A Visitor’s Guide to Silicon Valley

2/22/11Follow @sgblank

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walk around 3000 Sand Hill looking at all the names of the VCs on the building directories and be disappointed how incredibly boring the outside of these buildings look. (Some VCs have left the Sand Hill Road womb and have opened offices in downtown Palo Alto and San Francisco to be closer to the action.) For extra credit, stand outside one of the 3000 Sand Hill Road buildings wearing a sandwich-board saying “Will work for equity” and hand out copies of your executive summary and PowerPoint presentations.

Drive by the Palo Alto house where Facebook started (yes, just like the movie) and the house in Menlo Park that was Google’s first home. Drive down to Cupertino and circle Apple’s campus. No tours but they do have an Apple company store which doesn’t sell computers but is the only Apple store that sells logo’d T-shirts and hats.

San FranciscoStartups with a Lifestyle

Drive an hour up to San Francisco and park next to South Park in the South of Market area. South of Market (SoMa) is the home address and the epicenter of Web 2.0 startups. If you’re single, living in San Francisco and walking/biking to work to your startup definitely has some advantages/tradeoffs over the rest of the valley. Café Centro is South Park’s version of Coupa Café. Or eat at the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. (You’re just a few blocks from the S.F. Giants ballpark. If it’s baseball season take in a game in a beautiful stadium on the bay.) And four blocks north is Moscone Center, the main San Francisco convention center. Go to a trade show even if it’s not in your industry.

The Valley Is About the Interactions, Not the Buildings

Like the great centers of innovation, Silicon Valley is about the people and their interactions. It’s something you really can’t get a feel of from inside your car or even walking down the street. You need to get inside of those building and deeper inside those conversations. Here’s a few suggestions of how to do so.

  • If you want the ultimate startup experience, see if you can talk yourself into carrying someone’s bags as they give a pitch to a VC. Be a fly on the wall and soak it in.
  • If you’re trying to get a real feel of the culture, apply and interview for jobs in three Silicon Valley companies even if you don’t want any of them. The interview will teach your more about Silicon Valley company culture and the valley than any tour.
  • Go to at least three tech-oriented Meetups or Plancast events in the Valley or San Francisco (Meetup is a deep list. Search for “startup” meetup’s in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Clara).
  • If you’re visiting to raise money or to get to know “angels” use AngelList to get connected to seed investors before you arrive.
  • Never leave.

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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  • Michael H

    And don’t forget every Thursday, you can attend for free the amazing lectures at PARC! As someone who moved here 2 years ago, I loved this article.

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