When someone says “Silicon Valley” business, you probably envision companies like Google, Facebook, Apple or startups like the one lampooned on the hit HBO TV series. But I live here in Silicon Valley, and I know there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of small businesses that succeed the “Silicon Valley” way.
What lessons have I learned from watching companies here in Silicon Valley that can help your small business grow and prosper?
- Network like crazy. The first, and most important, rule of Silicon Valley is your power comes from your network. You’re most likely to get a job, find an employee, land a deal through friends or friends of friends. So be committed to developing and maintaining your network. Get out of your home or office, join organizations, look for meet-ups, get active in social networks.
- Innovation. “Innovation” is an over-used word, and small businesses don’t have to be on the cutting edge. But you do have to evolve, embrace change, and be open to new technology. This means regularly updating your product/service offering and improving your operations.
- Concentrate on high profit margin offerings. Silicon Valley companies rarely compete on the basis of price. Instead, they add value (e.g., Apple through design and functionality) or be dominant in their field (e.g., Google, Facebook, LinkedIn). Focus on selling those products or services with the highest profit margins or develop new offerings with high profit margins.
- Be nice to everyone. In Silicon Valley, everyone knows that your employee today may be your boss tomorrow. Everyone’s got an idea for a startup; people change jobs every couple of years. The barista at my coffee shop founded Instagram. My former employee leads an innovation lab at Google. Anyone may turn out to be a potential future employer or strategic partner.
- Treat employees well. Attract and retain the best people you can – by paying well, offering competitive benefits, treating people fairly, and giving lots of perks. You don’t have to give everyone free food for every meal and free transportation (like many Silicon Valley companies), but create a work place where everyone wants to work hard to keep their great job.
- Support your colleges. Silicon Valley wouldn’t have happened without Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. San Jose State has one of the best animation departments, and as a result, it helped build Dreamworks and Pixar. Great colleges build great economies.
- Share. Silicon Valley has an “open source” attitude. Sharing is common, whether it’s information, connections, profits, even company ownership. Tesla founder Elon Musk released the intellectual property for electric cars. There’s a feeling that the more you share, the more you get.
- Get your product out the door. There’s a “Version 1.0” mentality in Silicon Valley; it’s the concept of MVP – “minimal viable product.” Go to market fast, and learn from customers. As Google’s product development mantra says: “Experiment, expedite, iterate.”
- Failure is OK. You started a company, and it bombed? Great – you’ve got experience. Someone else tried the idea before, and it didn’t work? No problem – you can do it better; the timing wasn’t right. Don’t let failure stop you.
- Make the world a better place. On the television show “Silicon Valley,” one joke is that everyone, regardless of what they’re working on, thinks it will change the world. It’s somewhat ridiculous, of course, but it helps to have a sense of purpose and passion, and to work on solving some of the world’s problems.
- Have fun. When I first came to Silicon Valley, the Friday afternoon beer bust was a fixture of tech companies. Now, there are company outings, massages, pool tables, even swimming pools. Of course you don’t want to pay the waiters in your café for playing ping pong, but find opportunities to build a company culture and have some fun.
All over the world, people want to recreate the success of Silicon Valley. In New York, there’s “Silicon Alley.” In Los Angeles, “Silicon Beach.” There’s even a “Silicon Savannah” in East Africa. You, too, can try to capture a bit of “Silicon Small Business” magic in your own company.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on April 17, 2015