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InfoQ Homepage Articles Author Q&A: Decoding Silicon Valley

Author Q&A: Decoding Silicon Valley

Key takeaways

  • Silicon Valley has a unique culture and history that makes it a great place for startups
  • The concentration of talent, venture capital, successful startups, customers and potential collaborators provides an ecosystem that can enable success
  • You need to be present in the Valley, not just visit
  • There is a unique “Silicon Valley Mindset”
  • Great technical skills are necessary but not enough to guarantee success

Jon Baer and Michelle Messina have written a book exploring the secrets to success in Silicon Valley - what it takes for a startup to succeed.  They look at the culture, history and stories which show how and why the Valley works and provide guidance for prospective entrepreneurs who are considering setting up in the Valley.  They spoke to InfoQ about the book and their ideas. 

You can download a sample chapter and the book can be purchased here

InfoQ: Why did you write this book – what is the fundamental problem or opportunity you are addressing?

We want entrepreneurs to be more successful. In working with startups from around the world we saw some common patterns and challenges they face when coming to Silicon Valley to raise capital, get customers, or get connected to others. Many had beliefs about how things worked in Silicon Valley that were untrue or inaccurate, or many entrepreneurs did not fully appreciate the challenges of building a business success here

InfoQ: Why are you the best people to write this book – why should we listen to your advice?

We have worked with thousands of startups around the world, helping them to be more successful in building their business in their region.  For those who come to Silicon Valley, we have helped them successfully navigate getting customers, raising capital and or relocating. We have lived and worked here for decades; we are both entrepreneurs (and one of us was a venture capital investor) so there is a keen understanding of what happens here and how to build success.  Finally, we have traveled throughout the world and worked in many different regions which helped us more deeply appreciate all that Silicon Valley has to offer and how it differs from the rest of the world.

InfoQ: What makes Silicon Valley special – how come it has become the hotbed of innovation that it is?

Silicon Valley has evolved over a 50 plus year history of building companies so it has been able to develop a highly functioning ecosystem for startups and a set of best practices for building companies. Talented people are drawn to the region by the great universities, interesting companies, the diverse population and attractive place to live.

InfoQ: Why is it so important for budding entrepreneurs to actually spend time in Silicon Valley, rather than just visiting?

If you want to get customers, raise money or build a curated network each of these take time. Parachuting into Silicon Valley will not work. And further if people in Silicon Valley think you are only visiting for a short period of time they are less likely to want to help you.  But perhaps more importantly, Silicon Valley can be a ‘crash course’ on how to be more as effective in growing and scaling a company.

InfoQ: You talk about the “Silicon Valley Mindset” – what is different about the thinking in Silicon Valley and how does that contrast to innovation incubators in other parts of the world?

In Silicon Valley we take a 360 degree view of a business, think about how to create a global business and understand that to realize the value the company, it will either go public or be acquired. The mindset in Silicon Valley understands the value of venture capital financing to help a business more quickly scale and get the necessary traction.

InfoQ: InfoQ readers are very technical and are likely to be interested in becoming entrepreneurs – what advice would you give someone with a strong technical background and a great idea about turning that into a successful new venture?

Find a co-founder who brings experience, perspective and contacts that you do not have. Hire the best people you can find, build a great product that addresses a real need and accept that you are on a winding road with little visibility and lots of uncertainty. And read our book!

About the Book Authors

Michelle Messina is a serial entrepreneur who brings strong sales, marketing, and business development skills to startups everywhere. She pioneered the Silicon Valley best practices training of startups in 2004 and has worked in more than 35 countries. Michelle has worked with leading corporate, university and government acceleration programs around the world. Today, she helps companies get clear and focused so they translate their vision into reality. Michelle believes that being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing you’ll ever enjoy doing. Michelle’s email is and here is her LinkedIn profile.

Jon Baer is a recovering venture capitalist who loves working with early stage companies around the world. He was the founder and CEO of two venture-backed companies, one of which was a spinout from SRI International. Jon now spends his time teaching, mentoring, and advising early stage companies with leading accelerators and investors around the world. He believes that startups require tough love; and need to focus on money, metrics, and milestones. Jon teaches startup CEOs to say less, because less is more. Jon’s email is and here is his LinkedIn profile.

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