We had an accelerated jump into our second official week of work, welcoming Publicfast, Sensfix, Smart Mimic and Teleporter to our office. Most of the accommodation issues that we had in the first week will most likely extend to the first couple of weeks with every coming startup. However, given our experience and more advanced understanding of how housing and accommodation works in Palo Alto, we are more confident in our ability to assist the startups joining the team later. The second week is designated for setting goals and deadlines, continuing deep dives, having our first Silicon Valley Founder talk and professional workshop. Most importantly, we are really excited for our kickoff event on Friday June 1st in our office. The event will involve delicious pizza, snacks, beverages and multiple networking opportunities with founders, investors, and entrepreneurs; a great opportunity for our teams to fully immerse themselves into the Valley’s atmosphere and a chance for our program to introduce itself to the Valley community.
On Monday, we welcomed guests coming all the way from Turkey’s Mentor Effect who have been closely monitoring the program. They got a chance to share the startups’ enthusiasm about the program and got a chance to hear more on our mentors Jeff and Chris’s goals and plans for this program. Chris, who is also the coauthor of the bestseller book “The Alliance” with Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman, had his first session with the startups and our guests, and utilized this session to introduce the concept of Blitz-scaling and company assessments. He defined “Blitzscaling”, which is also the name of his book coming out this year, as the pursuit of rapid growth by prioritizing speed over efficiency in the face of uncertainty. Chris elaborated on certain things to watch out for during the blitzscaling process such as sometimes having to do things that are counterintuitive and non-scalable and understanding that the blitzscaling process is a relative and individualized one. We also introduced a guest speaker: Kashi Tahir, a product strategist at Facebook. Kashi acknowledged that coming to Silicon Valley, an area bursting with people coming from schools with big names, or big companies is definitely intimidating. But people here are incredibly helpful regardless, because “today’s entrepreneurs are tomorrow’s billionaires in the Valley.” To get a head start in this atmosphere, “you have to be nice because your reputation follows you everywhere”, “don’t go to people just to meet them without having a specific request”, and turn the table around by “asking people how you can help them”. We concluded the session by going around the table and sharing stories of failure and embarrassment as well as moments of triumph. This gave the teams the opportunity to get to know each other in a more intimate level and have some fun.
Following the mentoring session, we conducted individual interviews with the teams to reflect on their experience in the program so far as well as their expectations about their companies for the near future. When asked how their first day/week all teams responded with enthusiasm and positive energy. They were all astonished by how friendly everyone is and were intrigued by the prospect of collaboration this program can inspire. “It’s off a very busy start from day 1, I am honestly overwhelmed,” says Balaji Renukumar from Sensfix. Teams also responded to the possible challenge of having to adapt/pivot their business model to the US market as the current model might not necessarily work in this novel platform. Ezequiel Carlsson from Wisboo elaborates on the question of changing the business model by saying “Our only greatest competitor is a US company, so we were ready to take on the US market since our development phase responding to this competition”. The teams also shared that their purpose in joining this program was finding the right set of mentors for their scaling process, getting access to a smooth entrance to the US market, and surrounding themselves with people who can truly inspire them and help their business grow. Vitalii Malets from Publicfast says “Coming out of Ukraine, the US was the ultimate place for us to come in terms of revenues as it provides us with the biggest market which could ultimately give us further access into Europe and other countries. This program will help us do just that.”
Chris Yeh reflects on his initial feelings about how the program is going and Week 2 by saying “It is always exciting to see international entrepreneurs coming into Silicon Valley ready to share their experience to add on to the collective knowledge of the Valley. Assisting and collaborating with entrepreneurs are particularly exciting to me because these people create something from nothing losing sleep working tirelessly to change the world.”
Wednesday and Thursday marked the Silicon Valley Open Doors Event in Mountain View Computer History Museum, a startup investment conference with over 2000 attendees, 800 startup founders, 300 angels & VCs, 50 exhibitors and 800 million dollars of funding. 35 pre-selected startups, including our very own SmartMimic, presenting on stage in front of experts, mentors and investors to get investment for their startups. Startups were coming from the fields of machine learning/AI, software, IOT/Hardware, Consumer Gadgets, Social Impact and Fintech.
Our teams had the opportunity to hear from very influential leaders in their fields including Micheal Vertik, managing partner at Heroic Ventures. Mr. Vertik explored certain mistakes entrepreneurs tend to fall into, especially if they are coming from international backgrounds by stating “One mistake owners do is thinking their markets are big and using their own markets rather than going to bigger markets like US and China.” According to Vertik, these startups should use their initial space as a launching spot for their “rocket”; but the rocket can only fly in a market with a size these startup deserve.
Following the startup pitch investor panel on consumer applications, the keynote speaker, Mike Maples was presented to speak on a concept called “Abundance, Not Disruption”. Mr. Maples pointed to an overwhelming issue he has been noticing in startup environments: the goal to disrupt already settled systems. “What do we have against current healthcare systems, or, generally, what an already existing system offers?” We are in an era where companies are being replaced by networks that are redefining business through mass computation and connectivity, helping living standards to get better in an unforeseen scale. “We are not in a place to apologise for capitalism” but rather take advantage of it according to Maples. “Instead of disrupting systems, add onto them, contribute and create abundance.” Networks can expand efficient frontier of abundance through connections, which is why network driven companies like Lyft will always beat the taxis. Trying to compete with Facebook is not the answer; rather than being the absolute best and trying to compete a global giant like Facebook, find a new type of abundance, Maples suggests. “Great founders create abundance because they have a mindset of growth and opportunity, not disruption and disintermediation”.
The second keynote speaker was Lara Boyd, professor in University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in Neurobiology of Motor Learning, presenting on “Your Plastic Brain”. Her research focuses on how we learn, why some people are better at learning than others and what stimulates the learning process. She pointed to how the technology revolution allows our brain more limited opportunity to switch into default mode network: an off-task mind-wandering mode that is actually good for creative thoughts unlike popular opinion. Letting our mind freely wander and jump from thought to thought is exactly what mindfulness meditations allow, which is why it is proven to have many health/psychological benefits. “ According to Boyd, our brain is massively neuroplastic, yet it is experience-dependent and is influenced by behavior”; there are many ways to optimize our brain change to create the best environment for learning.
Mrs. Boyd started out by introducing stress and the hormone cortisol as a key player in learning. In moderate levels, cortisol helps with arousal and creates motivation but can infringe memory consolidation and many other functions with high levels. Ways to manage stress can derive from meditation, more sleep(increasing sleep level from 6 to 8 hours will decrease cortisol level by 50%) and exercise (exercise initially increases cortisol but lowers cortisol levels significantly in the long run). In her research Boyd analyzed the dose of practice required to learn new and relearn old motor skills. She found that the most optimal way of priming the brain to learn is either through robotics, brain stimulation or exercising before; in her example, 3 rounds of 3 minute cycling at 90% of maximum capacity(almost pushing yourself to the absolute limit). Exercise enhances blood flow, synapse growth, abundance of white and grey matter, neural growth factors and neurotransmitters. In their experiment, they found that doing exercise significantly enhanced offline learning that happens the day after exercise and patients that exercised performed way better than the resting group in learning potential. Boyd concluded her presentation through stressing how this is an immensely personalized process; thus, learning and many other fields such as medicine has to be highly personalized in the coming decades.
On Friday, we welcomed Chris Spetzler, the Executive Director of Decision Education Foundation (DEF) to our office. Chris is passionate about developing Decision Skills in young people and has taught Decision Quality to educators through Stanford Center for Professional Development and to students through Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies. Decision Skills, an online course Chris developed on NovoEd, has had tens of thousands participants. In the 2 hour workshop we had, Chris introduced our teams to a proven framework for making decisions and increasing decision quality so that they could understand and be introduced to tools that help deal with complexity in decisions. We engaged in a simulation of risky venture and learned to apply the decision tree to make a decision on whether or not to invest in this venture. Chris taught us that a good decision tree should have the following elements: creative alternatives, useful information, sound reasoning, commitment to follow through, a helpful frame and clear values. “A decision is only as strong as the weakest link”, Chris states, which is why it is critical to take every step carefully while making a decision. According to him, startups coming to Silicon Valley are bound to face a plethora of crucial and, in most cases, fast decisions. Entrepreneurs should, thus, always watch out for decision traps such as living on concepts called autopilot (doing what you are used to), bandwagon effect(being influenced by others), habitual frame(not stepping out habits), compromised decision state (HALT- hungry, angry, lonely, tired), stuck in comfort zone, ignoring possible outcomes, procrastination and sunk costs(not understanding that past is past and not focusing on the future). You can find a more detailed description of a pathway to a good decision on their website. Publicfast cofounder Vitalii reflects on the workshop saying: “Chris did a great job of helping us look at possible real-life situations from the macro and not micro perspective”.
We concluded our second week with a great Kickoff Event. Our teams got the chance to mingle with over 50
guests representing multiple countries, startups and firms. Our office lighted up with great conversations and new connections, giving our teams a chance to immerse themselves into the Silicon Valley atmosphere. The night was a great success, giving the teams the spirit to fully commit themselves to the coming months of scaling in the Valley.