Packaging Silicon Valley

 Interview by John Cannon

Mihai Calin knew he had a good idea with his “Loques” iPhone application when he developed it at ETH Zürich. Nothing else in Apple’s App Store blended the need to obtain location-based information with the immediacy that Loques offers. But Calin also knew that the best place for his app to develop was the West Coast of the United States.

So, after hearing a presentation at ETH by swissnex San Francisco’s Executive Director Christian Simm and hearing about what the Startup Services team could offer fledgling entrepreneurs, Calin decided to come to the Bay Area. For a month, he had office space at swissnex in downtown San Francisco. And the Startup Services team helped him delve into Silicon Valley culture by introducing him to new people and linking him up with events.

Before he flew back to Zürich in August to finish his doctorate in management information systems at ETH, Calin sat down with us and reflected on his stay at swissnex San Francisco.

What are your impressions of your time at swissnex San Francisco? Was it valuable?
Coming here, I saw that this is really working. Everyone is really dynamic in the office. I just told them, “Look, I have this idea,” and they said, “OK, cool. Did you try that? Did you try that? Do you want to work on that? You might want to improve that.” I got immediate feedback, and that helped me a lot.

Just one hour with one of the people here will bring a lot because they synthesize information from Silicon Valley. They are putting it together and giving it to you as a package. At swissnex, the things that helped me the most were the discussions with the team.

How did “Loques” change while you were here?
I changed half of the way the application works based on the feedback I got from this office. It’s really dynamic, and it’s really worth coming here. Even just meeting up with some of the people in the office—having a lunch with them, telling them that you have this app, this idea, and saying, “What would you suggest?” They will help you.

For example, I presented [Loques] to Cyril (see photo on left). Cyril said, “It took me a while to understand how to use it.” And then he said, “Why don’t you do one of those introductory screens?” Indeed, working with the application, I never thought of people not understanding it. It’s hard to zoom out and look at [a project] with a birds-eye view.

So I don’t really know how I didn’t think about it, but I immediately changed that. I spent one day and inserted a few nice graphs that you can swipe through.

What activities did you take part in during your time at swissnex?
Workshops are always good. Myself and others, we are difficult to convince to go to workshops. But whenever you’re there, you’re like, “How could I have missed all this? How didn’t I think of this before?” The people [who run the workshops] tell you exactly what you need to know.

What advice would you have for other young entrepreneurs?
Whoever has a startup has to come here, even for a short while. Even if you don’t go home with huge investment in your app, at least you have seen the value [that swissnex] offers—how it’s done here, how to pitch.

What is different about the approach to presenting your business here in Silicon Valley compared to Switzerland?
It’s so important to meet these people in person, to go to one of these events, and to have a person come to you and say, “OK, pitch [your idea], now.” And then they say, “Okay, it sounds good. I might introduce you to a friend of mine who might help you with your app.” It’s so important to see this networking ‘live’ and to do it. It’s something you don’t find in Switzerland.

Visit our startups page for more information on our programs and the other companies that have spent time at swissnex San Francisco.