The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. When CEE Startups Come to Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is open to ideas that come from Eastern Europe and people there don’t label things as foreign like the French or Germans do. However, the Valley has its own culture and mindset of doing business that is sometimes difficult for Eastern Europeans to adapt to.

Tytus Cytowski, Managing Partner & Founder at Cytowski & Partners, shared his take on the business culture and being Eastern European at Silicon Valley in an event by Startup Lithuania and Nextury at ISM’s Innobase this week.

According to Mr Cytowski, Silicon Valley is, obviously, a physical place, but it’s also a culture and mindset of doing business.

“All roads lead to the Silicon Valley in the digital economy. I’m not encouraging you to go to the Silicon Valley, it’s not for everyone, however, if you’re building something digital, all roads go there. You have to be connected and to understand what’s going on there as things that happen there influence you. It’s important to understand the mindset and the place, because Silicon Valley is the place where the future is written. I know, Eastern Europeans, are obsessed about the past, but this is where the future is written”, – Mr Cytowski says.

He claims people in the Valley are open to ideas that come from Eastern Europe and they don’t really label things as foreign like people from Germany or France. Also, the Valley is a place where a lot of folks have exited, many of those are successful and they are willing to share their success.

“What drives me crazy about people from CEE? They think in terms of problems. Problems and excuses for not succeeding. And the Valley is all about the Problem/Solution methodology. Also, people in the Valley are very good at identifying market opportunities and at identifying best customers to target. This part is very difficult for Eastern Europeans. Because it requires you to think about other people. And the culture here is not to think about other people. It’s about thinking about yourself. It’s a cultural problem”, – Mr Cytowski was speaking in Vilnius.

So what are the main tips and things to avoid for ones who consider Silicon Valley? Here’s a list from Tytus Cytowski.

THE GOOD:

  • You need to be in the Valley. Or at least you need to be connected with people in the Valley.
  • Listening (to feedback). Guys who succeed in the Valley really understand the importance of listening and/or gathering customer feedback. Talking to customers also helps understanding the product market fit.
  • No formula for success. You have to figure things out on your own and make some mistakes.
  • Ask for help. Successful founders and investors ask for help. There’s a community that supports you in the Valley. It’s not about being vulnerable, it’s about learning best practices.
  • No lifetime employment. Startups are about having a successful exit. Don’t expect to get a salary out of this. It’s not about employment, it’s about entrepreneurship.
  • Explore the Valley. Make a plan. Execute it. The successful guys I worked with had this approach: first going to the Valley for 2-3 weeks. They go to all the meetups they can and talk to everybody they can. Then they go back home, they process the feedback, they build the relationships and then they follow up. And once they follow up they come back to the Valley and start talking to people seriously about writing cheques.
  • It’s all about the customers and mentors, not the financing. If you ask people in the Valley for money, they give you advice. But if you ask them for advice, they give you money.
  • Leveraging assets of the Valley. Go to Facebook, Google, Uber, Airbnb. They’re willing to talk to you. Connect with them on the social media, write them a message, but it has to be sensible. Not “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn”, but a call to action such as “Hey, blablabla, I’m writing to you because […], would you have 30 minutes for coffee in San Francisco?”. It’s simple, but people from Eastern Europe don’t do it.
  • Follow up. Eastern Europeans are not good at it, but there’s always something to follow up on. It’s important because it shows the appreciation of one’s time.
  • Power of thank you. Eastern Europeans need to improve their “thank you” 🙂

THE BAD:

  • Not big enough. CEE companies are not big enough. You have to be thinking about 100M USD exit to make ripples. You need to think and to dream big in the Valley. Think about Mindaugas, Gediminas, Vytautas and grand dukes. If you won’t start working on it, the Valley will destroy you and you will be so behind the Valley. Create something big here.
  • Too late, too slow. Central Europeans have this poetic soul and spirituality, but in the Valley, you just can’t sit around drinking coffee and discussing the idea – you have to do it and do it really fast. You have to fail fast.
  • Rule breaking. There is a difference between Silicon Valley rule breaking and Eastern European/Lithuanian/Soviet rule breaking. Everybody in America follows instructions. We can use our mentality for our advantage here, but please don’t try to screw up anyone in this business! It comes back as it’s a very small world, especially the digital one.
  • No networking (notworking). For instance, Estonians are quite poor networkers. I don’t want you to be Estonians, I want you to be super active Lithuanians who are capable of talking to each other. Be emotional. Americans want to see energy. This way you show enthusiasm about your company. Networking is super important to succeed in the Valley and failure to do it is one of the reasons why Eastern Europeans fail.
  • Recognize vs. replicate. Your idea must be something fresh, not “Uber for Facebook for something”. It has to be an important universal problem that you are trying to solve.
  • No dream. Ask yourself what is your dream. Earning a lot of money and being successful are good dreams too, but you have to have it. Dream big though!
  • No FOMO. Fear of missing out. Even though there’s really nothing that big in Estonia, they had a fear of missing out, they talked loudly about themselves and now everyone goes to Estonia. Do the same!

THE UGLY:

  • No goal, no plan in the Valley, a parachute approach. Have a plan before you start networking and asking people for help. People will help you, but you have to be prepared when arriving.
  • No pay it forward. If you ask someone for a favour, for instance, an introduction, do something for him, invite him for lunch, pay for it, etc. Give something in return for a favour, even though people only expect something in the long run. Give favours too. You know who once crashed on Sam Altman’s (head of Y Combinator) couch having no place to stay? Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe the person who you are helping out will be the next Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Living insular. Don’t stick to living in a bubble, living and hanging out with other Lithuanians. You have to expand. You have to be connected to investors, other startups and the Valley.
  • Being uncoachable. Something common among the Eastern Europeans.
  • Translating realities. Don’t try to translate your Lithuanian realities into American realities.

THE UGLIEST:

  • Asking for constant introductions. I can’t do unlimited introductions, because investors have limited capacities. And I can’t send them crazy or unprepared guys.

You can reach Tytus over here: www.linkedin.com/in/tytuscytowski

Reprinted from http://www.startuplithuania.lt/en/news/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-when-cee-startups-come-to-silicon-valley

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