Today was our first full day in San Francisco. We had had a good night's sleep- I was personally out for 12 hours. It was amazing. The morning started out with breakfast next door at the cafe and a quick trip into Westfield for a notebook.
One thing that is certain is that the US is certainly the land of excess. Each of the meals I've had has been massive. Even the small servings are significant in size. A $2.75 small coke at the hot dog stand I went to was easily nearly 1 litre.
Another thing that has stood out, especially in SF, is the clear divide between rich and poor and old and new. SF is an old city, and it shows. But with a booming tech sector, they have billion dollar companies restoring and taking over older buildings. This also carries through to old billboards and public assets plastered with ads for pieces of technology and tech startups. But this influx of tech and money has created the rich and poor divide. More homeless people than I've ever seen per block before, sitting outside companies worth billions with employees earning hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Following breakfast, we headed across the road to the Hello offices. Hello was founded by Orkut Buyukkokten, who has now founded a number of different social networks. The most recent prior to Hello was Orkut (named after him, funnily enough), while he was an engineer at Google.
Orkut took us through his different social networks he has launched and his new one, followed by a Q&A. One of the best things to be revealed was that even after founding multiple social networks, the things he thinks his users want or need isn't necessarily correct. This points out the importance of listening to customers and having a good market fit. Another learning brought from past experiences and something being built into Hello is using correlating data of user profiles to match them to what they like. Orkut also spoke about the hiring and fundraising processes in startups, saying that you should hire slowly and let go quickly and to expect fundraising to take longer than you expect. Finding the right team is a common theme being heard.
Startups are like a family. You wear lots of hats. Work hard, play hard.
After Hello, I ducked down to Pier 39 for lunch. Unfortunately there was a lot of fog today, so I missed the view to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. But it was a nice place to look around nonetheless.
Following lunch, I Ubered over to Twitter. This was certainly one of the places I was most looking forward to checking out. Tim took us through the office, firstly ducking up to their VIT (Very Important Tweeters) area (blushes). This had some cool works areas, big kitchen and swag vending machine (unfortunately out of order). It also had a cool interactive digital wall displaying current trending tweets for certain interest points. He then took us to the one of the dining areas. It was massive. And awesome.
Then it was time for a Q&A and discussion. Tim invited Michael to talk to us first, which was awesome. He took us through his experiences, including building his own startup, complete with pivot, and rise to being an engineering manager at Twitter. He pointed out that great cofounders are an absolute must for any startup.
Tim then spoke about his background with launching a startup in Brisbane and coming over to Twitter and San Fran. He also talked about some of the tech stack at Twitter, including the fact they have their entire product in a test environment capable of simulating peak load. He then spoke about investment in SF. He mentioned that investors can sense indecision, so it's important to have direction and know what you need to do. He indicated gaining investment was easier in SF compared to Australia due to the sheer amount of it available, but that investors look for traction, which is shown by any type of hockey stick growth. When quizzed about where Australia could improve to compete more with SF, he made the following three points:
Stop the brain drain of allowing so many talented people to leave.
Investors in Australia tend to be too risk adverse and look for too much return. This creates less investment in startups, forcing them overseas, taking the talent with them.
The government needs to foster for innovation through incentivising startups and investment in them.
After leaving Twitter, we moved straight to Startup House for a fantastic talk and panel discussion on startups and product market fit, hosted by Elias Bizannes.
When you look at the market size and economy versus Australia, launching in the US just makes sense.
Elias spoke about his move from corporate to startup, stating he needed to unlearn perfection. As you have so much to do and so little resources (time, money, employees), perfection can't be reached. Another important point that was raised was managing your working capital at all times. Bad ideas don't exist, he said, just bad fund management. He was highly critical of the ecosystem in Australia, saying that that's what lets startups down, not smart or hard working people. And even if you were to base yourself in Australia, the rate of learnings and pace of things in SF means you should have some presence here.
The panel discussion that followed on product market fit was very insightful. We need to be careful not to let our own emotions or paradigms get in the way of our ability to create a great product market fit or even pivot if required.
After the networking the followed, we all headed to Fang's for Chinese and back to the hotel, where I sit at 1.30am finishing off this blog.
Tomorrow it's off to Stanford and WeWork for another packed day full of things to learn and new stuff to find.