The place, not the TV show lol. And needless to say we learned a hell lot more than just 7 things during our trip at Stanford University and Silicon Valley. But these 7 things
changed improved how we view things dramatically, especially for first-time tech entrepreneurs like us.
Spending time to learn in the valley couldn’t be more insightful. The place is like Mecca for startups. We visited Google headquarters, Facebook, Pinterest, Envoy, and many more. Sorted without any specific order, these are the things we learned and will be insanely applied in our daily work.
1) When investors say no, it’s nothing personal.
Who said it : Alfredo Coppola, Co-CEO of US Market Access Center, during a q&a session at MDEC Americas.
If you’re fundraising for your startup, and there were only few people said no to your business, you’re not hustling hard enough. But the other side of the story, whenever an investor said no to us, we always take it personally. As if the reasoning behind the ‘no’ is something we did unrelated to the business.
Our takeaway : we found that this is strikingly similar to the circumstance when we’re dating someone, if the other person is not interested with us, we find that offensive. It’s not.
When someone isn’t interested with us, they’re not implying that universally, we’re bad. It’s just in that person’s world, we do not fit in. The same reason when we disfavour any clothing brand, it’s not like we’re saying that the brand is bad for everyone. It’s just us who don’t like it, and we have our reasons.
2) Entrepreneurship is like a marathon, not a sprint.
Who/where : Tom Byers, entrepreneurship professor at Stanford said that having tenacity and persistency running startup couldn’t be more important.
Being a young entrepreneur, we always have the tendency ‘to win’. As if this is a game, where ‘losing’ is something that should be looked down upon.
Our takeaway : In entrepreneurship, everybody loses. And when you lose, you don’t view it as something embarrassing. Rather you analyse what went wrong, plan how to prevent similar events in the future, and execute how to make the situation better.
3) Entrepreneurs don’t make excuses, they make shit happen.
Who/where : Kenny Hawk, CEO at Mojio during a mentoring session at Stanford. This echoed Harvard business school professor Howard Stevenson’s definition of entrepreneurship, 41 years ago.
Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.
And that differentiates startups greatly from traditional businesses. In a normal business, before you do anything, there’s budgeting to know how much do you have (controlled resources), then you execute accordingly based on the budget.
In entrepreneurship, if you don’t have any resources, you don’t give excuses, but you work something out. The moment you wake up in the morning is your opening shift in entrepreneurship, and the moment you close your eyes at bed is your closing shift.
4) We always attack a straw man.
Who said this : No one. But this was an organic takeaway we learned at Stanford, and it relates to all other lessons in this blog post.
We always have the tendency to commit a straw man fallacy, either when we’re verbally arguing, or in mental comprehension per se. A straw man fallacy is when we give the impression of refuting the other person’s argument, while actually we are refuting an argument that was not advanced by that person.
Person A : I dislike hot weather.
Person B : But flood and snow blizzards are worse!
Person A didn’t say i) flooding and blizzards are better than hot weather, nor ii) he likes flood and blizzards. But person B assumed the extreme opposite of what person A has said, as if he (person A) also proposed the extreme opposite.
How does this relate to entrepreneurship?
When we learned that entrepreneurs are not like traditional businessmen that do budgeting of controlled resources before starting a business, that doesn’t mean entrepreneurs shouldn’t oversee their finances.
When we learned in entrepreneurship everybody loses, it doesn’t mean that we should hate winning. Indeed we should have the thirst and hunger in making the business a success. We just need to understand that winning is not everything.
5) Most of the startups there don’t have working hours.
Who/where : April, a Facebook employee at their HQ in Menlo Park.
It was understood that Facebook see the importance of their team working based on their own distinctive potential. Some people work better in the morning, while some people are night owls. Like not every clothes are suitable to be worn by a specific body shape (*wink-wink, #SempatPromote), not every working schedules are suitable with every team members.
They even have ‘no-meeting Wednesdays’ where no meetings can be held on Wednesdays so if an employee wants to work from home, they can do so on that day (especially when Wednesdays are the middle day of weekdays).
Our takeaway : We think that’s a very wonderful initiative, with one small caveat. That does not apply to all stages of a startup. Facebook is a public company and an internet behemoth. If an employee wanna do something bad out of the flexible schedule, Facebook may not be hesitant in penalising him.
But as an early stage startup, we might need to plant some practices of discipline as disciplined core team members are the foundation of a great company, which leads me to the next takeaway..
6) Every startup has different cultures, and that is the point.
Who/Where : Lynda Smith, former CMO of Twillio and Nuance (creators of Siri), during a lecture on marketing at Stanford.
Twillio is a cloud communications company, in which they have utmost affection towards developers. When that is the identity of the company, it will reflect the culture. If you’re a football team, you may not copy the culture of a basketball team. Ultimately the culture will also reflect the company’s branding and marketing.
Our takeaway : This reminds us of a page in Science of Growth, a book by Sean Ammirati, where he said in the early stage of a startup, culture are not necessarily the points you write on walls. Culture is how the early team members work during the earlier stage, and it will be translated into the company.
So if founders wants to have legendary culture in their company, they need to work earlier on, legendarily.
7) Find your bowling pin.
Who/where : Geoffrey Moore, the author of Crossing the Chasm (mind-blowing book) at one of the lectures.
When we’re running a startup in the business-to-business (B2B) model, there will be a big scary chasm in the adoption cycle (who will use your product first/last).
And that chasm/gap is between the early adopters and the early majority. Our challenge is to find the first batch, of the early majority. Because they’re like the bowling pin. Once you get one of the them, they will influence their peers (the other bowling pins). And finding the first bowling pin is always ignored and not prioritised by entrepreneurs.
Our takeaway : each segment like early adopters, early majority, or laggards, requires a different approach of marketing. And for every startups, the segments contain different people, which the core team must identify at every stage to plan how can they market their product. That said, we highly recommend you to read the book.
Other than these seven takeaways, we learned a lot more from Baba Shiv (psychology in marketing), Leticia (proxemics and how to treat team members with love), Pedram Mokrian (managing ownership of company), Mike Lyons (who personally grilled us during our final pitch), Brian Wang (how to carefully choose the investors in future rounds), and Ritta Katila (how to control the competition).
We would also want to give a shout out to MaGIC who organised the whole program and making it possible for us to learn from the giants. Thank you so much.
If you guys would like to know more, let’s have a drink and talk about entrepreneurship. After the trip, our spirit skyrocketed and we will make sure our feet stay on the ground. We will stay hungry, we will stay foolish.
“Don’t say the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”