7 Things I Learned From A Week In Silicon Valley

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and in just seven days immersing myself in the renowned hub of startups and innovation, I learned a lot.

Like, a lot.

  1. Silicon Valley is not some magical homeland where everything turns to gold. You come here, you work your butt off and you grind to stay alive. It’s an extremely concentrated, oversaturated place that is oozing with startups left, right, and centre. So, in order to stand out, you really gotta differentiate yourself and prove that you can stick around for a long time. Yes, this place is home to many successful companies, but in order to do that, you have to sink or swim. You’re thrown to the wolves, and you have to compete with the best to stay in the game.
  2. Valuations mean nothing. Or, put better, they’re not as deterministic or sexy as they may seem. They’re (often inflated) projections of what a company might be worth, based on a variety of factors such as plans for monetization, product/market fit, user base, growth, retention, and so on. But slapping a billion-dollar valuation on a company that has no idea how it’s even going to make revenue, and thinking you can go out and do the same overnight, is just silly. It’s really not that easy. So stop oohing and aahing over them — just because you’ve raised a certain amount of money and set a valuation based on that, that doesn’t just mean you can sit back and life is all good. A high valuation means there’s a ton of work to be done to live up to that dollar figure, and the companies themselves will tell you that.
  3. Whatever you’re doing, someone else is doing more. Or doing it better. People are working full-time jobs at major tech companies here and hacking away on multiple side projects at the same time. And they have a ton of insight to offer on what the ‘magical’ world of startups is really like. Being smack in the centre of the tech world, they’re fully immersed in that culture. I came here thinking I knew a lot about startups, entrepreneurship, and innovation. While in a relative context, you could say I might, but in reality, there’s so much room for growth. So boy, was I wrong. I have a lot to learn.
  4. CEO’s are just regular human beings. It might sound silly, but think about it. How often do we, especially at this age, get caught up in the craze of C-level titles, because of the allure of the prestige and stature? Sure, a CEO is indeed the head of an organization, but at the end of the day, they’re just regular human beings, like me and you, with a strong sense of visionary leadership, and who are applying those skills to head up a company and guide it to success. Many of the CEO’s I’ve met have been some of the most humble, humble, kind, generous, and down-to-earth people I’ve ever met in my entire life. So when they hear you’re obsessing over “networking with CEO’s”, they’re laughing at you. They really could care less about their title. And to be honest, they might not be the best person for you to speak to or learn from — dependent on your situation, of course. They care about what they’re actually doing, and what their company is doing. So think about that, the next time you fantasize over the captivation of rubbing shoulders with a “C-level executive.”
  5. The world is becoming increasingly more automated. I landed at SFO, tapped a button and an Uber came and picked me up. On Monday morning, I opened EAT Club and told it what I wanted for lunch for the rest of the week, and showed up right at noon on my desk every day. Later that afternoon, I opened Instacart, found a cool recipe, and all the ingredients showed up at my door that evening. I had some laundry that needed to be done, so I opened Washio and it picked up and dropped off my clothes, freshly clean, in under 24 hours. I needed something from the Apple Store but had no time to go, so I opened Postmates and got it delivered to me under an hour later. Anyways, my point is, the on-demand and sharing economy is here, and it’s changing the game. One-tap gestures have become these powerful, meaningful actions that makes a bunch of stuff happen behind the scenes so your convenience is served.
  6. Ideas are the currency here. Everywhere you go, people are pitching new startup ideas or brainstorming ways to solve real problems through making an impact. The culture there is infectious, and it inspires and drives you to flex your creative muscles and really think outside the box. You’ll see things in new ways you never thought could be possible, merely based on the way people converse here — it rubs off on you in this inexplicable way. But ideas are indeed a dime and a dozen, and ultimately it’s how you execute on them that will determine their fate.
  7. People, especially in the startup industry, are always willing to help you. No matter what, you can always find someone to introduce you to someone to get a favour. Want to meet someone? Figure out how they can best help you: getting mentorship, learning about their paths, career advice, personal growth — whatever it may be. But stop thinking that you are not important enough or not worth or deserving of their time. Everyone was in your shoes at one point in their lives, so they know what it’s like. In fact, they’re actively looking to help people like you. But most people are just too shy or not confident enough to ask for their time or for help. The reality is, though, they’re waiting for people like you to come forward and will give you so much respect for doing so. So never hesitate to reach out to someone — you never know what it could lead to!