From Split to Silicon Valley
For all the non-US founders – how we made a leap as a VR company, from Croatia to US.
This post is overdue — it should have been posted sooner. Having said that, here it is. A young team’s strange, erotic journey from Split to Silicon Valley.
Yes, Seinfeld reference.
Working on a startup is hard. It takes patience, resourcefulness, money and most importantly — the right people. At SpaceSys, we are building a paradigm-shifting user interface with one goal in our mind — productivity. Virtual Reality is the ultimate 3D computing facilitator. Our passion for this technology goes back to early hardware prototypes. VR is certainly a promising technology, riding a wave of enthusiasm, following web and smartphone epochs. It has a huge potential, but if you happen to be stuck in a country with no technology market, no venture capital, or proper capital of any kind for that matter — you have only one option: think outside of the box. In this case — think globally. Yes, Silicon Valley is a mindset, a clichéd phrase promising success to all those inspiring entrepreneurs worldwide. But the saying is somewhat hollow, because replicating SV is close to impossible. It’s doable, but not always possible and people often get misguided. So we had to take a leap.
DISCLOSURE — I’m not saying you need SV to succeed, but it sure helps.
While researching about how to move from Croatia to US, a few impending obstacles rose to the surface — finance, visa, housing, legal, etc. While preparing for the necessary steps ahead, something odd happened one day. By happenstance, I left a comment on a media company website. So you know how they say when you work for it, when you dream of it, one way or another, results have to show? Well, what happened next was exactly that; a promising young VC from Bay Area saw my ‘rather preposterous’ comment, downloaded our stuff and reached out to me. He was amazed by what he saw. A few days and a couple of emails later, I’m in my flip flops, on a remote Croatian island, Skyping with this guy about how to get us to the US, as painlessly as possible. Due to our situation, he recommended a prominent technology accelerator, operated by a friend of his. Now was the time to make a case to Boost VC.
Boost VC — As stated officially:
We are a family of founders making sci-fi a reality. We invest $10k-$100k in exchange for 7% of the company. We seek passionate technologists from around the world for our accelerator in Silicon Valley. We give our companies a place to live & work, an unparalleled network, and time to focus on their startup. We are deeply committed to helping educate and accelerate entrepreneurs as they build a technology company.
I am not able to provide details on this — after all, it’s on you to make it work. If you can’t do that, you are not ready yet. Which is also a good thing — work on the necessary steps further.
After a series of interviews, presentations and product validations, next in line were visa stuff. And being the biggest issue, we had to acquire a set of documents to provide at the US embassy and prove the reasoning for our journey. It was the first step and Boost VC was extremely helpful about it.
Welcome to the Bay Area
After an excruciating 24 hour flight featuring a long delay in Frankfurt, my team and I arrive in front of the 8-stories building in San Mateo, as complete strangers, just some ridiculously tall Croatians ready to share their passion with the world. A smiling face welcomes us warmly, a kind stranger who seems to be familiar with everything. John Voorhees was the name. Now a close friend of mine, you could tell immediately that there’s something special about this person.
It’s past 10 pm, almost all stores are closed. But John is taking us to the nearest Walgreens, to pick up some necessities. It’s night, but the place is vibrant, you can feel the excitement in the air.
Amazing. Let’s hustle.
Coming down from our 7th floor room, you cross a street and enter a perfectly ordinary building, at least from the outside. But, inside should come with a warning: game-changing companies within. Walking through the big glass door, you see a spectacular co-working space, walls filled with superhero posters, and a variety of people deeply focused on their screens. I already feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I descend the stairs in front of me.
The next sight was probably the best facility technology-wise, I’ve ever seen. Initially used as a basement (hence the name), it is now a hi-tech futuristic facility designed to achieve the maximum from its inhabitants. The furniture is clean and minimal, yet everything is cleverly stacked and arranged, my inner nerd is chuckling like crazy. VR and AR technology litter the place, like some kind of freakish lab from the sci-fi future. Might as well be. Everything appears to be in order, yet you feel some kind of mental chaos ready to shake you off your feet.
If someone teleported you inside of an office with a bunch of likeminded people, eager to push you over the edge to make you get your dream, would you be slacking or reluctant for even a second in your conquest to impact the world? No, it is impossible. You have to do it. And while you are working on your dream, every single day, important people are walking past your table, and you can grab them by their sleeve (sleeve is enough), introduce yourself and pitch them your business. Sounds like Silicon Valley. It is.
The people, the hustle
Looking back, the key to Boost VC success is definitely the people, more precise the way everything is structured and focused around them. Hustle will get you far, but multiply it by the right people — you will go far beyond you can imagine.
Every Wednesday we get together in a big conference room in the Basement and we present what we’ve done in the past week, how others can help us and what we have learned from our mistakes. This helps to focus and pushes you to constantly iterate and advance step by step. Maddie and the rest of the Boost team will do their best to push you further almost every single day.
Everybody is able to add some ‘touch’ to your project — being a design reference, or solving that bug in your code, or maybe referring you to someone you need, etc. And when you spend time with those same people, over time your bond grows, you begin to mutually grow and crazy things can happen.
And it’s not just the founders — regularly you get to experience amazing speakers and you get to learn from mentors such as: Tim Draper, Philip Rosedale, Shiraz Akmal, Meron Gribetz, Karl Krantz and all of the other fantastic mentors at Boost VC.
Opportunities present themselves on a daily basis. Acclaimed investors coming down to listen some impromptu pitches, just another day in the office. Boost efficiently facilitates the whole Silicon Valley community, especially the VR and blockchain industry and you need to make a best of it, create a momentum and show what you’ve got. SHOW. Even if you think it’s still early, it probably isn’t, so spread the word like your burn rate depends on it. Working in a basement is the place to be, and you should use it as the center of your operations, but spreading out and regularly attending meetups and events is also a must do.
Applying a dynamic lifestyle is highly appreciated — don’t hesitate to do a demo in downtown SF in the morning, and later that day do the same in San Jose. There are no limits, you should always take a chance to show up and do your thing. And it’s crazy the way people are connected, never take anyone for granted. That person you randomly met at some event might be best friends with that investor you’ve been meaning to contact. Always be pitching.
Networking, creating and nurturing new relationships is a daily job, but sometimes you have to relax.
Mediterranean people love food so much, we couldn’t help but reorganize a typical office kitchen into our little cooking sanctuary. Our Italian friend Tommaso (Stampery Inc.) lead the way with his knowledge and all around genuine optimism. Besides hustling and cooking, we used to explore SF on bikes together — a great way to experience the city and make new friends. Remember, the random person standing next to you in the middle of the street could be working closely with Mark Zuckerberg. It’s friggin’ Silicon Valley.
Free food is also nice perk -some days you just get a huge food box as a token of gratitude from another entrepreneur.
Virtual Reality does not cease to amaze people all over the world. We as founders, on the frontier of this amazing technology, get to experience it all of the time. And with all the hardware at our hands, we couldn’t help but organize regular VR tournaments.
Power of the Valley
Scene 1: Marriot Hotel, San Jose. I am looking at the deck of one of the most funded startups off all time, a document buried under hundreds of NDAs which individuals had to sign just to have a glance at it. I am browsing through slides, rather quickly and nervously, as the voice standing above me urges I should not be taking photos, only what I can remember is what I can carry with me. So I’m rushing through document, taking mental notes, rapidly going slide after slide, my brain is at 100% razor-sharp focus. Later that night, it’s 3 am, and I’m rushing to the basement, to fill those whiteboard walls with my steaming brain cells.
Scene 2: NYC, Bloomberg headquarters, 31st floor. I am presenting SpaceSys to Bloomberg engineers, discussing how their number one product, the hardware pinnacle of this renowned financial institution, can be significantly improved with a 3D computing interface. This is one of those moments you feel like you’re on top of the world. Because in one way, you might as well be.
Scene 3: The opportunity to be invited to one of the greatest venture funds of all time is a privilege of its own. Az16 is an amazing institution.
Scene 4: Playing basketball on Facebook campus, and browsing through their facility is only possible if you are a part of the community.
Resiliency — Be the Cockroach
Back when I was filling the application for Boost VC, it had one particular line asking: “If you could describe yourself with one skill, what would it be?”. Without blinking, I furiously typed in: RESILIENCY. It’s the skill I acquired instinctively as a child already and it followed me closely ever since. I have failed many times, and I never did lose faith along the road. And I keep on failing. But I am also bouncing back from those fails quicker and stronger every time it happens. Working closely with entrepreneurs and investors puts you in a position to learn and fall. Both are fine. They should be accepted as equal. As long as you learn from your mistakes, of course. Boost VC opens many doors and sometimes you can come in without even ‘knocking’, but you have to make sure you know who’s behind the door and what’s-in-it-for-them. Otherwise, you might be pitching to the wrong person, wasting your and their time, when you could be talking to your perfect-fit customer. You know, a person or a company actually willing to PAY for your shit. But the point is — fail, but keep on knocking, because your failures are laying a foundation for the actions you might take, which could propel you into success.
This is it. You’ve been preparing for months now. You are ready to go out there, look the audience in their eyes and make them remember your words and thinker about the grand vision. A variety of people will walk down the basement excited to be a part of something promising just like what you might be building.
The basement is full, you can feel the tension in the air, what used to be a regular working spot is now a world renowned stage just for you and your startup. Cameras are on, and the excitement is close to the peak. You are pumped up, ready to go up there and kill it, forget the nonsense ordinary people tell you. You’ve got this.
What lies ahead?
We are on a journey to prove that Virtual Reality is a prominent technology that can and will be an integral part of our everyday development and creative process. The future of the workplace is set to be defined by 3D computing as technology advances faster and computing power finally becomes ubiquitous and omnipotent. The quest for more natural, human-like interaction with computer programs was never as relevant as recently. SpaceSys is designed to maximize productivity and enhance the way we interact with data. We are excited for the future ahead. After the initial Boost program I continued traveling back and forth, working on our dream to change the way people use their computers.
In the end, what you cherish the most are memories. And these memories of my time at Boost are filled with people — smart, creative, generous individuals, who dare to create what someone once said was impossible. We are now a WORLDWIDE badass family of founders who dare to create the unthinkable. And you work for it, 24/7. And you have fun too:
Want to make Sci-fi a reality? Apply at Boost VC now.