Silicon Valley — a Blackboxer’s point of view
The desire of a tech startup to pitch at Silicon Valley is almost similar to that of a budding cricketer dreaming to play at Lords or a talented sprinter to run at the Olympics. The expectations are sky high and the stage can be overwhelming at most occasions. When we got an opportunity to be in the hub of tech startups in the world, we had mixed emotions.
Although we were thrilled at the chance to be at the centre of a highly developed eco-system of tech startups, we were nervous if we would or would not be able to become a part of it. But, the best thing about people in the Valley, which we found out as soon as we landed there, is that the first thing they do is make connections on a very personal level which relaxes you completely and calm your nerves to the core. You are ready then to tell the world what makes you different and better.
Blackbox Connect Program is, in our view, the closest that you can experience the Valley in 2 weeks. The Blackbox team, including Fadi, Sanita and others have organised the programme in such a way that companies get a complete flavour of what is it to be a tech startup in the Silicon Valley. Starting with sessions from Adam Cheyer, Co-founder at Siri, Obi Felten from GoogleX, Marissa Mayer and Eric Schmidt chatting about “How Google Works” to entrepreneurs who have come from different places and set up their companies in California, each session was packed with a lot of important learnings.
Two particular sessions that made a huge impact on us were from Mike Maples and Bill Joos. Mike is an angel investor, who has funded companies like Twitter, Lyft and others. There was a lot of emotions in each and every word he spoke. As an entrepreneur hearing Mike was almost like hearing your national anthem as a soldier. He mentioned how one should see opportunities, both from an investor’s and an entrepreneur’s point of view. One of his thoughts were that as an entrepreneur one should focus and spend energy on only opportunities which can become huge if everything works out. As entrepreneurs, the effort spent in running a startup and taking it to a successful level is high, hence one should make sure that that success is worth the effort. In a nutshell, if you don’t think that your startup can create a dent in the universe if everything works out, you should stop doing it. As entrepreneurs, our time is very valuable and we should spend it wisely. This reflects the thinking of a lot of investors and mentors whom we met.
The other remarkable session was Bill Joos’ “Life’s A Pitch” where Bill explained how a startup founder has to pitch at all points in life and how important it is to prepare your different sets of pitches. Throughout this session, we got to learn a lot about our own startup and how people make opinions from the way you pitch. Bill had a lot of very practical tips in between his sessions which he called “AH HA!” moments and imbibing them into your day-to-day pitching makes a lot of difference in getting a level of clarity about your venture and exposing relevant parts at relevant points of time.
The most awesome thing about Blackbox was, of course, the founders from around the world who came together for the programme. This was our first experience of interacting with international startups and we thought we all had a lot in common, which made the bonding easy. Fadi mentioned that he had spent a lot of time and effort just to select the companies and it showed in the programme. It was a unique mix of different stage startups, all having different problems, but having a commonality which bound us together. From the small talks after each session to the demo day eve where everyone kicked in to help other startups refine their pitch, it was a great experience to be surrounded by so many accomplished people and we came out of the programme making friends from almost all parts of the world. Finally, on the demo day, we had to pitch and showcase our product in a garage to an audience comprising of advisors, mentors, investors and entrepreneurs. The pitch went well and we got some good feedback and appreciation from the people. It was another instance where people connections and relationships factor of Silicon Valley took front stage as there were no slides, videos or demos, just pure talking and connecting with people.
We stayed in the Valley for another 3 weeks after the program in order to meet more people in our domain and gain more understanding about running companies. We went to offices of Google, Facebook and Microsoft to learn how these giants of the Silicon Valley create a comfortable and highly efficient zone of working for their employees. We also came across BootUp ventures, an accelerator in Menlo Park. We got a great opportunity to meet all partners there and pitch our product. We were given a chance to work from there during our stay and saw how the eco-system is ready to help startups by connecting with right set of audience that they need. We met few interesting companies throughout our journey including InMobi and IGG.com and get their perspective too.
To sum it up, according to us, the startup ecosystem is highly developed in Silicon Valley and people get to actual pain points faster, which is why we see more successful companies there. Although the approach is the same throughout the world, people in valley are lot more open to experiment, which makes it that much faster for a startup to understand the value that they want to provide. Such ecosystem also helps in quickly adapting and changing your products if you feel that it is not solving the right problem. The most important part of being there is creating relationships and connections with people in the community and sharing your vision, because people tend to help you if you can align them with your vision. Also, the community is ready to help but you should exactly know what is it that you want. I would like to end by a famous slide by Fadi during a session from the Blackbox program — “It’s not what you know, It’s not who you know, It’s who KNOWS YOU!” and we believe we added a lot of people to that list during our visit.