Michelle Messina pioneered the Silicon Valley best practices training of startups in 2004 and has worked in more than 35 countries, including Brazil. In our interview, she talks about her new book and how she helps entrepreneurs to understand the what and how of building, scaling great companies and ways to successfully leverage the resources, capital and expertise of the valley.
BayBrazil: In a nutshell, how do you “decode” the Silicon Valley? What makes it so unique and why?
Michelle: Silicon Valley is both a place and a state of mind. Nearly half the population is from another country, which provides a unique mix of perspectives when building a product or company or developing a company’s go-to-market strategy. The state of the mind refers to the culture, attitudes and beliefs we share in Silicon Valley, along with our commitment to helping entrepreneurs be successful. The bar is surprisingly low for accessing top people in Silicon Valley, providing one can articulate a compelling reason to meet.
BayBrazil: Why do you believe that “being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing that someone will ever enjoy doing”? What should be the most important component in an entrepreneur mindset?
Michelle: Being an entrepreneur and building a successful business is very difficult. The journey is full of twists and turns, unexpected happenings, and regular decision-making made with incomplete information. The positive side is the feeling of pride that comes with building something that changes the world, alongside great people who share the vision and commitment to results. One of the most important characteristics of successful entrepreneurs I respect is natural curiosity; I enjoy working with founders that listen carefully to a variety of ideas, suggestions and perspectives, then make the best decisions for their company.
BayBrazil: From your experience, Silicon Valley works best for companies with global market potential or with at least initial market traction in their home regions. In which scenarios should the entrepreneurs think about coming here?
Michelle: The Silicon Valley ecosystem is especially suited to companies that are going global. If the company is headquartered in another country and considering expanding global, then coming to Silicon Valley to embark on the market investigation and validation phase is appropriate. This essential phase is to determine if there is a market in the US and if Silicon Valley is the best location as a starting point.
BayBrazil: On the other hand, you say in the book that you don’t buy the idea that Silicon Valley is the only place to build successful tech-based companies. What can other countries learn from Silicon Valley experience? What can they do different?
Michelle: There are smart, capable entrepreneurs all over the world building successful local, regional and global companies. However, there are some valuable best practices that entrepreneurs can benefit from if they spend time in Silicon Valley, including growing and scaling a company, building and developing a curated network, effective presentation skills, and developing a fund raising strategy. The Silicon Valley ecosystem is amazingly well-networked and truly supportive of entrepreneurs and their success. However, each country should consider their own regional strengths and build an ecosystem that leverages them.
BayBrazil: Brazil is a developing country with great potential but many challenges ahead. What is your overall impression of the quality of Brazilian entrepreneurs you have met in Brazil and Silicon Valley over the past few years?
Michelle: I have been working with Brazilian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and in Brazil for many years. I see major improvements in the quantity of entrepreneurs from Brazil but more importantly the quality and increasingly sophistication of the entrepreneurs building products that address real needs in the market.
BayBrazil: What about the investment interest in Brazilian companies?
Michelle: There is an increasing interest in Brazilian companies by both corporate and venture investors in Silicon Valley and Brazil. The Brazilian government, especially APEX Brasil, has been doing a great deal to build these bonds both through the Corporate Venture in Brazil events and by supporting Brazilian companies to present at TechCrunch Disrupt, SXSW and many other events. The good news is that we will see more and more investment in Brazilian companies.
BayBrazil: What is your advice for the government, investors, entrepreneurs and major local corporations in order to build a more entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Michelle: Come to Silicon Valley to learn, listen and meet many of the experts that make this valley so unique. Our book “Decoding Silicon Valley: The Insider’s Guide” is a good start for understanding what happens in Silicon Valley and excellent advance reading. I have experience working in nearly 40 countries and am happy to share observations about many diverse regions. My final word is to figure out what works best and leverages the strengths of your region.
More details on Michelle’s work at Explora International