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Moving to SF and joining the tech community – Lessons from my first year

Thinking of moving to the startup mecca?
I’ve now been in SF for a little over a year now, and have had many friends from Seattle and elsewhere contact me thinking of relocating as well. I’ve gotten pretty integrated into the SF tech community here, so assuming that you’re ready to go, I had a couple tips I figured I’d write down.

Here they are:

You don’t need a killer idea, and you don’t need a job offer
First off, a lot of folks at places like Microsoft think about moving to SF, but are waiting for the perfect job or the perfect idea to pop up. Problem is, from your perch at a Fortune 500 company, you just don’t have access to the best people, companies, and ideas to make a decision about the “perfect” startup.

My recommendation is just to set a timeline for yourself, and just do it! – even if that means crashing on a couple couches for the initial weeks just to get yourself integrated. Given that there’s an amazing number of tech people here, if you’re halfway competent you’ll get exposed to a ton of new opportunities that you hadn’t even heard of.

In my case, in the process of moving down I ended up taking an EIR gig – but rather than spending the time working on a company, I spent it networking and getting to know the tech community here in the Bay Area.

Start going to conferences and events
A good place to start is by meeting people – there’s no central directory of events, but they are often posted on places like:

  • BASES (a Stanford startup group)
  • Upcoming
  • Facebook (just look at the events people are going to)
  • Meetup

If you are serious about it, you can go to 2-3 events per week easily, and meet a ton of people there. In addition, you should follow guys like Dave McClure, Noah Kagan, Christian Perry, Charles Hudson, and others, since they are often in the middle of the conference circuit.

For me, I’ve helped with a couple conferences here and there – it’s a great way to get people together, and to participate in the startup community. That’s why you often see me plugging specific conferences in my blog.

Be systematic about meeting people, and keep tabs on them
Of course, once you’re at the tech events, use the time well. I wrote, almost a year ago, a blog post on the topic called 10 tips for meeting people at industry events. Similarly, make sure you use Linkedin or Facebook to connect with people and keep track of what they’re doing, and also do cross-intros for people who are doing something interesting.

One interesting issue is, what do you talk to folks at these events about? Well, just come up with some angle you are thinking of – for a long time, mine was simply that I was from Seattle and worked in online advertising, and was looking at the games sector. If you can have a short conversation on something simple like that, it’s a good way to explore mutual interests. For many new startup folks, perhaps you have a small project you’re working on, or you’re looking into the Facebook economy, or whatever it is.

For me, I started out with ~250 or so connections on LinkedIn when I was in Seattle, and within 6 months, I had reached a multiple of that. Now I have my newsfeed on RSS, and I can quickly see what people have been up to lately.

Meet the Mafias
Like all great cities, the Bay Area is run by a small number of “Mafias.” The most famous, of course, is the PayPal mafia, but there’s also ex-Googlers, HotOrNot folks, Digg, YCombinator, and many others. Here’s a good article from TechCrunch listing specific names for people to get in touch with.

Many of these guys, given their success, end up starting investing vehicles – pay attention to these, since they are fascinating communities to understand. For PayPal there’s Founder’s Fund, Youniversity Ventures, and many angel investors. For Google, there’s Felicis Ventures and many angel investors as well.

Because some of these communities are very tight, they are hard to get to know until you have something interesting going, and something to offer in return. My general take on it is that ideally, you want to hang out with people who are a lot smarter than you ;-) Because of this, if you are hanging out with junior entrepreneurs all day (for example, the YCombinator folks) then you might not learn as much as if you spent time with people who have done a lot more than you.

I had the lucky opportunity to spend some time with PayPal-affiliated folks, as well as a few months hanging out at the Hi5 offices. All those guys are smarter than me, so I learned a lot ;-)

Keep a blog
I’ll make this one short, since for some it’s obvious: Blogs are a great way to stay relevant in the lives of a large group of people. There’s folks who I have met once or twice who occasionally read my blog, and it’s great, because it’s a low-work, highly-leveraged way for me to be part of the tech community’s conversation.

Need help?
And of course, if you read this and are thinking of moving to SF, shoot me a note at voodoo [at] gmail. I’m always particularly interested in meeting entrepreneurial engineers. Happy to help give more detail on any of the above.

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