I just landed in NYC after spending the last five days in the Bay. Wow, what a week!
I usually reserve posts with personal updates for the end of each month, but in this case, I wanted to share a little bit more about my time in San Francisco.
I traveled to the valley for Z Fellows, which was a weeklong program that brought together a bunch of young entrepreneurs. For the first few days, we riffed in the morning on whatever we were working on, followed by a co-working session and an AMA (ask me anything) with a startup founder.
The last couple days were a bit of a blast from the past, catching up with four different fellows (not including my co-founders) that I had met in a previous part of my life.
During the fellowship, I had the opportunity to speak with several impressive founders. While their advice was valuable, for me, the most engaging part was hearing these mentors tell stories about their experiences. Often, their anecdotes would include fun tidbits about tech leaders or other Silicon Valley lore.
In addition to meeting new builders, I was lucky to be able to grab dinner and catch up with a mentor from my time in neuroscience research at Max Planck, as he’s moving out to SF.
For my last few days I switched things up a bit. Thursday, I took the Cal Train down to Palo Alto to visit my friend (and co-founder) Joe at Stanford. The campus is as gorgeous as I remember, although it sounds like Yale might be a bit more fun ;)
I also attended a generative AI meetup, and saw my uncle!
Friday (hah) was the capstone to my time in SF. Almost everyone who had been attending remotely flew in for a final riff, an AMA generously held at a founder’s home, a talk given by a journalist with 8+ years of experience in the startup world, and a meet-up with past fellows.
Altogether, it was a pretty awesome and inspiring experience.
Here are my five main takeaways, topics that multiple founders kept bringing up:
- The importance of intentionality. While it’s universally agreed that luck is an important and uncontrollable element of every startup’s success, you need to put yourself in a position to get lucky in the first place. Make choices that optimize for maximum potential payoff.
- The importance of a strong work ethic. You might not be as smart as your competition, but you can work harder. The reality of being a founder is that it’s not glamorous or glorious - “if you want to dent the universe, there are no substitute for working your ass off.”
- The importance of being shameless. Being overbearing or annoying is ok. If you’re not embarrassed by your minimum viable product, you waited too long to launch. “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.”
- The importance of (learned) charisma. Three of the most important things in entrepreneurship - selling, fundraising, and management - are all about how you make people feel. People rarely make decisions based on intellect. They choose based on gut.
- The importance of location. While you can work anywhere, the two best places to base your startup are New York or San Francisco - few other places can match the density of talent and college-like “hacker” feel. Most founders had a preference for the Bay Area.
Beyond those key points, I also found several other valuable insights in these discussions:
- There are three topics you should cover when giving a brief intro of your startup: problem, solution, and why you?
- Rely on the credibility of others to build your own.
- Work on one "miracle problem" (a breakthrough that needs to take place for success) at a time. Focus your efforts.
- Startups die to suicide, not murder. Don’t worry about competition; statistically, you’re much more likely to implode due to your own choices.
- Avoid “tarpit ideas” and “Friday-night use-cases” - startups that are only valuable once a week (or in a blue moon).
- A mental model for understanding if you’re on to something: analyze how your customers’ faces change when pitching.
- Leverage the existing customers of your partners.
- Startups are like dating; if you’ve been trying something for over three months and it’s not working, it’s time to break up.
If you’re also an aspiring entrepreneur and appreciated this post, I’d encourage you to throw in an application - especially if you’re a female founder or not from San Francisco.
I had a blast last week, and can’t wait to get back to New Haven and continue building. Until next time…
Thanks for reading :)