For an entrepreneur operating outside the world’s biggest tech hub, a trip to Silicon Valley can be life-changing. Whether you are traveling to build your network, raise capital, or just to get inspired, you can learn a lot on a visit to North America's center of innovation. However, if you are used to working with a small community in Santiago, Lima, Buenos Aires, Medellin, or Guadalajara, Silicon Valley might be overwhelming.
While you might have big expectations for your visit, keep in mind a few tried-and-true tips from founders who have tread the path before you so you can stay on schedule and achieve your goals.
1. Buy a flexible round-trip ticket.
Whether you are visiting for ten days or a few months, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have control over your schedule. You would not want to miss an important investor meeting just because of a flight.
Make sure you book a ticket that can easily be changed at the last minute; it might be a bit more expensive at the outset, but it could save you a lot of hassle in the long term. Don't forget to triple check how long your visa allows you to stay before moving any flights.
2. Reach out to connections and make a meeting plan before you arrive.
Investors in Silicon Valley are insanely busy, and foreign companies are unfortunately not always at the top of their list. If you want to meet venture capitalists or other CEOs in your industry during your visit, make sure to reach out a few months ahead of time to get on their calendars, and seek out a reference introduction to get them to pay attention.
If you have a plan of events and meetings you need to attend, your visit will be much more productive and fruitful.
3. Be strategic about your networking events.
There are thousands of events and meetups in Silicon Valley. You may be thrilled to see how many opportunities there are, especially if your city still only has a small entrepreneurial community. However, don’t get distracted by irrelevant or unspecific events.
His advice: “Probably the best advice is don’t waste time on networking events. You have a very limited amount of time and you need to focus on your industry and develop a network in your industry and you don’t do that at networking events.”
Instead, check out this list of organizations with resources for Latinx founders and see what events they might have coming up. Try to stick to industry-specific events that will connect you to other founders, or even your competitors, that can teach you more about your area.
4. Practice your elevator pitch - in English.
The founder of Platzi, a Y Combinator-backed edtech platform from Colombia, emphasized in his reflection on Silicon Valley that giving a pitch in English can be nerve-wracking. His advice is to speak extremely slowly, even more slowly than what feels normal. You may be tempted to rush, but make sure you get your message across clearly.
That being said, practice your pitch forward and backward. You never know when a casual meeting could turn into a chance to raise your seed round. If you need more tips about how to pitch your startup, check out our article on the common mistakes you might be making in your pitch.
5. Take a break to visit the Stanford Campus and Computer History Museum.
If this is your first visit to the Bay Area, take time to enjoy yourself between meetings. Unwind by walking around the beautiful Stanford Campus or take a tour of the Computer History Museum. You can even jump on a train into San Francisco to get a taste of life in the city.
This may be a work trip, but you’ll be more focused if you take time to relax and explore your surroundings.
6. Try to meet VCs for early-morning breakfast meetings or walking meetings.
Many startup founders visit Silicon Valley to test the waters and meet VCs prior to trying to raise funding. However, no meeting with an investor is casual.
Prepare to give your pitch wherever they want to meet you, whether it is a 6 AM coffee, or a walking meeting through the streets of Palo Alto. Since you would have to catch a flight to come meet them again, make the most of any moment you have.
7. If you are going to pitch, try to meet 30+ firms.
There are ten or so “brand name” venture capital firms in Silicon Valley that top everyone’s list, but if you are operating out of Latin America, you may not need as much capital to get started.
Check out smaller, less prominent firms that receive fewer pitches. Not only will you face less competition, but you may also find an unexpected partner who is fully dedicated to growing businesses in your industry.
Tip: Dress “normally” for your pitches. Dark jeans with a button down shirt and sport coat, plus a pair of loafers is just about as dressed up as it gets in Silicon Valley.
8. Don’t waste time visiting the Google, Facebook, and Apple offices.
Almost every entrepreneur has dreamed of founding the next Facebook or Uber. These companies exploded, bringing massive returns to investors and founders alike. They are the symbol of Silicon Valley excellence. However, their campuses are not open to the public to visit, unless you have an invitation.
Instead, use your time to visit coworking spaces and talk to new startups trying to make it work in the Valley. You may learn something--or find new talent--for your own company.
The culture of Silicon Valley can be shocking for entrepreneurs coming from abroad. While your first trip to the Bay Area will be exciting, overwhelming, and informative, set your expectations moderately, and prepare well for the trip. You never know when your casual meeting will turn into a pitch. Be confident about your startup, and be ready to explain how you plan to target the global market from Latin America. These tips will help you get the most out of your trip to Silicon Valley, whether it is the first or the hundredth visit.