Balkan mindset vs Silicon Valley practice

Living at NASA, meeting Apple Co-founder & attending Facebook conference

At Stanford University. Credits Kristina

I will share 4 stories from my stay in Silicon Valley, because I genuinely think that I need to put into words how challenging the structure and environment in SV is, and at the same time, how empowering and liberating it was for me.

But First, Why Silicon Valley?🌁

Irena N. Chaushevska and I, are the global organizers of the International Space Apps Challenge Hackathon in Silicon Valley, as a Mainstage location, for 2 years now. This hackathon runs in more than 180 cities in the world, and we have been bringing amazing results for 5 years on total of 15 locations.

So how did I manage in just 3 weeks, to meet Steve Wozniak, attend F8, live in NASA Ames and build 340 leads for #SpaceApps in a place that I am not resident in?

Keep on reading..

1. Do we need a switch of mindset? 🌎

Finding the dream house.

I arrived in SF and went towards my first destination — The One and Only, Rainbow Mansion — An Intentional Community of People working to Optimize the Galaxy. And high in a hill overlooking Silicon Valley, I found this amazing “Sims” type of a house, with a beautiful Japanese garden in the front yard.

Picture of Rainbow Mansion, from

I could NOT believe my eyes, because that was the house that I will spend my next week in. 😲

Changing the world?

In my tour of the house, I instantly fell in love with the garage, which is a makeshift hardware lab where Mainsonities (As some call them) have built more than a few startups, and one of them is Deep Space. That night I found out that this house was a co-op, where the residents are mostly from the space or tech industry (many of them Space engineers at NASA), working and living together, and in the same time bringing the best events for the community. If you want to live at the Rainbow Mansion, the residents will say, that you have to want to change the world and not settle for a regular 9–5 job.

Okay, that just got more interesting!

Dinner at 7pm.

This is my most favorite experience there, among others.

Every Sunday, the residents bring the community in their home, to discuss space related topics over dinner. And after that, everyone needs to give an answer to the question of the night. That night, the question was:

“ What did you take for granted when you were younger, that you would pay now to take it back?”

Wow. I really didn’t know what to say. But as the other guests started to speak, I realized something. Most of the people were older than me and the things that they shared with us, contained: loss of family members, need for constant imagination, more time with their family, happiness, determination to achieve their goals, etc… I figure it out that those things that they couldn’t take back are the things that I am going trough now. And my answer to that question?

That I don’t want to take for granted the things that I have in this present moment, so in the future, I won’t be looking back at my life with regrets.

Lesson 1:

Comparing my experience from Macedonia with Silicon Valley’s culture, there is enormous difference in peoples relations and habits. Not to be offensive (and I am including myself in this statement as well), but by living with these people I clearly saw that we need to improve our communities and invest in our professional and social skills a lot more than we think we should. We definitely have improved in the past 3 years and our startup scene is growing, but I can’t imagine Rainbow Mansion happening in Macedonia anytime soon. Is there someone to help change the mindset?

2. There is always a way. ✊

Facebook Conference struggle

Since my role in #SpaceApps was to hack the way to more participants, I started to put a plan for events and people with whom I need to speak. Among others, I applied to F8, Facebook Developers Conference. And got rejected. I reached out to my friends to find an invitation for me. I got invited. They accepted me. I had to pay ~600$ 😬, so I started to look for other options. Found that I can participate as a media correspondent. Calling my friend from a media agency. He puts a recommendation for me and we sent that to the PR team to FB. I got rejected again. They don’t have any spots left. We are calling them. They say Macedonia is not on their target group.

… “I will get there no matter what.”

Not so prepared.

I woke up around 6am at the day of the conference, got ready and went there. I still didn’t have the registration ticket. I just went without a plan. As soon as I arrived to the location I asked at the registration table if I am on the press list. They told me that I need to go to the press room. The press registrations were on the back side of the building. I didn’t get out of the building, just walked through.🙄 Got the chance to speak with company representatives and developers. Went to one presentation. Eventually I got to the press room and guess what, I wasn’t on their list. Obviously. I needed to leave.

Second chance?

Then something amazing happened. I got a message from a friend, saying that he is going to be out of the conference for 5 hours. Want to give me his badge, because he saw how determined I am.

I went there INSTANTLY.

I consulted one of the security guards and they said it is okay to use that badge for a period of time. Green light!🚦I went to every presentation in those 5 hours, mostly related to VR, content distribution and Facebook and Instagram’s ways of connecting businesses and people.

I felt powerful.

Lesson 2:

We need to use the benefits from living in the Balkans. We know how to hustle and we have the practice in doing so. We just need to understand that people from Silicon Valley aren’t as different as we think they are… And yes, every time, I prove to myself, that there is ALWAYS A WAY.

3. No fear is bigger than real action #SpaceApps 🚀

Girl (Hidden figures) gang. Credits Kristina

Doing it over the years.

These girls didn’t happen to be the main organizers for #SpaceApps just like that.

Four years before this was possible (although it was always on our mind), we had been building a community of space enthusiasts mainly in the Balkans, but more so, we were connecting the dots for a bigger collaboration on a global scene.

That effort brought us here.

The results from that effort? They are just not comparable to what I was thinking of doing with my life 5 years ago….

That effort surprised NASA HQ when they put Skopje as the first location with biggest number of projects in 2014. That effort surprised them when they saw our team attending rocket launch in Cape Canaveral in 2015. And that effort surprised them, when Avis, team from Skopje was competing for global award in 2016.

From NASA Ames to Big Success

One week before the event we went to live in NASA Ames Research Center.

Can you imagine my happiness in that moment? Ask my friends.

That week, we were sleeping only 3 hours at night, and doing amazing things the rest of the time. We had two goals.

First, to bring relevant people from the space community for the BootCamp conference, and Second, to build an audience of minimum 100 participants.

What happened? We had 320+ applicants and more than 30 speakers on the panels. And I just got the results from our evaluation sheets. It shows 4.3.

It feels amazing. Thank you.

Fear can’t be found in the way of greatness

This is actually our second year to organize the hackathon in Silicon Valley. And since last year, I was really surprised when I didn’t have the trouble to negotiate or arrange resources for the event with tech or space companies.

“I am really surprised how this meeting felt like an ordinary thing for me. And by thinking that, I am wondering what is the thing that I will have stage-fright from?” — I told Irena, when we closed a meeting with one big company there.
“You will get used to it. That is a sign that you believe in what you are doing. So nobody can prove you wrong. And no fear is present.” — she replied.

This year? The same.

Lesson 3:

Never doubt your potential to do great things. The fear that you are feeling before is only present until the moment that you take action. After that, everything is bliss. And you would know the right thing, I promise you. You will fell it, anytime, everywhere. And no one can prove you wrong.

4. Don’t pretend to be unreachable or busy🙅

Wozniak in the corner

I put my space suit and went to Silicon Valley Comic Con. Got inside in the biggest room. Got closer to the booths. A man turned with his back at us was putting his personal belongings in his bag. He turned around. It was Steve Wozniak, Apple’s Co-founder. Hi Steve! I froze. He greeted us and went to the conference room for his closing speech. I followed the crowd there. I still can’t forget his comment on the stage:

“I want to always look back at my roots. If you werent here, I wouldn’t be here as well. You create who am I, right here, and right now. Thank you for that.”

He was so ordinary. Settled down. He even mentioned Apple and Steve Jobs. How they made a difference in the world.

He looked very happy.

Me and Dr. Patricia A. Jacobberger, NASA HQ, Earth Science Division

Everyone that I met there— the same!

NASA HQ representatives and space engineers. Ex director of NASA Ames Research Center. Director of Space Portal at NASA. Phd researchers from Stanford. And many more..

Everyone of them, attended our conference by our invitation, and offered collaboration and even gave some resources to the participants.

Nobody asked them. They just recognized the value from it.

Hacking the way to the best growth hacker

Last day. Got the train to SF. Went to the city to meet the best growth hacker in town. I couldn’t believe that I actually put up a meeting with him.

I tried to share with him the neediness of people from the Balkan to achieve great things with little resources. The struggle and the hustle that we need to make everyday. The meeting went amazing.

Again, he was just as approachable as any of this “big” names there. Get informed who he is, he will maybe visit us soon.

Lesson 4:

By living in Macedonia, I have felt that people often tend to make themselves unreachable as they go professionally successful. And all these people that I met in SV, didn’t follow that pattern. They were normal and approachable. They knоw the importance of being open to meet more people, because you never know from which direction new opportunity will come.

To (finally) finish

Take care and remember that there are #nolimits, unless you create them.🚀