• AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons, Tech Trek

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    Day 2 of the Tech Trek didn’t disappoint…I’ll admit, the non-stop action met by the comfort of a hide-a-bed is leaving me hoping for a little extra rest but I’m learning too much to worry about it.  We had a unique opportunity to see three different companies in very different stages yesterday.

    Early Stage –

    Our first stop of the day was to meet with the founders of  Steve and Danny both grew up in the shadow of the research triangle in North Carolina.  After being accepted into Y Combinator both of them and Steve’s brother Scott moved out to the Valley to grow their business.

    The three of these guys (all in their mid-20’s) cram themselves into a small room in a poorly built office park near Mountain View.  They sub-lease a space that is smaller than a tiny bedroom from another startup where the two companies share less than 1,000 total square feet.  The three of them also live together in a small 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment where they pay over $3K/mo.

    They’re thrilled….

    Both Steve and Danny quit their jobs in the corporate world.  They could easily be climbing the ladder, nearing a 6 figure salary as consultants with their technical background but something about the entrepreneurial lifestyle called them to their current position.  Both lamented hitting a wall in the corporate world where they weren’t being challenged any more at a time where they wanted to continue learning.

    When asked why they’re doing what they’re doing, Danny simply told us that “Figuring stuff out is satisfying…we’re working until 11 or 12 at night and that would probably normally kill me but for now it’s working.”  He couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face.

    The challenge for corporations is clear, find a way to leverage talented people who are interested in solving problems for you or be prepared to pay a premium for them later on once they’ve figured it all out.

    Scaling the Business – We Heart It

    We had an unreal opportunity to sit down with digital content royalty in downtown San Francisco.  David Williams worked for Schweppes early on in his career and at one point was tasked with figuring out how the company would “use the internet.”  After a few months of poking around and researching, David came back to his executive team and said “I have no idea what a soft drink company is going to with the internet, but I’m leaving.”

    He did and he was successful.  After a few startups, he and a couple other entrepreneurs revolutionized the music industry.  A few years after Napster had shocked the music world, the labels were still looking for their play in a digital era.  iTunes had started to peel users away from CD’s but a little startup called Rhapsody had this crazy idea to allow users to “access” all of the music they could listen to, long before Netflix was ready to do the same thing with digital movies.  David was a co-founder of Rhapsody…so yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.

    Since leaving Rhapsody, David has tinkered around in the Valley successfully jumping in and out of startup companies.  His talents for scaling small companies were now required at an image based social network by the name of “We Heart It.
    Started by a designer in Brazil as a solution to his own problem, it quickly turned into something more than 20M active users log into on a regular basis (presently adding 1M users per month).

    David had a lot of knowledge to share and did so graciously.  He’s not what immediately comes to mind when you think of the stereotypical ego-maniacs that top the ranks of successful Silicon Valley companies.  In fact he’s completely the opposite.  Kind, patient, honest, open and more than willing to sit down with 8 guys from Kansas City at 5pm on a Friday evening.

    He spoke to us about a lot of different topics but I thought it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the benefits of the densely populated downtown San Francisco area.

    “It’s just smart people talking to other smart people”

    Building a huge network and engaging in meaningful conversations is what’s to blame for almost every turn in David’s career:  the opportunity to leave Schweppes, the idea for Rhapsody and his current role as president at We Heart It.  These “collisions” of brilliant minds shouldn’t be unique to the Valley…this might be my inner Alana Muller talking now but I need to drink more coffee and eat more lunches with smart people.

    The Giants – Facebook

    The cities of Mountain View, Cupertino, Menlo Park, San Jose and San Mateo look much like any other white collar suburban metro area aside from the fact that every commercial building and office park is littered with logos from your favorite websites.  You can become a bit star struck as you drive around gawking at the signs that say Ebay, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, Google, and a gigantic “Thumbs Up” symbol that we all have come to know as the like button of Facebook.

    We decided to pull over.  The idea of taking a picture in front of the Facebook sign, posting it to Facebook and tagging the Facebook HQ was too tempting so we did.  As we found a spot in the parking lot and made our way out of the car toward the sign, we started to notice Facebook branded security trucks arriving near our area.  They never said anything but they were always in view as we walked around.  We snapped our picture, got back in the car and noticed that a blue tag had been placed under our windshield wiper.  It wasn’t a ticket, but definitely some kind of a marker to track how long we had been parked there.

    This was a recurring trend at many of the big companies we visited.  Blame it on Edward Snowden or just the paranoia around intellectual property…the openness and friendly collisions are most definitely running out of favor for the internet giants.  Multiple requests to speak with anyone from any of these companies for our documentary were declined…people are fascinated with what they’ve done and what they’re doing but they have no interest in the free publicity.

    What does it all mean?

    I can’t say that there’s a common thread between these three stories just more of an observation of companies each making their way in the San Francisco area.  It’s been fascinating to observe, listen and learn from everyone we talk to.  I’m seeing a lot of the appeal factor that comes with this area but I also believe there are lessons in my experiences above that I’m already seeing applied in Kansas City.

    I’ve been typing this all from the curves of Highway 1 and have learned that car sickness is impossible to avoid while watching the screen.  We’re about 200 miles out from LA and this weekend should be fun to see how Southern California differs from Silicon Valley.  Stay tuned for more!!


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