This article was initially posted as a guest post on SMARTA.com on March 16, 2011.
I have been on a mission. A “WebMission” to be precise. It was put together by UKTI, Technology Strategy Board, Polecat and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, and led by the brilliant Oli Barrett.
Each year, the team selects up to 20 British companies and takes them to the Valley for a week of intense meetings – and fun. How’s this for a highlight: a night of “networking” at Michael Birch’s house. (For those of you who don’t know Birch, he’s the man who sold Bebo.com to AOL for $850 million in cash. Not as uncommon in the Valley as you’d imagine.)
I was lucky to be selected this year, and in between visits to Twitter and Microsoft, pitches to angels and VCs, pub crawls and ludicrous house parties, I am discovering what really makes the Valley tick: the people.
People in the Bay Area are smart, laid back, fun, hard-working. And, most importantly, they’re willing to give a hand to fellow entrepreneurs, even if you come from 5,000 miles away. More importantly, there’s a lot of them: anywhere you go, you’ll likely find someone who’s founded or sold a start-up. Millionaires aren’t cool here – billionaires are – but very few of them do it for the money.
As a matter of fact, one of the VCs I met here in the Valley told me something interesting: “Most startups in London, New York and the rest of the world want to make money. Most startups in the Valley want to change the world. That’s what makes the difference.”
My experience this week tends to confirm this. To give you an example: Marc Benioff started the Salesforce Foundation before Salesforce.com had made a dime. Its values were, as the Foundation’s vice president of “all things fun, meaningful and rewarding” Julie Trell explained to us on Thursday morning, “imprinted in the company’s DNA”. Today, 70% of their employees volunteer every year and thousands of companies have been involved with the foundation in the past 11 years.
On one of the evenings, I had dinner with a couple of Stanford MBAs working on a social enterprise fighting malaria through a technology that makes it cheaper to create malaria nets.
I also spoke to a VC whose fund only invests in start-ups trying to optimise energy creation for third world countries.
The list goes on.
On Thursday afternoon, I was in a car with the same Julie Trell and my good friend Milo Yiannopoulos, when I spotted Marc Benioff walking down Market Street. We stopped the car and Julie called over to him. “Hey Julie! I’m running to a meeting but it’s good to see you,” he said, and off he went.
He’s not the only one in a hurry: as soon as I get back to the UK, I’ll be heading over to the Romanian consulate (I am Romanian) to apply for an L1 visa. San Francisco is the Hollywood of tech, and if you want to be a star, this is the place to go about it.