10 things I learned in Silicon Valley

Place matters

You can be succesful anywhere in the world, but for certain industries, context can help a lot. For the tech industry this is very true.

One of the things I like the most is waking up and having the first conversation of the day about some new startup that has raised money while having a coffeee in the kitchen of Startup Embassy. Later, answering some emails and reading there’s an event about some interesting stuff you need to know in a place near where you live. At midday you can have lunch at Coupa cafe where you could bump into Michael Arrington or Steve Blank. Work some more during the afternoon and have a drink during the evening at some bar in San Francisco where you meet some really interesting engineers from LinkedIn or UX designers from Youtube. Before going to sleep, you talk with some friends from Singularity University who just moved to Atherton and are now neightbors of Guy Kawasaki (true story…).

This being said, I think Silicon Valley wannabes have to focus more on differentiating and complementing Silicon Valley than copying it. After a meeting with Barcelona Loves Entrepreneurs it’s clear Barcelona has many things to offer to Entrepreneurs around the world (More on that, soon).

Learning learning learning

This would be a conversation I could have any given day in Palo Alto:
– Hey, have you read this thread on Quora about the best practices on UX design? Oh, and this one about how prople works at IDEO?
– Hmmm… No, but I have seen the interview from Kevin Rose to the founder of Tesla about how they are volutionizing the automotive industry.
– Very cool! If you have time, check out this course at Khan Academy on getting investment.
– sounds interesting, I was actually following a branch on that. But I think I’lljust download the angel hack book and read the section about it.
– Anyway, let’s talk later because I’m in the middle of a webinar on how to use this new tool to come up with new revenue sources.

Ideas are important. Execution is key

I have some important news for you: EVERYONE HAS AMAZING IDEAS TO CHANGE THE WORLD but most of them are worthless if they aren’t executed, sorry if that comes as a surprise to you but nobody is going to give anything for your ideas if you aren’t able to turn them into VALUE.

Silicon Valley is all about execution. Great ideas with bad execution end up going nowhere. Mediocre ideas with great execution can change the world.

It doesn’t matter if it already existed or if you had the idea first. It’s about who does it THE RIGHT WAY first. There were mp3 players before the iPod, there were social networks before Facebook, there were smartphone before the iPhone, there were coffee shops before Starbucks… It’s more about the HOW than about the WHAT.

Start now, with whatever you have

If you wait for the perfect context for you to launch your startup somebody is going to do it before you. Even more important, you are not going to do it right the first time you try, so you better start failing now…

The book concept you need to understand is “The Lean Startup”. The idea is to start with a minimum viable product (MVP) that is as easy as possible to launch and pivot (iterate) once you get feedback from your first users. If you can’t get users the way you imagined to get them, just get out to the streets and ask people about your product or service. It’s all about moving fast and adapt to the feedback you get.

I think it’s a great theory and very useful in many ways, but don’t be trapped by the idea of lean. In my opinion, being lean doesn’t mean being crappy, if you can do things well designed with some more effort you should definetelly do it. I don’t think Apple has the Lean philosophy in its DNA. 

Not being technical can be good

It seems that everything is about a secret algorithm, but I (want to) believe that there’s lot of room for humanism and applied arts in Silicon Valley. Not only design, but sociology (Social Media is not about the engineering…), and art, and creativity, and philosphy! etc.

If you are not an engineer, like me, there are lots of ways in which you can add value to the ways things are done in Silicon Valley and the Tech Industry, and ultimately, have the same or more chances to change the world!

Get technical

Being said that not being technical can be good…

Ok, you are not an engineer. You don’t even need to understand what they do, but if you are an Entrepreneur I’d definetely recommend understand the frames in which engineers work. I don’t even think you should be able to execute some technical part, but at least be able to explain in their language what you envision for your startup. ¬∑It’s up to you to decide where to draw the line…

Don’t ask for help, you don’t need it

One of the first things you tend to do when you get to a new place is ask for help. Even not being in a new place, one of the first things I see other first time entrepreneurs do is ask for help. I’m not saying you can’t ask for help, what I’m saying is, most of the times, you don’t need it.

What I suggest is, instead of asking for help, focus all you efforts on finding ways to generate value with you skills and your startup. Generate value in a way that people that might be able to help you will feel the tendency to do it because they like the value resulting from your effort and think you will be able to generate even more value down the road.

If you want to be introduces to somebody, show the people who can introduce you to that person that they can be proud of having been the ones who introduces you to that person; If you want some succesful entrepreneur to pay you attention and give you some advice, make yourself noticeable through value.

If you don’t know how to generate value, you can always find somebody that will share their experiences if they see you are really passionate about what you are doing. If you can’t find anyone, read books like The art of the start or Steve Blank’s and Paul Graham’s blogs.

Need funding? Be well connected, have a history, show traction

Silicon Valley isn’t that different from other parts of the world. Probably one of the main differences is that here investors understand a risky venture like Facebook can be rewarding. But in the end, nobody gives away money for nothing.

Be well connected: Is not going to happen in two days, but if you want it to happen soon, these are my suggestions after what I’ve seen:
Put an effort on your social abilities  It’s not about going to fifteen events a day, but about trying to be authentic when you are in one Have something that might be memorable to other people, wether it’s your attitude, your business card or all the things you know about a certain area. As we talked before, people will introduce you to other people if they see the value you bring with your startup.

Have a history: You maybe haven’t sold three startups before, but keep in mind all the things you have done to get where you are and try to see the things you are doing as a step for the things that are coming. The things you do today will take you where you want to be tomorrow but most people will forget them (being bartender when you were seventeen was important, graphic design when you were nineteen was important, reading all the books on communication you could find when you were twenty one was important, etc.). As much as possible, try to see how you will “connect the dots” in the future.

Show traction: It might sound obvious to you, but after listening to some entrepreneurs you might realise it’s not. The BEST thing you can do for people to pay you attention is showing that real people is using your product or service. That’s not going to be everything, but it’s a VERY good start.

Cafes a great place to make a deal

I haven’t done a million dollar deal in a cafe. This being said, I have learned how important casual meetings can improve communication between people.

It won’t be an easy task, but if we understand that we don’t need ties, elegant wooden tables, glass buildings and fancy auditoriums, maybe we are one step closer to change the world. And I’m not saying those things can’t impress me, I’m saying we could focus more on what’s really important if we didn’t have them.

If they did it, you can too

One of the most important things that happened to me in Silicon Valley was that I demystified many entrepreneurs, NOT because they weren’t as good as I thought or they had some hidden dark side but because they are as humans are we all are. They are just very hard-working people, focused, driven, ambitious and result focused and all that can be learned by most of us if we put ourselves into it. #YesYouCan


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