From Naked & Homeless to Facebook
My 2015 Silicon Valley Journey
So as I begin this new year in 2016, I’ve taken the time to reflect on this past journey to Silicon Valley in 2015. A lot has happened to me and I’ve gained a number of invaluable inexperiences throughout the ups and downs. I’ve been through being homeless, robbed, working at a YC startup and much more, and looking back it has really created a great story. I want to take this time to tell my story and record it as I’ll look back on this in 20+ years remembering the adversity I had once come through.
As a side note, one of my 2016 goals is to maintain a monthly journal and write about my experiences, lessons and ideas from each month. I know, I haven’t been keeping up to date with my recent blog posts as I should but as a new year comes, a new resolution is set to be completed.
So being that 2015 has been quite the journey, I will begin my story just prior to my decision in moving to Silicon Valley.
Back in January 2015, I was working on a small money management fund with a business partner and we have been building it for about a year then. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I was hoping to grow a large money management firm but due to my lack of experience, I hit a lot of road blocks that made it very discouraging to continue. As I was winding down the fund, one day in February I was laying in my bed reading an article about a new start-up called “Magic” that just recently launched and within a weekend had a waiting list of over 30,000 people. The concept was brilliant — Magic is an on-demand company that delivers service to any request (as long as it is legal) through SMS. The article wrote about how they delivered a tiger as someone requested, and delivering medicinal drugs, food, and massages — all on demand! I instantly fell in love. I was completely captured by this company and thought to myself, “this is the future”. I sincerely believed this company was going to be the next Uber sensation within the tech industry. After that, I thought that I should take advantage of such a promising opportunity where I could go join and be an early employee of a new-born company that is potentially a unicorn (billion dollar company). This idea became serious and it was a huge decision. Was I about ready to leave my entire life, family, friends, and long-time girlfriend (of 7 years) to pursue the Silicon Valley dream?
Over the course of a week, I was contemplating about moving out to California for the start-up company, Magic, and I knew that as every day passed (the company was hiring like crazy) more positions were being filled and my chances of being an early employee were diminishing. To also keep in mind, I had limited money (like $2000) in my bank account to take on a chance like this and if I pursued this dream and it failed, then my money would have been wasted. But hey, after many days of thinking hard and talking with my girlfriend (she was supportive), I decided that not many chances like this happen and the 20s are the times to take high risks such as these. So without any job interview lined up for Magic, I bought a one-way ticket to good ole San Francisco!
My plan was to land in California, rent a car, get an interview lined up, land the job, find a place to live, and kick some butt at Magic as it rides to the billion dollar club. Upon landing, I immediately went directly to pick up my rental car. I rented it out for 1 week, thinking that it would be enough time that I would need to secure the job, and worse case, I’d say I tried my best. I landed around 11:00pm on March 20th and drove the car to a hotel parking lot in Mountain View, CA. I slept in the car overnight and planned to setup an interview in the morning. Here’s the thing I already knew, Magic was on a hiring spree and getting an interview wasn’t hard as all you needed to do was respond to their job posting online. Then after, they would tell you to come in for a same-day group interview at 12pm.
I woke up the next morning and responded to the job posting. I immediately was prompted a response to attend the 12pm group interview, as expected. Then I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven to buy soap/shampoo and then went to a gym to freshen up. I paid the $10 daily fee to take a shower and get dressed for the interview. As 12pm came, I arrived to their office and awaited with almost 100 people to sign in. (They had to split us into two group interviews that day.) Apparently, they normally have about 50 people show up every day for the group interviews. During the interview, they gave an hour presentation about the company, their mission and a little bit on how they operate. (No notes were allowed to be taken in any fashion during this presentation.) After that, we were sent home and told to complete two quizzes that was due at 10pm that night. The quizzes were sent to our email at 4pm and it was a pretty difficult test. They had us describe ways to have items such as a 20-year old Pappy Van Winkle bottle and a tiger delivered. It was quite challenging but I wanted the answers to be perfect the first time so I took all the way until 9:45pm to submit it. After that, luckily I have family in East Bay (Hayward) that I was able to go to and stay with during all of this. Magic took 3 days to respond with a decision and I was happy to see I was invited back for a 2nd round interview.
The next interview was a test of how we work as a team to complete live requests that came in through their software. I was invited back along with 6 other people for this round so it seemed like a very selective process. I felt excellent in there. The team dealt with requests such as delivering pizza and a cat. After the test was over, I was taken into the room with one of the co-founders and offered a job to come on-board to work at Magic. I was ecstatic! I felt as I made it and the risk that I took on coming out here was a success. From then on, I was living the Silicon Valley dream- working hard at a Y-Combinator start-up company and helping them grow into the billion dollar company I believed they would become.
Unfortunately, the long hours took a toll on my family that were hosting me at the time and after two weeks of coming home late every night, it was decided that it’d best that I move out on my own. It was fine, I had enough money to buy a car by then and so I purchased one after moving out. I put all of my belongings in it and from there, I decided that I would just live out of my car while saving money for other expenses. During the next 6 months, I would continue to live in my car parked mostly in the parking lot of a 24 Hour Fitness gym or in the back of my office building. At night, I would sleep by putting back my seat, cushion my head with a pillow, a jacket to stay warm (but I would start my car and turn on the heater on the nights that were extra cold). Before heading to work, I would take a shower every morning in the 24 Hour Fitness gym and on some days (when I felt like it) I would throw in a workout. I had a plastic bag with me carrying shampoo, shaving cream, wash pouf, a bar of soap, my toothbrush/toothpaste, and a razor. It was funny to know most men were taking showers to wash up after a workout, but I was there to get a full shower every day. This is how I maintained my living standards throughout being homeless and living out of my car.
As I continue to work at Magic, I was having a very hard time dealing with my now long-distance relationship with my girlfriend back in Florida. I missed her very much and I got to a point where I needed to take my commitment to the next level being that I’m living across the country to pursue my professional ambitions. So in the beginning of April, I took out some money and bought an engagement ring to propose to her on her birthday (April 17th). I got a plane ticket to fly back to Florida on her birthday weekend and planned for a proposal at a movie theatre. The engagement was the perfect and most beautiful day for us and I will never forget the memories that our families shared. (Link to proposal video will be added soon) We are both happy to have become engaged and take our commitment to a higher level where it would help us deal with the long distance.
During all of the excitement of the engagement, I added another surprise for my fiance with the news that I was coming with her and her family to their home country, Kyrgyzstan, for 10 days to celebrate the engagement with her extended family and most importantly of all, her loving grandma. She loves her grandma so much and sees her as a second mom as she was the one who raised my fiance while her parents were in America working very hard to bring their children to the U.S. So being able to celebrate the engagement with everyone in her hometown was such a nice & beautiful treat.
During this time, June was a great month being that my fiance was just accepted into her Medical Physician Assistant Program in Las Vegas, NV and was awarded a full-ride scholarship on top of that. This was fantastic news being that she would be closer to me (San Francisco is about a one-hour flight to Las Vegas) and we would get to see each other more often. When we returned to Florida, after the Kyrgyzstan trip, my fiance started packing all of her belongings to move to Las Vegas and begin her new life as a graduate student. I helped her drive across country and we had an amazing road trip as we planned the cities that we visited around the show “Man vs Food”. We really wanted to try a lot of the food that we watched on that tv show and I even attempted/failed at one of the food challenges. 5 days later, we arrived in Las Vegas and we went straight to apartment hunting. We agreed that we’d share the costs of the apartment together and that I would visit her about every two weeks. When I came back to San Francisco, I learned that Magic laid off more than half the staff due to the fact that the company needed to test out different pricing models. (In other words, the burn rate for the start-up was ridiculously high.) The manager told some of us to stay on hiatus until further notice and that hopefully we would be brought back to the office soon. I was one of those lucky few. During the month of June, I joined a smaller start-up called En Route. I started off doing deliveries and then I was brought up to over see operations and manage the drivers. En Route was a delivery company and their business model was to build a fleet of drivers to service other on-demand companies that relied on drivers to help with their delivery requests. The on-demand space was new and growing fast, and En Route saw this as an opportunity to be a big player in providing the support. During my time with En Route, the company was raising money with angel investors, partnering up with big on-demand companies, and almost made it into the YC fellowship program. I helped a bit with business development, building the fleet of drivers and also partnering with other vendors to provide benefits for the drivers. I learned a ton from being a part of this fresh new start-up and I loved being able to contribute to important decisions in such an early stage of a company.
Also, as I kept busy doing that (while I awaiting a call back from Magic) I got a gig being a personal assistant to a San Francisco Giants baseball player and his girlfriend. I did that for about a month and it was really cool! His name is Hunter Pence and I mostly help assisting his girlfriend. She is the nicest person to work for and I enjoyed every minute working for them. It all started with a Magic request that she sent in asking for flower arrangements delivered and set up in their home. I spent half of the day fulfilling this request as a deliveryman and even arranged the flowers myself (being that I had zero experience arranging flowers, I felt like I did a pretty good job). She liked the way I worked assisting and asked for me to be a sort of personal assistant from then on. I accepted and worked for about a month until I was called back to work for Magic again.
I was invited back to work at Magic and it was good to return to the office. The company was finally testing new models and it seemed to be working well. After a couple of weeks later, we were made into full-time employees with benefits but the funny thing is, that’s when the trouble started. People started asking for equity and stock options being many of us came onboard very early. Unfortunately, many people were upset and disappointed with the company’s decision. Let’s just say over the course of the next month, turmoil started to build internally and the culture became toxic. As Peter Thiel said from his book Zero to One — “A start-up messed up at it’s foundation cannot be fixed. Beginnings are special.”
As I continued to work at Magic, it started to have a toll on me. I was promoted to a VIP team that handled the most affluent clients and the requests became more difficult. I enjoyed the challenge but the hours remained long. However, at this point, I’m realizing that all of my sacrifices aren’t being rewarded with any interests in the company to motivate me to continue working hard with subpar pay. Something had to give and nothing seemed to be changing. And then August 13th came. This was the day when I was robbed and my car (with all of my belongings inside) were stolen. I was left in the streets of San Francisco naked, running around in a towel while looking for the thief and my car! It was absolutely the worse day of my life by far. Remember, this car was my home and all of my clothes and personal belongings were inside. I mean, I was already homeless but now I was both naked and homeless walking in the streets at this point. (The entire story in detail is in my other blog post.)
I returned to the gym office walking with a towel wrapped around me and the manager was kind enough to give me a pair of socks and shorts. Also, a very nice samaritan gave me his oversized basketball t-shirt to wear. After I filled out the police report, my friend David met up with me to go shopping for clothes. After this experience, my fiance and I decided it was best that I find a proper place to live and be somewhere safe instead of living out of my car. So then, I moved in with my friend David and his roommate K.C. I returned to work the next day and told my manager the whole story about how I lived out of my car and that my car/belongings were robbed. In sight of being in a low place and showing the sacrifice I went through, I thought I was in a strong place to ask for equity options being I’ve been with the company for such a long time. No decision was made and after a week I decided that my request wasn’t going to be met by management. As of August 31st, I put in my resignation and left the company.
I actually felt relieved and great after leaving that company. I worked 14+ hours every day for 6–8 days straight and it became very exhausting after a long time of doing that on a regular basis. I noticed my life deteriorating and my personal relationships fading as I dedicated everything to that company. I’m so glad that I left as I finally had time for myself to catch up with everything. I spent a month in Las Vegas with my fiance and it was an amazing vacation for me. I got to be with her every day, waking up and spending time with her for more than just a weekend. I was happy again. This time also allowed me to explore different opportunities and consider a new path in Silicon Valley. I was interviewing with Facebook for the “M” project which is similar to Magic but it would be communicated through Messenger. I figured my high experience in the on-demand personal assistant space would provide me with a leg up in getting the job but unfortunately, they were very selective and I didn’t get offered the position. No worries, I had other opportunities that I was interviewing for, such as DoorDash, Marketo, and Oracle.
During October, I went through a number of interviews as I was looking for my next transition into a new company. And a great piece of news came in when a recruiter said that I was offered an interview for another Facebook position. So now I was interviewing for 4 companies. After a week, it came down to two companies when I was invited back for a final round interview for both DoorDash and Facebook. It was time for me to fly back to California to attend the in-office interviews and say farewell to my fiance once again. My Facebook interview was first, taking place on a Monday. I interviewed for the WhatsApp department and it took about an hour after meeting with 4 managers. I felt like I did a good job during the interview and I was right. After I returned home, an hour later I received a phone call saying I got the job! I was so excited and was ready to go in confidently to my next interview with DoorDash the following day. On Tuesday, I walked into the DoorDash office and met with two managers. The interview lasted for about an hour and I got a chance to ask them a lot of questions. I enjoyed their fresh start-up feel at the company and it was such a down-to-earth sort of vibe that I liked in their culture. The next day, I was offered a job at DoorDash to be in operations. I had until Friday to make my final decision and it was a very difficult choice to make! On one hand, I have the #1 company to work for— Facebook Inc. and on the other hand I have one of the fastest growing start-up companies in Silicon Valley — DoorDash, which was just about to close in on a $1 billion valuation. Even though I did have choices, I had to consult my options with friends and family. It pretty much came down the middle after talking with everyone and even when I weighed the benefits, it came out to be about the same also. What it came down to was pretty much a name. And with either or, I couldn’t go wrong. In the end, I selected to work for Facebook Inc. and accepted the final offer that Friday. I was so thrilled to have made my choice and they returned to me with my start date for November 2nd. I then bought a two week round-trip flight to South Florida so that I can visit my family which I haven’t seen since I’ve left to California. The trip was meant to catch up with my friends and family in Florida before embarking on this new and exciting journey at Facebook. I was going to take a part in helping the world connect with one another and being inside the Facebook family was something I was proud and excited about.
My first day at the company was such a warm welcome and people are so nice in making sure I got well acclimated to the new team. I learned about some of the perks that the office had and I was blown away to have learned that we get weekly massages, free breakfast/lunch/dinner, weekly social office gatherings, and much more. When I went to explore the main campus, I was mesmerized by the design and layout of the whole place. Facebook is said to be the Disneyland of corporate companies. And when I finally got a taste of the campus, they weren’t kidding- it really was! As a matter of fact, I believe the architect designer of the Facebook campus helped design the Disney theme parks. The atmosphere was incredible with a colorful ice cream shop, arcade, many food dining spots, and so much more. I mean, you can search on YouTube to see how amazing it is inside but being inside yourself is even a greater experience. It was surreal to walk around and think that I am working here. I praise the culture they have at this company as they design it in a way where we don’t want to leave and instead continue working towards providing solutions for connecting the world. I love working here and it will always be a memorable achievement. Throughout November, I continued to work with the team and expanding my knowledge in my role as I was assigned to Account Safety at WhatsApp.
I’ve completed my first month of working at Facebook and it was absolutely amazing. I could have never dream of working at such a powerful and impactful company when I came out to Silicon Valley and in less than a year, here I am. You know, it’s funny because I recall driving to the FB headquarters back during the first month in March when I moved to the Bay area. Upon my visit, I walked around the exterior of the campus and took pictures of popular points, for example the “Like” sign with the thumbs up by the front entrance. I remember walking around feeling like this place was such an exclusive and prestigious club to work for. After taking more photos, I walked to the main lobby where security staff monitored the check-in desk. They stopped me immediately from entering further being that I had no business being inside. I asked if there were tours for visitors or anything of that nature and the lady said “Sorry, but no” and I went back outside. Afterwards, I drove around the campus to other spots like the recreation building and again, the security staff pulled up in a car and said that I wasn’t allowed in this area unless I had a visitor pass. However, he was kind enough to recommend walking on the hiking trail that wraps around the headquarters. I thanked him and went on my way, leaving the property. From then on, I never came back and thought to myself that it was a place that I could never set foot inside and it would be only a dream to have an opportunity to work at such a wonderful company. 10 months later, here I am. After all of my trials and successes, I have truly made it through the adversity and become a member of the Facebook family. I feel pretty humble and proud looking back to the days when I was homeless and running in the streets naked looking for my stolen car, and now I’m seeing myself working at Facebook with two properties that I reside at — Menlo Park, CA and Las Vegas, NV. I still visit my fiance every two weeks in Las Vegas and our apartment is looking warm and beautiful. My home in Menlo Park is in a nice and beautiful neighborhood, surrounded by great families, trees and green hills. Looking back at this 2015 journey in Silicon Valley, I have to say it has been an incredible adventure.
Here’s the lesson I learned from 2015, keep challenging yourself. Life is about continuing to grow and becoming a better human being. And the best way to do that is to keep challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges because it makes you stronger, smarter and a better person. I embrace all of the obstacles that I have to overcome and I will continue to face on any further challenges that life will throw at me. During a town hall meeting (where I saw Mark Zuckerberg for the first time), he gave a powerful speech talking about the mission for Facebook and how they aim to connect every single person in this world. Through that journey, he said that one of the keys to their success as a company is their desire to take on all challenges face on and to not be afraid to do so. I was moved by his talk and since then, I always remember that whenever I am afraid to do something, I should be excited and embrace that challenge, as I will become a better person in the end, win or lose.