REVEALED: The Secret Hangouts Of Silicon Valley VCs


Photo: Boonsri Dickinson, Business Insider

Silicon Valley feels a lot like a big high school.┬áVenture capitalists are on the hunt for the next big idea, so they’ll meet with you if you make your idea compelling enough. And if you know the right person who can “connect” you.On a recent road trip to Silicon Valley, we learned what it’s like for an entrepreneur to pitch VCs and got to hang out at some of their favourite spots — and listen in on their conversations.

I started on the train from San Francisco to Palo Alto.

I took the train from the Caltrain in San Francisco down to Sand Hill Road to experience what entrepreneurs go through when they go to raise a round of funding. It's an entrepreneur's rite of passage to face endless rejection until they meet the one -- the person who will fund their idea.

I got off at the Palo Alto station. It's across from Stanford University. Every kid there wants to start the next Facebook.

I visited Coupa Cafe to meet the Valley's youngest VC.

Ernestine Fu. Students at Stanford seek her out, hoping that if they pitch their startup idea to her -- she just might fund them.

This would have been so much easier if I had a car.

My taxi took me to my next meeting. But it's kind of funny that when I paid with my credit card, the taxi driver used the old swiping machine. You'd think that a place focused on innovation would have more high tech ways of paying.

Next I visited a VC in his office. SoftTech's Jeff Clavier has been busy... He's closed something like 114 deals.

So cold emails don't work for him. He was kind enough to tell me step-by-step what he expects from an entrepreneur and explained in detail how to land a meeting. Basically, he's looking for a working prototype and proof that you already have users. Who you have on your team is also important.

The University Cafe is great for lunch meetings. This is Brian Witlin (on the right).

He started Shopwell, a food information site. Brian works out of StartX as an entrepreneur in residence.

I wanted to see the celebrities of the tech world, so I went to Buck's of Woodside.

This is where venture capitalist Bill Draper was pitched a company called Yahoo!

Located in Woodside, Buck's is home to Silicon Valley power meals.

Jamis MacNiven, the owner of Buck's has traveled all over the world. So naturally, the walls are all covered in weird stuff, incuding a fish that he caught. He puts the news on the menu. Good thing we came on a weekday -- it's more of a family place on the weekend.

Right off Sand Hill Road is a Starbucks, where lots of VCs come for meetings.

It's a typical Starbucks, but there's plenty of room to spread out.

There, we met one Chinese entrepreneur who was camera shy.

No, not the one in this photo. This is Mike Orsak, general partner at Worldview Technology Partners. He comes here a lot, he tells me. Then he sipped his Iced Vanilla Latte.

He's kind of a big deal: he was in Forbes' Top 100 Venture Capitalists in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2009.

If I were an entrepreneur looking for money, I'd just hang out here all day.

Venture capitalist Todd Kimmel is meeting with this Indian entrepreneur for the third time.

Todd is a partner with the Mayfield Fund. Today, he's meeting with an entrepreneur named Damoder Reddy of Cerlyte. Man, that startup guy is kind of old school. Where is his iPad? Look at those stacks of papers he has there.

After a short taxi ride, I'm at another VC firm: August Capital on Sand Hill Road.

I'm meeting with Howard Hartenbaum, the founding investor in Skype. I got to August Capital a few minutes early.

Here's where the pitches happen.

He told me six things every entrepreneur should have before going into a meeting: Have a vision of how the future is going to be better than it is today, state a problem, state the solution for that problem and how the technology solves that problem, market opportunity, qualifications of the team, and know how much money you need.

Watch the video, filmed in this conference room.

A staple for every meeting with Howard: coffee.

Howard is very concise with his words, but in a nice kind of way.

Howard shows me his office.

During an office visit, Howard explained some things on his mind: not investing in Square, how he found Skype early enough to be an early backer, and what bothers him most when entrepreneurs come to pitch him.

Then he showed off some photos of his daughters on his iPhone.

Happy hour is approaching.

Time to cross the street over to the Rosewood.

It's pretty new, but its resort-like feel attracts venture capitalists who want a quick escape.

The best night to come is Thursday. So, I arrived at 6 p.m. during one of the busiest nights of the week.

During the summer, this place is packed.

It still took a few minutes to get to the bar.

Here are some Australian entrepreneurs.

That's Jason Seed on the left and Joe Ward in the middle. Jason came here for a meeting to raise money for his startup. Joe came here to meet him for happy hour drinks. They met here three years ago.

Lesson learned: If you ask entrepreneurs what they are working on, they will not only tell you, they will whip out their phone and SHOW you. Joe showed screenshots of a social media app he's working on.

In the other room, Brad Koenig was talking about his new startup.

Brad is a guy who saw a lot of companies go public in the last bubble. This time around, the former managing director of Goldman Sachs is working on a startup called Foodydirect.

OK, enough of being posh.

Time for drinks at the Dutch Goose.

It's a dive bar.

Young entrepreneurs come here to unwind.

I ended my night at the Pioneer Saloon on Woodside Road -- down the street from Buck's, the breakfast place.

It's like the Wild West in there.

I couldn't spot any venture capitalists. It was kind of a relief.

So I listened to country music and headed back home to San Francisco.

This Is Why You'll Be Jealous You Didn't Go To Stanford: Inside StartX

We got a tour of StartX, the non-profit accelerator program for Stanford students and recent alums.

The accelerator program is halfway into its fifth season. We got to chat with some of the class members before they went into their meeting to talk to the other founders and investors about their progress.

Check out the StartX crib →

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