So – you’ve got your European start-up running nicely; revenues are growing, you’re hiring like mad, you’re being courted by VCs and the local tech press think you’re the best thing since SpinVox.  Well, SpinVox circa 2008, anyway.  Ahem.  However, like all big-thinking entrepreneurs you realise that there’s more to life than London / Paris / Berlin / Amsterdam.  You’re thinking big.  You’re thinking the home of the multi-billion dollar exit and IPO.  You’re thinking of a place where the cash flows like wine, where you can’t sit on the train without bumping into a highly regarded angel investor, where khaki is an acceptable form of evening attire.  You’re thinking of Silicon Valley and how you can establish your company as a major player out there.  The only problem is that you don’t have the faintest idea how to go about doing it.

This was the exact situation that Alastair and I found ourselves in towards the end of last year.  And, having never done it before and not having ready access to anyone who had, we had to learn everything the hard way.   Here are some of the things we picked up.  Enjoy!

Don’t go in blind

By the time I finally moved out here I’d been visiting the West Coast five or six times a year for the last couple of years.  I’d stayed out for several weeks at a time and really tried to immerse myself in the Bay Area’s start-up culture, get to know people and familiarise myself with the geography  – work out which kind of companies live where, how to best go about getting between them and (important) areas to avoid.  And, of course, have a chuckle every time someone mentions the area called the ‘Tendernob’ (the area between Nob Hill and the Tenderloin, fact fans).  Hilarious.

Location, location, location

The Bay Area, encompassing everything from San Francisco and the East Bay down to Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, Mountain View etc) and San Jose, is a huge geographical space with oodles of variety. San Francisco is a big(ish) city and affords everything that a big(ish) city provides – great bars and restaurants, parks, culture, architecture, homelessness and crime.  Mountain View and Palo Alto are the heart of Silicon Valley proper and home to companies like Oracle, Facebook, Apple and HP.  These towns remind me of Reading, UK, with palm trees, though (this isn’t a good thing) and I feel they lack soul, non-generic shops and decent places for the all-important post-work pint.  However, if you’re looking at moving a several-thousand person company out here they’re probably the only way to go.

For us, it was always going to be San Francisco.  The buzz of the city is palpable (especially compared to identikit business parks found further south) and the city’s SOMA district – with its vast warehouses and loft apartments – is home to hundreds of start-ups, creative companies and social media consultants.  Throw a stone from anywhere in the district and you’ll hit at least one person creating “x for twitter”.  There are also great spaces available downtown, around South Beach and in the Mission district.

We’ve started by renting a small room from our good friends at UserVoice (see the previous point about building the network – you never know who’ll be able to help you out with cheap deskspace!) but are looking for a space we can grow into.  Regus and other serviced offices provide flexible options and there are a plenty of hungry real estate brokers who can help you find something more permanent.

Setting up shop

If you want to trade or hire in the US you’re going to need a US entity.  The vast, vast majority of US companies incorporate in Delaware (regardless of where they are actually based) thanks to the state’s generous tax benefits and well-defined body of case law.  Once you have your Delaware Corp you’ll need to get it ready to trade in the State of California.  It’s probably best to get a lawyer to help with all of this as the paperwork will make your eyes bleed.

More tips will follow, so watch this space!

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