Since I got involved in the startup community one of my greatest wishes was to spend some time in Silicon Valley, to explore San Francisco and see where ‘the startup magic’ happens.
Let’s talk about destiny and the right things coming to you at the right time…
This Spring, one our incoming #SwissEP short term experts was John Biggs. One of the things we did together was to organize the 1st ever TechCrunch meet up in Skopje.
The winners Letz got 2 tickets and a booth for TC Disrupt San Francisco and I remember saying to John that if an opportunity arises I would also come to ‘the holy grail of tech conferences’. Still not knowing about my YTILI fellowship and Seattle as my placement.
Fast forward to September, where in the same period as my fellowship, TC Disrupt SanFran was taking place. My excitement just skyrocketed. This to me, was an opportunity of a lifetime, especially since I found out that I am the first woman from Macedonia to take part in TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco.
One thing that I’ve learned in the past period is that when you go to conferences (especially big ones) you have to prepare in advance and set your goals. For this time my highest priority was to advocate for the only Macedonian startup there – Letz, and help them in anyway to get connected to investors (since they were in for the Series A round). Second goal was to meet as many highly qualified professionals for our Western Balkans Entrepreneur-in-Residence program. Third goal was to learn more about doing business in the Silicon Valley and of course go to Googleplex and/or Facebook HQ.
Seattle to San Francisco flight was keeping me on my toes, since I couldn’t wait to start this Silicon Valley journey… And once you get through the airport you can see and experience the high tech presence!
Day #1 at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco and Goal #1
With the two founders of Letz, Nino and Martin we got early in the am to Pier48 and arranged the booth in the AI sector of the Startup Alley. Since they already had pre-arranged meetings with investors, my main responsibility was to represent Letz and engage with participants at our booth. It was an experience to be able to story-tell and ‘sell the product’ to maybe more than 1000 people that stopped by the booth that day. One encounter made my day… A lady stopped by the booth and said that she knows Lucy (Letz productivity assistant and 1st character), because her boyfriend keeps on talking with ‘her’. Soon after I learned that this lady, April, works at a Chinese/US VC fund that is investing in AI startups in Series A. That was the right moment for me to share that we are raising up to 1 million US dollars, to which she replied:” Oh, you are raising too little. Our series A is from 3-4 million!”. And I told April that we are here to discuss details, so I immediately connected her with the founders, so they could take the next steps.
Lesson learned: There is an interest of US VC’s for European startups. But, do (Eastern) European startups get valuated less in comparison to US based startups? There are many factors that will impact the valuation, but probably best thing before raising a round is to triple check your valuation. That’s your company that you give equity away from!
Fun Fact: One of my favorite TV Series is Silicon Valley (the geek in me), being able to meet Jared IRL (in real life) was a moment that will be highlighted in my memory for a very long time!
Day 2 and Goal 2: Entrepreneurs in Residence
During the three day conference, I was able to reconnect with friends from different startup communities, as well as to meet many new people. As soon as I shared the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program as an opportunity, they were all interested to dive into more details. The Western Balkan region for the vast majority was an unknown ‘startup’ territory and they didn’t have any idea of what is happening there and how developed the eco-systems actually are. Hopefully many of them will sign up, complete the matching process and come to our four countries to selflessly share their know-how and practical experience.
Lesson learned: Share existing opportunities with as much people as possible.
At the moment you might not be aware of what that could mean or what could turn into. In the long run, everything will make perfect sense. This transatlantic bridge can be strengthened with entrepreneurial support and exchange of expertise.
Fun fact: A guy with the exact same last name as mine approached me, stating this fact. That was a pleasant surprise, to meet someone like that 10 000 km away from where you’re both from. Dimitrije is a young and aspiring entrepreneur with a potential to become an EiR in the following period.
Day 3 and Goal 3: Visiting Googleplex
Some may think that you can show up at Googleplex and roam around. Thanks to my friend Marilyn and her connections, we were introduced to Pablo who works at Google.
This is how the three of us were able to get a guided tour in the complex that is probably as big as my hometown. It was excellent to learn more about the speedy growth of Google and to see how it looks like to work for a huge corporation. There is everything that a person would need at any given time.
Lesson learned: It’s a lot of hard work when you start small to become a giant. Then again, with a well set platform, right timing, supporting system, creating a company culture that retains Millennials you can come close to becoming this giant that Google is now.
Fun fact: At least for 3 hours I felt like I am a Google employee, part of the Google family, grabbing a coffee in one of the snack rooms, riding a Google bike around the campus, talking with employees… It is a surreal feeling, to be at the HQ of something I use in my everyday life!
Silicon Valley lesson learned:
Maybe I had high expectations for San Francisco and Silicon Valley in general, that influenced my overall experience. I was shocked to witness this huge discrepancy of extremely rich people and so many homeless people, in the same streets, in the same urban city… it was heartbreaking. Spending some time in Silicon Valley, SanFran… got me to this realization… Mainly when it comes to #3: Recognize that business and society are together—not in separate worlds!
Hopefully by next time I’m there, some things will be changed, for the better…