At the end of April, Leo and I went on a one week trip to the Valley. Over the years, we had built up a number of connections in the Valley and we thought that now was the time to go over there and meet face to face. We end up having 20 meetings over 6 days, which made for quite a schedule.
It’s one thing to know abstractly that the Silicon Valley is home to most computer related companies, and to drive down Highway 101 and see another well known company every 30 seconds or so. “Oh look, there’s Evernote”—“There’s Intel”—“I think I just saw Salesforce”, and so on.
The situation gets even more intense once you get to San Francisco. Particularly SoMa, an area probably 2 times 4 kilometers wide, seems to host every Internet startup you have ever heard of, and some bigger ones, too. Twitter, Trulia, Flurry, Dropbox, Zendesk, etc. are all in that area. It’s as if the whole Internet industry has their offices in Berlin Mitte in the area between Unter den Linden and Leipziger Straße.
We spent a lot of time in coffee shops for free Wifi, especially in the Paris Baguette on University Avenue in Palo Alto, a Korean coffee shop which reminded Leo of his time in Seoul. To get Wifi access, you had to check into the Paris Baguette on Facebook, something I found pretty neat. As it turned out, this wasn’t a new general feature of Facebook, but something being test-driven in a few coffee shops in the Valley first. We found a few more such examples, like being able to pay with bitcoins in the Coupa Cafe.
It sometimes felt as if the whole Valley was turned into one big sandbox to try out new business ideas and new pieces of technology. Already on our first day, when we sleepily sat in the sun trying to shake off our jetlag, we noticed that everyone seemed to be an entrepreneur. People were discussing business models, hacking on their websites, pitching, wherever we went. Later, people would complain that it’s so hard to hire anyone because everyone wants to be a founder.
As we started to talk to people, we also noticed people being quite open and supportive. It’s probably our German bias, but when you talk to people in Germany about your business, they quickly get defensive and start to question the merit of your whole approach. “Hasn’t that been done before” or “I think I still don’t understand what’s so great about that” are the kinder things friends of you would say. In contrast, people in the Valley seemed much more open as if there’s a general understanding that it doesn’t hurt to try. Even if people weren’t impressed by your approach they’d offer some piece of advice. It was also very common that people offered to connect you to other people which might be interested.
Originally, we had no meetings scheduled for Friday, the day when we were flying back to Germany in the evening, but in the end we had three meetings more or less back to back just because of these introduction. It felt as if we could have stayed for another week without getting bored. People later told us that they know of people who came over for three months and still could have gone on.
As someone said: The funny thing about the Valley is that although it’s all about the Internet and being connected online, actually meeting face to face counts so much.