A picture from Curicon's visit to the parc.
This is part 2 of Curicon's journey to Silicon Valley (read part 1 here).
In anticipation of Curicon’s partial move to California, Aimee and I spent some time in Silicon Valley last month. I want to share what I learnt and hopefully make it easier for other Australians to find their feet in “The Valley”.
Before I talk about Silicon Valley, I want to share another uniquely American experience: Comic-Con International.
About 200,000 people flock to San Diego each year to attend an event that can only cater for 120,000 people. Convention attendees sleep in their cars because all the hotels are full and people charge up to $US100 a night for their lounges.
For Curicon, this is the place we needed to be. Here was the centre of our universe, the place where the fans binge on collectables and pop culture and where the biggest collectables companies launch their new products. It is a celebration of the biggest and best.
Using some smart thinking and Australian charm, we secured press passes to what could only be described as the Holy Grail for comics and pop culture. This was guerilla marketing at its best. Armed with our collectable metal Curicon cards, we dove into the convention disguised as journalists with a mission to launch Curicon to the people it was built for.
We met Judd Nelson and William Shatner, went to film premieres and attended press conferences for all the latest in comics, film and TV. A flash of a press pass and an Australian accent tended to shorten lines, but the lines still ended up being hours long in most cases. People waited more than 5 hours for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead panels; some people that waited spent the entire day in the line. For that level of patience and determination we hope they finally got into something.
We had the privilege of meeting and befriending comic book artists, writers and some of the biggest names in the collectables industry. It’s something we had hoped and wished for, as it is critical to our business strategy. We want the industry to respect and appreciate the Curicon brand, see us as allies and help us build something great for all of their fans and customers.
Mat of Curicon at Comic-Con.
It was great to be at Comic-Con San Diego, we are certainly looking forward to the second biggest in the calendar, New York Comic-Con. Keep an eye on Curicon.com as you may even be able to win a trip there courtesy of Curicon.
So now it’s time to talk Silicon Valley, the “place to be” for those of us building and working for tech companies.
I have been involved in the IT industry for 10 years. Working contracts, running businesses and helping others bring their ideas to life through commercialisation strategies, IP protection and capital raising. I thought this would have made me more prepared for the Silicon Valley experience. The thing is, I have been to the Valley once before, but let’s consider that previous trip pure research, a physical tour of the sights and highlights. The first time around, I visited the offices of Google, Apple and, my personal mecca, Xerox Parc (the birthplace of the Graphical User Interface).
As my second visit is now complete and I have returned home, I can sit back and realise that this trip was special, really special. I was dropped into the Valley in a very real way and when you’re in the middle, experiencing the vibe, beat and energy that exists there, there is only one way to really describe the Valley – it’s a human hive.
The press passes Curicon scored.
It isn’t a tiny place, yet everyone there breathes, thinks and does things in the same synchronous, energetic manner. It is a network of people, businesses and opportunities. It is like nothing I have ever experienced before.
Everyone is trying to explore opportunities, create the next Google and above all, build great businesses. Sure, you’ve heard the over-the-top hype that comes from some of the US tech media, but what I can tell you is that when you’re there, it’s a lot like that. If you’re with the right people, it isn’t hype, it isn’t rubbish – it’s just how it is - the magic is there.
Building a tech business in Australia is difficult, no matter how traditional or market-proven your business is. In Silicon Valley, it is much easier. More people will help you and you have more opportunities. If someone tells you otherwise, they either haven’t been there, or they are lying to you.
Where business gets done ... Sand Hill Road.
That doesn’t mean that just any idea, any start-up, or any person will be able to make it in Silicon Valley. It still takes the same key things:
- Market, timing and opportunity
- Business skills and experience
- A great team
- A lot of VERY hard work
I learnt a lot from my time in California and I hope to share some of this so that other Australian entrepreneurs may benefit from my experiences.
We were fortunate in that we had the opportunity to meet with a number of Australian entrepreneurs already in California; we had a meeting in one of the Valley’s most prominent VC firms and we were introduced to the founder of a publicly listed tech company.
These experiences boiled down to the following tips/lessons for the aspiring Aussie tech entrepreneur trying to break into the Valley:
- People want to help you and they don’t want anything for their trouble.
- Networking and introductions power the entire eco-system.
- If people like you and think you “have it” you will get introductions. If you’re not getting introductions, rethink your approach.
- Be confident in yourself, your business and the opportunity.
- Be passionate and be yourself (even if you like to wear funny hats and have piercings).
- Don’t get on anyone’s bad side; they all know each other and they will talk.
- The first time you meet an American, they want to know two things: what you want from them and how they can help you – this is in a 100 per cent positive way (make use of it).
- Talk to everyone, you would be surprised where the right conversation can get you.
- Have something that differentiates you and makes you stand out from the crowd. We took our limited edition collectable Curicon metal cards with us.
- Know your market, business and opportunity back to front.
- Don’t ever be “maybe raising capital”. You are or you are not.
One of the things we planned for, and had verified this trip, is that capital raising is a process. It is a journey, has several key steps and it is important expectations match reality.
In Silicon Valley, the money is massive compared with here in Australia. We are fortunate in having experience in capital raising here, but let me tell you it is a whole new lesson in California.
Be prepared to understand that you will go through something like the following, and that each stage takes time:
- Building relationships and getting introductions
- Positioning yourself to make pitches
- Due diligence from interested firms
- (Hopefully) signing a term sheet
- Completing the final documents
- Money in the bank
People have written books on the subject, so that is obviously a gross oversimplification. The most important thing to learn is how the process works, what your role is as the CEO/founder and what to watch out for.
CEOs lead capital raising. Not mentors, advisors, bankers or lawyers. Be prepared for this as it is considerably different than here in Australia.
A great highlight of our trip I want to end on is the visit to Startup House/StartupHQ. For those of you not familiar with Startup House/StartupHQ, it’s the brainchild of Australian entrepreneurs Elias Bizannes and Bardia Houseman. We had the pleasure of meeting them both for a tour and it’s an amazing environment; an accommodation building coupled with a shared working environment comprising hundreds of desks filled by dozens of companies.
There are Aussies there who have sold businesses to Google, Adobe and more. They sit right next to the guy just starting out with his first business. It’s a great environment for anyone not in the position of needing (or affording) a dedicated office.
In Sydney we have the benefit of operating out of the offices of my other company, Com Connect Services and this provides us an excellent head office with plenty of space and established infrastructure.
In California, we can keep it light and make use of all the unique benefits of StartupHQ.
We hope to join everyone at StartupHQ very soon.
Matt Byrne is CEO of Curicon.