Into the valley: Winding south from San Francisco is Silicon Valley, the most intensely innovative enterprise zone in the world. If you're a techie or an e-trepreneur it's the place to have on your CV, to start-up. Andrew Davidson tracks down Brits who li

Into the valley: Winding south from San Francisco is Silicon Valley, the most intensely innovative enterprise zone in the world. If you're a techie or an e-trepreneur it's the place to have on your CV, to start-up. Andrew Davidson tracks down Brits who li

by ANDREW DAVIDSON
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I am standing by the Martini bar in an office-block foyer in San Francisco, dot.com capital of the world. It's late evening, and a party to celebrate Red Herring magazine's Top Ten Entrepreneur awards is just fizzling out. A balding DJ in black is spinning some beats on a double deck in the corner; groups of shaggy young men - mainly men - huddle over cocktails and beer; thin, elegant, crop-haired waiters pass round the last of the canapes.

I am looking for Brits, trying to find out what it takes to make it here, at the top edge of Silicon Valley. Red Herring, a technology monthly, one of the new breed of funky internet glossies that's sprung up in San Francisco, is the sort of place to attract them. It's full of the values that have pushed this slice of California to the forefront of the communications revolution - informal, driven, enthusiastic, a whirlwind of positive vibes twisting to the same mantra: Be here now. It even has a sharp office, a vast, boxy, modern affair, plonked on the edge of SF's sassy Mission district. It's just round the corner from the original Levi Strauss factory, another growth business spawned by the last gold rush to hit these parts.

The entrepreneurs have come and gone, gongs in hand. The mix is very Silicon Valley: Chinese, Indians, WASPs. But no Brits. Someone had told me earlier in the week that the Red Herring editor was a sort-of Brit.

True? Nah, says one of his staff, he puts on a Brit accent because he went to Oxford, but he's a Yank. Anyway, he couldn't be here because his slot to interview Al Gore came up.

That's politicians, I say to the guy standing opposite, keen to harness what's hot. What will Gore do when asked about the internet? Turn to one of his advisers and say, yeah, what are my views on the tech revolution?

The guy frowns. He tells me actually, Gore thinks he invented the internet.

Oh. Then he tells me he used to work in London. 'And yunno,' he says, 'that's what I miss about Britain.' He pauses to give me a sympathetic look. 'Your cynicism ...'

HIGHWAY 101, THURSDAY MORNING, 11am No room for cynicism here, the goddamn rush-hour is still going on. If Silicon Valley, that notional stretch of land running south-east from San Francisco, is a corporeal body, then 101 is its main artery. It runs straight to its heart, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Stanford University, then on to San Jose, and is always so clogged, five lanes of misery either way, that you wonder the place doesn't seize up altogether.

I look around. Each car carries one person. The soft-tops have their hoods up, despite the heat. The pick-up trucks, all startlingly new, have their music blaring. Everyone gazes fixedly ahead, concentrating on the next deal.

But no-one has any doubts: if you want to get ahead in business, get here. Even despite the crash in tech stocks last March, this is still the land of opportunity times 10. The confidence is building again, the technology is here, the money is here, the groove, the history. About 10 miles from where I sit, admiring the traffic, is the garage where William Hewlett and Dave Packard set up a little computer company (current turnover dollars 42 billion). Another half an hour south is the headquarters of Apple (dollars 6 billion). Just to the north in San Jose is Intel (dollars 29 billion), above that Cisco Systems (dollars 12billion). And, hey, isn't that Oracle (dollars 9 billion) over there with its distinctive blue glass and steel towers? I read somewhere it used to be a marine park. No time for dolphins now.

Already these vast new multinationals are carving out a mythology of their own, of a new order that overcomes setbacks and bestrides the world.

At Hewlett-Packard's modern-day HQ, they preserve the original offices of the founding duo as a museum. Hewlett left a symbolic dime on the writing pad on his desk, and pilgrims have added more, like chucking coins in a virtual Trevi Fountain, chasing their dreams. In Los Angeles they say everyone has a script to sell. Here, it's business plans.

And eventually, if you are a man with a plan - there are some women too, but in Silicon Valley, not many - you end up in Menlo Park, suburb of Palo Alto, which itself is one long, inoffensive suburb, driving down Sand Hill Road, where the venture capitalists congregate. It is so mundane and folksy and unstartling that it's hard to believe that the office park at 3,000 Sand Hill Road, filled with rooms the size of cells, dishes out about dollars 7 billion every 90 days in fresh investment cash.

This is why the dreamers come to Silicon Valley. Nowhere is there more cash for start-ups. People stream in to pitch. Yet, I am told, never has it been more difficult to get your hands on that cash. VCs (for a moment when I heard the term I thought they were talking about the VietCong - and that's how most tech-heads see them, of course) have business plans stacked waist-high round their tiny suites. They won't return your calls, they'll only see you on recommendation, they only trust faces they know.

Even those who've made it here say the system stinks. 'Silicon Valley is completely and utterly self-referential,' says Autonomy founder Mike Lynch, 35, Britain's first internet billionaire, who spends half his working life out here. 'They do everything by proxy. You could turn up with a working time machine and be ignored unless you have the right person on board.'

But it is the only system in town, and people are still flocking in, lured by the venture capital, the expertise, and the host of jobs on offer, the continual labour shortage that always threatens to scupper Silicon Valley's success - the shortage that has even persuaded the American government to ease up on its notoriously tough immigration requirements. Got tech skills? You're in.

I have never been to a place like it. Take your kids to the Eddie Murphy movie and there are scrolls of job ads on the screen before the main feature.

Buy some headache pills at the drug-store and there are job ads on the carry-out bag. Tell someone you're seeing a Java programmer and they beg you for his phone number. California unemployment levels have hit a record low and they're desperate for trained people, so salaries are leaping higher, staffers are jumping jobs more often, perks push ever upwards.

Spend a week in Silicon Valley and you end up asking yourself: maybe I should be working here?

DAVE RICHARDS TOOK THE PLUNGE. Sheffield boy, maths whizz, dad in the steel business, he worked at Druid in the UK as a software analyst then set up his own computer consultancy firm, age 24. Work took him to New York and Atlanta. Eventually Silicon Valley sucked him in. Now 29, he's a man with a plan. When we met, he'd got the first stage of financing for his idea, was paying himself dollars 4,000-plus a month and VCs were running the rule over it all again for the second stage. Very personal: credit checks, calls put round, guys flying in from New York to do due diligence.

It's all standard practice, especially when big sums are gambled on a wing and a prayer.

Just to be here, says Richards, breathing in the air ... He tells me he met a guy from Apple who says to him: 'This time will go down in history, it's like the industrial revolution, anything is possible here, and it's great to be part of it, to be where the talent is, where wild ideas become normal.' Like the Netscape browser, he says, it happened because somebody was prepared to put money into it. Anything can go huge. You hear that a lot in Silicon Valley.

Richards is not high in the food chain. In fact, he's probably right down the bottom, but at least he's in it, and he's got the vibe, the can-do enthusiasm. Some Brits, he says, almost conspiratorially, just end up in the San Jose soup kitchens.

But not the sort of people around us now. We are sitting in Zibibbo, a discreetly opulent restaurant just off University Avenue, Palo Alto's main drag that runs into Stanford university campus. Let's set that in context: Stanford, the university that Chelsea Clinton attends, is the intellectual powerhouse for Silicon Valley, one of the reasons why it's here.

And Palo Alto, Stanford's home base, is now a by-word for tech wealth.

Stroll down University Avenue, low-build, nothing more than two or three storeys, and you can feel the liberal affluence of the town: every other shop is a restaurant, every bookshop is stock full of tech titles, even the cinema is an old-style gem showing Rebel Without A Cause. Later, I'm told a tech billionaire keeps it that way for fun, running only the films he likes. Next to the cinema a newspaper dump bin is stacked high with Palo Alto Daily News, the local freesheet. Its lead story tells how Oracle boss Larry Ellison was mooned by the boss of a German software rival in a yacht race. In Palo Alto, that's news.

Zibibbo is nearly full by 12.30 - people eat early here. There are VCs in suits and ties, women who lunch, techies in catalogue chinos and polo shirts talking deals. Our waitress is Australian. We sit in the centre of an outdoor courtyard, partially glassed in, beside a goldfish trough cut into the floor and a large olive tree that stretches out to the sky, the last evidence, perhaps, of the valley's previous existence as a fruit farming centre. 'Yeah,' says Richards, sitting down, 'I think this used to be an orchard.'

He still looks like a Brit - chunky, determined, gap-toothed, without the calm sleekness that comes naturally to Californians - but he hussles like a Yank. He's got his laptop and a briefcase on one of those executive travel wheely-trolleys. He is still seeing VCs, he says, expecting calls while we eat. How did he get in to see them? Just having a good idea is not enough any more, he says. You've got to push.

'Yunno, you get the VC's voicemail and you say: 'Hello, I'm Dave Richards of B2B-erp and I got this wonderful company.' Well, that isn't going to get you anywhere nowadays. You've got to say: 'I'm very surprised I'm not the first person you called after your vacation, we are going to go public, we're going to be the next ...' Very pushy, and it's not what Brits are good at. But just imagine, these guys get 1,000 business plans a week.

And you can't do it from the UK, you've got to be here.'

He spears his salad and explains his big idea to me: a new service that you bolt onto ERP software that will enable companies to auction off old inventory to existing customers on the internet ... I don't really understand, I don't even know what ERP software is. But that's good because B2C (business to consumer, the sort of thing I would understand) is dead out here, says Richards. Amazon? Pfff, he blows out his lips.

Enough said. But B2B is still getting cash, the more arcane and nichey the better. Later, someone tells me that B2B is dead too. I can't keep up. In Silicon Valley, it seems the chase for money is so hot that few can wait to bury the latest trend. And for every man with a business plan you meet, there are another three to tell you: 'won't work'.

But what's it like to live here? Fantastic, says Richards, he finds it liberating. 'I never wanted to go to a proper university and I hated all that Oxbridge stuff, which is why I love it here. People don't judge you on that. The last meeting I had with an Englishman he said: 'Oooh, you're from oop north then?' I used to get that all the time. I really despise the prejudice I used to get in the UK now.'

And the lifestyle? Away from the coast: great climate, very family-oriented, fantastic quality of life. Really? Sure, says Richards. Despite the ever-escalating cost of housing in the Valley, he's renting a home with a swimming pool for much the same price he was paying for a small flat in St Albans.

He's unusual - most young Brits prefer to live in San Francisco, which at least has a nightlife and a host of places to see. But Richards has had enough of American city life.

'Atlanta was a bloody awful place, humid, high crime rate, I used to have to get an armed escort to my car parked across the road. My wife hated it, but here it's wonderful. There's something about having a great climate. I could never work in England again.'

And he loves the meritocracy and the stealth wealth - no-one flashes it around in Silicon Valley, very uncool - and the technology. Punters at windy old Candlestick Park, famous home to SF's pro football team The 49ers, will soon be able to order food and look up statistics wirelessly from their seats, courtesy of stadium sponsor 3Com Corp, another Valley success story. Imagine that at Wembley. And the food culture, sandwiches the size of encyclopaedias, the best breads in the world, fabulous wines, any ethnicity of cooking you could dream of, the level of service, the fact that anything is possible, everything is negotiable. Take-out? It's in the bag. Delivered? We'll be there. He tells me the story of his mate from Yorkshire whom he brought over to work with him.

'When Robert went back to England the first time, he ordered a pork sandwich.

And when it came it was a slice of meat between two thin bits of old bread.

And he opened it up and he almost cried. Then he laughed and the woman serving him snapped: 'What you laughing at?''' People who haven't been to California wouldn't understand, he says. You don't have to live like that.

GABY, 29, No last name please, speaks to me on the phone, great gushes of words, like she's talking for Britain. A Londoner, trained at the bar, she's had three jobs out here in 18 months since she arrived in San Fran as a management consultant. There's just so much on offer. She leapt out of her last one, a dot.com that got taken over by one of Silicon Valley's burgeoning multinationals, to find something philanthropical.

She says that since the tech stock crash in March, lots of people have been reassessing their priorities. Employees want better salaries, they're less picky about stock options, more choosy about what they do now. But no-one's leaving. The vibe has just changed slightly, from goldrush to thinking about the long-term future. The key, she thinks, is staying in San Francisco. 'There was no way I was going to do a two-hour commute into the Valley and back every day, not to be a peon in a pod.'

She says she found the visa requirements for working here a real tangle. Each year the fixed amount of H1B visas that firms can get for foreign workers are being snapped up earlier and earlier. If you don't get your job organised in the months following October, then you have to wait till the next October. Now is the key time: if you're coming, don't wait till after Christmas. Others twist it and come out on a J1, an educational visa. She has even heard of some people running companies here as illegal aliens. They reckon the immigration service is not going to start chucking out Brits who head their own US corporations. It's a gamble but it's paid off for many - so far.

Jonathan Turner, 26, sees it from the other side. He came as a Brit investment banker, looking at M&A, and loves it. The reason he came? Because the Americans respect youth. 'In London they've got that stultifying attitude that they don't want to take advice from a 26-year-old. I can't hang around another 24 years before anyone will listen to me.'

He says the enthusiasm for capitalism just sweeps you off your feet, the fact that anything is possible. And he loves the way people just get everything into the open. 'If people are upset here they rant and rave and get it over with, they don't cover it with a veil of decorum.'

The drawbacks? Everyone says the same: not enough women in the Valley.

Gaby says she knows a few, but they tend to cluster in women-friendly companies. She thinks more Brits are coming out. Now her friends back home working in law and banking, the same ones who thought she was crazy to come over, are beginning to look at options over here too. No-one is expecting to make their fortune any more, but it's a great lifestyle, skiing, sailing, and the Valley looks good on a CV. The trick is to make sure you spend your time anywhere but. 'San Francisco is just an extremely cool place to be right now,' she says. The Valley, for a worker, sucks.

Other problems? Maybe the car culture, you've got to drive everywhere, can't even take a train to SF airport, but it's not a big deal. No, the thing that gets most Brits, says Gaby, is the humour gap. 'All the Brits here find it very hard. The Americans are so optimistic and upbeat about everything that our black sense of humour is not understood. It just goes over their heads.'

'Yunno the real problem? ...' I'm talking to Chris Nolan, the New York Post's Valley correspondent who dug up the 'Ellison mooned' story and writes regular dot.com diary columns '... there's just not enough gossip.'

She rolls her eyes. Nolan, an American who talks like she's sucking mints and has a very east coast view of things, says that sometimes she finds it very tough.

For every soul that falls in love with Silicon Valley, there's another that runs screaming. Sure, there's gossip about numbers, about money, about who's getting rich and who's about to go belly-up that week (best source: the very funny FuckedCompany web site). But for the average diarist searching for human interest stories, the valley is a bloodless, passionless place. Not enough women, too many nerds. And lots of cheerily casual start-up bosses working hard to hide their angst and paranoia. Perfect weather.

Lovely lifestyle. No-one gets too drunk. No-one misbehaves. No-one is cynical. Political correctness is ubiquitous.

But that's the flip side to the can-do culture. 'Unlike in Britain, most Americans want you to succeed, they revel in your success,' another Brit explains to me. 'And on the west coast they are much more genuine and straightforward. When they say have a nice day, they often mean it. Resentment and cynicism are not dominant themes.'

So there are plusses and minuses. You get weird anomalies like the fact that Wired magazine, perhaps the most famous tech glossy on the west coast, never reviews books it doesn't like. What would be the point, asks its editor? Negative criticism wastes space, even to alert people to the bad.

But you get an environment where business is easier because less baggage is brought to the table. 'People will always tell you what they think, they won't play you like they do in the UK,' says another Brit. 'You rarely get false expectations. If someone says they are not going to do a deal you know they mean it, whereas in the UK they might want you to believe they won't.'

Sounds easy? Maybe. The real problem is that, outside San Francisco, America's most seductive city, Silicon Valley - whisper it if you dare - is actually pretty dull. There are business parks and shopping malls and internet hubs where you can look at lots of lights flashing on machines, but nothing you can feast your eyes on and go, aah. Just featureless freeways and offices and suburbs, and hills off to one side and hills off to the other and the Bay, the big finger of water that stretches down from the Pacific. And lots of future, with little reference to the past. For Brits brought up in cynical, feature-stacked, heritage-obsessed Britain, it must feel like another world. That, of course, can be an attraction.

Keith Teare is a Brit moving up the food chain. Aged 45, born Scarborough, track record in tech, including Cyberia internet cafes and Easynet service provider, he turned up in Silicon Valley three years ago with his big idea, Realnames. Type in just a company or product name and, bingo, you're whizzed through to their home-page. No fiddling with codes, slashes or dot.coms. And companies pay for the privilege! Realnames is one of those stupidly simple concepts that already looks like it is very big business, making Teare a sizable player in the who-knows-who networks that girdle the Valley. He doesn't have to kick down VC doors any more. They've thrown cash at him. Around dollars 90 million; that gives him 220 employees and offices in California, New York, London, Hamburg and Tokyo. Now it's his recommendations that VCs listen for.

He lives in Woodside, a rural faux-Sussex pinched between the Valley and the Pacific Ocean. It's where all the heavy hitters reside with their willowy wives and their golden retrievers and their 20-acre house-and-stable estates. Woodside, with its gentle adherence to stealth wealth, is as close as Silicon Valley comes to a class signifier. It's where you live when you've made it.

And he has recently moved his staff into smart new blocks in Redwood Shores, the other side of 101 from Redwood City, a place so featureless and anonymous that you can barely find it. You can't even see the Bay, although the map says it's right there. My wife's driving and I'm giving directions, hopelessly, as we weave round and round in a maze of five-storey offices with fancy landscaped pines and plums and tiny signs. It's like a bad day in an upmarket Maidenhead.

Teare is running an hour late anyway. A big man, with a Keith Allen haircut and dressed in Valley-compulsory Gap casuals, he exudes weighty confidence.

Even so, before I meet him - or even wait to meet him - I have to sign a lengthy non-disclosure form. 'Oh don't worry,' says the receptionist when she sees me frown at the pages of fine print, 'it's just standard round here.' So many companies have evolved ameoba-like as little breakaways, so many firms have lost crucial advantages, that no-one really trusts anyone. That's why knowledge in Silicon Valley is distributed on a need-to-know basis, why security is taken very, very seriously, and why you rarely meet bosses in their actual offices. Who knows what could be lying around? And getting anyone other than a boss to speak to you is well-nigh impossible.

Teare and I meet in a ground-floor conference room, no more than 10ft by 10ft. Outside, rows of empty pods bare witness to the fact that his staff are all off white-water rafting - entertainment and bonding perks are a big number out here, so tough is it to keep good people. On the white board is a sticker: 'To ensure confidentiality and security please erase whiteboards after each meeting.'

Teare says he came here because it's where the money is. In his history of Silicon Valley - and everyone has a slightly different one - the money is here because it came to follow the ideas, and the ideas were here because the brains that supplied them had previously serviced the military-industrial complex (ships and missiles) based in the Bay area. Teare used to be a left-wing radical, and talks lovingly about his days of 'sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and revolution' at Kent University in Canterbury. Terms like military-industrial complex still trip off his tongue.

Reasons why he likes it here? 'First, because people don't think you are crazy if you believe you can change the world. They are inclined to assume you can unless proved otherwise; in the UK people assume you can't unless proved otherwise. Secondly, a regional accent is not a liability like it is in the City of London. There is an openness to new things and people here that you won't find in the UK.'

Accents again? Teare, it should be pointed out, has no trace of a regional accent, and has, in his life, spent longer in the south of England that the north. But he says it is an issue for many people in the UK, and it's certainly a factor in driving some out of the country over here. His dad was a miner, fought in the second world war, worked for the Secret Service and later manned radios on North Sea trawlers. His mum worked nights in a McCain chip factory.

'And there is still a big class element to the way the British economy works.'

Isn't there a class system in America? In middle ranks of business, maybe, he says, to do with which college you went to. Americans are snobbish about Ivy League universities and that might matter for a director of business development, say, but not for a founder or entrepreneur. And the wealth signifiers, like cars and clothes and schools and leisure pursuits, are all jumbled up, not so clearly stratified as in the UK.

But all that is secondary to the fact that the money is here. Teare had already made a lot out of Easynet but needed more to realise his ambitions.

Only the US could provide it.

'I was full of ideas and Easynet was not the place I could develop them so the night I resigned from the board I used the internet to set up a US corporation called Go Inc. It cost me dollars 150.' Later he travelled in America as a tourist, hired people to work for his company, then had the company apply for him to get a working visa as a foreign worker for a US corporation. Only recently has he been approved for a green card.

But the hassle was worth it. 'You can't build a significant corporation in three years from nothing without significant backing. Sand Hill Road, which is 10 minutes from here, has an unbelievable amount of money to invest. Even so, I could not get funded for the first 12 months. I had a great idea and a great team but I had to put a million dollars of my own money from Easynet in. Then once we signed the first deal with Alta Vista, the funding came in. That's not unusual.'

Anything he hates? He chuckles. The political correctness, he says, is stultifying to a Brit. He was forced to produce a company policy on sexual harassment, which he thought was ridiculous - but without it, his business could have been vulnerable to expensive legal action from employees.

'The west coast is quite a complex place,' he says. 'It's the most open and can-do place, but at the same time very politically correct, which is a very conservative desire not to allow things to be possible, to impose rules, a left-wing desire to control. It's odd, it's an open culture in terms of technology and what it can achieve, but quite proscriptive about ideas and behaviour.'

There are other cultural differences that Brits find harder to take.

Autonomy's Lynch told me earlier this year that he hated America's lack of compassion, the fact that the average businessman in San Francisco was happy just to step over the drunk and destitute on his doorstep with little more than a shrug. 'What's frightening,' adds Richards, 'is how quickly you get sucked in subconsciously to the American view, which is that you couldn't give a shit if there is someone dying of a heart attack over there ...'

So do all the Brits hang together in Silicon Valley? Some, apparently, but not all. The French huddle, says Teare, but the Brits - probably because they share the same language as the Americans - are good at mixing in.

There are events, like the annual Highland Games in Pleasanton, which are Brit-magnets and there are the soccer-mad ex-pats who scour Fox on cable for SkySports and tog out for the pick-up kickarounds on SF's Sunset and Marina Park pitches, but most don't go looking for Brit company.

Would Teare advise more Brits to come? It depends, he says.

If you're young and tech-skilled and want to make a lot of money, definitely.

If you're an entrepreneur wanting to start something up, then think hard about whether you need to be here. Raising the money is getting tougher and tougher. Anything to do with wireless or digital, you may be better off in Europe, where the technology is more advanced.

But it's still a great place to start.

Would he go back to Britain? Teare looks thoughtful. He's married, his wife is expecting their first child, he has put down roots here. He starts off on a typical Silicon Valley speech: 'We are living through a unique period in ...'

No, do you envisage yourself ever going back? 'The answer is that I really miss London,' he says, 'the smells, the visuals. But I don't know if I could live there again. Maybe I could, but it's not part of my current plan, because I am focused on what we are doing here.'

Be here now? Certainly every Brit working in Silicon Valley thinks they are part of something special. But maybe that's a compensation. After all, much of the work can be pretty dull, stuck on screen in your pod, day after day. Unless you are driving the business, inventing something new, leading from the front, a lot of it, it seems to me, is clerical.

It's mundane work.

But they need people, desperately. One Brit told me the average 23-year-old web designer here can earn over dollars 70,000 a year, easy. Java programmers can demand the earth. Just come prepared. The fancy salaries have pushed up prices all along this strip of America. Sit and have a cappuccino at a little French cafe in South Park, San Francisco's dot.com centre, and it will cost you nearly three bucks. That's London prices. Car hire, another American staple, is getting costlier too. Accommodation will set you back well over dollars 2,000 a month for a basic apartment, at least dollars 1,000 just for a room. And don't forget to check your health insurance. Richards told me that he and his wife have had two children in America. Total cost? Something in the region of dollars 30,000 ...

And bear in mind that beneath the huge pride in Silicon Valley - the fact that, despite the stock market setbacks, it still seems to be at the centre of the business world right now - there is growing disquiet at the revolution's local side-effects. The barrage of dot.com outdoor advertising is provoking preventative legislation. The influx of yuppie dot.com workers, driving prices up and others out, is a constant grumble in the city press.

And the way that the wealthy tech elite have annexed so much of the Bay area's old hippy culture, making it blandly mainstream, is causing increasing friction. Even the now-famous Burning Man festival - the annual arts happening in the north Nevada desert where 20,000-odd people arrive, strip off, make huge artworks, party, then burn everything - has been ruined by the dot.comers, say the critics. Some companies even send employees to the festival for 'team-building'. Imagine that.

So if you're coming, don't expect to be loved by anyone except your boss.

And yet Silicon Valley is probably still the most exciting place in the world to work. More money, more businesses, more brainpower crammed into an area little bigger than the Isle of Wight. But most of all, according to every Brit I talked to, there's the network, the sheer number of people from all over the world doing the same sort of things, the excitement of connections. Everyone's here, everyone knows each other, they all share the same values and the systems run more smoothly than anywhere else.

The difference from other networks, of course, is that outsiders are welcome here.

There's still time to buy a ticket. Just keep your sense of humour to yourself.

STARTING UP IN SILICON VALLEY ONE WAY IN, FIVE GOLDEN RULES.

1. Get a job with a company based there. Research it from here. Let them handle the visa complications.

2. Make friends early. Good contacts are essential. If you want to raise money later, venture capitalists will always judge you on who else you have managed to persuade.

3. Write a business plan. Be ambitious. Remember, backers want to see fast growth and are looking for billion-dollar markets.

4. Get a referral, and hassle. Two key facts: venture capital companies get about 1,000 business plans a week. Around 90% of all funding goes to people who have been funded previously or have been referred by people who have been funded.

5. Listen to the VCs. Let them turn you into an American corporation if that is the appropriate thing to be.

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