Silicon Valley

Looking to make it in San Francisco and Silicon Valley? Thirteen Bay Area public relations leaders share their advice

If you are an entrepreneur working in technology then the chances are that you dream of making it in San Francisco or Silicon Valley. Approximately 25% of all US venture capital investment goes to San Francisco and 15% to Silicon Valley, meaning that 40% of all US venture investment is concentrated in the Bay area. It’s where many of the world’s tech fortunes are made, or more often than not broken with an estimated 90% business failure rate.

I have advised lots of clients looking to break into San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but I also took my former company into the market and learnt some tough lessons myself before successfully acquiring a company to become a top 10 player in the US tech PR market.

Last week I caught up with my network of San Francisco and Silicon Valley PR and comms leaders and I asked them for their top pieces of advice for companies looking to break into the Bay area. Here’s what they said:

Know why you want to launch in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley

Kyle Arteaga

Co-Founder at The Bulleit Group

Kyle Arteaga, Co-Founder at The Bulleit Group

“Have your ‘story of why’ straight, and get it pre-written about before you launch. Take advantage of the time in advance of launching to test.

“I’d recommend coming out to the Bay area three times before you launch and test a different story each time to see what resonates.”

Michael Young

Founder and CEO, Actual

Michael Young, Founder and CEO, Actual

“I’d start by asking why do you want to be here? If you walk down University Avenue in Palo Alto you will see lots of companies have set up innovation labs here. If you are going to join them, you need to be clear on why, and what you are trying to do? Are you here doing “innovation tourism” or do you really want to become part of the community? I’d recommend starting with a listening tour. The Valley is all about personal networks. Here, who you know is more important than what you know. The unspoken stuff is very important here. You’ll find people are enthusiastic to help you in your journey. They will offer to help. Be ready to reciprocate in kind.”

Really get to know San Francisco and the Silicon Valley

Fred Bateman

CEO and Founder, Bateman Group

Fred Bateman, CEO and Founder, Bateman Group

“You need to pick your location carefully. Location matters in the US, and San Francisco and Silicon Valley won’t be right for every business. If you do decide to enter the Bay area, it’s important you shed your European identity and highlight your local roots. Make sure your messaging is relevant and timely to the local environment, not the US in general.”

“Make sure you have a strong bench of spokespeople who speak English and understand the dynamics of the local market. It’s tempting to emphasise the origin of your company’s story but if this is outside of the Bay area then this won’t do anything for you. In fact, it’s a turn off to people here.”

Christophe Goudy

SVP, ChoYou

Christophe Goudy, SVP, ChoYou

“You need to understand the ecosystem. You also need a local network and if you don’t have one, hire someone who does. Don’t copy what worked in Europe and think it will work here. If you do, you will fail. Adapt your DNA and mix it with the local flavour. To make an impact you need to identify a clear niche to occupy. When you have made it in that niche, find another one, and keep building through finding and occupying niches. You have to do this in order to get cut through in such a crowded environment. It’s also very expensive to do business here. If you are not focused, you will burn through a lot of cash.”

Kathleen Gratehouse

Principal, Highwire

Kathleen Gratehouse, Principal, Highwire

“There have been very few examples of European companies making it in the Bay area with some notable exceptions like Skype. Unfortunately, many come here talking about their experience elsewhere, and it doesn’t always resonate. The companies that are most successful don’t talk about what they have done elsewhere, they embed themselves in the community and that gives them lift. If you are an outsider, align yourselves with successful local partners and customers. Go to conferences, invest time getting to know people, build relationships and develop your local infrastructure.”

Joanna Kulesa

CEO and Founder, Kulesa Faul

Joanna Kulesa, CEO and Founder, Kulesa Faul

“To be taken seriously you have to have some appearance of presence here. You need a local executive and local customers. If you are building off success in Europe move your positioning from European to global. We recommend a launch with a solid driver – product, customers, momentum – something other than “we’ve entered into the U.S. market”.”

Lisette Paras

Founder and President, Gravitate PR

Lisette Paras, Founder and President, Gravitate PR

“Identify the right networks you need to be part of. They don’t call this a bubble for nothing. There are communities of interest for every type of audience you can imagine – whether it’s developers, VCs, etc. Think about what communities you need to get involved with. Think about what you want to be known for, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Once you’ve identified the right audiences, you can start building your own personal brand as well as your company’s.”

Understand the media landscape

Julie Crabill

CEO and Founder, Inner Circle Labs

Julie Crabill, CEO and Founder, Inner Circle Labs

“Do your research and be very surgical about which journalists you want to target. Think about your top five. Start commenting on their work and engaging with them ahead of your launch.

You will want to have your agency onboard at least two months ahead of any launch activity so make sure you have hired one at least a month ahead of that. If you wait too long and happen to find an agency that is available at the last minute you’ve either gotten extremely lucky or they’re not very good – so plan ahead to be smart. Don’t assume the same storytelling works here as it does in Europe. My sense is that the bar for hard news is similar, but the bar for softer news is higher here than Europe. If you do hire an agency, trust them and take their advice, don’t micro-manage them. Focus on what else needs to be done.”

Heather England

Partner, Method Communications

Heather England, Partner, Method Communications

“As a new entrant, you have to align yourself with people who are respected and admired and have a good reputation.

“You have to really know the media but also think beyond just earned media and what channels are most appropriate for your message. The pool of media here has shrunk a lot.”

Sheryl Seitz

Independent Marketing and Communications Consultant

Sheryl Seitz, Independent Marketing and Communications Consultant

“When thinking about scaling to San Francisco and/or Silicon Valley, companies are advised to consider the intricacies of the media landscape. The US is one big country, but working with the media in different regions can vary as much as cultural differences. While the tech media largely spans the bay area with Re/Code, TechCrunch, and WIRED based here, The Verge, Engadget and Gizmodo are based in New York while Digital Trends hails Portland, Oregon, with a team based in NY. The bay area itself has a strong local media too, including newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle, and broadcast outlet NBC – Bay Area, that give considerable space to technology industry news. Many of the larger media outlets who are based on one coast will have an editor or stringer based on the other coast.”

Mary Shank Rockman

Principal and CEO, MSR Communications

Mary Shank Rockman, Principal and CEO, MSR Communications

“Clients need a regional customer and/or partner to appear relevant in the American landscape. Before you launch in the US, test your messaging with a regional analyst or reporter. You may have a great international customer list, but if you do not have US customers with challenges specific to this geo, then influencers may not care. You need a customer that is prepared to be a poster child for your company. If you don’t have regional customers, then you will need to be prepared to invest more in your own branded content.”

Tom Carpenter

Principal, Bospar

Tom Carpenter, Principal, Bospar

“Identify the top 10 journalists, analysts and influencers you want to engage with and follow them on Twitter. Get to know them and start engaging with them well ahead of your local launch. You need to have local assets in place in terms customers, spokespeople and insights on the market. You might be incredibly successful in other parts of the world, and you might be known for your engineering elsewhere, but these facts won’t count for much here. You have to get very local with your PR approach.”

Rebecca West

Founder and CEO, Helium Communications

Rebecca West, Founder and CEO, Helium Communications

“Start with your audience and from there define the right approach and channels to reach them. Do your homework and look at the competition. Things move fast and the landscape is always changing. Don’t expect your launch to be like flipping a switch.  One big feature in TechCrunch will not make you an overnight success. Be prepared to get scrappy and think about how you can deposition your competition. You have to fight hard to be successful here.”


So there you have it, and here are my top 10 distilled tips for European companies looking to enter San Francisco or Silicon Valley:

  1. Be clear on why want to enter Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and what you bring that isn’t already there
  2. Do your research and map the competitive landscape
  3. Understand the media, influencer and analyst environment and be surgical in targeting the top 5-10 people
  4. Develop a local approach to positioning yourself and your business
  5. Consider what groundwork and pre-launch testing you can do
  6. Investigate, become involved in, and bring something to your target communities
  7. People will offer help, so be clear with people on what they can do for you and reciprocate
  8. Don’t play off your European roots
  9. Evolve to a global and US positioning and then localise it further to make it resonant to a San Franciscan and Silicon Valley audience
  10. Make sure you have the right people with the right networks on board as employees and/or suppliers