Panel on “How to Succeed in Silicon Valley”


Insights from the panel discussion on “how to succeed in Silicon Valley”, panel members:
Mark Johnson (ex-CEO of Skypilot networks acquired by Trilliant, advisor, investor), Hamish Hawthorn (UpGuard: “Silicon Valley minus the bullshit”) and Stephanie Carullo (startup adviser and investor, ex VP sales, Apple).


1. To be successful in Silicon Valley you can’t be shy. Seriously.
2. I’ve been working with Australian companies for 7 years and Silicon Valley is a totally different world. Don’t assume that if it works in Australia it will work here.

3. When pitching Australians are too polite which is good but too humble which is bad. If you don’t exude confidence people won’t want to invest with you or work with you. A lot of times Silicon Valley people that were worse than you get investments, because they were confident and you played the humble game.

4. It’s harder to come here and get money because there is so much competition. Brand matters here. True technology matters here. Knowing someone may matter too. It’s hard to get through the noise.

5. Almost everyone here will give you 30 mins, if you’re polite.

6. American companies like to work with companies that are close, you’ve got to work on our time zones. People like to do business with people.

7. One things I see Australians don’t do, is if someone does a connection for you or closes a deal, go out of your way to thank them. Buy them a scotch, go out of your way, don’t just say thank you.

You’re Australian, get TimTams for people that help you and make yourself memorable.

8. One of the things you have to think about is it’s no longer enough to have product market fit. How do you avoid the competition, build a company, and make a company scale, do only the things that matter, these are the things are important. You need to start thinking bigger. There are too many things that chase the same thing.

9. If you are really thinking about changing the world you have to want to not be just a “one of many” or “me too” company, you have to want to be the one. Keep pushing. Can you be transformational?

Can you find a WTF moment for your customers with your product? The moment when they use it and they say “WTF I can see the future!”. Create that for them and you will be able to change the world.

10. Don’t put yourself in the U.S. tax net unless you have to, because once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. The structure of the company does matter.

11. Joining an accelerator and giving up equity may turn out to be an extremely expensive transaction down the line. Make sure every transaction you do is worth it.

12. If you want a life of leisure don’t do a startup. If you want to change the world and make an impact there is nothing as exhilarating as a startup.

13. Competition is extremely cut-throat in Silicon Valley, be ready for that.

14. A lot of people think “I want to start a startup let’s go raise VC money”. Why? That should be the last thing you do. The only time you accept money is if you have a growth opportunity. The best way for your business to grow is organically using your customers’ money. You are giving up so much control and authority so if you’re doing it, make sure the investors bring in a lot more than just money. Anyone can give you money. Getting money from a VC is like getting married without being able to gets divorce. Make sure they are the right fit, don’t take it lightly.

15. If you raise money, the terms matter more than the valuation. Don’t give away anything that for you as a founder is going to mean you will lose control, unless it’s really worth it.

16. When looking for investors look for these: who do you really respect, who can really add value and who you can get along with. Any idiot can give you money, make sure they bring more than money to the table.

17. Buy and read the book “How to be smarter than your VC”.

18. Set a vision so everyone knows how their role aligns with that.

19. What’s more important for an early stage company, cash flow or profit? Cash flow. You can’t run a company just on profit.

20. Most companies fail because they fail to focus. You need to think about why you’re in business and focus on that. Most companies in Australia have to be very broad to make any money. Here if you do that you will die. You have be very narrow and focused in what you do. What problem am I solving and for whom? And be laser focused on that question. Don’t build a whole lot of features and lose your focus. Have only one customer in mind.

21. If you are unique, customers will stick with you. GoPro was not good at first but because they were unique and were a category changer, their customers kept giving them second chances until their product became better. Can you be a category changer? Think about Tesla, Apple, etc. they completely changed the categories. How can you think about your company in that way, instead of just another “me too”.

22. Don’t be so selfish and secretive about your ideas, here collaboration matters even between competitors.

23. If people don’t agree with your vision and your startup idea don’t be defensive, try to understand the way they think and the lens through which they see things. Don’t have a blind spot.


Hamish (he just raised $18m for his startup):

Ways how Silicon Valley and Australia are the same:

1. The process of raising money here is exactly the same as Australia. If you can’t raise in Australia you are doing it wrong. The only difference is that the efficiency of the process here is a few orders of magnitude better than in Australia. The better efficiency comes from many factors such as experience,very good nonsense detectors, confidence, etc.

2. There is no more information assymetry today. You can read all about how to raise money, read the book “how to be smarter than your VC”. When you are raising from VCs you need to know all their terminologies.

3. Selling the products here is no different to Australia. Don’t change your business model just because you’re moving here.

The differences between Silicon Valley and Australia:

1. The culture is different. But that will change in Australia. You need to invest in creating this culture there.



My observations of the founders that I’ve seen over the years and What makes these startups really unique:

1. The mission you have is very important. All these startups have had very very discreet missions. Authenticity connection is extremely important.

2. If you can afford to self fund do so. It’s easy to get caught up in the VC game. Raising money to pay yourself is a terrible idea. Your customer is the most important thing, focus on them. The time it takes to raise money from VC is so long, it’s a huge distraction.

3. Make sure you have metrics to track execution. Set yourself very clear milestones. It shows real progress. You’ve got to get into a habit of keeping yourself accountable.

If you’re not looking at your data and metrics you’ve got a problem.

4. People use linkein here in so many different ways. Don’t be afraid to ping people that are useful to you. Reach out to people, you’ll be surprised how many people will say yes. Most people are very willing to have the conversation.

5. Hiring is extremely important. Hire really really top talent that can fit into the vision and are able to work really well.

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