Silicon Valley, 12 tips for living
Throughout my years as an academic and tech writer in Korea, numerous aspiring Koreans have asked for advice on pursuing and succeeding in a Silicon Valley career. Most want to create, work, or at least intern for a startup company; thereafter, with the skills they attain, they want to return and apply them to the Korean ecosystem. Given my 20-year tenure in Asia and away from Silicon Valley, instead I found it ideal and of greater benefit for them to seek advice from a Silicon Valley expert who has lived and worked there for numerous years and has done it as an emigrant or long-term resident with vast experience in Silicon Valley and the Korean startup ecosystems.
Such an expert is not easy to meet for students or startup founders; however, I fortuitously met one at the Busan Bounce 2017 conference a few months ago, Manoj Fernando. Manoj Fernando has worked in Silicon Valley for close to 30 years with around 16 years of startup experience with and trained startup personnel for 34 years- after emigrating from Sri Lanka. He has now started one of Silicon Valley’s most globally intuitive educational startups Thinktomi in 2013. Since Thinktomi’s inception, Manoj has spent numerous monthsthe past 3 years in Korea, consulting and educating the Korean startup ecosystem. While in Korea, he has concluded that Korea is becoming one of the greater global startup clusters, but still needs more development with global expansion and strategies.
Manoj’s broad Silicon Valley experience, coupled with his deep knowledge of Korean business culture, has made the following recommendations for Koreans pursuing a successful career in Silicon Valley:
1. Skills - the number one skill would be the ability to communicate somewhat reasonably in English. Especially in Silicon Valley one must be able to get their thoughts and ideas across fast, i.e. get to the point quickly. Business wise, what’s your value propositionBusiness wise, i.e. what’s your Value Prop-. uUnlike in Korea people there don't have time for long, drawn out meetings or 3-hour dinners etc.
2. Networking - You must get around and meet people — meet-up groups, events etc. This is absolutely critical. A LinkedIn account is a must. That is your business card. Handing business cards to people doesn't have the same respect as in Korea. Your network is your "net worth" in Silicon Valley. Everyone knows someone.
Learn a quick and proper way to introduce yourself in under 30 seconds. Engage people in wanting you to tell them more.
3. Age - Age doesn't mean a thing in the Valley. The average age now for the big dogsat the big tech companies —Facebook, Google, Adobe—is 33. People don't show the same respect withto age as in Korea. I know this is a major issue in Korean culture. Titles also don't mean much.
4. Attitude - You cannot afford to be shy. You must be bold and go for what you want. You must learn how to politely enter a conversation during a meet-up type event and learn to leave the conversation.
5. Rejection - Koreans struggle with this. If people (e.g. VC's) are rude to you, you 'cannot' take it personally. It is not an attack on you, but on your idea or business opportunity. People must sort through many ideas and they will tell you right away if they have interest or not or if your ideas are unacceptable. Bessemer Venture partners (a leading Silicon Valley VC firm) has an amazing list of companies on their website (anti portfolio) they rejected as companies that would not make it which include the likes of Intel, Intuit, Facebook etc. SoSo, rejection is not personalpersonal, and VC’s are not always right.
6. Don't burn bridges - this is hard but it’s best to keep it somewhat in check as Silicon Valley is a small world.
7. Make sure you get contracts in writing - I always tell this to people but I'm not very good at it either and it always comes back to haunt me. Even an email can sometimes suffice but make sure it’s in writing
8. There is no such thing as a “free lunch”. If anybody invests any money in ‘you’, it is a debt and not a gift and they will always want something in writtingen be it ownership and/or control in some form.
9. If people know you don't know something, they will take advantage of you. For me personally when I started my own company I didn't understand company ownership, and equity, vesting, voting rights, dilution etc., and was just focused on building the company. I learned my lesson the hard way which eventually felt like my baby was taken away from meended up incurring financial losses. I lost all my personal investment in the company including investments from my own personal circle of friends. That’s another reasons why I started Thinktomi :)
10. There is no such thing as a perfect startup. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face”. Starting and building a company is an emotional rollercoaster and you must be ready for it.
11. Failure is “accepted” and not looked down upon. As the CEO of Google Sundar Pichai famously said “Wear Your Failure as a Badge of Honor”
120. The good news is that the Valley is highly diverse with people from all cultures, so that is a positive point in both meeting and even food. The bad news is that you can stick with too much of your own types at times and not integrate with others.
Once having founded a startup, Manoj emphatically states that a successful startup inevitably needs anmust find an Alpha Dog. An Alpha Dog is a Silicon Valley term for someone who has been there and done it all. The Alpha Dog has garnered prestige and business acumen during their career. Having a person like this on your team, can make all the difference in your startup – besides guiding you, they can help you raise capital, help you build the company and also protect you from your own Board of Directors. When a VC’s knows that you have a person like this helping you, they are much more eager to write you a check and alsoand feel comfortable that there is someone who can possibly protect their investment. Facebook initially had Sean Parker and subsequently Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus. Google had Andy Bechtolsheim
an investor and mentor e.g. Peter Thiel who has garnered prestige and acumen with growing and exiting Silicon Valley startups; an Alpha Dog’s reputation prompts venture capitalists (VCs) to rush to lend to your startup which in turn creates a higher valuation.
Alpha Dog is a novel term in Korea because Korea’s incipient startup culture still has few exits and M&As and as a result has few Alpha Dogs to mentor and invest; but as things stand, Korea could have many more in the future.
No one expects a fledgling Korean startup founder in Silicon Valley to attract the likes of Peter Thiel and Paul Graham initially; however, Manoj believes through the recommendations guidance by the above-mentioned types and by the idea of to “make something users really lovesolving a problem”, one can possibly attract the connected Alpha Dog who, in turn, can facilitate in the increase of valuationmake the difference which will lead to some VCs knocking on your door to lend.
Though there are many more factors needed for Silicon Valley success, Manoj’s succinct and clear recommendations, I believe, are an invaluable source for the early stage Korean CEO as well as for the serial entrepreneur.
The critical and fundamental barriers for potential Korean Silicon Valleyers to overcome, as Manoj aptly points out, are those seemingly insurmountable ones: seamless English communication, overcoming failure, networking, age hierarchy etc.
Written By Dennis Stephen Cervantes