As part of the scholarship given to us by Startup Malaysia and GIST, we are releasing a weekly blog post about our thoughts, collection of “what happened” here. As much as I would like to structure what is going on… I don’t think I will be able to. We are having such a blast here (learning, testing boundaries and capacity to socialize like MAD).
This is what our calendar looks like. And you might be thinking “Well this does not look so bad, except I have not included every single meeting we’ve had in that calendar yet!” Even on the 4th of July, it was a 4 hour hike around San Francisco which I did not follow and a huge networking BBQ party (with more details to come below). This is going to be a long post so brace yourself!
Day 1: Welcome to Silicon Valley!
They got us the poshest place at Golden Gate Club, next to the super famous Golden Gate and Presidio area. For the first keynote, they invited Christina Brodbeck who was also Youtube’s first interface designer and therefore, key employee. She also has stock in Youtube and described the acquisition deal in great detail like how she faxed the acquisition papers over public fax line (which is super insecure and could have resulted in a great mishap, but luckily nothing happened).
She was very genuine about how Youtube grew and kept saying, this was all too much fun for us. Working 18 hours a day – you don’t even feel it because you are surrounded by great people you really like. Youtube was founded by a group of about 5 friends who knew each other by the way. They also pivoted greatly.
Introduction to Tom Kosnik, Professor of Entrepreneurship in Stanford
Tom actually got us on all our feet to dance and it was kind of amazing how funny he was, dancing like crazy in the middle of the day to Katy Perry. He gave a rough overview of what he does, what Silicon Valley is like and his impressive background of working together with so many startups and huge companies.
Day 2: We are in Stanford!!
I studied in University of Bristol, UK but this university, compared to Bristol, was nothing! It was like a seriously huge airport – I cannot even begin to say how easy it was to get lost and how many acres of land you have to walk from the main gates to get into the “central oval” of Stanford.
Here, we met Saul Colt, a legendary “bold” and “alternative” marketeer, who is now a great friend at Piktochart. Saul started off saying that taking genuine care of your customers, even if it means listening out to their tweets, matter a lot. He gave so many tips which were “uncommon” and I shall list them out now:
We might be working with Saul for our marketing efforts.
We also were paired with a team of 4 students in Stanford who had really impressive backgrounds- they could code, design, have worked for huge companies like IBM, PWC, Accenture etc (in pale comparison with the interns we get in Malaysia). I did not take a photo with them, but they were throwing out a lot of ideas which are welcome but hardly implementable, e.g. “let’s apply an advertising model for Piktochart”
We really look forward to catch up with them next week on Monday again!
4th of July, but a full day of networking
Younoodle has a small office in SoMa (South of Market area) and they put all the chairs and tables to the side and had a huge party, with great pop-up BBQ as well as music, drinks! The party turned out to be a huge one with about 300-400 people attending. If you thought that BBQs meant eat and stay in a comfy corner with a group of friends, there was no way we were going to do that. Some people we spoke to:
- Designer at Disney Animations
- Managing Director of AirBNB
- Lawyer at Salesforce
- Doctor from Denmark
- Henrik Scheel from Startup Experience (he came over to gave Malaysian entrepreneurs a framework of how to run/grow business)
- Naval Ravikant, an angel investor
Day 4: Meeting mentors
We have been working with Pemo Theodore, a startup coach and interviewer, with a focus for female founders. She has interviewed some pretty impressive female figures in the sector and it was so lovely meeting with her to find out how she ended up in Silicon Valley after Australia –> Ireland (TV coach) –> America (startup). She has also created a Udemy pitching course and wanted Malaysians to know that you can get 10% off if you asked her/me for the code and you will get 2 investors to review your pitch.
She also mentioned that the best thing to do with pitching with VCs and angels is to have a personal relationship with them and to come up with a REALLY creative pitch deck. This is something I agree with personally, especially looking at the over-subscribed Dressrush.
After the personal meeting I arranged above, at Younoodle, we were all paired with our respective mentors as well. It was very impressive to get to meet a few of them who have sold or made 7 to 8 figures per year in sales. They were all from MIT and Stanford backgrounds. Very interesting and warm people. The other thing we really confirmed with our own eyes is that in Silicon Valley, everyone is a transplant. No one is really born and raised in San Francisco. So many many many people came from all over the world and called Silicon Valley home because of the number of opportunities it presents. The mentors shared very interesting perspective about what can be done on Piktochart and how we should meet our competitors and perhaps consider acquisition in the future.
Day 5: TGIF!
We talked a lot about startup culture and I hope to be able to show you guys a little bit of what startup culture is like in Silicon Valley. It’s all about doing things differently, be able to reward everyone in the company by making them feel like they are truly contributing, changing the world somehow. Every office we stepped into reflects that.
Day 5: A legend of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
A reknowned mentor to Younoodle Jeff Bazos who has worked with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both in Apple and Microsoft said a lot of things about the two founders of the giants. He was a great and passionate man and insisted that we looked in ourselves for the “you” that makes it unique to customers, investors etc. Without finding out what we are really great at and excel, enjoy doing, it would be a very tough road ahead.
He gave some insightful nuggets about what the 2 founders were like and said, Steve was a very “intense” man. But he was really able to discern and “see” things and not just look at things. That made Steve, Steve.
He also said that Bill Gates had the vision of dominating the world. The approach of Apple and Microsoft differed greatly because of this. Apple was set to excel at everything, everyone in Apple worked to show how much better I could be than my colleague, boss etc. Everyone in Microsoft worked to dominate the world.
Startup Visits on Friday
The first startup we were taken to was Yammer, a recently acquired enterprise social network by Microsoft for $1.2 billion. It was NOT normal at all for Yammer to receive visitors but we got a special offer because Mike (an employee within Yammer) was an ex – Younoodler so Rebeca (co founder of Younoodle) managed to pull some strings.
Mike said that it was a pretty exciting acquisition and that the product development team has always kept a priority based on what they thought was better and not necessarily the customers. They were also very wary of competitors but their User interface & pricing model have always been superior to others. Steve Ballmer also went into the office after the acquisition to make a couple of announcements and said that “Yammer would be evangelised.” Yammer grew from 60 employees 3 years ago to 400 employees today. After the acquisition, there are probably more that are joining!
We are done for Friday!!
We were invited to a dinner by alumni of HaXLR, it is a hardware accelerator that was organized by the same guys at Chinaccelerator. The startup called Nomiku, is a sous vide cooker (which also means, ziplock your food in a bag, place it in water, but they have a machine that controls the temperature and cooks the food to PERFECTION). The team behind Nomiku was absolutely stellar. It’s run by a couple – Lisa Qiu and Abe – American/French and their friend, Bam from Thailand. They all have an insane obsession about good food and Bam was also a chef.
After dinner, we also got introduced to Portlandia, an indie comedy show produced in America. We are so grateful for their hospitality. What was more interesting is, would you have ever invited anyone to the house for dinner the first time you met them? Probably not, but Nomiku would. (and perhaps a few more startups in Silicon Valley would)
It was 10PM and we were obviously not done yet
A friend of mine in America whom I funnily have not met before (Jess Rimington, founder of One World Youth Project) was someone whom I wanted to come to America to work for. She had an amazing vision of inter cultural educational exchanges and it was something I believe in. I still keep in close contact with her and when I told her I was coming over, she introduced me to her friend, Chris, who was a startup co founder of Zoomforth!
What are the chances when Chris said he had a house party- which became “over subscribed” as the event became really public and the entire Silicon Valley heard about it. The house was more like a super-posh hostel with 3 floors, great garden and was at the top of the hill over-looking San Francisco. Imagine Bukit Tunku and the house was about that size! What an amazing party!
So that was end of week 1. To be honest, I am so sure I missed out about 60% of the other more important details, but we have made great friends within Younoodle itself. There is a big bunch of entrepreneurs and students from South America and Korea and we are really enjoying our learning experience together.