5 Life Lessons from my first visit to the US.
Honest story by woman in tech and startup founder.
My phone rang: “Do you confirm your participation at Women in Technology program in the US?”
I was nominated and accepted to the Open World Program for women in tech. Imagine a 10-day program for discovering startup ecosystem of the United States. It’s an all expense paid trip, sponsored by the US Congress. I was one of five lucky Ukrainian entrepreneurs, who were traveling to Appleton, Wisconsin on March 2017.
😨 Wisconsin?! Really?
For the last 2 years I’ve been running a tech startup — macOS tool for iOS developers to compare original designs with the real app in the iOS simulator. So, I was thinking of going to popular hot spots, like Silicon Valley, New York, Chicago or Boston. But don’t judge a book by its cover. ️
Lately I found out that Wisconsin has a strong government support for tech companies, fast growing IT ecosystem, investment network, good prices for coworkings and available talent pool. Our host organization was Fox Valley Technical College, which nurtures many startup initiatives and innovative education programs. 😯 Do you know many colleges with fully equipped maker labs or R&D teams, that work on VR & AR learning materials?
As you might guess, the program exceeded my expectations 👌 And our Women in Tech group was an awesome mix of experienced, creative and hilarious IT girls!
My American Family
We all stayed with Americans families, who volunteered to host Ukrainian entrepreneurs. I was assigned to room with Anastasia — organizer of the Black Sea Summit conference, networker and blond-hair techie. She is from Odessa, city of fun and warm sea. Not a bad room mate, I would say!
Our host family, Natalie and Bob, met us at the Appleton airport.
Natalie is a charming blond lady with crystal blue eyes. 😌 You would feel a sense of calm and dignity while talking with her for the first time. That’s her Danish roots. Her very tactful politeness is mixed with black humor and honesty. I bet you would love talking to Natalie! Bob looks very similar to his wife — tall and gentle, he makes an impression of a calm, self-sufficient person. By the way, Bob called me and Anastasia “Ukrainian Princess” and “Queen of Odessa”. I loved those funny nicknames.
💑 They both are in their middle 60’s and have been together for almost 47 years. They have adult children and cute grandchildren. And they’re still talking to each other with love and respect. By profession, Bob and Natalie are pediatricians at the local children’s hospital. This is the job of their life. They care about the environment and think about the future of their country.
I spent 10 days with these amazing people and learned by example how to become a better person.
Be Kind to People
How often do you talk to strangers?
Not at startup conferences or meetups, when searching for leads or partners.
How often do you propose help when somebody struggles, but haven’t asked you for help? Not that kind of “Facebook advice” for growing your online karma and showing “expertise”.
* * *
It was 10pm and we just left a mind-blowing Blue Man Group show in Chicago. Anastasia and I were trying to find our way to the hotel (where our American mom, Natalie, was waiting for us). We were standing near the theatre, dealing with weak WiFi and Google maps. 😴 Something was wrong with our cards, so we couldn’t take Uber or Lyft. Suddenly a big security guy came to us. He looked like Steve Harvey, but less friendly…
“Where do you need to go?” asked the big guy.
He googled the bus we were looking for, checked if our hotel was there and showed us the bus stop. We didn’t ask him and it wasn’t obvious that we were foreigners. I even didn’t know his name, but remember his kindness.
Why talk to random people?
Why be kind to people you may never meet in your life again?
Natalie’s father was a pastor. He knew all his parishioners by name. He greeted them before the church service and had small talks about important things in their lives. This empathy and kindness to other people was normal for Natalie and many of her friends as well. This is what we miss in our daily offline lives.
Do Small Things That Matter
The Chicago Museum of Science & Industry impressed us: 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, more than 35,000 artifacts and many many kids around. But the first place we went to look was an exhibit of Natalie friend’s son. It was an exhibit about climate change, which captured images & videos of rapidly disappearing glaciers. 😯 We were shocked to see how climate change really works.
And I was shocked to learn that Natalie and Bob keep temperatures lower in their house, because it matters. They recycle waste, give books to libraries, buy “houses” for rare birds, and take part in local communities. Natalie and Bob have hosted folks from Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. Maybe, one day you will be lucky to talk with this amazing couple over a cup of Yogi tea ☕️
* * *
Natalie’s friend, Shannon, took us to Chicago that weekend. It’s Shannon’s son who was a photographer for the climate change exhibition we visited. On the long way home, we found out that Shannon works with NeuroMovement and runs a Lifestyle studio & boutique. Sometimes she browses Kickstarter and backs products there. Shannon does it because she wants to support young innovators and startup founders. Oh, also she writes emails to local congressmen, participates in book club meetups, and looks for a new home for pets.
Shannon is my mother’s age and she is full of energy & faith to do things that matter!
Make Offline Friends
We are living in the age of online relationships, chatting with people’s avatars and following “the best version” of their “exciting life”. Do we still remember how it was before?
* * *
“We’ll go to the biker bar and find that music Jukebox with buttons and flashing lights, you saw in old American movies!” enthusiastically said Betsy. It was late evening after a busy day and I was dreaming only about sleep. That day Natalie’s friend, Betsy, was responsible for our transportation. So we went to discover Jukebox and “real American men”, I accidentally mentioned early. Betsy is an intellectual American lady with fancy glasses and perfect Russian. She teaches Russian classes, is a massage therapist, loves Slavic culture and hosted two of our delegates.
We arrived at a local bar — no brutal bikers, no old jukebox 😰. The bar owner apologetically explained to Betsy, that he had only a new jukebox…
“Ah, let’s then visit my 82 year-old friend. She is owner of an liquor shop here”. And I saw the elegant grannie in an authentic liquor store covered with old-style posters.
Early that day Betsy negotiated a private excursion in the local theatre, walked us to her friend in the nice glass-shop and passed by peace demonstrators who knew her. Betsy doesn’t have 5000 Facebook friends, but I bet she knows more people in the real life than we have in our online world.
People are Different. Get Rid of Your Biases
👻How often have you seen senior people or girls with children at local tech events? I’m an active member of Ukrainian IT community and it’s a rare case here. Our community mostly consist of young hipsters — engineers, designers, techies and business folks. That’s not how it works in Wisconsin.
* * *
Some people have sun inside them. When they come into the room, they put vibes of energy, happiness, loudness and enthusiasm everywhere. Amy Pietsch, startup community leader and organizer of our meetings in Wisconsin is a such person. She invited us to talk to local entrepreneurs, who took part in her E-seed startup program. I was waiting to meet hipster-like startup folks 😎
But I saw senior female entrepreneurs, who looked very different from my biased “startup-type”... Some of them have already launched their companies or built MVPs. Some attended startup events or invented creative ways of dealing with product returns. I was surprised.
* * *
The days were full of cool meetings with Wisconsin companies, incubator, coworking spaces and government tech institutions. Our super-active Amy proposed that we take part at 1 Million Cups. It’s a weekly meetup for getting feedback on early-stage startups. I often pitch at Ukrainian startup crash tests, meetups or tech conferences. So I expected to see “real startup folks” there.
But I saw an extremely diverse community: entrepreneurs with children, college workers, investors, senior people, some hipster-like folks. 😯 I was surprised again…
* * *
One late evening I asked Natalie and Bob, what keeps United States united (we often bombed our host family with weird questions). Natalie mentioned government organization and a culture of equal rights. Indeed, why did diversity in the Wisconsin entrepreneur community surprised me so much? All people are different and equal. Young age and a unicorn t-shirt don’t make you a better entrepreneur.
Live in Your Dream
So, what is the American Dream?
For Natalie and Bob, the American Dream is to be with people they love, to live in the place they love and do the job they love 💑. They have built their American Dream and enjoy living in it. “Zen lifestyle”, as Anastasia called it.
If the happiness is a journey, why do we make things so complicated?
😤 As a startup founder I constantly feel myself under pressure — deadlines, competition, bugs, fixes, chances, social expectation from family, uncertain financial future… An endless race to build my dream. But if I take away all of this depressing stuff, I live a life full of challenges and goals. Every day I learn so much! I have an opportunity to meet amazing people and take part in cool programs, like Open World. This would not be possible if I hadn’t started my company.
Sometimes it’s very important to get out of your daily race and look around. Maybe, you just forget how to notice happiness, smiling people, beautiful nature and really important moments in life.
You May Say I’m a Dreamer…
You could think, that I’m biased. That I was lucky to meet only “good” Americans. Or that I could meet such people everywhere on the globe. Or you have already known everything I wrote about. You might be right :) But it’s always good to be reminded about small things that make us better.
If my thoughts made your day a bit brighter, please, consider giving me your 💚 green heart. Thank you.