I Live in Silicon Valley's 'Facebook Mansion.' Here's What I've Learned From My Experience.
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Remember the house from the Facebook movie The Social Network? The actual house that Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker lived in when Facebook first moved to the West Coast still exists ... and I live in it. The house in the movie was changed to fit the storyline but it is similar and now a hip co-living space for other tech workers and entrepreneurs in the heart of Silicon Valley.
After two years of living at the epicenter of entrepreneurship and running my own tech startup, I have summed up my lessons learned from Silicon Valley. And they are not what I thought they would be.
There's nothing special about this place.
I only mentioned living in the Facebook Mansion to make this point: There's nothing special about the house. If anything, it's kind of far from everything without any public transport. It's a normal house with expensive Bay Area rent prices: no beer pong tables, no pizza parties, no weekly hackathons. Most entrepreneurs I've met in the area are far less sociable than you might think they would be. Who are the tech billionaires before they are tech billionaires? They don't spend their time hopping from inspirational startup event to startup event. They sit in their small, expensive rooms in shared houses and code, or are out meeting business partners. They focus on what matters: building their business.
Before moving to Silicon Valley, I thought it would be a hustling and bustling place with hundreds of events to network. That's what you see from the outside and that's what I keep seeing other startup ecosystems around the world trying to copy. What people get wrong is that the free-flowing beer kegs at fancy coworking spaces aren't the secret to Silicon Valley's success. The secret sauce is the work ethic.
There's something special about this place.
I know I just made the point that there's nothing special about this place. At the same time there is -- but in a different sense. It's the people, the culture and the mindset. Of course, there is more venture capital and the ecosystem has developed in favor of fast-growing, high-tech startups, but what really makes the magic happen is the intangible. It's the fact that people respond to your idea with "Why not?" rather than "This would never work!" It's the fact that young people choose to stay up late working on their side hustles instead of hanging out at the local bar. And don't get me wrong: I am very critical of the "hustle life" and believe in healthy work-life balance, but the level of hunger to make an impact and change something in this world is uncontested.
The people around me have mastered the most important skill in life.
"Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you." I'd heard this Steve Jobs quote hundreds of times. Deep down, however, I didn't believe it was true. I thought I'd have to get another degree, another trophy, another skill, to get to a point where I could actually make big stuff happen.
When I moved to Silicon Valley, I finally got it. It's true: People here aren't smarter than you. They aren't better than you. They just do. Know your strengths, go all in on them, and believe in yourself and you'll be able to achieve whatever goal you set for yourself.
High rent prices are your accelerator.
Thousands of startup companies move to the Bay Area to raise funds, scale or go through acceleration boot camps. I help run Manos Accelerator, a Latino-focused accelerator in partnership with Google Developers Launchpad. Founders and the outside world like to complain about the astronomically high cost of living in the Bay Area. What I like to tell people is that that's the real accelerator. Having high overhead forces companies to move fast. You either make money really fast or your company will go out of business. While I definitely see lots of problems with the housing market in the Bay Area, it is a fact that it forces startups to grow faster, which forces founders to aim as high as they can as fast as they can.
I heard Michael Seibel, CEO of Y Combinator speak at the Manos Tech Venture Summit. He said something along the lines of, "Running a startup is like having a gun to your head. What accelerators do for you is that they point another gun at you." I would say that spending anywhere upwards of $2,000 on rent for a room will put even another gun to your head.
The more successful people are, the humbler they become.
Of course, there are outliers, but the majority of rich, successful people are good people. Since I moved here, I've met tech executives, VCs, millionaires and billionaires -- a huge lesson I've learned is that the more successful the person, the more humble and down to earth they are.
If there's only one thing to take away from this article, it's that you can become successful by doing good and relying on "old-fashioned" values like being honest, reliable and humble. Those are the virtues I see in the most successful people that surround me. Yes, they might drive a Tesla and live in million-dollar homes, but the moment you start a conversation they are humble, down-to-earth people that have never lost that child-like spark of curiosity.
It is comforting to see successful people around you that have "made it" without losing their humility. This place has provided me with lots of role models and shown me that making an impact on a big scale is truly possible. Silicon Valley may have changed but it definitely hasn't lost its magic.