Ralf HallerRalf Haller December 12, 2009

Latest impressions from the Silicon Valley

Just came back from a week long trip to the heart of the tech world, Silicon Valley. It was unusually cold for December, at night even freezing. Now back in Zurich, it is snowing right now, which is more normal weather here for this time of the year. So what is going on in Silicon Valley? Following are a few personal impressions and views:

Startups continue to have a hard time getting funding, in particular if they are with more unknown VCs, as those might simply not get new funds from their institutional investors anymore who prefer to use the money for something else. If you are with a top VC firm, though, there should not be a problem. Focus is on getting revenue and with that proving that you have a viable business. Not so exotic for the rest of the world of course. It seems that Silicon Valley is becoming more mainstream.

There is still very interesting stuff being done that will surface in a few months from now and IPOs are being prepared as well, although not knowing if they will then really pull the trigger and go public. I have also seen startups who have just received a new round of funding and are now super busy with tons of work racing to be first in the market with new features. Such setups are fun to work for and reminded me of the high (and unreal as it turned out then) times end of 1999.

There are still the smartest and most ambitious entrepreneurs to be found here, it seems, but you also meet people who feel tired of the constant rush and begin to wonder if there are better things to do in heir lives than work. :-)

Now if you are ambitious and love technology I am sure there are great opportunities and some that one only finds here. Being asked what they think about Europe, most will tell you that the focus is on Asia and China, and Europe is often seen as second priority. Of course this entirely depends on the product market, where some require a more mature customer base or where the conservative approach in Europe towards adopting new technology is easier to deal with than the super cheap but maybe not that advanced competition in China who can still sell there but not in Europe.

On a personal level I had some funny experiences. E.g. I clearly had the impression that food has got better. It is still about one third to half the price of what you pay in Switzerland and, when you choose to go to an expensive place, it will be a very pleasant surprise to get really excellent food. Competition and fewer people going out has led to this positive effect, I guess. I also discovered more of San Francisco on this trip. It is technically speaking not Silicon Valley of course but has now some also interesting startups and some tech companies (Adobe) who tap more into designer types than engineers. I really like the office space there in SOMA which are old totally renovated brick warehouses with wooden beams inside, which makes for a very pleasant working atmosphere. And one really funny fact I heard from an ex-colleague who works in San Jose but lives in San Francisco. He said that for a man looking for women you need to go to San Francisco as the ratio of men to women is still healthy there, while in Silicon Valley you find many more men than women, which also has a certain negative effect on their attitudes (details of that I won’t reveal here but I am sure you can guess :-) )