The best thing Vienna offered me yet happened during StartupWeek. A Silicon Valley trip. 10 days in Silicon Valley meeting with great startups, founders, Stanford students & professors, investors and interesting people. I said yes, of course.
Imagine how awesome it could be for a geeky dude, 10 days (4/11 to 14/11) in the Mekka of all things tech, meeting with people behind big startups like Facebook to smaller ones like 8tracks, invited over to the other side of the pond by the guys of PionierGarage — a student entrepreneurship team from KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.)
I’ll break down this post to a few categorized sub-topics. The trip, Silicon Valley mentality, 4sqwifi.
The trip itself was mind-boggling. One of the best I ever did, flew over Greenland, the southest part of the North Pole, saw the Canadian Wilderness, its forests and lakes, the Atlantic Ocean and Rocky Mountains by night. Unfortunately there was no direct flight from Vienna to San Francisco, but switching flights in Toronto, I think, it was a great experience. Toronto by air is beautiful, I presume “on ground,” too. Toronto’s, along with Munich’s airports are the best I’ve ever been. On my way back from San Francisco I flew my biggest flight ever, 11 hours — San Francisco to Zürich, and one of the biggest in the world (I’m not 100% sure about that, though.)
San Francisco is a darn beautiful and-not-your-typical-American city. Lots of bikes (singles & fixies), green (parks & trees), uphills and downhills, skyscrapers and small homes. All arranged and mixed in a European-American blend. Many cool stores and cafes (like The Summit, Cafe Sophie) and 4sqwifi works perfectly too. I’ve made a decision to move sometime eventually in San Francisco. On the same note, Vienna is darn beautiful, too.
Valley (mainly Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View) is, simply to put, great. I didn’t ever think that it’d be so green and outspread. Most people commute via car, it’s the fastest way there, unless you live in Mountain View and work in Google, then biking is kinda acceptable too. I ate an awesome ice-cream in a shop that I do not recall the name and climbed at Planet Granite (insanely great indoor climbing place, so big, so cool, so outdoorsy) — thanks, Dimitris.
Silicon Valley mentality
The best has yet to come. We visited StartX & Crowdbooster, LinkedIn, Google, StartupGrind, i/o Ventures, Twitter, Github , BV Capital, Bump Technologies, Andreesen Horowitz, BASES’ ETL workshops, SoftTech VC, Facebook, Peter Thiel, Lean Launch Lab, Mozilla, Apple, had a BBQ at BlackBox Mansion and 8tracks. I met also with Paul Stamatiou (finally after 4 years knowing each other on www — he’s doing Picplum, check it out) and Dimitris Glezos (Transifex & sushi ftw!).
I don’t think I can explain every meeting itself, that’d take 2-3 posts, so I’ll try to sum up as much as I can focusing on the key points. Some of our best meetings were the discussion with Peter Thiel, visiting Twitter, Github, Facebook, Google, Mozilla. Meeting with 8tracks, StartX/Crowdbooster, i/o Ventures was very good, too. Plus, the BBQ over at BlackBox was delicious. Om nom nom.
My notes spanned across 20+ pages in my Moleskine. The knowledge, mentality and inspiration we got was enormous. The networking that happened, such as meeting with some exceptional Stanford students in a Stanford’s d.school workshop (d as design), where, among them two interned at Facebook, is extremely positive. The trip was a chance to give my first Moo cards to other people (hoho.)
One of the key topics in our discussions with everyone is whether “Silicon Valley is transferrable.” That is, if Europe can have its very own Valley — a hub that thrives on innovatio, business, lots of $ and darn smart people. In my opinion there cannot be a second Valley. Simply to put, it’s like saying “I want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg” but guess what — you can’t, because Mark will always be Mark and #1 and you, at the best #2. (Yeah, I know, Ashton said that.) Aside Ashton’s recent rants, this is true. Silicon Valley has been growing up for 40 years, from the first hardware and semiconductor companies that started outside San Francisco, it eventually moved mainly to software — not to say that there is no high/clean/renewable/green tech. There is, and it’s getting big.
What we can do though, as the Europas who are left in terms of tech innovation and culture is, guess what, to grasp a bit of this culture and mentality, try to mix it with our beliefs and slowly, start to create hubs of alike-minded people. Berlin, London, Amsterdam are on their way doing that — but in terms of human resources, Silicon Valley has much more density of smart, willing to help people. VCs and all are in one single place, not spanned across 3 different countries.
One of the key differences though between US/Valley and EU is the mentality as an early adopters aka people who see/listen/demo and want to use new products. In the Valley, if you go to a random person and talk to them about your idea, show your app, etc the first thing they’ll say is “That’s awesome, dude!” (OK, unless it really sucks big time.) They’ll try to give you feedback, new ideas and help you by default. That’s how people live there, and they’ll expect nothing more of a “Thanks!”, a conversation or something like that — not $ reward, equity or other douche stuff. On the other hand, in our mighty Europas the first thing someone will say in a similar situation is “Uhm, yeah… ok… unless you do that… it won’t work… maybe… yes…” and the rants continue on similar wavelength. People in the Valley are always positive, back in Europe people do not adapt fast, fallen within the ease of habits, i.e. laggards. I don’t say that we don’t have early adopters, they’re just a smaller fraction of people and not the majority.
4sqwifi launched while in the Valley. One of the best things that happened there. The day was Wednesday, we were hanging out in The Summit, waiting for our meeting with i/o ventures. And, BOOM!, Push notifications from Apple came. “Your app was marked as In Review,” and the other usual yada-yada. Couple minutes later I had the direct link which shared over Twitter. I don’t know how, but it 4sqwifi really big: it soon became No. 4 top free Productivity app and in under 15 hours it climbed up to the No. 1 top free app in the Greek AppStore. That was huge. In the first day it got something more of 5,888 downloads. After a few days, I woke up, checked Twitter and saw a mention that 4sqwifi had a post in The Next Web (really big! — thanks TNW!). Previously, away.gr, iPhoneHellas.gr and a few other websites also covered 4sqwifi. Plus, aboutfoursquare.com.
Not everything was great, though. The app had a nasty bug which didn’t appear while testing 4sqwifi on-device (4S, 3GS) and Xcode simulators (iOS 4.3, iOS 5.0). That did cost 4sqwifi some bad reviews, from users who got that bug (it didn’t appear on everyone, very weird) but it’s already killed and waiting to be shipped with the new version. That’s good news!
All in all, 4sqwifi taught me some very valuable lessons. I’m gonna write a separate post about them. They deserve it.
I was very lucky going there. It got me a whole new perspective on all things tech, www and startups. Much knowledge gained, did a little San Francisco tourism, experienced America, and the mighty Silicon Valley. Thanks to everyone who made this possible. I want to close with one last remark: as Pascal Finette, the Mozilla dude we met, said: “Book the cheapest flight, book the cheapest hotel and come, stay, in the Valley for two weeks. Just hangout out Starbucks and feel the vibe. Then get the vibe and do things.”
You can see all 154 photos from my Silicon Valley trip in their Flickr set. Click.