Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups

By Dharmesh Shah on December 12, 2011

The following is a guest post by Jason Evanish. Jason is the founder of, a hub for resources, events and jobs for Boston entrepreneurs and is presently working on a new startup. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evanish and connect with him elsewhere through

Visiting The Valley: Why It's A Special Place For Startups

I've spent the past two and a half years in the great startup community of Boston, where the ecosystem has been quietly growing stronger every day. During that time I've had the opportunity to visit a number of other startup ecosystems as well as interact with leaders of other cities.  Despite this, I'd never really visited the Valley. With airline tickets cheap between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I decided it was time to finally make a pilgrimage to the center of the startup universe: Silicon universe

When I set out to visit Silicon Valley, I hoped to get a taste of all the Valley has to offer. I heard that San Francisco, Palo Alto and Mountain View were the key hubs, so I spent a couple days in each area.  By doing so, I maximized the breadth of my experience as well as who I could actually meet and what I could see.  

The Valley truly is a unique place unlike any other ecosystem I've been to (including the runner-ups, Boston and New York). I wrote elsewhere about some of the myths and facts of Silicon Valley, and there I mentioned I'd love to be able to bottle up the Valley’s special elements. Below is my attempt at capturing what these elements are based on both my experiences and discussions with native entrepreneurs and investors I met on my trip.


If there's a single thing that stands out about the Valley, it's the openness of everyone there. Every person I met was excited to meet with me even with the coldest of intros I received. More importantly though, at the end of every meeting *everyone* asked me "How can I help?" and insisted on working with me until we could come up with a way they could help.

Dial O for Optimism

It's easy to dismiss wild, big vision ideas that just don't make sense to you. However, in the Valley, that's not an obstacle. Everyone is encouraged to start a company and no one is doubted because they lack a clear revenue model or doesn't pass someone's analytical test. As one Boston transplant put it, "the Boston brain in me thought the idea of 'Pandora for Shoes' was dumb, but the more I thought about it, I realized it just might work."  

Beyond how people view others' ideas, there's an overwhelming sense of hope there; it's difficult to explain, but you get hit by a wave of it when you're there that makes you think anything is possible and that you’re surrounded by greatness.

Culture Counts

Yes, there's a talent war in the Valley, but there's a talent war in every tech hub. As one person I met put it, “the Valley is the Major Leagues”; there's more of everything: more founders, more capital, more startup employees, more competition. When that's the case, the only way to recruit and retain talent is with a great work culture and a fun environment.

I visited the Twilio office while in San Francisco and was floored. They have nailed culture in so many ways it can be its own post, but the key is that I heard that HR gets over *250* applicants for every job. The talent war is won and lost inside your office.

Everyone’s an Evangelist

Every person I met was telling me I have to move here. Every. Single. One. There's a "join a winning tradition" kind of attitude that I think is the same thing the Yankees do to recruit free agent baseball players. This attitude comes from a confidence in good things happening here (see ‘Optimism’, above) and also the welcoming environment; San Francisco was described to me as an incredibly transient population, so everyone is looking to make new friends.

These beliefs feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you think you can, you will, if you think you can't, you won't.  Believing you can succeed and so can others breeds optimism and a risk-taking attitude.

Winning with Weather

You can't change the weather of your ecosystem, but it is an advantage of the Valley. On a warm sunny day, you're more likely to go outside and not work from home. You're also able to move around before and after events more freely. Both of these cases leads to more serendipity and may contribute to the optimism (as a counter, see Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder).  

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign
box billboard

Startup signage is simple, but actually a big deal. There's a serious cool factor to walking or driving by a building and seeing the logo of a company you recognize.  It's also fun seeing startups on billboards. While on the 101 (the main highway running through the Valley) I saw signs for, Salesforce, Huddle, and Zynga. As a startup geek, I find this as cool as others do when they see a celebrity on the street. This omnipresence of startups goes a long way to thinking about a place being the home of great startups and is a hot topic in other ecosystems like Boston.

Much of what makes the Valley special is hard to describe; you really need to see it for yourself to truly understand. If you’re starting a company, already running a company or just interested in startups, I highly encourage you to check it out.  Many great entrepreneurs in other ecosystems visit quarterly to take advantage of what the Valley has to offer and after visiting, I understand why.

Have you visited the Valley? What do you think makes it such a unique place?

Special thanks to @Wayne of Crashlytics for help in refining this post
Topics: guest strategy
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Insider Tips From HubSpot's Launch of Marketing Grader

By Karen Rubin on December 6, 2011

The following is a guest post from Karen Rubin.  Karen is a product manager at my company, HubSpot.  I asked her to write this article sharing some of our "playbook" around launching new applications.  She loves getting new twitter followers: @karenrubin

Today, HubSpot announced the launch of a new tool called Marketing Grader. Like our other Graders, Marketing Grader is a free application.  It asks you to enter a website URL and returns a comprehensive report on your marketing efforts.  

The team has been building Marketing Grader for a number of months, and it is our most ambitious free tool since Website Grader debuted in 2006. The team knew it was important not just to build an awesome product, but to get the message out there, and to do it right. These are the tips and guidelines we followed to keep the launch on grader screen

Stay Focused & Simplify

Like many startups, one thing we never lack at HubSpot is ideas. As the team started brainstorming the launch campaign, there was talk of many different approaches we could take to announce the new tool. We could write a series of Top 10 lists or reveal the Top 100 Marketers. We could create personalized videos á la the Old Spice Man. We could somehow involve the HubSpot unicorn.  The list of possibilities was endless (as it often is in a good brainstorming session.) We spent a couple of weeks tossing ideas around and trying to figure out which would make the biggest splash and launch the tool to the most fan fare.

But a couple of weeks into the planning, we realized that the main message we wanted to get out, namely, that HubSpot was launching an AWESOME new tool to grade your entire marketing funnel, was getting lost in all the other cool things. Top 10 lists go really well with Marketing Grader (since the tool can be used to build and analyze such lists).  But were people just going to remember that we were doing new lists? Or that those lists were backed by a super cool new tool called Marketing Grader?

We decided to take a step back and regrouped around the idea that the launch of Marketing Grader was the real message, and that we needed to simplify in order to effectively communicate that message -- especially in the first month. It doesn’t mean we won’t try our other ideas (some of which are a bit crazy) in the future, it just means this month everything we do is laser focused on our top message.

Making Our List, Checking It Twice

Once we focused on our message, we had to think about what tools we were going to use to get the message out there. Some were easy; we’d use the blog, our email list and the other Graders to drive people to Marketing Grader. Others needed some more thought.

For social media, we could tweet about the new tool and post its launch to Facebook, but we thought that this wasn’t enough to get the message out there. So we put a plan in place that included personalized tweets to influencers as well as previous users of the Grader tools. We are also planning to participate in multiple Twitter chats, a new mechanism we have recently started experimenting with.

When planning a campaign, it also helps to think of people as tools (we mean that in the nicest way possible.) We came up with a list of bloggers and journalists with whom members of our team have relationships.  We then identified the best people to reach out to them personally, introduce them to the new tool, and answer any of their questions. We also planned ways to get our customers and partners involved with using and sharing the tool.

It Takes An Entire Company To Um, Raise Launch A Product

Lastly, we realized it wasn’t enough for just the few of us working on the tool to promote it during its launch; we needed to get the entire company on board. We sat down with the marketing team and brainstormed ways to get everyone involved. This includes writing special blogs posts (like this one), creating infographics, running competitions for our partners, integrating the message with other campaigns and making related videos to promote the tool. By including the company in the campaign, people thought of new and innovative ways to get the message out and implemented these ideas on their own.

We trained our consulting, support, and sales teams on the tool so they can start using it with customers and prospects. We also came up with a sales contest to encourage the sales team to share the tool with as many of their leads in their funnel as possible. The day of the launch, we sent an email to the entire company reminding them of the launch and giving them some lazy tweets to share with their networks.  For the twitter rookies out there, a "lazy tweet" is when you provide a sample tweet, fully written, so that someone who is inclined to help you, but a tad lazy/busy, doesn't have to think.  They can just copy/paste the tweet or retweet an existing tweet.  The easier you make it to help you, the more people do.

Launching a new tool like Marketing Grader takes blood, sweat, and tears, but the result is a tool that you’re so proud of, you want the whole world to see. That result makes the process of properly launching your new tool all the more important. we wanted to give Marketing Grader every opportunity to get out there to the public and be a rocking success. Staying focused, using all your tools and resources, and leveraging the skills of everyone in your company are great ways to get your new tool the publicity it deserves.

Here are answers to some questions we think you might have.  

Why the big hoopla over the launch this time?  Usually, HubSpot trickles out grader tools with an inocculous tweet from Dharmesh.

You're right.  In the past, we've been much more subtle and measured when we launch a new grader product.  This is largely because our new grader tools are often a crazy experiment -- we're not sure whether the market actually wants it or not.  By avoiding a big launch, we avoid a big "unlaunch".  In the case of Marketing Grader, we've had lots of evidence from our customers and friends (who have tried the tool) that it is super useful.  We've made a big investment in this app, and we wanted to match it with some marketing.  And, like all things at HubSpot, this is an experiment too.  We wanted to see if we could reach people beyond our co-founder Dharmesh's twitter followers (which admittedly, is over 100,000 now).

How did you build your media contact list?  What tool did you use to manage it?  We try to keep things simple at HubSpot.  Our media contact list is a simple Google Spreadsheet.  The people on the list are a combination of folks that we know individually and someone on the team has some relationship with.  Now that we've got another twitter celebrity (Laura Fitton, aka @pistachio) who happens to know just about everyone, our VIP list was bigger and better than ever.

Why use on its own domain?  Wouldn't the SEO have been better to put it on  We basically had three choices when picking domain names for our free tools.  We could use -- which has advantages, including brand-building and SEO.  By launching on, the Marketing Grader page would get some SEO authority relatively quickly because of the power of the main domain.  Another option would be to put it on a completely separate domain, like  But the option we picked is to use (so, make it a subdomain of  This approach has a couple of advantages.  Getting a sub-domain of an established main domain to start ranking is much, much easier than a completely new domain.  And, since we use this model for our other free tools, our users are already used to it.  (But, of course, either domain will work -- one simply redirects to the other).

What's the difference between getting all of these efforts to happen on the same day?  Couldn't you have easily just "spread them out" over time and gotten he same level of overall usage?  This is a tricky one.  For the most part, you are right.  Rather than have 20 things happen all on the same day (which is a challenge to orchestrate) we could have spread the news out over days and weeks.  The advantage to trying to "compress" some of the news into a smaller window is that there's the potential for the news to hit a "tipping point".  If news of the launch hits several different channels, all around the same time, it gets "noticed" by other channels that we didn't have direct access to.  Those people then might write about it, causing more people to see it.  We get a snowball effect.  Doesn't always happen, but it's much more likely that it will happen if we can get some strong media pickup all on the same day.

 It's not fair!  You folks have a reach of millions.  How can my tiny little startup match that?  It's a good point.  We do have exceptional reach, across many different channels. That makes our jobs much, much easier.  It's fun to be able to put something new out there and know that it's going to get some attention.  Our advice to you would be two-fold:  You don't have to have a massive reach to get attention.  (We had some great successes even when we were a struggling young startup).  The key is to be remarkable and even more importantly, create useful content.  For example, if this article were written like a standard marketing schpiel, it would never have gotten posted to OnStartups (despite the fact that Dharmesh is one of our founders).  By wrapping the "nugget of news" in a nice, useful layer of tips, tricks and lessons learned, the article becomes something people (hopefully) want to read.  Maybe even share.

Does Karen Rubin actually exist or did Dharmesh just conjure up an attractive, charismatic persona as part of some weird A/B test he's running?  Attractive and charming?  Oh, Internet reader, you flatter me so (batting eyes in best impersonation of Scarlett O'Hara).  But rest-assured, I do actually exist.  What you don't know for sure is what parts of this article were part of my original submission, and what parts are late-night edits from our crazy co-founder.  I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

So, what questions do you have?  What can we tell you about the HubSpot marketing machine and how we do things?  What lessons have you learned launching your own apps?

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