6 Lessons To Learn From Silicon Valley Posted at 0:00, Wed, 16 December 2015 in Industry Insights

After reading that headline, you’re probably thinking, “I’m tired of hearing all of the noise about Silicon Valley and what they’ve done with the tech industry.” I’m sure if you hear about the next thing they’re innovating, you’re going to lose it… But, before you do that, let’s take a minute to ask what everyone is already thinking: “What’s the big deal about Silicon Valley anyway?”

They say that it all started with Sputnik. That’s right a satellite. When Russia launched the world’s first artificial satellite into Earth’s orbit on October 4, 1957, the United States was determined to not let the Soviets (I know, I know, they’re ‘Russians’ now) get too far ahead of them. Thus, America responded by launching Explorer 1 and the formation of the NASA was not far behind.

How is this relevant to Silicon Valley? You see, when NASA was formed, they needed someone to develop the high-powered components necessary to send the first person to the moon. That’s where San Jose’s own, Fairchild Semiconductor, came in. Without Fairchild, and “Fairchildren” companies such as Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA, we would have never witnessed the massive technological innovations or the big boom in the software and internet industries that would come to inspire the innovative, risk-taking culture that Silicon Valley is known for.

The founder of Khosla Ventures, Vinod Khosla, told us in a Q&A on Quora.com, that the Silicon Valley is more of a state of mind than a place. Vinod states that “It’s a culture in which people are willing to bypass convention in any area, not be overly biased by why things can’t be done, but rather take the approach, how one might take a shot at it?”. Khosla believes that this culture can be replicated anywhere in the world. So why isn’t it being done? Failure is usually discouraged, and entrepreneurs are less likely to put the same risk behind their pursuits. That’s why we are still hearing about Silicon Valley above all other tech communities.

So, what is it about this “failure culture” that draws millennials, upstarts and foreign founders to the valley? Let’s look at those 6 lessons I mentioned earlier:

Lesson #1: Learn to be a “Need Seeker”

There are three types of companies in this world, according to ITIF.org. The ‘Technology Drivers’, the ‘Market Readers’ and the ‘Need Seekers’. Half of all Silicon Valley companies actively engage with their current and potential customers. This is 2x the national average. These need seekers dissect the most important and meaningful challenges in their clients lives and shape their products and services around those needs. These are Apple’s of the world, who want to envision products that will change the lives of their customers and strive to be the first to market with their solutions, while the others proceed cautiously within their markets and follow the direction suggested to them.

Lesson #2: If you’re going to be anything, be disruptive

A different culture of innovation exists within Silicon Valley. These innovators solve problems by questioning the status quo, set ridiculously ambitious goals, and do things that have never been done before. They create disruptive business models, which in turn, provides them with a disruptive product. Innovations, such as the ride-sharing app Uber, create new markets by discovering new types of customers. They do this partly by harnessing new technologies but also by developing new business models and exploiting old technologies in new ways, according to an article by Economist.com.

Lesson #3: Reach out to local and foreign networks to make connections

The best way to learn is to find local advisors. “Companies looking for partners to expand into foreign markets, will be better able to find “like-minded potential partners” in Silicon Valley,” says SiliconVikings.com. You would be amazed by the knowledge you can gain through the valley’s collaborative culture; so take advantage of it! Keep in mind that you’ve already created and broadened connections within your own network, be sure to give something back to those who are aiding you in your journey. Lending your own advice to help others is critical, and will pay you back in the future if the connections you make now appreciate you enough to refer others to you in the future. Foreign-born entrepreneurs are unique in this because they can offer a diverse perspective to other starting companies just by sharing their own experiences.

Lesson #4: It’s okay to fail, as long as you learned something from it

Silicon Valley has a strong acceptance and tolerance of failure, in comparison to European and Asian countries who have a stricter view on the matter. Accepting this “failure culture” and learning that it’s okay to take risks that might not always pay off is a way of life in the valley. According to an article in Entrepreneur.com, failure is readily viewed as a necessary “pit stop” that helps refuel entrepreneurs in their journey towards defying the status quo. It’s a red badge of courage, so to speak. So, if you’re going to fail, at least be sure to leverage that failure into future success.

Lesson #5: Don’t be afraid to work with the little guy (or the bigger guy)!

Silicon Valley has a unique culture and ecosystem of business savvy individuals that have a wealth of experience and knowledge behind them, and aren’t afraid to share it. This is one of the key aspects that brings in foreign business, and one of the biggest things to take advantage of when given the chance. Elizabeth Weil, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz (better known as a16z), discusses in a podcast that she regularly has large companies speak with her about making connections with Silicon Valley founders and small teams. Weil states that large companies and startups can equally benefit from partnerships. Large companies seek to do better business through innovation, while smaller companies are able to learn how to navigate the larger world and begin building a track record for success.

Lesson #6: Valuable intel can best be gathered from the inside

Many successful companies are creating small offices, or “outposts,” within the valley so they can effectively spot new trends, get closer to potential business and technology partners, and make connections with world-class universities and research facilities such as San Jose State, Stanford University, and Ames Research Center. With the creation of these outposts, they are able to go beyond monitoring, acquiring and developing technology. According to SiliconVikings.com, “Japanese companies have had listening posts in the SF Bay Area for a long time – the 70’s on. There was a pull back in the 80’s through the early 90’s when the Japanese economy weakened and, following that, when Japanese firms started to focus heavily on the domestic market. Around the time of the first dot com boom (mid-late 90’s), they began to re-invest in what could now be called “innovation posts” in that they were looking to make investments in as well as learn from Internet tech companies (mostly through corporate venturing groups which invested in venture funds and worked with start ups in incubation labs).”

What important lessons have you learned from Silicon Valley? Continue the conversation with us on Twitter @MitchelLake.

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