Silicon Valley – Week 4

Some of the highlights of this, my fourth week:

It was Y Combinator interviews this week in Mountain View so I met up with a couple of London startups who were lucky enough to make the shortlist. At least one of them got selected as well; lucky them! The day before the interviews GrubWithUs (itself a YC startup) had scheduled a few dinners with Y Combinator alum, which gave prospective candidates the opportunity to find out first hand what the interview process and the accelerator itself is like. It was my first experience with GrubWithUs and I enjoyed it, and I think I’ll definitely go along for another startup themed dinner.

On Wednesday I was at Rocket Space in San Francisco for an event entitled “Common Mistakes Founders Make”, presented by Peter Levine, the newest partner of rock-star VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz. On the way in I noticed someone had scrawled on the noticeboard, beneath the title of the event: “attending too many networking events”. Ha! In fact Peter’s advice largely centered around (hiring and firing) people, as from a survey he’d done of 50 startup founders and VCs, 60% responded they had made mistakes in this area, making it the by far the most common mistake admitted to in his research. I wish I’d heard his content a few years ago, before making many of the mistakes myself. But I suspect, particularly for hiring and firing, it’s one of those things that you only learn by through your own personal experience.

Most evenings I have been attending some kind of event, and on Thursday I attended the launch of the Box Innovation Network at a trendy warehouse in the Dogpatch area of SF. I was really keen to do that as I was keen to hear from and meet Aaron Levie, their 27 year old founder and CEO. (Remember the name because you’ll hear a lot of it in the decades to come). Box began as a college project in Aaron’s dorm room 6 years ago and has now raised over $190M in funding and is growing ridiculously fast. I think it’s a good example of how startups and investors here in the valley think big. 4 weeks in and I am definitely thinking bigger. (Aaron and his co-founder Dylan Smith also disprove the stereotype that all college grads are interested in building is yet another photo sharing app).

Then, on Sunday I attended a Startup “Ice Breaker” where approximately 40 people came together to pitch their ideas for startups, and try and build a team. I’ve participated in a couple of these types of events and they really are a good way to learn about building startups, test your ideas and meet potential co-founders. If you are thinking of doing a startup this type of event should be an essential step.

Finally, on Sunday evening went to see Steve Jobs: the lost interview, which has been showing all week at Palo Alto’s independent cinema, The Aquarius. I’m reading his biography right now, so it was great to see this 70 minute unedited interview in full, and be able to observe his reactions as well as what he said (and did not say) in response to questions. I was struck by the mission he saw was his to fulfil: that creating great products was about improving the world, and making art. He said that in different times his team of A players would have been creating great art, music or poetry instead of building the Mac, and he reinforced what I’ve heard from so many CS grads now, that the ability to program is something that improves your ability to think. The interview was from 1995, and yet he was arguing that software was going to impact every aspect of our lives, and hoping that every child would get taught how to program at school.

Thanksgiving is coming up so expecting a less hectic week this week, and hope to catch up on email, as well as take care of some stuff that’s taken a back seat to all the meetings and events.

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