What I’ve Learned By Spending Time In Silicon Valley

While other cities similarly contain talented engineers, brilliant business people and expert marketers -- something unique permeates in the Valley.

Last Update: June 17, 2015

Silicon Valley — the point around which the world spins for most tech entrepreneurs.

It’s a place filled with innovators, inventors, investors and plenty of successful people. For fledgling entrepreneurs it’s the perfect environment to learn by listening and watching.

The last time I was there, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with a few people who have grasped a complete and clear understanding of what makes the Valley tick. During one discussion with a fellow entrepreneur and good friend, I posed the following question: How does this area attract and produce so many successful people? Success broadly defined in the context of people achieving personal or professional progress – not just financial gain.

Through a series of discussions and a little research, something became clear. While other cities and communities similarly contain talented engineers, brilliant business people and expert marketers, something unique permeates in the Valley: the currency of time.


Silicon Valley ‘X’ Factor

Successful people in Silicon Valley appear to give time to those who are trying to learn and who are hungry for success. This happens at a degree that is arguably unseen in other areas. A sense of openness and a genuine interest in helping others.

For example, one of the most often heard phrases (or read in an email) within the area will start or end with the words “can we grab a cup of coffee?”

The sender is likely an aspiring entrepreneur or an ambitiously curious student. You, me and countless other future success stories.

The recipient is generally a successful startup founder, accomplished investor, iconic CEO or simply someone who has more things to do than they have time to spare.

The common thread that is seen in the Valley is a willingness by notable and successful people to actually meet with people. Whether it is a five minute phone call, email discussion or 20-minute coffee break, these discussions are occurring. There is a purposeful exchange that helps to guide, motivate and teach the younger guys (and girls).

It is not unusual to see two ambitious bodies sitting at a table somewhere near University Avenue discussing an idea that potentially will end up in your home or on your computer.

Yet by no means is this considered the rule for for Silicon Valley and a quick coffee meeting is not always easy to accomplish. Persistence and honesty are required. It is usually the result of multiple emails, tweets or phone calls, along with some creative and attention-grabbing gimmicks.

After enough work, however, your efforts often get you that valuable time with someone you deem important.


Valley Coffee Time

I’m not convinced that every entrepreneur understands the true value of “coffee time.”

What “coffee time” allows you is an open ear, advice, and if you are extremely lucky, an introduction to another important person.

Above all, this time allows you to accomplish something that you would otherwise have real difficulty accomplishing – building connections. Day after day throughout the Valley, people are empowered and connected to resources, advice and introductions that truly can make a business or a career.


Valley-ite Characteristics

One thing you will notice about exchanging time with others in Silicon Valley is the idea of reciprocity — it’s somehow invisible. More than I’ve seen in most other areas, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and business people are happy to meet with someone without any blatant expectation of a returned favor.

Why are Silicon Valley-ites so willing to lend an entrepreneurial hand?

I’d wager that many understand that helping one person can result in a tremendous impact. Furthermore, it is likely that they themselves were the beneficiary of a coffee meeting that resulted in something positive. Hence the term currency, when referring to time — something valued by everyone with no restrictions on who can give and receive it.

But the unspoken price is an expectation on the requester to grant a similar favor to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

It all seems to sit upon the concept of accessibility – which is one of many threads of success. Sure it’s present amongst certain geographic pockets in the U.S. but it’s more visible in the Valley.

How can more local communities start embracing this mentality and ensure that aspiring individuals have access to those that have already made it? Possibly by adapting a more accessible viewpoint and a Silicon Valley state of mind.

My hope is that more entrepreneurial centers across the U.S. can begin the discussion – possibly over a cup of coffee.

Connect with Mark on Twitter.


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