How do start-ups assert themselves in the technology heartland of Silicon Valley? Advice from three people who know: an investor, a senior manager in a tech group and a marketing director in a Swiss start-up.
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Philip Stauffer is a Swiss investor, Karin Schwab manages the legal department at eBay and Corey McCarthy is vice president of the Swiss start-up Beekeeper. And they have some things in common: they all work in Silicon Valley, they are professionally successful and they really know their way around when it comes to how things are done there. Here are their tips with regard to three key questions that Swiss start-ups need to ask themselves if they want to gain a foothold in the American market.
Culture shift: What differences do I need to consider between Swiss culture and that of Silicon Valley?
When we think of America, we can all come up with clichés – both positive and negative. As a start-up, how can you benefit from the Silicon Valley mindset and how can you avoid putting your foot in it? Here are the insider tips.
Corey McCarthy: ‘One of the first things I’d recommend to a company coming from Switzerland over here is to be mindful of that nine-hour-gap. It can either create a big business challenge just in the speed of getting things done, or it can actually be a big benefit if you use it correctly.’
Karin Schwab: ‘One thing you should keep in mind is that just because you’re speaking English, it doesn’t actually mean you’re going to communicate effectively here in the Valley. People here have a very different way of communicating than we are used to in Switzerland.’
Philipp Stauffer: ‘Skip or eliminate the word “failing” in your vocabulary. Don’t worry about it, just go: If you fail, see it as an additional lesson in life. That’s how Silicon Valley sees it. Actually, as a matter of fact, if you didn’t fail at least once, you actually will not raise money. People want to see failures that you’ve done but you’ve learned out of them. That’s the key thing.’
What’s the quickest way for me to gain access to the people in Silicon Valley who are important for my business?
One of the reasons Silicon Valley is so successful is the sheer density of companies, investors and start-ups. All major companies are represented there in some form or other. But how do I reach the right people?
Corey McCarthy: ‘Coming from Switzerland to the US I really highly would recommend getting involved with a launchpad like Swissnex. It’s an area where you can get relatively inexpensive office space and build a network very easily that will help guide your way, navigate through a new market.’
Karin Schwab: ‘Keep in mind that people have very limited tolerance for things that go on forever. People wanna get stuff done quickly. So make sure that if you have a pitch and you don’t get anywhere and you feel that that person is just not interested in what you have to offer, move on.’
Philipp Stauffer: ‘Have a point of view or an opinion about the direction in which the world might go and how you see the future state of what you do. Don’t just stick to your product, talk about what you really want to change and why you think that will happen.’
What are the rookie mistakes I should avoid at all costs?
People make mistakes and that’s the way it should be! In Silicon Valley, failure is still considered good form – at least a couple of times. But that doesn’t mean you have to repeat every beginner’s mistake for the umpteenth time. What start-ups should watch out for on their first visit.
Corey McCarthy: ‘One of the biggest mistakes we see with Swiss entrepreneurs coming to the US is a false understanding of the US market. I would advise taking the time to truly get to know the US market and all its nuances, and I would also advise partnering with someone with a lot of experience of the US market to help guide you through that process.’
Karin Schwab: ‘Because people are so open here in the Valley and connect so easily, we as Swiss we might read that as them wanting a personal connection with us which is actually not the case. So, don’t expect invitations to somebody’s house or something that goes beyond the business meeting even if people are very friendly.’
Philipp Stauffer: ‘When you come here, you automatically become part of Silicon Valley. So, don’t think, you come here, this is a place here and then you leave the place. You come here, you collaborate, build your relationships and you can be part of Silicon Valley even if you are nine thousand miles away. ’
Corey McCarthy is a senior marketing executive with over 20 years of experience leading marketing and sales organisations. As Beekeeper’s VP of global marketing, Corey has successfully built a world-class marketing team that is passionate about digitising the world’s non-desk workforce. Before being tapped to lead Beekeeper’s team, Corey was the president and CEO of the marketing services firm she founded. A key client in the area of luxury retail convinced her to launch their new USD 20 million Silicon Valley division as CMO. Earlier in her career, Corey ran all media assets for a USD 1.56 billion lodging and hospitality company and, as a result, she has extensive knowledge of all aspects of the hotel/retail industry.
Karin Schwab is an international business executive with over 20 years of experience across marketplaces, technology and e-commerce. She has a proven track record in leading successful large-scale transformation initiatives, optimising processes in complex, globally matrixed environments and operationalising M&A transactions in domestic and global markets. Currently, Karin is the vice president and deputy general counsel for eBay’s global product and technology organisation, with oversight of regulatory, commercial and product compliance work. Previously, she was closely involved in eBay’s expansion to new markets such as Poland, Russia, Sweden and, of course, Switzerland.
Philipp Stauffer has extensive experience as both an investor and an entrepreneur. His fund, Fyrfly, invests in early stage start-ups, typically in the first institutional round. Philipp was a co-founder, for example, of Onor, a digital marketing platform for brands and retailers delivering top-tier marketing ROI results. He combines this hands-on knowledge with his corporate experience, which includes being a founding partner at Accenture Interactive and being venture investor at Accenture Technology Ventures. Philipp sits on various boards, including Beekeeper, the Swiss American Chamber of Commerce and the Swiss Blockchain Federation.