Silicon Valley was once this abstract place that I saw and heard about on television, in news headlines, and over podcasts. But after our trip to Silicon Valley last week, this abstract place became a reality. There, I witnessed firsthand the jokes I’ve heard and the breakthroughs I’ve read about. Yes, employees talk about their CEOs as if they’re all mythical figures. And yes, every company, whether they’re an enterprise or consumer tech company, mentions that they’re changing the world one way or another. But these things pale in comparison to the amount of innovation and level of conviction that I saw in the various people we met and the places we visited. Whether it was a fledgling startup or a massive corporation, each company was trying to innovate and differentiated themselves through their products and cultures.
I learned something new on every single visit and in every conversation. Pearls of wisdom came from both Silicon Valley experts and my TechTrek peers. Though our discussions in class about company culture, venture capital, and other tech-related topics were great, seeing these things play out in the real world help put it all into perspective. If you were to ask me to condense what I learned during my short time in Silicon Valley into as few words as possible and into overarching themes, I would break it down into the bullets below:
- Investing is hard 😟
It’s impossible to find a company that tackles the biggest market, has the ideal team, and offers you the perfect deal structure. Missing out on funding companies like Uber is inevitable. But if you have a clear vision of what you’re looking for, you can find breakout successes in niche markets or markets that you never knew existed.
- Building a business is tough 😭
It’s easy to get caught up in the glamour of starting and running your own business. The mundane tasks and soul-crushing work hours of CEOs don’t really make the news headlines. Not only does it take extreme conviction, hard work, and passion to pursue your own startup, there’s also a healthy dose of luck that factors into your inevitable success. Being at the right place at the right time is important. Though we didn’t get to meet with Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram, his quote sums up what I learned, “Everyone gets lucky for some amount in their life. And the question is, are you alert enough to know you’re being lucky or you’re becoming lucky? Are you talented enough to take that advantage and run with it?”
- Nobody’s career path is the same and that’s okay 👍🏻
As Boston College students, we often think about our lives and our careers extremely linearly. The prototypical BC career path would be more or less this:
IB Internship (Junior Summer) -> Investment Banker (2 years) -> Private Equity (2 years) -> MBA (2 years) -> …
Once again, it’s easy to get caught up in this way of thinking, but if we were to break down the careers of every person we met into timelines, none of them would be the same. Every person we met had a unique background and set of jobs that led them all to where they are now.
- Technology is nothing without people 👥
This was probably the single most important lesson I learned. Yes, augmented reality and artificial intelligence are technologies that will change the world, but they are designed for and by people. Technologies like Facebook have flaws because its users and designers are humans who are flawed, but complex.
However, what made this trip for me was the people. Exploring an unknown city and visiting the most innovative places in the world would have meant nothing if I did it all alone. This trip would not have been the same without all of you reading this. Whether it was a VC, a mentor, or a friend, every person we met attributes some of their success to the people who have helped them along the way. For me, I honestly learned more from the questions of other students than my own.
As an aspiring VC, there’s no other class that could’ve prepared me for this upcoming summer. TechTrek was a crash course on all things tech related. Only in TechTrek can you talk about the influence of design in the creation and success of Airbnb in class, fly ≈ 3000 miles, and then hear about their long-term business strategy at the Airbnb headquarters. Before this class, I knew I wanted to work in technology venture capital and this class certainly reinforced that interest. As a VC, you’re constantly meeting entrepreneurs, learning about businesses, building your network, and asking questions – things I loved doing every single day in our action-packed week in Silicon Valley.
Though the week came to a quick end, I think this was the start of the journey for many of us on TechTrek. I may not be ready to move to San Francisco just yet, but meeting entrepreneurs who were passionate about the products they were building inspired me to want to build something myself. Whether I’m creating a product of my own or lighting the fire for someone else’s vision as an investor, who knows? Every time there was a panel of speakers, I was reminded of the fact that all of them were once in our shoes. Every visit, I was impressed by how passionate, curious, and intelligent my peers were. I may have drunk the kool-aid, but I can’t help but think to myself that the next great CEO, VC, or founder may be in our class and we just don’t know it yet! Where we’ll all end up, no one knows. But if I learned anything on this trip, it’s that not knowing is okay.
Thanks to Professor Kane, Professor Doyle, Kelsey, and to all my classmates for making this a great experience!