Silicon Valley is one of the most coveted destinations for entrepreneurs and startup founders. Often described by visiting entrepreneurs as Disneyland for geeks, it has taken on an almost divine status; filled with promise and opportunity – it’s the place where dreams really can come true.
So how does one get their business across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to start building a network and getting traction in the US?
This July, fifty international entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to see just what Silicon Valley was all about and test out their startup ideas through YouNoodle Camp – a month long immersion program in Silicon Valley. Participants went through a rigorous curriculum of hands-on workshops, lecture series, networking events, mentor dinners, and startup visits with intimate CEO discussions.
The 4-week program culminated in a Demo Day in front of an esteemed panel of judges including: Christina Brodbeck (founding team of YouTube, angel investor/500 startups), David Weekly (Mexican VC and Founder of HackerDojo and PBWorks), Jeff Barco (Barco Partners), and Chris Vargas (innovation partner at SRI, partner at Small World Group Fund) among others.
This year’s Demo Day winner was James Khoo of SecQ.me (pronounced “secure me”).
SecQ.me is a personal safety app that protects you and gives others peace of mind. Based on a prevention approach, SecQ.me puts a virtual bodyguard into a user’s smartphone, and automatically calls for help without the user’s intervention if it senses they are in trouble.
James, like many startup founders, had a unique path to Silicon Valley. From selling the family car in order to cut down on costs while his wife was expecting their second child, to using his life savings to fund the initial launch of the company, James was no stranger to bootstrapping. His efforts appeared to be paying off - the SecQ.me app had been recognized by a number of international awards - but unfortunately the accolades were not translating into government grants, or convincing VCs to listen to his pitch. James was at a loss as to how to stand out and even attended tryouts for a local TV pitch program, but did not make it to the finals.
His luck started to change when he came across the Silicon Valley Comes to Malaysia event, which launched the non-profit initiative StartupMalaysia.org with the mission to ignite, inspire and catalyze the next generation of high growth companies. It was through the pitch competition of this event that four companies were selected to receive admission into this year’s YouNoodle Camp. James would be heading to Silicon Valley with the founders of FanCross, Piktochart, and Voucheres.
When the plane touched down in San Francisco, James knew he was about to experience something that would change his life forever. He had been to SF several times before through his work with Sun Microsystems but had never been a part of the startup environment there.
James told us in a one-on-one interview that he only had one expectation for the YouNoodle Camp: “To get more people to know about SecQ.me and to receive constructive feedback.” He got more than he bargained for, he now admits.
Visiting local startups and attending networking events almost every night opened his eyes to where he needed to improve his product to be competitive in the current market. James noted that: “things like our UI and how to make it super easy to use, our customer acquisition strategy and how to track it, determining the best marketing channels to get more paying customers, and our social media presence all needed to be reassessed”
As you can imagine, there is bound to be some culture shock after having flown over 8,000 miles. James described his biggest surprise as “the openness of the people in Silicon Valley. They will not only share their idea with you, but their ‘secrets’ to success as well. They are so willing to help you, and ensure you are on the right path with your venture. The kindness of the SV entrepreneur made me want to be a better entrepreneur.”
James’ A-ha moment came during a keynote address from Chip Conley, veteran entrepreneur, author, and TED speaker, who spoke about the emotional equations within entrepreneurship and how to measure/value happiness while creating a business. “Since starting SecQ.me I was convinced that I could only be happy when SecQ.me was a success. Chip's equations for happiness were a totally wake up call for me!
I now know that to be successful, we need to be happy first, not the other way around. And to be happy, we need to appreciate what we have, and not focus too much on things we want to get.”
James’ advice for international entrepreneurs thinking about coming to Silicon Valley through a program like YouNoodle Camp: "Just do it”
“SV is a magical place. Anyone with an open heart, and an open mind to sharing and helping others, with determination and passion for his/her venture will have a place in SV. Rest assured, a 1-3 month immersion in SV will change you and make you a better entrepreneur.”
What’s next for SecQ.me? They are currently overhauling the products UI to make it more user-friendly and are applying to the 2012 AngelPad program in order to return to Silicon Valley and take the company to the next level.
Although Silicon Valley remains a hotbed for entrepreneurship, it is founders like James, who will become ambassadors of change in their home countries and will bring the SV mentality to their own communities. Stay tuned for more profiles of some of the other 49 incredible entrepreneurs we met through this year’s YouNoodle Camp.