The 5 Rules for Silicon Valley Success That Can Work Anywhere

What Silicon Valley can teach us about entrepreneurship

By Hyder Owainati, Staff Writer

In Silicon Valley, you would be hard-pressed to find someone in a power suit. It’s all t-shirts, hoodies, shorts and jeans over here (with maybe the occasional blazer). But don’t let the laxed attire deceive you. For almost a generation now, the “Valley” has represented a hotbed of economic activity, harboring some of the world’s most successful and innovative tech firms from Google to Apple.

The 1,500 square mile area in and around of San Jose, California is also responsible for spawning some of the youngest and wealthiest entrepreneurs of the twenty-first century. In the Valley, aspiring moguls are encouraged to go wild with their dreams and start-ups are backed by an onslaught of nearby venture capitalists.

Understanding why and how Silicon Valley is so conducive to the entrepreneurial spirit can be instrumental in helping you with your own pursuits – whether or not you are in the tech industry.

You don’t have to travel thousands of kilometers to reap the benefits. Here’s what you should take from Silicon Valley.

What makes a good pitch?

In Silicon Valley, if you can’t explain your businesses, product or technology in less than three minutes – it needs to be dramatically reworked. In fact, three minutes may even be pushing it.

When it comes to the core idea or your business idea, simplicity is key.

Many entrepreneurs wrongly assume that in order to change the game and create a successful enterprise, you have to conjure up ever-elaborate ideas and solutions. Yet, it’s quite the opposite. “The great ideas of today are clean are simple,” says Todd Francis (Sashta Ventures) while vehemently snapping his fingers during his interview on Winds of Changea documentary on entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley.

“It’s not about the complexity of an idea or how innovative it is,” reiterates entrepreneur Sarah Karam (GoNabit – online coupon vender) in her interview with the BBC. “It’s about doing it well and providing a great service.”

When selling your pitch, you should be able to explain the essence of your business in a coherent and memorable story. Show the product. Show people using it. Explain the service you wish to provide in a way that it’ll leave a visual imprint on those listening. Make it memorable!

In Silicon Valley, thick business plans and PowerPoint presentations are almost coma inducing. Never rely on them! Especially when first introducing your idea with potential investors or trying to sell your pitch. “If it’s a business plan that I’ve got to look at page 15 to figure what you’re doing. It’s not going to happen,” says Francis.

“Demonstrating and showing your vision is more powerful than writing it.” Take Francis’s advice to heart. It can do wonders in your journey from struggling entrepreneur to successful business tycoon.

“Everything falls into place in the entrepreneurial world; when you solve a real problem for a real customer. So stay focused on that,” says Jeff Hoffman, cofounder of

Money is a goal. But not The Goal:

“You know, you can be wealthy and unhappy. And that’s not successful!” While this statement, made by Daniel Kottke – one of Silicon Valley’s most famous engineers/inventors and old friend of Steve Jobs – seems almost recycled, few people take it to heart.

Wall Street is teeming with those obsessed with profit margins and crunching numbers, to the point (at least under public opinion) that illicit activities have now become acceptable as long as they can help generate the big bucks.

Now don’t get me wrong, money is crucial to your entrepreneurial ventures. You need capital to create your business, fund its operations, pay employees and ultimately, you’ll need to generate a profit. However, chasing after money isn’t what’ll help you get it. Your ideas, passion and hard-work will prove to be the main mechanisms to generate revenues. Nowhere else is this more realized than in Silicon Valley.

Many of the young Valley entrepreneurs, including those who have travelled across the globe to get there, are sacrificing large reliable paychecks at prestigious firms just for a chance to go on their own and actualize their dreams. Even if that entails couch surfing, working more than hundred hour workweeks and going months (or even years) with no income. What motivates them to keep on going are their ideas and the hopes of seeing them come to fruition, not just the expansion of their bank accounts.

Sacrifice, hard work and perseverance are qualities you’ll need to achieve your goals. Everyone in Silicon Valley is highly conscious of such a fact, as even the most successful Valley millionaires can trace back to their humble beginnings, working countless hours in their dorm rooms. There are few tales of family connections and bribery.

“People become entrepreneurs for very difference reasons, freedom, independence, leaving a legacy. They want to make a difference in someone’s life. There’s a lot of reasons to be an entrepreneur and money is just one of them.”

The words of Jeff Hoffman further echoes how chasing after wealth isn’t the primary engine that drives Silicon Valley. Rather, it’s making an impact and a positive change that will enhance the consumer experience. As any good entrepreneur will tell you, the joys of managing a growing, dynamic and successful business largely outweighs the economic imperative.

Sadly however, when it comes to the many young adults hoping to do away with the drudgery of 9 to 5 workdays, monovalent bosses and office cubicles, entrepreneurship represents nothing but an escapist dream. Many who aspire to be future moguls conjure up images of themselves in private jets and luxurious yachts before they have even developed a solid business idea. Don’t let that happen to you!

Think of the business, the ideas and the details first and enjoy the rewards once you actually achieve them. After all, being an entrepreneur is going to entail a lot more work, responsibility and pressure than school or an office job could ever impart.

Money is a motivator, but seeing your vision come to life is what should ultimately scratch that entrepreneurial itch. It’s a long haul to millionaire status, and you’ll need more than the scent of money to keep you going.

“You have to love what you’re doing, otherwise you won’t work hard enough,” Kottke.

Build positive relationships

Perhaps the most iconic rivalry of the tech-world is between Silicon Valley’s Apple and Microsoft. Yet despite their seemingly antagonistic nature to one another, Microsoft’s $150 million investment into Apple helped the company stay afloat during 1997. In response, Apple dropped long running lawsuits against Microsoft.

What these juggernauts of industry teach us is that animosity and conflict should never define your relationships in business – even amongst your competitors. Otherwise, you can create barriers to the development of new partnerships and cut off channels of communications.

“Wise businesspeople have the humility to seek out long-term, positive-sum collaborations with others, and are willing to sacrifice some of their immediate self-interest for long-term gain,” says Victor Hwang of Entrepreneur magazine.

No matter what industry you hope to venture in, creating a strong circle of contacts is instrumental to your entrepreneurial success. You need people to exchange thoughts, contribute ideas and amalgamate different skill sets. Don’t push people away if they disagree with you or find fault in your ideas. Collaborate and understand what the problem is and how it can be fixed. Never think you can do it alone.

“Everybody is so open to sharing their ideas,” says Henrik Scheel, CEO of Startup Experience. “You can literally walk into any coffee shop and I guarantee you, you can find a like minded person.” While this may apply more in Silicon Valley than in other places, it reminds us that finding your next potential business partner can happen anyplace, anytime. Always be prepared to have your thoughts on hand and be open and confident with those around you. You don’t have to be in the boardroom to form a business deal.

In order to create a diverse repertoire of business contact, you must also be proactive and sociable. Playing hard to get isn’t going to get you any attention. Instead, you should always be responding to phone calls, emails and taking up lunch offers. Constantly seek to expand your network of contacts and don’t hold back! If there is an opportunity to meet someone new, take it.

If you’re genuine, trustworthy and take the time to listen to others, people will do the same for you. Soon enough, somebody listening will like your idea and want to join. When meeting with people, don’t give any less than your full attention and make sure to put your phone down.

Learn a new language

While learning Mandarin or Urdu would help any entrepreneur in our increasingly globalized world, I’m not talking about human languages. I’m talking computer languages.

Java script, Python and Ruby just a few of the popular programing language used today.

Despite the fact that you may not be seeking to venture into the tech industry, what Silicon Valley has shown us is that, in one way or the other, technology has a part to play in big business. In time, this trend is only going to increase. Don’t be left behind.

Start with basic languages such as HTML or CSS – experiment with creating simple websites and work your way up to more advanced coding systems.

Avoid the mindset that learning how to code would help you point out the mistakes and inefficiencies of professional programmers. Instead, learning a computer language represents a means of expanding your horizons, skill sets and a menial step in understanding the trillion-dollar tech industry.

Technology now shapes almost every dynamic of our modern lives. In time, the majority of consumer needs and wants are going to emerge from their interactions with technology (if they haven’t already). As an entrepreneur, if you don’t take steps to learn about the basics of the tech-sector, you’re missing out on huge opportunities.






Hyder Owainati is a student at the University of Toronto who loves to write short stories, read books and collect comics. You can follow his work at 

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