Day 2- Cardinal

Written by
Joshua Holmes
Published on
November 16, 2016
Read time

Cardinal has a few meanings. I felt it was a great match for today. It can mean of utmost importance, which is how I felt some of the discussions I had today fit. It is also the official mascot and colour of Stanford University, which we visited.

The trip out to Stanford was nothing to call home about, but coming through Palo Alto and the surrounding area for the first time showed a different side of the US than I had seen before.
It was green and beautiful looking and had a very much calm, town feeling about it.

Stanford entrance

That feeling continued as we arrived at the Stanford University Visitor Centre and made our way on foot to the dining hall, thanks to previous Catalyst Alum, Sam. The whole campus seemed to have a relaxed, calm and green feeling about it. Perhaps it was that they were acting like ducks- calm on top, but going like heck underneath.
The campus was so lush, surrounded by over 40,000 trees, and had some amazing buildings.

After lunch in the dining hall, we headed across to the Bookstore where most of us purchased a few momentos for ourselves, family and friends.
Just outside in the student quad was a rather large Trump protest, where students were singing and talking to each other, imploring love over hate and freedom over oppression.

Trump protest
Stanford church

Following our own time, we took a walking tour with an awesome student called Marissa. She was very knowledgeable, giving us awesome little tidbits and hard facts around the unfortunate founding of the university.
For instance, in the lead up to their annual Big Game football match against rivals Cal, the students spike a stuffed bear to the top of a sculpture and dye all the fountains red, like the blood of their enemies. And that's not all, for 120 hours before the game, a subset of students camp out in the quad sounding a horn each hour. This all happens whilst giant banners strung from the buildings demand they 'BEAT CAL'. Our visit took place around 96 hours out from the game.

120 hour horn

After an awesome look around, we headed back the SF and straight over to WeWork at Soma. The panel discussion for this evening was given by Mark Johnson, Hamish Hawthorn and Stephanie Carullo and was focused on succeeding in Silicon Valley. And boy, what an awesome session it was. It was just a giant brain dump of gold, which I'll break down here.

Mark kicked off by saying simply you can't be shy to succeed here, but to remember SV isn't paved with gold. The difference between Australia and here is that the terms are better, not necessarily the VC's.

Silicon Valley is in a bubble. We're different to the rest of the world.

He went on to talk about how it isn't enough to simply have a product-market fit- you need to have customers and traction. He also warned that there are too many me-too products. Founders should be building new products, not copying others.

He implored us to find a WTF! moment. Something that will set you apart and have VC's pitching to you. This is the kind of moment you have when your first catch an Uber, asking yourself why you ever caught a taxi. Or the moment you buy cheap from Amazon and have it delivered in an hour. Why were we ever doing it differently?

He warned of the dangers of VC money and that the Valley always remembers, so be kind. Finally mentioning that everything in the US is negotiable.

Hamish and Stephanie than took the floor to answer some Q&A as well as talk about their insights.
One of the big points was that in the US, no one cares about the government agenda and funding like they do in Australia. It's critical to not base a business on government grants and the like, because what happens when they turn off the tap? Think pink batts and insulation.

Startups and founders need the following three things:
  1. Keep money in the bank.
  2. Have a mission people can get behind.
  3. Hire good people and get out of the way.
WeWork panel

Following drinks and networking, we headed to John's Grill for dinner and back to the hotel.
With an early start in the morning, we are headed to Dropbox, Atlassian and WeWork, it's time to get some shut eye.

As a final note for today's post, I've now noticed some constant and common themes. These aren't necessarily new either- you hear them coming from people Down Under (haha) as well. Nonetheless, it is important to point these out.

  • Aussie's are loved in the Valley. Their known to be hard working, honest and humble. Not to mention they're happy to grab a beer after work.
  • If you're after a life of leisure and ease, startups are not for you.
  • Be very careful accepting VC money. Know why you're seeking funding. Try alternatives.
  • Networking and relationships are extraordinarily important. In the US, they need to be worked on more than in Australia.
  • Expand your thinking (and market) outside Australia. You might have 5 customers in Australia, with 50,000 waiting in the US.

Headshot of Josh in black and white

Joshua Holmes

Josh is a product design leader based in Melbourne, Australia.
He has been working in the design space for 7 years across various industries.