Ideas are worthless, but execution also isn't all it takes
When I started being an entrepreneur, I thought The idea was everything. While innovation may be important, it's mostly worthless by itself. No matter how good or revolutionary your idea is, hundreds of people probably have a similar idea at the same time. As Oren Michels puts it: "Stealth mode is stupid, execution is what matters.". Ideas are worth nothing if they're not executed properly. But wait, we've done a pretty good job with Twenity, but that still wasn't enough to make it abroad. It seems execution isn't enough as well.
At this point I think the hardest thing to do is the next step, putting the product on the market, making it recognized. At least that's where we are now, that's the obstacle we are currently facing. But I can already predict that the next hardest thing would be to find the investors, and the next to scale the business. Idea > Execution > Marketing > Financing > Scaling is a complex lifecycle, and you have to control every element before you can say you've made it. That's why you should try (and fail) as many times as possible. With every new project you do, it will be easier to dominate the prior steps, allowing you to focus more energy on the next ones.
Competition is fierce, but the market is big
The (Seedcamp) startups I've met on my trip really do some seriously crazy shit. Some of the things were so awesome I've almost lost faith in being able to do something similar. But I managed to somehow get back in the game. Neolab may not be cutting edge (yet) on the emerging fields such as mobile, HTML 5 or responsive design, but that's really not that big of an issue, since we make things that do what they're supposed to. That's the Execution phase, but luckily, the Market has the capacity to absorb many things, if approached properly. Face it - there will always be companies who do a better job than you, but it's the Market who'll decide who makes it or not.
I attended a Salesforce conference for a few hours (thanks Davorin!), which attracted thousands of visitors. In case you don't know them, they are the leading provider of Software as a Service CRM solutions, offering a service and a platform for other developers. Their product is really awesome, but that doesn't mean similar products can't find their own market. Researching on this issue, I found a review of the 10 best known SaaS CRM solutions, all of them obviously able to survive, even though Salesforce dominates this segment. And I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands more that are able to coexist at the same time on the huge global markets. Which brings me to my next point:
Highlights from a massive Salesforce conference
User experience is the new competitive advantage
You need to find your Unique selling proposition and competitive advantage. Most of the above mentioned Seedcamp startups found it in superior user experience. Take something that works, and make it work even better. Today's users are quite willing to migrate to a new product / service if it turns out to be better than the current one. A great example of this philosophy is vox.io, which offers a similar service than Skype (online calls and chat), but simply does it better. And by better I mean using new innovative approaches to make something more simple and intuitive to use. The user experience segment will only become more important and challenging in the future, since new ways of interactions with software are emerging (touch, voice, thought?).
vox.io's chat with embeddable content proves chat can be reinvented
Selling and pitching is ok
When you mention Sales, many people get the impression of a door-to-door salesperson trying to sell you books. Or company phones ringing with people who make it hard to say no to. These things give sales a negative connotation. But it seems that's a cultural thing. In San Francisco, everybody is trying to sell you stuff, everybody's pitching all the time. When you ask somebody "What do you do?", the person is already showing you their product on his/her iPhone. Maybe not for the actual sell, but just to get some decent feedback. You shouldn't feel bad about trying to sell something, that how the system works. Just make sure that something is worth selling.
One of the parties at vox.io's. Everybody was pitching.
You're nothing without the contacts
I admit I was a bit naive this time. I hoped the fact me being a blogger and a representative of two startups would open a few doors, but this turned out to be wishful thinking. It's true I did manage to find a few contacts on the spot, which enabled me to do great things (such as visiting the technology bluechips and the Internet archive), but my way to the influential blogs was closed. I heard that they receive a few hundred submissions a day, so you need to make sure your pitch is awesome and you have backdoors to deploy it. Do your homework, the next time I take on a similar adventure, I'll try to schedule as many meeting as possible in advance. I've finally found a reason to pimp up my LinkedIn profile, and I was lucky enough that:
The Slovenian (startup) scene is alive and kicking
One of the most fascinating things that happened to me was the chance to meet the Slovenian diaspora in Bay Area, and the startup scene around it. Thanks to a few individuals, such as Jure, Tomaž and Andraž, a lot of things are happening around Stanford University and vox.io's San Francisco headquarters, and everybody is very welcoming to the new generation of Slovenian immigrants and other startups, trying to make it abroad. Thank you for your kindness, I feel Slovenia!
The Slovenian diaspora meeting at the Stanford University
Foursquare is the ultimate travel guide, so get a local data plan
Forget maps, Foursquare has become the ultimate travel guide if you're looking for companies, tourist attractions or happening. That's why you'll need a local data plan, which costs a few bucks a day. Pretty much everything is on Foursquare (besides, physical addresses are often very hard to find online), and trending venues can point you to the events worth visiting. I've never used Foursquare in such a way, and the critical mass of users reached around here surely provides massive value beyond the game.
That pretty much sums it up. This trip was a great experience, but it's time to get back to the drawing board. Rethink my strategies. Redesign Twenity's user experience. Reinvent Neolab's business model. Stay in touch with the people I've met. Find new contacts for the next visit. Adopt new technologies. Research new markets. Think global.
Well, at least I won't get bored.
Check out the complete The Silicon Valley tour series.