Diary of a start-up in Silicon Valley: go big or go home

The first piece of advice we got when we arrived here was, "say yes to everything", so last Saturday when we were invited to a slightly random-sounding party in Mountain View we thought we'd give it a go.

While I was hanging out by the ridiculous array of free food and drink, I spotted a young, nerdy-looking guy, who also seemed a bit lost and awkward. We got chatting and it turned out he actually co-founded the company hosting the party, which was to celebrate closing a $30m funding round and kick-off their next big hiring spree of thirty employees. And they haven't even launched a product yet.

Much later, we ended up crashing at the office/home of ClassDojo, a UK education technology start-up, following too much drink and late-night gourmet scrambled eggs. The next morning I woke up on their office sofa surrounded by Macs, giant whiteboards and the Polish intern who lives in the shed and had just come in for a shower.

I feel like this pretty much summarises my experience here in California so far: intensely geeky, fairly bizarre, but ultimately a lot of fun.

My co-founder and I have been in San Francisco Bay for two weeks. We came here with the goal of broadening our minds and the growth prospects for our new venture, ValoBox.

We're living in the city of San Francisco, a 40 minute drive from Palo Alto. The two places are actually very different - San Francisco is much trendier, less geeky (though it's all relative) and there's lots of other business and culture around the place. In Palo Alto, as one entrepreneur there said, there are fewer distractions. However, the most striking characteristics about the people in both places are their friendliness and drive.

People are extremely willing to help you out if they can. Within the first week we had some free office space sorted thanks to the UK-based business Huddle, which has a satellite office in San Francisco. It's very near Union Square and the iconic cable cars of a city where everywhere is up a massive hill. We've had loads of handy introductions to people's friends and contacts who might be helpful, and we even managed to score some free kitesurfing gear until we buy our own.

You also get the feeling that everyone, whether in a small team that is hungry for growth or an established business set on world domination, is pushing themselves to the max. Everyone seems to be trying to get as much out of their time as possible - life's too short to do a job that you hate, right?

In terms of work, the move has definitely been keeping us busy. We still run CompletelyNovel.com, a book publishing hub connecting independent authors and readers, and we need to talk to other members of the team and our customers in the UK. The eight hour time difference means getting online from 6am to try and catch a decent amount of overlap. Thank the Lord for Skype.

ValoBox, our new venture, is all about delivering a better way of monetising quality content on the web. Starting with a pay-as-you-go model for eBooks, which lets you pay only for the pages or chapters that you need, our goal is to make accessing premium content as easy as accessing a web page.

We have spent the first couple of weeks connecting with and meeting a bunch of people who work in book publishing. We also went to a start-up incubator called RocketSpace where there was a panel discussing the future of publishing. There's been a lot of enthusiasm and some great feedback on our product. Our plan for the next couple of weeks is to meet with more people on the technology and investment side.

So, just to round up, here are three things I've learned in the last fortnight:

1. Go big or go home. This applies to business, coffee and supermarket food. The default size for everything is 'bucket'. No wonder these Californians love their fitness fads.

2. If you're finding somewhere to live in San Francisco, you need to learn to love Craigslist. Sifting between rental listings by an inordinate number of vegetarians, cat lovers, and '420 friendlies' (look it up) is what you'll spend a big chunk of your time doing when you arrive.

3. The name Oli (as in short for Oliver) doesn't exist. This is tricky for Oli, my co-founder.

Follow @Anna_CN, @Valobox and @CompletelyNovel

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