It’s only over the course of my time here at TEC that I’ve realized the extent to which I had built up an almost unconscious mythology around what happens in tech in San Francisco. The news that comes out of this place seems to always contain the word “billion” somewhere in the headline. TechCrunch tells there are now over twice as many unicorns as there were one and a half years ago. In this context it’s really easy to mythologize the startup world – none of this seems entirely real. Everything that happened in the Valley seemed to be happening not just thousands of miles away but on an entirely different planet. These myths feature legendary designers, visionary founders, and venture capitalists with a far-seeing Delphic Oracle on staff. They also make it much more difficult to see the everyday reality of this place. Mythical figures are blessed with preternatural abilities to perform feats unthinkable to mere mortals.
People are people
Since coming here I’ve begun to see how wrong I was – the people that I’ve met here have been just that: people. I’ve learned a lot from the speakers that we’ve had at TEC so far, not only from their advice and experience, but also just from seeing them in the flesh, living and breathing, with their own speech patterns, habits, personalities. They’re actual people! They’re more than the pull quotes on a Wired article. And it’s so much more inspiring to actually hear the conviction in their voices when they talk about their dreams for the future, and how they’re going about making them a reality than it is to read it on a website. They’re both more impressive and more human in person. That humanity is critical to remember. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of tech journalism and build people up to myths, and myths are always just out of reach. But coming here and seeing these undoubtedly brilliant people has changed how I think about them; now they’re real people and more than ever becoming one of them seems like an attainable goal.
People have ideas
Talking to these founders and influencers about their ideas has, in an odd way, given me permission to be excited about my own. There’s something very galvanizing about listening to someone like Om Malik talk about how excited he is that every industry is being revolutionized with the application of technology, about how the world is changing at an ever faster pace, and about how teams of dedicated people are completely changing the landscape of tomorrow. The people in those teams aren’t myths, they’re not somehow cut from a different cloth, they’ve just had the courage to start something, and stake their time and effort on the chance that what they’ve started can become something huge.
People are approachable
Another benefit of this de-mythologizing is that it makes it much easier to build a network. When people are people, you can be friends with them, meet up with them for coffee and talk about your ideas and your problems. Networks are important – not only is business conducted largely along lines of social contact, but they’re also one of the best ways of sharing information. A network can store much more information than a single person ever could. According to Rohit Sharma “You don’t really have to learn something to know it, you just need to know where in your network to look for it.” He goes as far as to say that a network can and should be built up before you have a fully fledged idea – networks make excellent testing and refining grounds for young ideas, and if they can’t survive there then they aren’t worth pursuing further.
People like to help
Jared Kim, the founder of Forge, spoke to us about how he started WeGame, his first company. He talked about the value of having a supportive network of people, and that all these big names in the startup world are just that; people, who are more than willing to give advice and help others who are in positions similar to the ones they were in when they started out. There are any number of people here in the Valley who can be persuaded to have a quick coffee meeting and answer a couple of focused questions. An invaluable resource and all it costs is a cup of coffee. People are more open and approachable than you think and though they’re busy, a passionate young person with an idea is a refreshing break. People like to talk to passionate people, especially when they’re passionate about similar things. They get value from these meetings too remember (even more than just the free coffee). They get to help someone out and feel your energy and passion, and maybe even get inspired themselves (or at least gain an insight into that lucrative millenial market…).
Make no mistake, there are legends here in the valley, but for the most part they’re friendly and willing to help a young upstart get started up. Nothing that happens here is superhuman, regardless of how easy it is to believe the opposite. The barriers to entry are not quite as insurmountable as you think and who knows; in time you too could become a myth…