• Manjula Sridhar

    Slumming in San Francisco

    This blog is written for newbies, entertaining strong thoughts on Entrepreneurship, trying to pin point an idea and figuring out the various business models.

    Let me start with “why”; Indian start-up scene is blooming with lot of money pouring into it from all across the world and there is immense focus on technology products; however, dig a little deeper, a clear distinction amongst the products that get funded and the ones that struggle emerges. The 3 broad classifications in the order of difficulty in getting funded in India are:

    • Pure tech products solving/addressing technology gaps (Ex cloud infrastructure, fundamental technologies such as compilers, libraries OS etc.).
    • Tech enabled products addressing the business needs (Ex Accounting software, HR, Customer Service, etc).
    • Consumer products (Mobile Apps, Web etc)

    If you are in any of these and are globally focused there is not a reason for you start selling the product/idea from day 1 in US and valley in particular.

    Even if you do not have a concrete idea, I would still recommend starting the exploration in here as lot of ideas simmer in the underground in domain specific meet-ups for a while before they get exposed to general public in SFO and then to the rest of the world.

    Let us start with basics.

    Accommodation:

    San Francisco is extremely costly; a bed/bunker in a shared room costs about thousand dollars per month. One obvious option for most Indians is to draw on friends and family in bay area. But I would advice against this due to following.

    • Most events happen in SFO and commute from bay area can be quite taxing and costly especially during late evening when most meet-ups happen.
    • Most bay area folks live a sort of American dream life, which is the least desired environment for people in startup journey.

    Airbnb is the real lifesaver in finding a reasonable accommodation. Plan for a budget around 50 USD per day. Try finding an apartment near SoMa (South of Market) area or at least an area where there is a direct access to one of the MUNI lines. This way access to Cal-train (to reach bay area where many VCs and big companies are located) becomes easier. Most start-up events tend to crowd around Market Street, which also has many accelerators and incubators at walk-able distances. Most of these host various domain meet-ups and startup experts. Notable ones among the accelerators that host many events are Impacthub, FounderSuite, Runway, FonderSpace, Startup foundry.

    Start-up Community/Co-living Houses: This is an amazing concept started by some successful entrepreneurs. These are big houses which host early stage entrepreneurs who live and work out of the space. Some even have connects with startup eco system. So access to 24*7 start-up talk and getting the inside information from many sources. Flipside is many tend to be very dorm like environment with shared bathroom and kitchen with no privacy. But if you can deal with this, this may be an effective way of hitting the ground running. (More details here )

    Be weary of some of the so-called community houses allegedly run by investors and listed on airbnb are not really startup houses but some kind of hostels catering to all sorts of folks. So do some background work before booking. Good ones tend to be taken very early on so plan well in advance before you land.

    Commute:

    San Francisco public transport is great a combination of MUNI trains, buses and BART trains. Great thing is an 80$ clipper card that would take one from anywhere to anywhere. Uber and Lyft also offer incredibly cheap rides of say 7 dollar to anywhere in San Francisco.

    Caltrain is the access to bay area which is an hour commute (Mountain View, Palo Alto, SunnyVale) can be quite expensive with a day pass around 15$ so make sure you group meetings in bay area. Most meeting places in suburbs can also be reached by connecting buses from the caltrain stations.

    Car (Renting) is inexpensive as well but finding parking and driving around in San Francisco where most startup events happen can be a tedious task.

    Finally San Francisco is very walkable and extremely cycle friendly. One can buy a used cycle for 200 dollars, so if you fit into this mold you will have lot of fun.

    Pitches, Meet-ups and Events

    Pitch competitions with some prize money thrown in are regular occurrences each month. These are great avenues to get feedback on the ideas and catch fancy of some angels. Few regular ones are PitchForce, SharkTank, Soceity3, ElevatorPitch. There are special events organized by SFAngels as well.

    Meetup.com, eventbrite.com, moonbar.com and techcocktail.com are some of the sites to subscribe to get notified of the quality events.

    Most events cost around $15-$20 tend to be very practical, first hand knowledge based and one could immensely benefit from interacting with the folks. Majority of the events provide food as well.

    Keep a lookout for demo days of various accelerators such as y-combinator, 500startups, techstars, S3 and various others. They should be great way to understand where things are headed.

    Workspaces

    Most cafes (Peet’s, Starbucks and numerous boutique ones) are good places to spend few hours but specific ones stand out. Workshop café near market and Montgomery offers workspace at $2 an hour. My personal favorite is a spacious, brightly lit by sun and luxurious place to work out of is the “under the dome” in Westfield mall. It is adjacent to “bespoke” a retail incubator and is free with easy access to lot of places in and around Market Street. SF State university library also has lot of public access workspace, which is a great alternative for café.

    Photo on 2-16-15 at 12.07 PM

    Workspace at Westfield Mall

    Some of the incubators and accelerators offer free workdays, which are great places to meet folks and get connected to the startup scenes. Please check the webpages to get specific details.

    iSPIRT has recently opened this initiative called Athithi Silicon Valley helping to host (@workplace) Indian entrepreneurs coming to Valley and exploring product ideas. See if you are eligible to apply.

    Finally, dealing with it all in a relaxed way

    Pace of startup activities in San Francisco can be really overwhelming if you have not figured out a way to deal with this. San Francisco is a place for great hikes, cycle rides and numerous fitness activities. Many places offer free once a week classes. There are great many meditation centers (such as Yoga SFO, SRF, Zen Centers), which offer free group meditation in the evenings.

    This is just based on my personal experiences, others who have done this and know better please feel free to add the tips in the comment and we can add them to back to the blog itself.

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    • Innovation Enabler

      Excellent writeup…Very useful..Pls post more info about Athiti Silicon Valley initiative..

    • Ajay Chauhan

      Thanks Manjula! very insightful indeed!!

    • manjula

      @disqus_vivHCbPNhY:disqus glad you liked this. Best.

    Mar, 13
    2015
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