Startup Catalyst Download #1

Matt De Bono
Nov 14, 2017 · 5 min read

Where to even begin… In the space of five weeks, I went from hoping I got accepted to the Startup Catalyst Youth Mission, to getting selected and frantically arranging flights/money/visa, to spending 10 days in San Francisco with 21 incredible humans. The rollercoaster might have finally stopped, but my head is definitely still spinning.

I guess we’ll start with the elephant in the room.

What is Imposter Syndrome?
Put simply, it’s the feeling of “why the hell did they choose me?”

I felt that from day 1, even before getting on the plane, and it took me about two days to have my first #realtalk conversation with Peter, our team leader. I told him point blank, I have no idea why I’m here or why I was chosen, and he told me exactly why. I had a number of similar conversations on the trip, and as helpful as it was to talk about it, and voice those feelings, no amount of talking would make that feeling go away.

And you know the funny part? Throughout the trip, I found out almost every other person in the cohort felt like an imposter at some point too, that they didn’t deserve to be there.

So you know what I did? I said “fuck it”. Whether I thought I measured up to all these other people was irrelevant, I was there, no backsies. After that first conversation with Peter, I decided not to let Imposter Syndrome hold me back, to give every day my all, and get everything I possibly could out of the mission.

And I did :)

Why was I there?

Early on we were all asked to write down “why are you on this mission?”, “what do you hope to get out of it?”

For some people that was easy; meeting a certain person, going to a certain place, etc. Me? I had no idea, all I knew is that I wanted to be a Catalyst Future Founder.

Eventually I decided “it doesn’t matter”. It didn’t matter that I had no idea, I’d figure it out along the way like I always do, and over 10 days I came up with some questions I wanted to answer:

  • What do I want to focus on? What direction do I want to take when I get home?
    Figuring out what the hell to do with ourselves was a recurring theme for a lot of the cohort, and for me that question has a heap of subquestions.
  • What is my “why”?
    I’ve asked myself this before, but Catalyst brought it to the forefront again. My driving force is helping people to “be better”, which is why I’ve done so much volunteering, and I love teaching. The problem isn’t figuring out “why”, but figuring out how to harness it in a direction that I will be happy with.

Neither of these questions have answers just yet, and I’ll probably return to them in another post.

What did I learn?

As you can imagine, 10 days of high intensity activities comes with some learning. Here’s my initial takeaways from the trip: beliefs that have been confirmed or shaken, and what I’ve personally internalised so far.

1. Silicon Valley is as high intensity as it sounds.
Things just feel “faster” there, which is a massive contrast to the chill, laid back environment of Australia.

2. San Francisco is full of tech people.
Someone phrased it perfectly: “if you throw a stone in any direction, you’ll probably hit the CEO of something.”
San Francisco is nuts when it comes to people. One night at a bar, I met a bunch of people from the YouTube UX team, including the lead designer. One night we took a wrong turn, and were helped by a technical lead at AutoDesk.
The people/companies you want to meet are so easily accessible, it’s not about how to meet them, it’s what you’ll say when you do.

1. Startups are soul-crushing and emotionally draining.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand startups aren’t easy. But they also don’t need to be as hard as people make them out to be. There are resources everywhere to help you on the way, and so many people (especially in Silicon Valley) who are happy to give you their time. Startups are a different kind of challenge, but they’re just a challenge.

2. Everyone in San Francisco is world-class.
Obviously this is not true, but Silicon Valley gets put on such a pedestal that it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t fit the “mould”. Yes, there are plenty of people who are world-class, and kicking goal after goal. But we also met, talked to, and worked with plenty of people who don’t.
I guess the moral of this story is Silicon Valley is just a place, and has the same kind of people you’d meet anywhere else.

What has changed about me?
1. Be Driven
The simplest thing I took away was a sense of urgency, and a desire to “do”. Before getting to San Francisco I would always um and ah about things, leave tasks to the last minute, or avoid them entirely.
After 10 days of non-stop action and high intensity, it kind of lit a fire under me to stop thinking and start doing. I’ve only been back a few days, but I’ve already made that change, and done things I would’ve avoided before Catalyst.

That drive and motivation is one of the things I will be working hard to keep.

2. Do Important Shit
Most of the places we visited and the people we met were solving massive problems, with global markets. I already knew I wanted to leave a mark on the world, but Catalyst reinforced that drive.

How will I do that? No clue. But hopefully answering all these questions, and keeping these two takeaways in mind, will point me in the right direction.

The End

You made it to the end! Honestly I have no idea if any of this makes sense, but it’s a start. There’s still a hell of a lot more to write about, and a lot of things to process, so this is definitely the first of many…

The simplest message I can leave for my first post? Startup Catalyst was one of the best experiences of my life, with some incredibly talented, amazing people, and I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

Until next time!

San Francisco

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