The premise: Round up four early-stage startups for a two-week trip to the tech capital of the world – Silicon Valley – where anything can happen.
We've all heard the stories about companies getting funded based on back-of-napkin ideas. Of course we're not so naive to think that if we simply show up to the Valley (napkins in hand) and expect this could happen to us, especially as rumours of a startup bubble continue to swirl.
It all started in the communal kitchen of Invest Ottawa, an incubator that helps Canadians start and grow a business. A few of us started talk about the Valley and its potential. The conversation then turned into "why not?"
With strength in numbers, why not pool our resources, connections and networks and see what happen? It takes a community to build a community, so why not use a similar approach to when trying to expand one's reach – whether it's to find new customers, strategic partners or investors? Why not head to the Valley and see what happens?
After announcing our plans, the question that kept popping up was: What kind of expectations do you have for your two-week trip to the Valley?
As a new startup, you are constantly bombarded with advice and guidance from the range of services and opportunities now available. We've all been told that we need to "get our butts down to the Valley." In fact, a founder of a startup who was graduating from the Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator screamed at me during a Skype call not long ago, ordering me to come down.
Another person told me that when you run into a venture capitalist in Starbucks who is willing to invest in you, "don't ask for too little or you'll be perceived as unknowing or even worse – delusional." They don't want to give you $100,000, they want to give you $1-million.
But what's really confusing is when you get advice from the other side: "You're too early, you need a minimum of 100,000 users or at least a million dollars in revenue before you should even consider such a trip."
So what exactly were our expectations? They can be put into three simple categories:
Expectation 1: To figure out if the hype is justified. What's the truth behind these two profoundly different aforementioned views? How does our ecosystem here in Canada and, in particular, Ottawa compare? Is the funding situation as risk-adverse here as it is there? It's time we stop relying on hearsay and find out for ourselves.
Expectation 2: Build relationships. Taking a startup from concept to a finished product and throwing it out into the cold, highly critical and judgmental world to be ripped apart and then have expectations placed on us to generate users and revenue as quickly as our American counterparts is no easy task. With so much advice, feedback, push and pull, 'minimum viable product' this and that, after a while, you begin to wonder how you'll ever get your baby into the warm arms of someone who can nurture it and take it to all new heights.
One of the biggest draws for us all is the opportunity to meet with potential VCs and angel investors. We've all been told: "strong relationships are one of the most important currencies in the technology industry." And while we were definitely hoping to secure funding, one of the valuable things that always comes out of a trip to the Valley is the chance to test your network to help get you in front of those who might just be able to make that happen.
In order to give this trip any chance of being fruitful – in the sense of putting us on the radar of potential strategic partners, new mentors or advisers and yes, even funding or investment – we rely on our combined network or local community as it really does take a community to build an even larger one.
And boy, are we ever reaching out to all those we know (and some we don't). If you're reading this and you know me, there's a pretty good chance I have already asked you two or three times to reach out to those you know in the Valley and help us out by setting up a meeting or 10 with any VCs or Angel and strategic partners you think we or any one of us in the group should visit or connect with. Some of you in our networks have responded resoundingly and we cannot thank you enough. Others, well, not so much.
Expectation 3: You need to see to believe. Well, let's call the third expectation more of a notion. I think it's safe to say that this might be one core notion that I'm pretty sure every global startup and founder share: "it's our Hajj, our pilgrimage, our Mecca to Medina, our obligation and duty to make this trip at least once in our tech startup life.
So, that's it. In the end, our expectations of what is to come out of this are pretty simple. Put simply, we have none, or at least not the kind most people perceive we might or should have.
When Susan Boyle jumped onto the stage for Britain's Got Talent, blasting out a song from Les Miserables, I'm pretty sure no one really had much expectation for what they were about to witness.
Going to the Valley is our chance to just get on the stage and see what happens. Why do we have to have anything more expectations than that? Please stop asking us. By setting crazy expectations, we could just set ourselves on a path to become a modern-day Les Miserables.
Oh and yes, although we all plan to be busy with meetings and networking events, we also plan on squeezing in some of those fun touristy things only we tech startups would like to do, such as visiting Mark Zuckerberg's old house and using his bathroom for a quick washroom break on our way to visiting Larry and Sergei at Google HQ.
Expectation: 100 per cent.
Stay tuned we will let you know what happened in a couple weeks.
George Borovec CEO and co-founder of Treasure Chest Marketplace.