Around the world, Silicon Valley is acknowledged as the premier mecca for tech innovation and entrepreneurship. Since the 1970s, this perpetually innovative economy has enticed ambitious people from far and wide to transform business and society, and make a fortune while they’re at it.
Despite its location in the United States, Silicon Valley would not likely be what it is today without immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrants have started more than half of American unicorns (valued at more than one billion dollars), according to a recent report from the National Foundation for American Policy. Key leadership roles are held by foreigners in some of the most recognisable companies based in Silicon Valley, like Google, Uber, and Stripe. The global best and brightest head to California, but they still encounter challenges in getting their start-ups off the ground.
As a part of the Executive Master in Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership (EMDIEL) immersion week in San Francisco, participants meet with and learn from industry experts, angel investors, and entrepreneurs from the Bay Area. Bruno Lévêque is one such entrepreneur.
Lévêque is an experienced French software engineer passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. He co-founded PrestaShop, an open-source eCommerce platform used by over 300,000 online retailers worldwide. He is also the co-founder and CTO of Meowtel in San Francisco. Lévêque’s interest in technology began at a young age, and he developed his skills through education and work experience at LeGuide.com. He moved to the US in 2010 and now resides in San Francisco.
Networking is key to entrepreneurial success as a foreign founder
According to Lévêque, the first challenge faced by foreign-born entrepreneurs is growing their network. In an area filled with like-minded entrepreneurs, industry leaders, venture capitalists, academic researchers, and journalists, networking is how ideas flourish and business gets done.
Establishing a strong network, therefore, is critical to entrepreneurial success. You may not arrive with all the connections you need, but it is certainly time to start building them. There’s a “before and after” with the Covid-19 pandemic in the Bay Area: in-person meetups are down significantly, making it challenging to expand one’s network as a foreigner. However, building relationships takes time and commitment.
Luckily, Silicon Valley’s openness to helping others and paying it forward is well-known and eases the difficulty of networking. “Don’t hesitate to proactively reach out to people on LinkedIn and ask to meet with them,” shares Lévêque. “Also kindly ask them to introduce you to 2-3 other individuals who they think would be relevant.”
Look outside your compatriots to build a diverse team
If you’re new to a country, it’s natural to gravitate towards your fellow compatriots for community and support. In the context of building a start-up, however, hiring a majority of expats, who sometimes live in the U.S. only for a few months or years, could be a mistake.
Another consequential challenge for foreign founders in Silicon Valley is navigating the cultural landscape. One must consider the financial, legal, and regulatory environment in all aspects of business as well.
Lévêque emphasizes the importance of building a diverse team that encompasses a range of perspectives to stop any potential roadblocks. “Hiring employees who possess a deep understanding of the local market, business practices, and customer preferences can help mitigate challenges that may arise along the way,” says Lévêque.
Building a new venture as an outsider in such a storied and unique ecosystem will be a demanding task, but reinvention has always been part of Silicon Valley’s DNA. For newcomers to the region, there is hardly any other choice but to try, learn, evolve, and try again.
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