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Guest comment: Mr & Mrs Smith founder Tamara Lohan on heading to Silicon Valley

Last month, I was invited to Silicon Valley as part of a group of 15 female entrepreneurs, all interested in scaling our companies overseas.

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Mr & Mrs Smith heads to Silicon Valley

This incredible programme was run by Silicon Valley comes to the UK (SCV2UK) and the Mayor of London’s Go to Grow Programme which seeks to help high-growth companies with mentoring, expert advice and real business opportunities.

 

Launched in 2006 by Sherry Coutu, Ellen Levy and Reid Hoffman, SVC2UK is a not-for-profit programme run by London & Partners to promote stronger networks and entrepreneurship between Silicon Valley and the UK.


With unparalleled contacts in the valley, the idea behind this particular trade mission was to give our growing companies the opportunity to connect with partners and venture capitalists, and learn lessons from the best on how to scale. Over four exhilarating but exhausting days we attended meetings, roundtable discussions, breakfasts and dinners with representatives of some of the world’s most impressive tech companies – Box, Twitter, X (formerly known as Google X), LinkedIn, Instagram and more – all of them start-ups once.

 

There are, of course, the classic stereotypical bits of advice that we associate with Silicon Valley – think big, move fast, get super funded and scale quickly, but the more valuable lessons I learnt came in the softer founder-focused guidance from extraordinary woman such as Obi Felten, Julie Hanna, Marne Levine and Hillary Smith.

 

So what were the three main takeaways from my visit?

  • The importance of product and vision. As a founder this has to be your number one concern; you can delegate the tasks but not the vision. I loved the advice that Julie Hanna gave when she suggested that you scale gracefully and build a business and culture around a purpose that you care about personally. Culture is the hardest thing to create but extremely easy to destroy, so as a founder you should protect and nurture it. I heard time and again from so many people “be present”, “be all in”. Be a passionate leader who is always learning and pursue the better way relentlessly.
  • “Don’t fail fast - learn fast,” according to Obi Felten from X (formerly known as Google X, who taught us that failure is all about attitude and that we need to think differently about failure and shift our perspective to be truly innovative. You have to have the courage to put a stop to failing ideas in order to make room for the the great ones; setting "kill criteria" helps this process, but even afterwards, it’s OK to mourn for the projects you have to kill.
  • It’s all about people. Hiring the right people is critical to success and this doesn’t come cheap in a place like Silicon Valley where talent is highly sought after. When opening up a new market for your business, hire someone who has an entrepreneurial spirit - they are going to need it, they will need support from the parent company but allowing them to build a micro culture is important.

 

As a travel company often it’s inevitable that you will need to globalise, open offices elsewhere and grow your partner and customer base around the world. There’s no rule book for how you do this and as the world seems to change tack on a daily basis, and technology innovation seems to be moving at light speed, having the time to sit and talk to people who are right there at the top, who have been there and done that, is invaluable.

 

I was inspired by the generosity of those super-busy people we met in sharing their time and advice and their passion for business and success, but I came home with much more than a lesson in scaling a business. I am the proud member of a network of 15 amazing women I can now call friends, and a WhatsApp support group I can turn to for business advice.


Tamara Lohan is founder and chief technology officer of Mr & Mrs Smith

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