Frequently, I get friends from outside of Silicon Valley asking me for advice on how to come to the Valley and dive into the game of startups.
I thought I'd share my usual advice in this post. If you're a business professional looking to move to Silicon Valley and give your full energy toward building a great company, your best option is to start by finding a small startup where your skills will be valued most.
Here are the steps I recommend to find the best fit:
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What would be the ideal scenario for you?
- What role do you envision yourself playing? in which market or industry sector?
- What size of a company do you prefer?
- How much risk you're willing to take?
- Would you rather work with a pre-funded company or a funded company?
- Does your salary need to go towards something like a mortgage, or tuition your children?
- What type of people would you like to work with?
- Where can you provide the most value and how can you grow the most?
Now that you've done some self reflection let's explore your options in more detail:
Option A: You want to work with a high growth company that is obviously taking a big piece of market share.
Option B: You want to work with an early stage startup that has some market traction and significant funding ($2M+) that would offer you a salary that gives you slightly more cash in than cash out on a monthly basis to keep your life in order.
Option C: You're willing to join a company looking for a cofounder. This option has the most risk but also potentially the biggest reward.
Based on which option seems most appealing research companies that meet those criteria. If you want to pursue option C and take take the highest risk you need to learn about the angel investors and seed investment funds that focus on a sector you're interested in (web/mobile/apps etc).
Find connections to some of those angels and reach out to them, preferably through a mutual connection. Offer something in exchange for their advice. This could be, for example, sharing the lessons learned from your experience growing a company in the European market. Or it could be about your experience with a startup that had a fast growth curve, going from 10 to 100 people in one year, and what advice you could offer another company going through that experience. You can offer many things in return for the investors' time, but the more relevant it is for them the better your chances of getting their time.
Remember the old fundraising adage; ask for money and you get advice, ask for advice and you get money! Same would apply here, ask for advise and you may get a job offer, ask for a job offer and you're likely to get an advice.
If you think Option A or B realistically make more sense for you, then you should look for companies that have closed Series A or Series B funding. There are several sources where such info is available for free. Crunchbase is one example, another one I like is PWC Moneytree
for it's ease of use and ability to filter based on several variables.
How to reach out
The best way to reach out is through a strong personal relationship. Even if it takes a second or a third degree relationship, you're better off getting recommended by the people who know you best. Remember, it's not what you know, it's not who you know either, it's who knows YOU. That's what matter most.
If that doesn't yield results try cold calling the founder. But if you do so, you must be very tactful. Taking the right approach is critical. One word can be the difference between the founder swiftly hitting delete or replying to your email.
If you choose to cold call, your proposition must make sense to the founder even though he/she were not necessarily looking for someone like you.
Here are my 4 recommendations for cold calling:
1) really understand the startup you're targeting, who works there and a potential gap you see from the outside.,Then demonstrate why you are the perfect person to fill that hole. Again, make sure your proposal is pragmatic and presents a clear value proposition, for example, you have good understanding of the startup general market space and have had experience working in mobile services that complement the current offering of the startup, or have strong relationships with partners in the market the would open a sub-segment that have not yet been targeted by this startup.
2) Search hard to find mutual connection between you and the CEO or one of the startup's investors. You may ask for intro or you can also use a name that the reader recognizes as someone you both know, mention it early in the message. It's okay to do so as long as you can expect that the CEO will double check what you said and contact the person directly, so don't make stuff up.
3) Your email should be no longer than 3 to 5 tweets! (400 to 700 characters). This is one paragraph, with no resume yet, and no rambling argument on why you're so awesome.
4) Always propose a convenient place to meet, i.e offer to buy lunch at a good restaurant nearby the startup or propose dropping by their office for a coffee mid morning or afternoon.