. You can fit in at least 20 meetings in a week if you plan well and have a killer pitch. We do something similar for clients when we set up marketing roadshows for them with buyers and investors.

What are the challenges around being based in the Valley?

David: The Valley offers a lot of opportunities, but it is incredibly expensive. In Menlo Park, I paid $6,500 per month in rent for a three-bedroom house in a great school district. Then there’s health insurance, and the cost of staying connected to the HQ – regular flights, and lots of late-night or early morning calls. If you are here for the long term, university education is also very expensive. 

What does it take to succeed in the Valley?

Sheana: You need to talk to the right people and say the right things. American founders have much higher expectations for their business, so be ambitious – don’t be typically European in your modesty. The calibre of your management team also matters: a leader with a track record holds much more value than a first-time founder.

David: Be persistent in getting an introduction to the right people. There are hundreds of events in the Valley every month, and your personal and business connections will often cross over, so always have your 30-second elevator pitch ready.

But don’t be blinded by the shiny lights: even people with great products don’t always make it. You only ever read about the people that do succeed. If you’re going to make the leap, do your research first, be very grounded in your assessment and you may well be one of the lucky few. And if you aren’t prepared to go that far – remember there are other options.

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