The 20th batch of the legendary 500 Startups has been announced. Eastern Europe is in the groove – teams from Moscow (Visabot), Belarus (FriendlyData), Latvia (Funderful) and Estonia (Clanbeat) have landed in California to kickstart the next stage of their startup journey. Ragnar Sass, Co-Founder of the already famous CRM company Pipedrive is sharing his insights on why he took his next startup project Clanbeat to Silicon Valley.
In 2011, I moved to San Francisco for the very first time. Pipedrive was just over a year old. We had our first paying clients, and revenue, but our growth was slow. Despite trying hard, we hadn’t had any luck attracting investors from Europe – who the hell would invest in the boring CRM industry?
California turned things around. After four super-intensive months, our customer base was skyrocketing, we were nailing things in marketing, and our growth had taken off. Most importantly – we had learned so many lessons from the best and the brightest on how to make things happen in the B2B startup world.
While lots have changed for startups during the last five years, it remains extremely difficult to build a fast-growing international company. I know what I’m talking about – even with the experience of starting one of the most successful B2B startups in Europe, it’s still fucking hard to get the next ball rolling and win big with a startup!
Yet, if difficulties scare you, you have no business in the startup world.
Clanbeat, our monthly performance review tool has now been on the market slightly over half a year. We are steadily gaining traction and receiving super encouraging feedback from our happy clients in Europe. Now is the time to break the borders!
That’s why a few weeks ago, half our team moved to San Francisco – we are taking on the next stage in Clanbeat’s growth with the leverage of 500 Startups Seed Program.
Never mind the hype about the next ‘Silicon Valleys’, I firmly believe there is still only one paradise for startups. The Silicon Valley in California is the place to be for getting shit done, and getting it done fast! So here is my advice to all the early stage startups – from Europe to Asia to Africa – stop burning money, safely nestling in your home, and move to Valley for facing some real lessons!
You’ll gain an immediate reality check here. Being a big star in your own little kingdom means nothing. There are a hundred teams out there, building exactly same thing as you are. Without standing up immediately – growing month over month by 20%, making $50,000 revenue, or having rocket-science level brainpower in your team – you’ll have a hard time attracting any real attention. In the Valley, you’ll find your worth, because the smart folk here won’t give you any special treatment. You’ll need to work, work hard. Get used to it. The sooner, the better.
Network and mentors
The biggest reason for being in Silicon Valley is its people. There is no other place on this planet where you can find more than 25,000 startups, with a headcount of over 300,000 people, in a 100 km radius. The local pool for highly knowledgeable and experienced connections is immense!
Let me bring you an example. I walked into a random Starbucks and found six startups pitching to angels. Have you seen that on a casual day in any other location in the world? After visiting 65 countries over the last years, I can share the answer – it’s a big fat no! San Francisco has the biggest concentration of the smartest folk in the industry. And it will stay like this for the next decade. At least.
Community with benefits
Helping out is the norm. With all the competition packed into the area, it might come as a surprise that Valley supports a deep giving-back mentality. With the right kind of attitude, people will be happy to share their experiences with you and help out without asking for anything in return. It’s in the DNA of the place, it’s what makes the startup scene in the Valley so unique.
No matter your title or your company’s growth-stage, you’ll get your questions answered if you are ready to mingle. The more you are willing to put yourself out there, with real sincere effort, the more valuable connections and feedback you will find. Getting 10 new contacts in a random networking event should be your minimum target.
Also, it’s by far the best place for fundraising, as most of the Silicon Valley investors are real entrepreneurs who know your pain exactly – they have experienced it. Valley has the smartest capital, that comes with good valuation and favorable terms, as well as great advice. Nailing a deal here carries a loud message of validation, globally.
Everything happens on ultra-speed in Silicon Valley. If you can keep up with the high gear pace, your company will rocket to the skies; if not, you’ll see your dead end approaching fast. Either way, there is no vegetating in the Valley – a week here can mean a month in Europe.
My days here start at 05:30, and end at 23:00. Nonstop. I get the maximum use out of an essential resource that determines the make-it-or-break-it-point for startups – time. One catch, though – hone your skills to skip the bullshit events and only attend the ones you’ll really benefit from. Valley is bubbling with happenings 24/7. This includes distractions. Staying laser-focused lays the groundwork for success. Visiting every single event just to drink beer and eat pizza, will just grow your weight. It’s a BIG NO!
To begin with, it’s a great idea to have some structure and to land in the right environment. In our case, we decided to be a part of the 500 Startups experience. Taking into account the gazillion early-stage investors and accelerator opportunities out there, one might wonder why 500 is so special.
Seed means boosting KPIs, not building an MVP
The level of funds floating around has dramatically grown in recent years. It’s easier and cheaper to build a working MVP. Which means the real challenges are shifting elsewhere.
Last November, 500 redesigned the accelerator program into a seed program, geared towards companies with early traction. This means extra attention on marketing and the know-how on boosting numbers, not building the MVP. As an example, many of the companies in our batch are already receiving a monthly recurring revenue over $50 000. 500 goes well beyond the MVP stage.
The most international network
With a wide-spread network of over 3000 founders and mentors, 500 Startups is the most international among seed investors. The global approach has been 500 differentials from day zero. A third of the world’s countries have been represented in 500 over the years.
For example, our batch has a Nigerian founder building a branded merchandise platform for SMBs (Printivo), a team from Hongkong building an investment simulator for students (EquitySim), and a Brazilian startup working on agentless database performance monitoring (Nazar). In the four months together, everyone in the batch gets pretty well acquainted. The international connections can open up many doors and bring unique opportunities to the table, way beyond Silicon Valley.
Peer pressure and support
500’s office for the Seed Program is in the downtown of San Francisco. This is an office where you’ll want to come to – the obvious passion and dedication of the people is contagious. Seeing others developing their ideas further, every single day, makes you work harder as well. No quitters, no giving up!
Besides, the problems are similar across the room. Sharing solutions and best-practices among batch-mates make the whole experience that much more valuable. The support from other startups in our batch has been tremendous. And we are only two weeks in.
500 is also welcoming non-founders. Might seem obvious, but really, not so common. If you already have a team of eight people, where everyone is super eager to learn, this is a very important add-on. The entire team deserves a chance to grow and get better; everyone has a role in the success of the company. In our case, this is exactly why I believe 500 is the one to help Clanbeat the most.
I’m far from saying that coming to Valley or joining the 500 Program will make your startup an instant success. Trying to get an early stage startup on its feet is not peachy. It means living out of your comfort zone, every fucking day. It means crashing into your breaking point and finding the strength to push it a few steps further, just for another day. Life in a startup is a struggle, wherever you are.
But if you are ready for the challenge, you’ll find an army of like-minded people in the Valley that can make a huge difference for your company’s success. It all depends on how much you are willing to put yourself out there – to network, establish relationships, ask for help and learn on the go. Valley is where things happen if you manage to make them happen for you.