My business partner Adam and I spent a few days doing business in San Francisco last week. All business and/or relationship development, no fundraising.
I've been to San Francisco multiple times, but this was my first visit as the CEO of a start-up. (If you're new to this blog - my company Argyle Social is based in Durham, NC.) It was an eye-opening experience. Turns out that a lot of what they say about the Valley is true.
1.) Everyone very genuinely wanted to help us out. We met with 8 companies - some big companies that you may have heard of like Twitter and some smaller companies that you will probably hear of soon. Every conversation was incredibly transparent and collaborative, even though Adam and I were complete strangers for the most part. A case in point of start-ups (and former start-ups made big) helping each other out.
2.) Everybody knows everybody. The UserVoice guy went to a beer night at Klout. The Klout guy's brother is the API guy at Twitter. The business development guy at Twitter went to UNC. (You get the idea.) No different than any other start-up community...except that the Valley connections are with the most important companies in the world. Adam and I made great connections on this trip and I'm confident that these great connections will yield even more connections.
3.) Start-ups are everywhere. Adam got the great idea to start using Foursquare on the trip...and he convinced me to join the effort. It was amazing - and, frankly, frustrating - to do a Foursquare check in at Klout and find that GitHub, EventBrite, EngineYard, a laundry list of other interesting companies are within a 100 yard radius. There are a handful of start-ups in Durham, NC that I consider peers. There are a handful of start-ups in every building south of Market in San Francisco. And we didn't even venture out to Mountain View, Palo Alto, etc.
I'll be making trips like this (at least) once a quarter going forward and I strongly recommend it to any other CEO of a web start-up. It is useful to get away from the office so that you can think, helpful to build relationships outside of your geography, and energizing to get plugged in to the epicenter of the business.
Book a few meaningful anchor meetings that actually warrant the trip and then work your network to fill up the rest of your time with spec meetings.