The topic 'How can a startup actively pursue in Silicon Valley?' is of great interest and importance to Indian tech entrepreneurs. There is neither a right nor an easy answer to this question. To begin with let us look at some real case studies as an encouragement to the Indian startup ecosystem -- Interviewstreet (which got accepted into Y-Combinator), Blume's very own Instamojo (which is part of the 500 Startups family, albeit still shuttling between Silicon Valley and India); and most recently Little Eye Labs getting snapped up by Facebook.
I think startups have to start by asking a few fundamental questions:
1) Are we moving to the Valley for the right reasons? Is it because the Valley will offer us a more profitable base and wider access to real users/paying customers (Mettl is a good case in point) or is it because we aren't able to crack our local markets and therefore trying outside (in which case the market does not exist anywhere). Whatever it is, the reasons have to be compelling.
2) Do we know who the local competition will be? (Local as in the Valley, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles or what is referred to as Silicon Beach now). We as Indian startups tend to forget that there are already existing companies catering to the same market, often better funded and with better proven traction and enjoying the advantage of being on their own home turf. Startups need to assess the new, local competition they will face.
3) Access to customers and speed of adoption: This is the single biggest reason to consider moving. For many B2C and Enterprise B2B (where sales cycles are shorter and payments cycle faster), the Valley is often more attractive than India. E-commerce/local retail is an exception of course, as startups here are focused on penetrating the domestic (India) market.
Once a startup concludes that it does indeed make sense to move / expand to the Valley, I would suggest the following ducks to get aligned and fall into place:
- Build your Valley network: This could start with pinging other Indian startups which have relocated or set up a Valley presence, to asking Indian VCs if they can connect with their overseas counterparts.
- Find a good business development / alliances partner : If you are unable to crack this, you might have to face the ‘outta sight, outta mind’ problem the minute you (founder/CEO) get back on that return flight to India after a Valley visit.
- Divvy up roles and responsibilities between the founders: The ‘Valley facing’ founder will have a full plate, so it becomes very important that he/she delegates or gives up prior assigned tasks across the team.
- Identify your ‘best customers/evangelists’ upfront: This is more applicable to B2C players. Find those core users / developers who can evangelize and champion your products. These may be both independent consultants/developers or even CxOs within SME organizations. Sometimes you can even get them to represent / market your products at key conferences.
- Talk extensively with other startups (even medium-sized companies) who have tried this path before and learn from their mistakes, and take note of what has worked well for them.
- Attending relevant conferences: Interestingly, product / tech conferences can be quite useful. Little Eye Lab's Kumar Rangarajan mentioned in his recent interview that the initial interest from Facebook came from a conference where LEL's products were being demo-ed.
For better or worse, every second startup does want to move to the Valley, which is once again hot at the moment after Twitter's IPO. However, there is no right formula. You'll have to navigate the exact path on your own but ideally with help from your broader ‘Valley network’.
So when are you moving to the Valley?
Read the previous post on “We’re moving to valley".