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Oct 25, 2017

The week my life changed forever | Rachel Ji

On Sunday 8th October, us excited students departed from AKL to SFO on a 12-hour flight. To say that we were oblivious about the crazy week ahead would be an understatement. Oblivious to the complexity of Silicon Valley. Oblivious to how life-changing the experience was.

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Although I’m physically back in New Zealand, my mind has not yet returned from San Francisco. Never did I think how drastically my mindset could change after 1 meeting, let alone a week filled with 17 meetings! As a technology nerd, I’ve been dreaming about touring Silicon Valley for the past 2 years and this dream came true much earlier than I ever had anticipated. As soon as I set foot in Silicon Valley, I knew in that instant that the magnitude of impact from being exposed to the technology scene was going profoundly change my life. As 17-year-old entrepreneur this trip has drastically shifted how I perform in both the business world, and my personal life. The most valuable takeaway from this trip, was that it’s possible for young founders to succeed if they have the right support network.


Discussing all aspects of a startup with driven, interesting, ambitious techies that are on the forefront of global change is incredibly inspiring. The level of intellect and insightfulness as well as the quality of the conversations completely blew my mind. Hearing from startups such as Nuro, eShares, Ntropic etc. as well as the technology giants like Microsoft and Google showed us a great contrast on their cultures. On a darker note, the level of competition is far beyond what we can comprehend back here in New Zealand, for example, Microsoft’s bottom 20% of employees get cut annually. It shows that you need to bring your A game and always perform. Silicon Valley is driven on results.


Silicon Valley is driven on results. We need to translate this back into our ecosystem and push towards practical goals.

Silicon Valley is an amazing place; it's completely disrupting and leading the world in technology. Why can’t we replicate that here? I believe it comes down to the relative abundance and density. Density of entrepreneurs and startups. Density of investors. Density of talent. The Valley is unique and it would be difficult to replicate that culture back here in New Zealand, yet that doesn’t mean we can’t succeed on the same level.


Silicon Valley is abundant in entrepreneurs, startups, investors and talent.

Interestingly, there was quite a contrast when we visited huge technology giants such as Google and microsoft compared with relatively smaller startups such as Nuro and Ntropic. Many people leave Google after a few years to take the risk of joining a startup. I learnt this was because at Google you’re amongst tens of thousands of employees which can become overwhelming and you can easily get lost and therefore can’t have as great of an impact. These people are ambitious risk takers who will give up positions at Google to join smaller startups because they believe they are have a much more profound impact on the world.  It was rather interesting to hear that these risk takers have given up an amazing job at google to join a smaller, riskier startup because that’s where they believe they could have the greatest impact.


At eShares, we met a New Zealander David Booth who shared his story of how he went from otago university to working in San Francisco at a company that had just raised $42 million dollars in their Series C round! Booth had an inspiring story which really resonated with me since I see some reflection of myself in his character after hearing about his hustle and entrepreneurial ventures as a teenager. After a few ventures throughout his teenage years including distributing apple products and a meat delivery company, he ventured out to angellist with a proposal to get them to expand into the Australasian/NZ market, and ended up getting a job with them! It’s interesting to see the creative ways of how New Zealanders are ending up overseas. He then invited one of his colleagues, a product manager, to come share her story and enlighten us more about her role Essentially, I concluded that being a product manager was the perfect role for me as I want to combine the business side with the engineering side and translate technical terms.


Passionate about both business and engineering? Look into product management!

Visiting a software design and development agency called Carbon Five was a unique experience. We were fortunate enough to sit around a table alongside Carl from IDEO and talked about all areas of a startup. When I asked Janet about setting goals and visions she taught me that visions can fundamentally change to adapt to a new story. Throughout our trip we have picked up the importance of cultivating a culture within a company and how it’s the most important thing. This idea was reinforced, even for companies expanding overseas and the significance of company values. Carbon Five have chosen not to grow rapidly, but rather sustainably, as they want to hold culture and values. Although with a product company this might not be possible as they can’t control the speed of growth and hence will have to adapt to it. Another interesting point from our meeting was not the validation of your idea, but rather the invalidation of your idea. Instead of trying to validate something, try figure out what’s wrong with it so that founders are able to leverage this to prove themselves right.


Have a vision so big that it’s unattainable.

Having 17 meetings in 5 days has shown me a new appreciation of the value of everyone’s stories and how one brief meeting can change your life forever. I’ve gained such a depth of knowledge but at the same time I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface of Silicon Valley.  The contrasting nature of Auckland and San Francisco is really remarkable. In many ways they are polar opposites but at the same time share similarities through the passion in the technology ecosystem.


Hearing someone’s story from a quick 45 minutes meeting can have a profound impact on your life.

To name a single highlight of this trip would be impossible, however it was amazing to see kiwis dominated the world stage. Never in my life would I have thought that I’d end up in a room alongside Jake Millar, Claudia Batten and Tim Brown. It was awesome to connect with one of my biggest role models, Claudia, again. This reinforced my life plans to follow a non linear route, but rather squiggle! It’s almost like the “path less traveled” idea.


This trip has equipped me with a wider appreciation for the startup scene and further fuels my ambitious goal to change the world and positively impact a billion lives. More importantly, the opportunity to visit these companies truly opened my eyes up to the fast-paced and ambitious lives of these entrepreneurs. By witnessing, firsthand, how passionate, driven and motivated everyone is in Silicon Valley has encouraged me to think bigger and outside the box. Yet, the difference in wealth distribution within San Francisco was shocking. You would step outside your modern air conditioned office, filled with food and expensive technology equipment, to face streets full of the homeless. The contrast will not only motivate you to work harder, but also realise that there’s more to life than wealth. Most companies in the Valley have a deep desire to help out whenever they can, such as offering care packages to the homeless.


People are scrambling around chasing the “American dream” which is admirable. And due to the exponential growth of technology and how connected we are in this day of age, our location does not determine our success. Although the scale of the startups over there is crazy compared to New Zealand in terms of talent and funding, New Zealand has the potential to disrupt the world and be on the forefront of technology and instead let’s create the “New Zealand dream”.


San Francisco, I’ll see you soon.