Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups

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Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups


The following is a guest post by Jason Evanish. Jason is the founder of, a hub for resources, events and jobs for Boston entrepreneurs and is presently working on a new startup. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evanish and connect with him elsewhere through

Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups

I've spent the past two and a half years in the great startup community of Boston, where the ecosystem has been quietly growing stronger every day. During that time I've had the opportunity to visit a number of other startup ecosystems as well as interact with leaders of other cities.  Despite this, I'd never really visited the Valley. With airline tickets cheap between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I decided it was time to finally make a pilgrimage to the center of the startup universe: Silicon universe

When I set out to visit Silicon Valley, I hoped to get a taste of all the Valley has to offer. I heard that San Francisco, Palo Alto and Mountain View were the key hubs, so I spent a couple days in each area.  By doing so, I maximized the breadth of my experience as well as who I could actually meet and what I could see.  

The Valley truly is a unique place unlike any other ecosystem I've been to (including the runner-ups, Boston and New York). I wrote elsewhere about some of the myths and facts of Silicon Valley, and there I mentioned I'd love to be able to bottle up the Valley’s special elements. Below is my attempt at capturing what these elements are based on both my experiences and discussions with native entrepreneurs and investors I met on my trip.


If there's a single thing that stands out about the Valley, it's the openness of everyone there. Every person I met was excited to meet with me even with the coldest of intros I received. More importantly though, at the end of every meeting *everyone* asked me "How can I help?" and insisted on working with me until we could come up with a way they could help.

Dial O for Optimism

It's easy to dismiss wild, big vision ideas that just don't make sense to you. However, in the Valley, that's not an obstacle. Everyone is encouraged to start a company and no one is doubted because they lack a clear revenue model or doesn't pass someone's analytical test. As one Boston transplant put it, "the Boston brain in me thought the idea of 'Pandora for Shoes' was dumb, but the more I thought about it, I realized it just might work."  

Beyond how people view others' ideas, there's an overwhelming sense of hope there; it's difficult to explain, but you get hit by a wave of it when you're there that makes you think anything is possible and that you’re surrounded by greatness.

Culture Counts

Yes, there's a talent war in the Valley, but there's a talent war in every tech hub. As one person I met put it, “the Valley is the Major Leagues”; there's more of everything: more founders, more capital, more startup employees, more competition. When that's the case, the only way to recruit and retain talent is with a great work culture and a fun environment.

I visited the Twilio office while in San Francisco and was floored. They have nailed culture in so many ways it can be its own post, but the key is that I heard that HR gets over *250* applicants for every job. The talent war is won and lost inside your office.

Everyone’s an Evangelist

Every person I met was telling me I have to move here. Every. Single. One. There's a "join a winning tradition" kind of attitude that I think is the same thing the Yankees do to recruit free agent baseball players. This attitude comes from a confidence in good things happening here (see ‘Optimism’, above) and also the welcoming environment; San Francisco was described to me as an incredibly transient population, so everyone is looking to make new friends.

These beliefs feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you think you can, you will, if you think you can't, you won't.  Believing you can succeed and so can others breeds optimism and a risk-taking attitude.

Winning with Weather

You can't change the weather of your ecosystem, but it is an advantage of the Valley. On a warm sunny day, you're more likely to go outside and not work from home. You're also able to move around before and after events more freely. Both of these cases leads to more serendipity and may contribute to the optimism (as a counter, see Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder).  

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign
box billboard

Startup signage is simple, but actually a big deal. There's a serious cool factor to walking or driving by a building and seeing the logo of a company you recognize.  It's also fun seeing startups on billboards. While on the 101 (the main highway running through the Valley) I saw signs for, Salesforce, Huddle, and Zynga. As a startup geek, I find this as cool as others do when they see a celebrity on the street. This omnipresence of startups goes a long way to thinking about a place being the home of great startups and is a hot topic in other ecosystems like Boston.

Much of what makes the Valley special is hard to describe; you really need to see it for yourself to truly understand. If you’re starting a company, already running a company or just interested in startups, I highly encourage you to check it out.  Many great entrepreneurs in other ecosystems visit quarterly to take advantage of what the Valley has to offer and after visiting, I understand why.

Have you visited the Valley? What do you think makes it such a unique place?

Special thanks to @Wayne of Crashlytics for help in refining this post

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Dec 12, 2011


Very interesting article. I am taking my first trip to the valley in March. I am very excited about it. As a tech start-up outside the valley i feel a disadvantage. I hope while i am there i can make some valuable contacts.  
Any must-do's while i am there? What is the best way to take advantage of a few days there?

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 11:23 AM by Don Tarinelli

If you're in SF, you need to plan to be near SOMA (South of Market). That's where all the startup action is.  
If you're in Palo Alto, be sure to check out Coupa Cafe and University Cafe.  
If you have some free time, drive over to Stanford University and go to Hoover Tower; you get an amazing view of the entire area all the way down to the SF Bay. 
Steve Blank has an awesome post with a bunch more: 

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 12:20 PM by Jason Evanish

Thanks a lot that will be a big help on my trip there.  

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 12:29 PM by Don Tarinelli

Good post.  
Recommended reading:  
(They're in Iowa.) 

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 1:13 PM by janet aronica

For those who are thinking of making a trip to SV, check out the coming Startup House if accommodation and coworking are on the list of your concerns. 
Also feel free to email me velvetpd gmail if you've any questions regarding SV.

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:19 PM by Jason Ong

Spot on, felt the same way when I was at an incubator in Mountain View this summer.

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:20 PM by Ben Lang

Thanks for the information. Looking at options for my startup including the Valley. Appreciate the incite.

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 3:50 PM by Janet Corniel

I've got to say, Dharmesh, that this is all completely true. It's a great place with a great buzz and with all the key players in a reasonable place and open to new ideas you can get a tremendous amount done in a very short time. What's more there is a can-do attitude - in many other places the mere fact that something is not currently being done is proof that it its impossible regardless of the evidence or talent brought in. 
Good luck! 

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 4:22 PM by Mark

I'm a young entrepreneur from Morocco and I want to visit the valley. What do you advice me ?

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 4:52 PM by Adam

We'll I'd say take the time before you go to build up a good network of connections doing favors and good turns and building up good Karma for as many people as you can before you go. 
When you are there network and meet up to build those relationships - and have a definite clear plan of action knowing exactly what you are trying to do each day so that no time is wasted and no opportunity is overlooked! 
Carpe diem!

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 5:02 PM by Mark

Also check TiE Silicon Valley Chapter.. 
They might be having some exciting things going on. Also one of the forum to meet others from SV.

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 5:35 PM by Raj RD

If you're visiting the area, be sure to take BART over to Berkeley and check out the Cal campus too. There's an office for 500 Startups in downtown Berkeley too!  
While the public transportation in the bay doesn't compare to Boston's, driving is definitely easier... and you're very much right about the weather!

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 6:32 PM by Lindsay

^^^ Lindsay, 
I'm in the 500Startups accelerator and working out of the office here. I don't know of any offices in Berkeley. I think you're mistaking for our office in Mountain View. 
Also, Jason, great post buddy. It was good to have you visiting us :)  
And finally, as a "Boston transplant", it's a fact you can build great companies from anywhere. Doesn't have to be SV, Boston, NYC, Chicago, it can even be Iowa... 
At the end of the day, it's really the culmination of all the intangible differences (many of which are listed in detail on this post) of the different tech hubs that make founders and entrepreneurs start and end up settling down in the Valley.

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 6:57 PM by Tim Chae

Gotta go there once and see... thanks

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 9:59 PM by Johny Santangelo

You guys have just whet my appetite for an adventure to the valley.Am a young entrepreneur from Ghana, the best place to do business in Africa.I'd love to visit the valley asap.

posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 8:25 AM by Louis Sampson

I am sure such ecosystem will produce lot more innovation.

posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 9:49 AM by Anand Agarwal

I'm not sure that the Silicon Valley can be grokked by coming into town and staying a few months. That's really just a snapshot ... if you even know what the look for and what to judge against, which most out-of-towners aren't going to know. Believe it or not, some of us who live here are still processing and trying to understand the dot com boom and the dot com bust and that was 10 years ago! 
I'm not saying that this is a bad article but it's really just a slice of life from an out-of-towner. Like any place probably, there are Valley lovers and Valley haters who live here (and, well, a lot of people in between) and, depending on which one that you talk to, you only get a slice of the truth.

posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 4:05 PM by Dan

This is a very well written post. Your writing style is outstanding here and I feel like you touched on a bunch of very important points. 
Timber blinds Brisbane

posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 4:53 AM by Timber blinds QLD

Want to see what happens when you put high level telecom decision makers together with a room of innovators? Go to a Telecom Council meeting!

posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 10:17 AM by Stephanie Owyoung

One of the most difficult problems facing business, small and large, is knowing how to price. A new crowdsourcing site helps you solve that problem using a panel of pricing experts from across the globe. for more information.

posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 8:29 PM by PricingProphets

Nevermind your start-up day job, there is a vibrant exchange through in the Valley's tech community. People get free stuff (Android phones, Blackberry Playbooks) and great information from free meetings with SV Android, SF Android Developers, Mountain View GTUG (Google Technology User Group). Ironically, is a NYC start-up company with tremendous impact on Silicon Valley. If you visit again, be sure to find a few meetups. The 2nd floor of the non-profit Red Rock Cafe in Mountain View is also a great place to get a taste of tech culture.  
Thanks for the rave about my neighborhood!

posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 9:12 AM by Elizabeth Mezias

Over the past year the only startups which have impressed me were either in Chicago (not Groupon) or Santa Barbara. I'm now a customer of one from each city. I can't think of anything interesting at all coming out of the SF area lately.

posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 3:12 PM by Alice

Nice Article! Great advice indeed.

posted on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 2:59 AM by Narendra Singh Garbyal

Startup signage is simple, but actually a big deal. There's a serious cool factor to walking or driving by a building and seeing the logo of a company you recognize. It's also fun seeing startups on billboards. 
And a gross waste of money. If there is an example of what you should not be looking for, this is it. 
Definitely not cool, unless you are easily impressed. I care not if you are more successful (by whatever metric you choose), this is not cool. It is dumb.

posted on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 6:29 PM by Stephen Kellett

I am also an entrepreneur from INDIA. But it is not possible for me to visit valley due to higher expenses.

posted on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 1:46 PM by chronic

I hope very soon my signboard will be thereon highway.

posted on Friday, December 30, 2011 at 9:53 AM by mmobile

Thanks a lot for excellent piece of advice! Planned to come over on a promotion tour for #SiliconSaxony (Europe's tech hot spot No. 1 - in diversity, and richness, not counting the centuries long legacy). 
Are you all attending #JellyWeek 2012 next week? There are localized events everywhere, and we would be more than happy to connect with likeminded entrepreneurs around the globe to make the visions we have in mind become reality in 2012.

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