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Ask HN: Visiting SF for the first time: Where to stay? What to do? Who to see?
40 points by buro9 1729 days ago | hide | past | web | 25 comments | favorite
Looking for advice on getting the most out of the city from a startup perspective.

My co-founder and I are coming from London as part of http://www.ldn2sfo.com/ . That aims to give us a whirlwind lowdown on how SV and SF operate, and a very high-level view of where a few startups and VCs are located.

We'd love to get a somewhat deeper view and with a view to working our backsides off and growing our bootstrapped company into one that requires a US entity within a year, we want to get a good sense of how SF can be done bootstrapped or at least affordably (even from a London perspective the salaries, rent, etc look crazy high from here).

At the very basic end there are just trip logistics: Recommend an AirBNB to use as a base, or a garage to sleep in, ideally owned by someone on HN and with a good internet connection (we work when we have moments spare).

At the other end there's a more general: If you were coming to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for the first time and for a week or so and wanted to get the most out of it, what do you wish someone had told you?

Basic goal: Figure out how SF/SV works from a startup perspective, build a network of contacts that might grow into friendships that could offer support in the future, and on the dream list would be to also build a few connects with VCs who might later become investors.

So in the most vague Ask HN ever, what would you share with a UK startup coming to San Francisco?

I'm a Londoner. SF is a beautiful city and I want to go back very soon.

With that said I'm not sure what the purpose of this trip is (I did read your objectives). Some food for thought below.

> "A very high-level view of where a few startups and VCs are located."

You're based in London, which means you have access to some excellent global VC houses (Balderton, Index, Accel + others). There is a proliferation of small (<£500k) money in London which is also easy to tap into. There are plenty of outstanding startups who are based in London. What do you gain by going to SF that you couldn't get by setting up a few meetings in London?

> one that requires a US entity within a year, we want to get a good sense of how SF can be done bootstrapped, or at least affordably

A lot can change in 12 months. It's hard to envisage a situation in which you're making a smart decision by expanding to the US within 12 months without either the capital to make it relatively pain-free, or the traction required to do Series A. It's also hard to think that groundwork you do now is going to be useful or inform that move in any way shape or form. If you're in a situation where you absolutely must be in the US within the next 12 months then maybe, but otherwise just cross that bridge when you come to it.

> Figure out how SF/SV works from a startup perspective […] build a few connects with VCs who might later become investors

SF/SV works the same way as London, Berlin or Paris: you can get swept up in scenester nonsense or you can spend your time working on your product and focusing on steps 1-20, not on steps 2000-3000.

In six months time if you have a good product, excellent traction and some revenues (+ ideas about 10x growth) then you will find that investors and interesting people won't be a problem. A good intro goes a long way, but it doesn't matter that much. It's platitudinal now but still true.

Everything is dictated by the focus you apply over the next few months. If I were bootstrapping my company I would be focusing relentlessly on building and testing assumptions.

So my advice is to have a GREAT time, see as much of the city as you can and have zero expectations. If there are any startups in your space in SF, drop them a line and go say hello. Drink beer with the people who are on the trip with you. Bond with your cofounder. Then come back to London and work seriously on the thing which will determine 99.9999% of your success.

We are in a strange place. We're very non-scene even in London. We've raised our seed (GBP 55k) entirely from our active users who were very enthusiastic about supporting us. We have a strong growth plan from the 2nd level network of those same users, people who are waiting to use our product and we can't grow fast enough.

All of this is non-scene, under the radar if you will.

It already feels like things are going faster than we'd like, a good problem, but we do know that we will need proper investment in the future and a US presence. We'll likely still be based in London, but we know that we'll need basic stuff in the USA too.

Hence, before those problems arrive the purpose of the trip is:

1) To build some VC contacts so that we can start plotting our growth chart in front of them and hopefully have them as investors when that time comes.

2) To make sense of how SF works with a view to understanding where to base and why, should we need to move on that sooner rather than later.

Not to say it will be SF, it could be Chicago. But I know Chicago as a town already, and I know zip about San Francisco.

Being so non-scene I also don't have a network or address book in which I can call someone up and say, "Hey, throw some doors open, and help show me around, and which of these social things should I go to?". So we're coming in quite cold, which is why LDN2SFO appealed to us... but we've given ourselves an extra week to get a deeper understanding and perhaps build some relationships that could be mutually beneficial in the future.

In some respects the Berlin, London, Barcelona startup scenes have, by necessity, already documented this stuff quite well. But San Francisco seems so large and established that there's a lack of a curated "The SF startup scene guide". At least, I couldn't find one that seemed current.

And as my limited network is simply "I am a user on HN", and this is the best place to ask... I asked here.

Can you email me a few more details? I have someone in mind that you might like to speak to.

Will do.

I'm literally just running out for a few hours, but on my return I'll drop you an email.

I'm British and travelled from London to SF with my co-founder last year.

I'd recommend to not try too hard and just to enjoy being out there. You've only got a week or so and it'll go quickly. I would forget all about VCs, they will sort themselves of their own accord if/when the time is right. Seeing and getting a feel for the city and the surrounding area is far more important in my opinion.

Hire a car. I was a little hesitant about driving in America at first, but it's actually very easy compared to driving in the UK (and trivial compared to London). Remember you can usually go through a red light if you're turning right! Driving will save you a lot of time and effort as public transport around SF is very limited (again compared to London) and it's quite a big city to walk around. Hiring a car is easy to do, we just walked into one of the many hire car depots on Mission and signed up on the spot.

If it's a sunny day then take a couple of hours to drive south down the 1 highway (the Pacific coast highway). Wow.

Knowing where all the startups are located is a bit overrated, I wouldn't bother visiting startup offices/buildings on spec, we drove down to Cupertino to see Apple's HQ which in hindsight was an adventure better suited to an even bigger Apple fan than I :)

Go to all the startup meetups you can, then go to the after drinks, stay til the end and chat to random people. We didn't actually get chance to do enough of this and I do regret that a bit. But I wouldn't worry too much if you don't make amazing contacts or friends in a few days there, these things usually take time.

Americans are very hospitable! We were treated like old family by the staff at a fantastic diner near where we were staying.

Hope that helps!

- If you go out for coffee, you can't beat Blue Bottle IMHO.

- Do a lot of walking (within reason - it's not as big as London but things are more spaced apart!). You're there for a very short period this time around - if you have any thoughts about living there longer term (right now, before you have even been there) then forget about hacking code and concentrate more on getting a feel for the city. You can hack in London just as easily as you can in SF.

- Drive down the 101 to Palo Alto and roll along University Ave.

I really like SF. I'm sure the first thing you'll notice is how much more positive the vibe is compared to London (I have been living in London for 6 years, have been to SF at least once a year for the past 3).

And good luck.

EDIT: Realised they are only there for a very short time.

Oh, no! not the 101! Take the 280. Often quicker and far, far prettier.

Actually good point - last time I was there I took one down and the other back. The 280 definitely has a bonus in that you don't go anywhere near the Oracle campus :D

"Oh, no! not 101! Take 280. Often quicker and far, far prettier."


Or you could take Caltrain.

brownies in #startups on freenode provided this link:


It's a Google map showing the areas, descriptions of price/affordability for locating a business and who else is in those spaces. Which, from a birds eye view is a great start.

This is a great resource right here. I'm from Alabama and have no idea what SF is all about, but would love to be out in California one day.

Following on from where your startup should be, where your rental apartment should be based on average price of rental in an area: https://www.kwelia.com/maps/public/sfbay

That was supplied by @danoprey

PG's post on where to see Silicon Valley from 2010: http://www.paulgraham.com/seesv.html

From a one-time tourist to SF (I can't help you with the SV / job stuff, sorry) : - Don't shop/eat out anywhere close to the cable car lines. The prices are just through the roof

- use Yelp.com to find good/affordable places to eat. Do your baseline shopping at Walmart.

- We didn't need a rental car for sightseeing. IMHO most of the attractions in SF are within walking distance. This probably won't apply to your situation.

There is a Steve Blank article that covers some of this: http://steveblank.com/visitors-guide/ Good start is also to use plancast, meetup, etc to see what's going on. Can highly recommend using AirBnB to find a host who is also into the tech-scene (read descriptions, etc.).

hey David,

I used to live in Brighton and moved to SF last June. I tried to bootstrap in the UK for about 2 yrs and then came out here to see if I could speed the process up. Unfortunately I got swallowed by my day job and that hasn't moved as fast as I hoped to, but that's a different story.

Preferring the bootstrapper way I haven't looked at all in VCs and the like, but I've looked extensively into SF and I'm involved with the local LSC group.

I'd be happy to share what I know and show you around SF if you'd like to - any way I can help I'm happy to - I wished someone had done something like that for me when I first moved here so this is a good chance for me to do that.

Hey, would love to... just drop me an email at david@microcosm.cc or put an email into your profile so that I can contact you.

The emails aren't visible in the HN profile, so you have to put it in the info area.

I've asked something similar last year here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2188928

Thanks, much appreciated and some great info

I've asked a similar question a year ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3308036

BTW, this might be a great example of posting something at the wrong time. I posted it when I woke up as it was on my mind, but doh... it was also 2am SF time and dropped off the front page by 7am SF time.

Really should have considered who I'm targetting and posted it later.

i think the neighborhood guide airbnb did about san francisco is really well done. might be helpful: https://www.airbnb.com/locations/san-francisco

Alright. Least vague response ever.

http://marlowesf.com/ <- EAT THERE

I'm from London and I got back from SF in November after doing a month long trip there with my co-founder. We went because we fell that London just doesn't have the same vibe and opportunity so we set off to meet like-minded people, investors and to work on our product.

One thing I highly recommend is entering hackdays, we ended up winning one and not only came away with a small cash prize (some have huge prizes) but also agreed investment in the idea (which is completely unreleased to our product. This opened up opportunities like you wouldn't believe. It was a nice break from building our thing too.

In one month we made inroads to investors and were very close on meeting some great ones but our time ran out, if we had another month im sure we would have got some face time with one or two guys but they are extremely busy. We used meetup.com and eventbrite to find out about events such as a talk by the Yammer founder on starting up and getting acquired. I also noticed that some fanastic talks happen that aren't on those sites, like ones at AirBNB and Asana. I saw a amazing talk by a guy who helped set up the tech behind Reddit, even as a designer I thought it was fascinating how they scaled.

Sign up to the Startup digest which collects all the events in SF each week and emails them to you, really great http://startupdigest.com/

I'm sure you know this already but it's all about making connections to people and getting recommended. If you are passionate about what you do and show that through your work and conversations then its easy to get endorsed by people. I found that the process is gradual, you meet someone who knows someone who knows someone, getting time for a coffee with people may take a hour or 2 weeks.

Beware of time wasters. It's easy to find yourself at events and in meetings that have no benefit to you. I went to a lot of things expecting knowledge sharing only to find that I was trying to be pitched to or hired. There's a lot of people in SF on the startup wagon looking for designers and developers to work on their idea with nothing more to offer than equity. Pick and choose events wisely.

We stayed on Fell Street, near Alamo park in a apartment found on Airbnb. It was a nice and safe area, the accommodation was pricey, roughly £2300 for a simple, smallish 1 bedroom apartment (we took turns on the sofabed futon thing).

Mexican food is everywhere and it's amazing. In the same way London has kebab shops, SF has Taquerias and they are super cheap $6-9 for a burrito stuffed with meat. I don't recall having one bad meal in SF.

I you could learn more in SF in 6 months than you could in London in 2 years. The place is buzzing with activity, there's literally something brilliant going on each day, whether it's a hackday, founder talk or meetup. Add that to all the non-startup stuff going on like food festivals, street markets, Alcatraz and its great.

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