Thoughts on Silicon Valley from a new comer

Silicon Valley

“It’s the place to be”, “there’s no better city to launch a start-up”, “everybody should go there at least once”. This is what I was often told in Paris about Silicon Valley. I wanted to go and see for myself during my gap year, and I wasn’t disappointed, even if a few statements need to be watered down!

I’m passionate about tech, and it’s been quite a long time I had thought about moving here, to discover this ecosystem which is the global centre of tech innovation. Interning several start-ups for a year in San Francisco sounded like a good way to do so. Today, I work at NextUser, and I live in SoMa, the neighbourhood where the HQs of Twitter, Zynga and Airbnb a few blocks from one another. This impressive concentration is a striking feature of Silicon Valley: talent and resources are all gathered in the same place. All this naturally creates entrepreneurial opportunities.

Startupers everywhere, all the time

You can meet passionate startupers every time of day here: in the morning at the Starbucks where half of the tables are used by freelancers working on their MacBooks, later at the coworking space, during after work tech meetups and even at dinners with friends.

There’s no other city in the world where you’ll find so many early-adopters for every possible tech trend – there are several meetups gathering hundreds of amateurs of bitcoins, health tech, wearable tech, etc. To meet other young tech enthusiasts and exchange about our projects I even launched our own meetup – Early Entrepreneurs – with a friend.

For better or for worse, working in tech has become a norm in San Francisco. What is great about that is how easy it is to meet the people you’d have never met in Europe. For instance, you can’t imagine how excited I was when I met an engineer working on the fascinating Google’s Project Loon at the 1st party I went to… Today, after four months, my 1st and 2nd circles of connections count several dozens of founders of successful or promising start-ups. Most of them were or would be easy enough to meet if you ask them for a coffee. There’s a very positive mindset towards networking, and it probably explains (among other reasons) why things can go so fast here.

Extreme competition and unique stimulation

It’s the risky and exciting part of Silicon Valley: there are very talented people here, and everybody wants them. The talent war is impressive and makes salaries increase like hell. The average salary for a junior level computer engineer is more than 100k a year! And I’m not talking about the perks such as free lunches, open snacks, gaming rooms, etc. The “acqui-hiring” is another trend showing how valuable teams of talented people are here: to bring amazing developers and designers all at once in your company (usually big ones such as Google, Facebook or Apple), you simply buy the start-up they have founded. None of them is more than 25? It doesn’t really matter – first counts skills and motivation here. It can even be a weakness to be more than 35 to be chosen for the most prestigious local startup accelerators such as the Y Combinator.

To overcome this talent war, some start-ups choose not to have their technical team in the region: build your sales team here in order to be able to meet several representatives of the biggest tech companies in the same day but keep your developers far away from job offers!

On the other hand, this competition is extremely valuable as it obviously stimulates anyone who’s passionate about this field. I got that when at the end of the 1st hackathon I participated in a team demoed Google Glass-controlled drones… These people already live in the future, it makes it much easier to build tomorrow’s technology. Such energy is priceless.

A place to visit

Silicon Valley’s mindset towards innovation is unique. This place is enriching for inspiration and encounters. I’d advise anyone seriously interested in tech to come here at least a few weeks to draw on this great wealth. Should you launch your start-up here? The answer is a bit more complicated. It’s the world cup: you can be the best in your country and get eaten in a few months by the sharks you’ll find here. The employees are less loyal, the VCs are more generous but so powerful… But if you succeed here, things can get very big very fast. Maybe the solution lies in mobility? Criteo, for instance, was founded in 2005 in Paris, then moved to Palo Alto to target the US market and eventually brought back their HQ to France last year, just before IPO.