Hi! I’m Karri; I spent the last fall in Silicon Valley working for a company called MultiTouch. Working for a high-tech company and being part of the huge growth of the company was hands-down the most exciting experience I have had workwise. MultiTouch is a Finland based developer of a kick-ass computer vision tech; the end result is a state of the art interactive screen. I got the chance to work there as a Business Development Associate.
So the other day a young guy walked to me at Aalto University campus. He had just applied to Startup Life and wanted to know what was the single most important thing I learned while living there. It was such a great question, that I had to share our conversation on this blog. Here’s how it went.
Hey dude! What is the single most distinctive thing that you remember from Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley is a very job centric place. Whenever you meet a new person (in a café, bar, on basketball court, in the movies… you name it) the second question – after asking your name – usually is ”what do you do?” and as compelling it might be reply in a blunt Finnish way ”drinking beer” (because of course you drink beer everywhere), the one asking the question, is usually referring to your work.
Many people have said how big of a pain it is to try to impress the recruiters of Startup Life and the companies’ representatives with just 250 characters. This all relates to the same phenomena: you must have the competence to impress someone in a short amount of time. Basically, the phenomena is the same whether you are startup entrepreneur pitching your idea or representative of a company pitching yourself and the company, making an impression with just a few words is the key!
So, how do you get good at it?
The good news is that from the minute you land to San Francisco International your pitch will start to develop naturally – I mean people actually speak to you there with no reason and ask questions! Versus in Finland where people speak to you only when they are drunk.
So, are all Silicon Valley people drunk?
At least in my case, it was the hundreds of times all around the bay area where people kept asking me what I do, where I developed a solid 30 second pitch for the company I was working for. A great pitch helped me later a lot when it was time to pitch to real customers. And I’m somewhat sure not all of them were drunk. It is about the American culture and it’s job centric conformation that Silicon Valley holds, people ask questions, especially about your work. It is also about you yourself getting comfortable and relaxed with it.
Okay, got it, being comfortable… So should I be drunk?
The trick is to make people interested and want to know more. It is a lot like fishing. You shouldn’t keep the fishing rod too long in the water or otherwise the fish will just eat the bait, nor should you take it away too eagerly since the fish won’t be able to catch the bait. Same goes with pitching. If the people around you are interested they will ask for more. So, the only thing you have to do is to get those 250 characters (or 30 seconds if not written) right.
Should you be drunk? I would say no, since it is hard to stick to those 30 seconds, however if your audience is drunk, it really doesn’t matter. Anyways, 30 seconds is usually the key… And trust me, you will get comfortable with it by practicing.
So, when I know I have a great pitch?
With 30 seconds, you are providing a natural pause in your speech (so you don’t arrogantly keep talking for five minutes) and give the other guy a chance to get out of the situation, change the subject or ask for more information. Of course, the more you get the interested inquiries after the 30 seconds (and the longer conversations you have about the subject), the better you know your pitch is.
Okay, one more thing! Is it necessary to be able to pitch drunk?
There are many aspects to the whole networking thing in Silicon Valley but this, in my personal opinion, was one of the most distinctive characteristics that struck my eye when living in there. So in the end, it’s a lot about pitching and being able to ‘small talk’. It is something usually a Finn or any European is not used to, but one of the greatest lessons Silicon Valley can provide. People there are extremely job centric and pitch everywhere no matter what time or context.
Consequently… Yes, You should be able to pitch under all circumstances in Silicon Valley. Better get practicing!