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How to Succeed as a Foreign Founder in Silicon Valley

How to Succeed as a Foreign Founder in Silicon Valley
Image credit:
Partner and Senior Associate at Norwest Venture Partners
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Silicon Valley’s unique culture and ecosystem of experienced people willing to share advice freely, creates a breeding ground for building great companies. Most importantly, failures are readily viewed as the necessary "pit stops" that help refuel entrepreneurs in their journey toward defying the status quo, a red badge of courage. 

If you’re an ambitious foreign-born entrepreneur with a great idea, you probably should be asking yourself right about now whether you should pack your bags and come to Silicon Valley. The short answer is yes. However, we know first-hand how hard it is to enter this country and build a team and successful business. So, we asked a wide set of successful foreign-born entrepreneurs what their advise would be for a new entrepreneur entering the market and here are our four top tips.

Related: Coming to America: An Immigrant Who Overcame a 'Taxing' Problem

1. Build a diverse team.

When you come to Silicon Valley, you have an advantage:  You have a unique global mindset and aren’t only focused on the impact your company could make in the US. You should look for others with this same mindset but different skillset. In fact, Michael Seibel, partner at Y Combinator, believes it’s a key priority. Seibel says, “Finding entrepreneurs from diverse and international backgrounds is a top priority for us at Y Combinator."

2. Find local advisors.

Your business, especially at its outset, is highly dependent on the network you’ve created and the broader connections that network can provide. Silicon Valley has a very collaborative culture, so take advantage of it.

For example, you can check out Meetup’s Foreign Startups group in San Francisco -- a group specifically designed for foreign entrepreneurs to help them build connections, launch ventures and discuss challenges with fellow international entrepreneurs.

You can also try joining an incubator or a co-working space to help expand your local network. Eran Bali, co-founder of Udemy, says, “U.S. born entrepreneurs may have a lot of connections from their college, where they grew up or their family. Most immigrant entrepreneurs will come to the U.S. without many people that can help them in their journey. Joining an incubator and connecting with their compatriots in the Valley are good ways to kickstart a network here.”

Related: How Six Immigrant Entrepreneurs Transformed Dreams Into Businesses

3. Don’t be afraid to consider an immigration lawyer.

It’s not a mystery that immigration law in the U.S. is not only complex but also incredibly challenging to maneuver. Getting the right help will allow you to manage the transition smoothly with the right guidance in mind. Do your research and connect with other international entrepreneurs who have faced the same challenges and can help you choose the right legal counsel.

4. Maintain a dual office.

While it is important to base yourself in Silicon Valley, it is also helpful to maintain some presence in your home country. We often see that the most successful entrepreneurs are able to maintain an office in their home country where they have access to great talent, especially if there is a shortage in the U.S. So stay in contact with those you have built a relationship with overseas and utilize foreign talent as it suits your company. Bali took this approach when starting Udemy for hiring engineers, explaining, “We were able to leverage the untapped talent pool in Turkey to overcome the shortage of engineers in Silicon Valley.”

These tips are just a few that will help you build a great company in Silicon Valley. But remember, being a part of this culture isn’t just about taking advantage of all the resources it has to offer, but also giving back. Lending your own advice and help to others is critical, and it will pay back in the future. If you’re a foreign-born entrepreneur, it’s very likely that you can offer a diverse perspective to others starting companies, so don't be shy and help them out as well. 

Related: Adversity Only Makes These Immigrant Entrepreneurs More Determined


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