094: What to Do When Moving to Silicon Valley
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Today we are going to talk about what to do when moving to Silicon Valley. Steli received an email from a listener who had heard that Steli sold everything and bought a one-way ticket to the Bay Area. The listener was looking for guidance on what he should and shouldn’t do, so we decided to make this the topic of our show.
Steli arrived in the Bay Area with nowhere to stay and no idea how to move forward. By chance, he ended up sitting next to Dave McClure and near Robert Scoble at a dinner on his first night. Dave McClure wasn’t that welcoming when Steli tried to listen in on his new app demo, but Robert Scoble told Steli to call him the next day once he found out this was his first night in the the United States.
Thanks to the kindness of Robert Scoble, Steli did his first online interview in the U.S. He got an insider’s tour of Silicon Valley courtesy of Robert on his 2nd day. Then he attended an event where Robert spoke and Steli had the nerve to steal an open mic and make an introduction and ask for friends. He subsequently spent the next two weeks returning calls and hanging out with people who had given him their cards.
Hiten moved back to L.A. after college, but he kept coming to the Bay Area to work on tech projects. In 2007, he and his wife decided to make the Bay Area their permanent home. Hiten was an advisor to Slideshare and Webs.com. Both of these companies sold for 9 figures, and Hiten felt he was able to be involved and make money just by doing what came natural, which was being helpful, making friends and networking.
Today we share our stories and tips for making the move a smooth transition.
- Making friends – Make friends online and visit once or twice before the move
- Network by just being helpful
- Bring something that can create value to the table – make sure that you can do something valuable for people
- We chose the Bay Area because there were more people here trying to start things, but you don’t have to choose this area for your startup efforts
- It’s easy to make friends by just being present at an event or a dinner, the networking can come naturally by just getting an invite from a friend
- In the Bay Area there are more events than you could attend, even if you made it your life’s work
- A great way to get started networking when you don’t know anyone is to volunteer at an event – everyone needs volunteers
- It’s a classic no brainer to message someone like Gretchen at SaaStr and ask if she needs volunteers – we have made several connections with volunteers at events
- For the first four weeks go everywhere and meet everyone and let the universe and serendipity do its thing
- Once the initial connections are made start valuing your time and focus on meeting the right people and founders to move forward
- It’s fine to listen to a talk from someone 100 steps ahead of you, but mingle with people maybe only 2 steps ahead of you
- Just like Steli’s chance meeting and connection with Robert Scoble, you have to put yourself out there and see what will happen
- Steli’s advice for newcomers is to join a small team, by working with a small group of talented people there is a good chance you will find your next co-founder or employee
- In order to succeed, you need great people to build a business around
Links and Resources:
Robert Scoble Post about Steli Efti
Video of Steli’s 2nd Day in the US – A One Way Ticket From Germany to Silicon Valley
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Hiten Shah: Hi, this is Hiten Shah.
Steli Efti: And this is Steli Efti.
Hiten Shah: And we’re here to talk about what people did especially us, Steli and I, when we first arrived to Silicon Valley and, obviously, that’s on The Startup Chat today.
Steli Efti: There you go. So here’s why we want to talk about that. I got an email this morning from somebody saying, “Hey, Steli, you know, I listen to The Startup Chat, big fan and I saw a talk you gave on like how you sold everything you had. You bought a one-way ticket. You came to the Bay Area and you mentioned all the mistakes you made and all that and I just—I’m just about to do the same thing. I’m just about to come to the valley to start my startup here. So, what advice do you have for me? What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? I just want guidance and I thought—you know, I had a lot—”
So I started writing an email to him and then I instantly went, delete all that and I went, “We’re about to record—I’m going to record—we’re going to record The Startup Chat episode so you’re going to hear it in a week or so.” And then I pointed him to a few other links and things to just get it done. But I’d love to hear kind of your story and the advice you give to people because you meet a lot of people that have just moved to Silicon Valley and want to make it here. I get that too, so let’s just share our advice with everybody who’s interested.
Hiten Shah: I’ll start by what I did and then you can—and how that happened, how I moved here and you can probably talk about yours and then we can give some thoughts for other people. For me, long story short, after college, I actually moved back to Southern California. I went to college up here but I wasn’t in the tech scene or anything, and this was around 2013. And I was down in L.A. and I actually started the first few internet companies down there and then in 2007, basically at the beginning of that year, I just started literally—there was just so much going on up here. I would go fly up here or drive up here like once or twice a month from L.A. And eventually it was just like, “Hey, like, why don’t we just move?” Because it’s just my wife and I at the time. We were actually living at my dad’s house.
So, we just decided to move in 2007 and it was because I was already coming up here, had already made a lot of friends and stuff like that, had them from before too. And moved up here. And I’m sure there’s a lot more to the story but like that’s the high level. And once I moved up here, the one thing I did that I think was really helpful to me but also sort of natural, so I don’t know if it’s everyone’s tactic or everyone should do it, but super-helpful, always been super-helpful, so there was something I realized up here was lacking especially because I was coming up so much.
And the thing that I realized that was lacking was basically the—people didn’t have much knowledge about marketing and specifically, they didn’t have much knowledge about search engine optimization and I happen to have a lot of knowledge about that crap. Not crap, but really important stuff. Some people around here thought it was crap, and so everybody I met whether he’s an investor, another founder or even someone working at a company, I would say, “Hey, I’ll go talk to anyone you want about SEO for an hour,” and lo and behold, like before I knew it, I had more than enough meetings like every month, every week, whatever on just helping people out for an hour about SEO.
And that led to lots of things like there’s 2 notable companies I was an adviser to. Notable just because they exited I guess, both Slideshare and webs.com. And I would say that if I didn’t go out there and say—obviously those folks are friends of mine. I actually just invested in the webs.com’s founder, new company and stuff like that. And they also on my budget share, I made money on both those companies, right? Slideshare sold to LinkedIn. Webs.com sold to Vistaprint, and basically—and they were both, you know, 9-figure exits so that was great for everybody and the teams, you know, did a great job building those businesses.
But at the end of the day, just by me being helpful, I was able to basically, for lack of a better word, network, right? And that’s what got me—made me a ton of friends around here. And now people don’t think I’m an SEO person or anything, but at that time, it was an opportunistic thing to help people out with because people needed help with it.
Steli Efti: Yeah. I love that. So I love the—so let’s summarize the strategy here real quick.
Hiten Shah: Go for it.
Steli Efti: So, first of all, you actually spend a little bit of time here before you moved, right? You had visited. You had some friends. You knew some people online, offline. That’s a big component that I think many people miss.
Hiten Shah: You got to figure out where to live. If nothing else, you got to figure out where to live.
Steli Efti: Well, I didn’t. I surely didn’t.
Hiten Shah: That’s why I want to hear your story.
Steli Efti: Yes. So—excuse me. So, before we get into my story, I do think this is very solid advice and I don’t think everybody fully follows this, me included, right? So, maybe you want to spend some time meeting people online and then also maybe you want to visit once or twice before you make the move. I think that’s very solid basic advice.
The next thing is you had something to bring to the table. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Especially something that maybe at the surface was not fashionable at the moment, but it was valuable so people wanted, right? They wanted the benefits of that know-how and skill. So, what you did is you showed up here and you were like, “I know something that can create value which means traffic to you, and anybody that needs this can, you know, tell me to come by. I’ll sit down. I’ll tell you everything I know.” And that’s just again—
Like it goes back to the philosophy of just being useful, being helpful. I mean obviously it opens a million doors. It creates friendships and it creates massive good karma either in the esoteric sense or in the practical. People feel like you’ve done something for them so they are much more willing to do something for you whenever you need them, right?
Hiten Shah: I still get that. I remember that one time, you came into our company, right? And I was just one of the designers there, right? And I just remember your talk it was great, right? Like I still get that even from back then and just essentially random people because I don’t necessarily remember these people, but I remember going to that company and talking to them. So it’s helped me in spades.
The only reason I would say that it might not apply to other people, maybe it does, it’s just that—I don’t know if people—there’s 2 things you have to be able to do to do that. You have to figure out where your value is and you have to match that with what people need. I could have been valuable in a lot of different ways. I could have been valuable in anybody starting a consulting company at that time because I was pretty good at it by then. Honestly, nobody starts those around here. So like that would have been helpful, right? But a lot of people start startups and search in Google and SEO used to be one of the biggest channels back then. It still is.
So, I think the important lesson there, I would say, if anyone wants to consider that tactic is make sure that you can do something valuable for people. I think everyone can. A caveat at first, but I think everyone can. It doesn’t matter who you are. You can be valuable to people around here.
And then the second thing is make sure that aligns with—and you have some way of letting people know you can do that. For me, my way was everyone I talked to, I would just tell them that, right? Because a lot of times I’d be like, “Oh, what can I do for you?” Or maybe they’re doing something for me or they’re just meeting up and I would just give them that spiel sort of thing.
Steli Efti: I love that. So, you know—and also to be fair, some people that come here are fairly early in their journey, in their career. Maybe they don’t have the thing that they can truly bring massive value to the table.
Hiten Shah: Maybe they have time.
Steli Efti: Maybe they have time. Maybe they have, you know, energy, hustle but they need to know what they know and what they’re capable of.
Hiten Shah: Absolutely.
Steli Efti: Right? So now, when you came here—so one of the unique things here is that you weren’t looking for a co-founder or bro-founder or whatever. You had Neil, right? You knew that you would—
Hiten Shah: I already had somebody I was going to start the companies with, yeah, and they weren’t here but that didn’t matter.
Steli Efti: That didn’t matter. So, when you came here, did you—so you came here because there’s lots of people, there’s great—there’s many, many reasons. But you didn’t come with a specific idea in mind to build a specific company here, right?
Hiten Shah: No. It was more of location. I found myself coming here. There was a lot of people here. there weren’t enough people in L.A. There still are not enough people in L.A. that are trying to do new things in my opinion, and for me I really like being around people that are trying to do new things and create things like the startup people. I don’t think being here is like as much of an advantage as it might have used to be. So I do want to mention that we’re talking about being in the Bay Area, but we’re not necessarily—I know you feel this way too, but we’re not actually advocates of “you have to be here” because I know some people are, so it’s important to make that clear. I’m just here because there’s more people here trying to start things than anywhere else physically.
Steli Efti: So, when did you—so you’re hanging around. You’re helping people. You’re building relationships and friendships. What’s the—what happens in the meanwhile? Are you—you’re doing a consulting business during that time.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, we were running a few products and doing our consulting business. So we were doing a bunch of things, which is pretty typical.
Steli Efti: Okay. And then what was the timeline between that and you starting KISSmetrics which was probably the most Silicon Valley venture-backed thing that you did?
Hiten Shah: We raised the first round in 2008 and when I got here in late 2007, I believe it was late 2007, just started making friends like that and, you know, I would say that I was whether it’s lucky enough or whatever the word to—I was given opportunities by a few individuals in different ways. And one of the individuals that gave me a ton of opportunity to get out there and for lack—again, lack of a better word, build a brand and do all that stuff was Dave McClure. So he was the one that put me on a—I think one of the first panels he put me on was at South by Southwest. I think we both fucked it up. But I fixed his slides. They didn’t look so silly. Still colorful.
Anyways, so I think—you know, for me it’s like by being helpful like that, I got these opportunities. I’m pretty sure I met the Slideshare folks because of Dave McClure as well. He’d wear their shirt all the time, right? And he was repping them because he just loved them, right? And so a lot of it has to do with—for me at that time, the web, the internet, all the stuff was also different because it was 2007, 2008 and there were folks like Dave McClure that were out there and just doing their thing. He was an angel investor at the time I believe and he wasn’t really at 500 Startups so that hadn’t started yet.
And, you know, I got lucky like that but I don’t think I would have unless I was just out there helping out, right? And just meeting people. So, you know, I guess to your question and your point, it’s like if you just start being open, at least for me, I was open, I was helpful and—you know, the one thing I did back then that I don’t do right now is I actually did go to a lot more events. I want to think that events were different back then. I do believe that some of that is true, right? Like Dave McClure had—I forgot what it was called. Oh, Startup2Startup, and it was a dinner, right? You might have been to one of them at some point. It was really cool, right? And I probably wanted to—I want to say I went to that for like 2 years straight, like almost every month unless I couldn’t make it and that was actually a place where I developed a lot of friends. In fact, I’m having lunch with one of my friends I met back then today.
And so, I still believe a lot of these things are going on that are more casual and they’re not as exclusive and you can get invited in from a friend or something like that, just to a dinner or an event or something like that. And honestly, it wasn’t even networking for me. It was just like just being present at those things, right? And trying to learn and trying to absorb but not really necessarily trying to meet everybody, which is what other people tend to do. They just want to meet everybody. That wasn’t my move.
Steli Efti: So let’s share a few thoughts on that and then I’ll share my story and we’ll take it from there.
Hiten Shah: Perfect. Yeah.
Steli Efti: The “I’ll come to the valley and then I’ll go to events to meet people,” and in the Bay Area, there’s more events than you could attend—if you made it your life’s mission to go to events, you still could not go to all events because there’s—
Hiten Shah: Yeah. And there was a lot of events back then too and now there’s probably at least 5 or 10x so—yeah.
Steli Efti: It’s just an insane amount of events every day, right?
Hiten Shah: Yes.
Steli Efti: So, the—
Hiten Shah: Oh, and we’re having event on Thursday.
Steli Efti: Oh, shit. Or we might have already had it.
Hiten Shah: No, no, we’re going to post this. Yeah, why not?
Steli Efti: We’re going to post this. All right. All right.
Hiten Shah: I thought you said event.
Steli Efti: Yeah, well, so here’s a little bit of background—kind of background knowledge for those that don’t know. Hiten and I meet once a week on Fridays and we record 2 to 3 episodes every week, so we have a little bit of backlog.
Hiten Shah: This might go on a Friday.
Steli Efti: Yes.
Hiten Shah: Fair enough.
Steli Efti: Maybe. But you know what we might do? We might just post, you know, one more episode next week. It’s a bonus episode to promote the life event. There you go. We just made that decision. So, yes, if you’re in the Bay Area, you want to go to events to meet really amazing people and us, then make sure to go to thestartupchat.com/fb for Facebook. Join the group, the number one post there is a link to RSVP and come and be part of a live recording in Palo Alto next Thursday at 6:00 PM for The Startup Chat.
All right. So enough about that. Events. Should I go to lots of events? Should I go to little? Should I go to no events? How many events are too many? Which events are worth going? It’s a very, very like common question that people have. I love to hear your thoughts first and I’ll share mine. But what is your advice if somebody asks you about like “I want to network. I don’t know people here. What’s kind of the best way to go about things besides offering help and value?” Like specifically when it comes to going to places where lots of people congregate.
Hiten Shah: So the one tactic I found that works if you’re willing to do it is volunteer, volunteer at an event. Everybody wants volunteers.
Steli Efti: Yes.
Hiten Shah: Right? So if you go email like SaaStr, right? And email like Gretchen, the COO, I’m sure she will tell you yes or no if she needs volunteers, right? So like it’s pretty easy to get to these event organizers even the smaller ones and be like, “Can I help out?” right? So that’s an easy way to just get in, number 1. Number 2 easy way because a lot of times the people that are helping out are like literally walking the speakers over to the stage and stuff like that. I’ve met a lot of interesting people that way actually when I’m walking up to the stage and there’s some random person who’s just volunteering and they’ll tell me “I’m just volunteering.” I’m like, “Oh, cool. What do you do? Blah-blah-blah.” Huge.
Steli Efti: I was just—
Hiten Shah: That’s like major key as we’d say.
Steli Efti: Just before you walk into the office, a volunteer of an event I spoke to last year was messaging me on Facebook, took a selfie in Tokyo with another volunteer from that event and they’re like, “Look at who I ran into?” And both of them are kind of friends now and I mentor them. Yeah, so it’s an absolutely no-brainer classic—
Hiten Shah: It’s probably the number 1 thing you can do if you have that hustle.
Steli Efti: Yeah, I love it. I love—I wouldn’t have thought about that. So my take on this is I think at the—so, I think the way— framework-wise, the way you want to think about this is you want to start as inclusive as possible but then very quickly get very, very exclusive. So, in the—
Hiten Shah: So do a lot of things for the first month or so, is what you’re saying just to feel it out?
Steli Efti: Yeah. I would say for the first 4 weeks, don’t worry. “Is this worth it or not? Was this worth my time?” Who gives a shit? Go everywhere. Your time is not worth a lot, like just go. Go meet people and let a little bit of serendipity and the universe do its work and see what happens. Get a feel for things. But then too many people do this for way too long, right? So at some point, you have to start valuing your time more and more and picking and choosing.
And the way that I would go about things and I’ll talk about this later on as well, but when it comes to just events, you want to really focus on the events in this company just a personal dinner or somebody’s like house party or whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be like an official conference. But you want to go to the things where the chances that people that are going to show up there are doing things as high as possible. So there is lots of events of people that are thinking about doing things. “I want to start a company so I’ll go to an event to find a co-founder. I think about starting a company, so I want to learn more about raising money.” That’s all great. These are all people that are just about to make things happen. But if you really want to go and meet the most valuable people that you can, you want to go to events where people have already running things and are growing those or trying to make them work.
Hiten Shah: So this pretty much goes back to one of your key sort of, I would say, pieces of advice on getting advice, too, right? Which is like people that are a few steps ahead of you. So if you’re going to an event, your suggestion would be you’re not quite there yet. What’s the point of going to an event with other people that are not quite there yet, right? You probably want to go—better to go to events with people that are a little further along. Yeah. Make sense?
Steli Efti: Yes, yes. So you want to—you know, you can go to a conference and watch somebody give a talk that’s like 100 steps ahead of you, that’s inspirational. But you want to mingle with people that are just like 2 steps of you because that’s practical, right? And you don’t want to find yourself in events where over and over you find yourself surrounded by people that are at the exact same step as you wondering how to get to the next one. Nobody will be able to really help each other other than emotional support of like, “Oh, this is really hard or whatever.” But you want to be surrounded by people that are a little ahead of you usually.
All right. So, my story—when I came here, I was very ignorant, right? So I literally arrived at San Francisco airport. I had sold everything I had back in Europe.
Hiten Shah: With your family?
Steli Efti: No, alone. I didn’t have family back—I mean I had family but not children or a wife back then. So I arrived myself alone. I didn’t have like a place. I didn’t know what my long-term visa situation would be. I didn’t know anybody.
Hiten Shah: What year was this?
Steli Efti: This is April 2007.
Hiten Shah: Great. So we got here almost the same year.
Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah. I’d kind of realized that until you just said it. So, I arrived and I literally asked somebody a simple how to get to Silicon Valley just to give people a sense for my level of ignorance, right? And then I remember somebody going “You mean Palo Alto, Stanford?” I was like, “Stanford? Yes. That sounds dope.”
Hiten Shah: Oh, my God. At the airport?
Steli Efti: At the airport.
Hiten Shah: You’re out, got bags.
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: Not too many.
Steli Efti: No.
Hiten Shah: And you’re asking the taxi driver.
Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah. No, not the taxi driver, just somebody that was on my flight.
Hiten Shah: Oh, random person, okay. Cool, cool.
Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah, random person. So the—I have to say, it’s not that I’m just that stupid or anything, it’s also that I had this—I did want to have—I did enjoy the idea of adventure, so I wanted it to be like that to a certain extent. I was seeking that.
Hiten Shah: You were seeking [0:18:44][Indiscernible] so you wanted to ask him.
Steli Efti: Yeah. I wanted to show up here and then figure it out, right? It was also by design, not just by stupidity but also by that. But—
Hiten Shah: Oh, we know you’re pretty stupid.
Steli Efti: How can you not know? So, the first day—and this is important. So I show up. Somehow I dropped out of the Cal train on California Avenue versus university. I walked a few blocks down and I see Hotel California, which sounded pretty appealing to me; I knew the song, right? So I’m like “Okay, this is my home. This is where I’m checking in.” I did something that is to me at the core of all of people’s problems, right? Which was I show up. It’s fucking whatever, 1:00 PM Pacific time. I set up my fucking hotel room. I unpack. I check my emails for whatever fucking reasons and I go, “What should I do with the day?” And there’s this little voice in my head that goes, “Take it easy. It’s your first day in the U.S. The jetlag. Just stay in the hotel. Chill out. You know, just get acquainted.”
Hiten Shah: That’s not what Steli did.
Steli Efti: No. And then there’s this other voice in my head that goes, “You motherfucker, you’re not going to be in the hotel room all day. You little, you know, insecure teenager, get the fuck out and meet people. Do something.”
Hiten Shah: Wait, how old were you?
Steli Efti: 24.
Hiten Shah: Okay, cool.
Steli Efti: 24. So, I go online. I go on meetup.com of all places and I go on Twitter and I find that there is a gig dinner in San Francisco, right? And these were as far as I can tell kind of—so Robert Scoble was always on there, Dave McClure, a bunch of other people and they were just gathered with a group of people having dinner and chit-chat geeky stuff in startups. And I was like, “All right, shit. Let’s go there.” And I take the train and I take it at the wrong direction so I get to San Jose first. I had to take it the other direction to get to San Francisco. I didn’t fucking know what I’m doing.
Hiten Shah: I know never to go to San Jose, huh?
Steli Efti: Yeah. Don’t take that direction. And—
Hiten Shah: There’s nothing there anyway. That used to be Silicon Valley, Steli, did you know that?
Steli Efti: I will ignore all those comments to move on with my story. So, I arrived there. I go to this dinner and literally next to me was sitting Dave McClure and on the other side a few chairs further is Robert Scoble and a bunch of entrepreneurs and geeky people. And I just like—my English is bad. I sound like an idiot. I don’t know really want I’m doing there. I’m super-uncomfortable. Also just—I was telling this to a new intern that we have at the company that’s also from Europe and his English is pretty good like much better than mine was, but he felt so insecure because he’s not as—he doesn’t feel like he can express himself as well as he used to, and I was like “That’s good for your character like I remember the first 2 years of being in the U.S. literally feeling like every sentence that came out of my mouth sounded stupid, just I was super. That’s good for you. It’s good for you even if you feel uncomfortable.”
Anyways, so I’m sitting there, I don’t know what I’m doing, and I actually have a Dave McClure story on this because he was trying—like again, at some point I’m like, “All right, network, talk to people, say something.”
Hiten Shah: This is going to be a thing, “Dave McClure story.”
Steli Efti: Yes. So I turn around and Dave is showing some other person some new app that was basically based on Google homepage back then where you get all these apps.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, NetBytes probably, yeah.
Steli Efti: Something. And I just like go, “Well, let me join whatever demo is going on there.” And Dave turns it on, looks at me and goes, “Dude, can you give us some privacy?” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I was feeling the stupidity. I was like, aahh, okay. I turned around. Eventually, I talked to Robert Scoble and I’m going to give Robert a huge shoutout here because I’m telling him, “Hey, this is my first day in the U.S. I don’t know anything. One-way ticket and all that.” And he’s like, “Oh, that’s fucking awesome. Give me a call tomorrow.” And I’m like, “What’s your phone number?” And you could just sense he was like, “Well, you don’t read my blog? It’s on my fucking blog. My phone number is on my blog.” I’m like “Okay, I’ll give you a call tomorrow.” The next day, I wake up 10:00 AM or something, I’m giving Robert Scoble a call. I’m super nervous, right?
Hiten Shah: Of course.
Steli Efti: And he picks up and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m the dude from last night’s dinner, da-da-da, this and that.” And he was like, “Cool, cool, cool. Where are you staying?” I’m like “Palo Alto.” “Which hotel?” “This and this.” He’s like, “Okay. I’m going to be there in 15 minutes. I’ll pick you up.” I’m like, “Okay, all right.” I hang up. He picks me up. We drive to some kind of a coffee place. We grabbed coffee. We sit down and he’s like, “Well, tell me all about your life story” and then I started speaking and he was like, “Wait, wait, wait, stop.” And he goes to his car and he brings his massive camera and sets it up, hits record and go, “All right, go. Who are you?” And he interviews me for an hour. That interview is on the web and if you want to see the difference that DeltaX—
Hiten Shah: We’re going to have to link it for sure.
Steli Efti: Oh, we’re going to link it for sure.
Hiten Shah: Hell yeah.
Steli Efti: Today, sometimes I go to conferences especially the ones that I’ve spoken multiple times and I know people know me and I will show a clip from that just to blow people’s minds to go, “That was Steli in 2007?” Because I’m—
Hiten Shah: “I can’t believe I’ve never seen that.”
Steli Efti: I am like the stupidest most like naïve version of myself. It’s just amazing. That’s a very, very humbling video for me. And he interviews me for an hour and then he goes, “All right, what’s—”
Hiten Shah: This is literally day 2 in the U.S.
Steli Efti: Yes, day 2.
Hiten Shah: Not even [0:24:04][Indiscernible]. Wow, so good.
Steli Efti: And all because I didn’t stay at my fucking hotel room.
Hiten Shah: You’re Steli.
Steli Efti: And then he goes, “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” I’m like, “Dude, I don’t have plans for the rest of the year. I don’t know what I’m doing.” He’s like, “Well, I’m speaking at this—it was SF New Tech meet-up in San Francisco. Do you want to come?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” So he takes me and he’s so fucking nice. Again, Robert Scoble—
Hiten Shah: It’s just—just him.
Steli Efti: He drives me first to the first HP garage in Palo Alto. We go out. He shows me the—
Hiten Shah: Wow!
Steli Efti: He gives me the fucking—
Hiten Shah: You got the premium tour.
Steli Efti: I got the fucking—
Hiten Shah: I haven’t even been to the garage, man. That’s cool.
Steli Efti: There you go. I get the premium fucking Silicon Valley tour. I’m this nobody kid, right? And he’s just so nice, shows me around, tells me about all these stories, drives me to San Francisco. He goes and speaks at SF New Tech. I’m like front row. And at the end of the conference— there was like 4 speakers. And at the end of the whole thing, they had this 15-second soapbox concept where people could line up that needed something and then get the mic for 15 seconds and go, “I’m looking for a co-founder. I’m looking for funding.”
Hiten Shah: I got to say that like I love it when meetups and conferences do that and I’m bombed out when they don’t do it because like when there’s people in the audience that could use that time on stage, you should give it to them.
Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah. So they did that and, again, it was this moment—
Hiten Shah: Did you go up?
Steli Efti: Yes.
Hiten Shah: Okay. Of course, you did.
Steli Efti: So I go up—of course, I did. So I—
Hiten Shah: I wasn’t going to let you go.
Steli Efti: So I go up and I take the mic and it’s just literally everybody’s like “I’m looking for co-founders. I’m looking for funding. We’re looking for PR.” And I take the mic and I’m like, “All right. This is my second day in the U.S. I’m looking for friends. So, if you are interested in some random dude, you know, from Greece and Germany and you don’t have enough friends already, come and say hi.” People fucking lost their mind, you know, standing ovation. Everybody was laughing. At the end of the event, it’s the 4 speaker surrounded by people and me and I have the biggest crowd and just everybody just like, “Here’s my card. Call me. We’ll hang out,” right?
So for the next 2 weeks, all I did was calling people that I’ve met there and going for dinner, lunches and meet-ups, right? That was the beginning of my—it was a pretty crazy first 2 weeks.
Hiten Shah: Talk about like hazing, frat-style.
Steli Efti: The frat-style.
Hiten Shah: Great. You got hazed into the valley.
Steli Efti: But all because I didn’t stay in my comfort zone. All because I went—I don’t fucking—let’s not stay in the hotel room. Let’s go out. Take the wrong train to San Jose. Take the ride—
Hiten Shah: Still you didn’t give up.
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: You could easily went back home and you can go like, “All right. This is not going to work.”
Steli Efti: Then take the train to San Francisco, then talk to Dave McClure who tells you to back the fuck off and then talk to Robert Scoble, right? Then interviews me. And I’m so glad—look at this. For the rest of my life, I had that interview of my first day here, right? So that’s—there’s so many good things that came out of that. And again, Robert Scoble, amazing human being. He’s been so kind to me, and I met my roommate at that SF New Tech meet-up. I met good friends and I’m still friends with like so much good has happened just because one dude was really nice to me, right? Who didn’t have to be nice to me whatsoever. I was the absolute nobody.
Hiten Shah: That’s him though.
Steli Efti: Right?
Hiten Shah: Like that’s definitely him and you definitely, you know—you were lucky.
Steli Efti: Yeah. I was incredibly lucky.
Hiten Shah: I mean you definitely put yourself in the right spot, but like you were lucky. That’s awesome.
Steli Efti: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Hiten Shah: But I got to say like there is—I think it could still work today in the same way that you have to put yourself out, but the same thing won’t happen, right? To most people, right? It was just very opportunistic because I still remember 2007, 2008, 2009, I think 2010 is when stuff got different but 2007, 2008, 2009, it was like housing crash, stuff like that, like—
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: We were like “All right, we don’t know if there’s going to be startups anymore,” really like at the end of the day, but—
Steli Efti: Dude, I remember at that gig where I met Robert Scoble, I remember Facebook—I might have had just a Facebook account for like 2 weeks or 3 weeks and I remember people asking Robert Scoble at the dinner table, “What’s the next big thing?” And Robert Scoble saying, “I know people think I’m crazy for this, but I think Facebook is going to be massive.” And people were like, “Really?”
Hiten Shah: Crazy, right?
Steli Efti: Like really? Like—and I’m—
Hiten Shah: He’s just a college student.
Steli Efti: And I remember going, “Really? Facebook?” It was that early. It was that early that people were like, “Really? Facebook?” And he was like spot on. I have to give him credit for that. But that was—it was, you know—it was definitely a different time. Much—I mean it was still like picking in the sense it was like Web 2.0 was—they had all the—
Hiten Shah: Yeah, [0:28:41][Indiscernible] Yeah.
Steli Efti: –the big kind of new version of the Boom, but—yeah, I don’t think that this can replicated. It’s not a strategy. The strategy that can be replicated is just—
Hiten Shah: It’s more of mindset and [0:28:50][Indiscernible]
Steli Efti: Mindset, show up, show up and when things don’t go your way, just keep showing up, right?
Hiten Shah: Yeah.
Steli Efti: But here’s the one advice that I want to give to people that I didn’t follow. When I arrived in the Bay Area, I was an arrogant prick because I thought within 2 years, I’d be Time Magazine Person of the Year, I’d built this company that’s billions and billions of dollar business changing the world, right? And I thought I’m too good to work for somebody else, like I’ve been only an entrepreneur my whole life and that’s what I’m going to keep being. And I didn’t know enough, like I—you know, looking back with hindsight, I knew so little about running and growing businesses and I knew nothing about technology and I knew nothing about raising money and I knew nothing about building product teams and I knew so little about all these things that it—
Hiten Shah: What about sales?
Steli Efti: I knew a lot about sales, but I didn’t want to do selling.
Hiten Shah: But you knew a lot about selling.
Steli Efti: I did.
Hiten Shah: Just checking.
Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Hiten Shah: Cool.
Steli Efti: If I had started day 1 on like, “Can I help companies with sales?” I had crushed it, right? But I spent 5 years trying to be Steve Jobs or trying—not Steve Jobs, but I tried to be like a visionary product CEO with having no fucking product idea or experience, struggling and like running a zombie startup and wasting a lot of value and time in the process. Today, the funny thing is, I meet an incredible amount of founders that come from Europe, right? And every time a founder comes from Europe, they meet with me so then the next time they meet people, they’d want to move to the U.S., the valley, they go, “You should talk to Steli.”
So I have this huge deal for like European startups that want to come here that just want to meet with me or get advice. And I’ve seen founders that had crushed it, had big exits in Europe and then come here. Investors, VCs that have big portfolio companies that were super-successful, high profile in Europe come here to start a company in Silicon Valley. And the majority of people fail and go back for one reason or another.
The most successful examples that I have for people that I have observed for the last 9 years that have done this, I mean I was just stupid that I just hung in there and I wasted 5 years of failure and then I had 4 years more of like ups and downs and now I’m at a really good place and doing really well. But it just took me just, you know, a lot of time.
Hiten Shah: It wasn’t overnight, huh?
Steli Efti: It was not overnight. But the people that I know that had the fastest, smartest way to success, what they did is this, and this is my advice to many people that nobody hear them, no connections to them, haven’t done a startup quite here, and they don’t have already a running business and just want to bring it here, they are just like “I want to start a startup in the Bay Area. I want to come here and start a company.” No matter how experienced you are or how big you are in wherever you are playing in, you’re still a nobody here, right? People don’t know you. People don’t care about your exit in wherever. You don’t have a network. You don’t have friendships. You don’t know how things work.
So, my advice would be don’t— consider not starting your company on day 1. Consider joining somebody else’s. Just go to a team that’s really high-caliber that’s doing really well, that’s not already thousands of employees, maybe just 10, 20 people, join and go, “Hey, I have all this experience. I’ve done all these amazing things. I have real skillsets. I’ll join you guys and I’ll help you for the next year or two to crush it.” My ultimate alternative goal is to get to know more people and to build a team myself and a business later on.
Working with a great talented group of people, you’ll find your co-founder or your first employee. You will find your first investor. It might be the founders or their investors. You will have a social circle where you get to know people really well besides the “we had dinner and then there’s a funny event 2 weeks from now that we meet each other again” where it’s like very loose connections. You’re working with people every day, you get to know them really well, you’ll build friendships at a different level. You see these people every day.
And then you can use that as a jumping board to do something much faster because the number 1 reason why all these great people don’t succeed here is that they don’t find enough great people to build a business around. They don’t find a great co-founder. They don’t find great teammates because all the amazing people are already busy with working somewhere else or starting their own things. And you are this person nobody knows and the only people you attract are the other people that nobody knows and they know nobody, right? So, it’s the blind and the blind getting together to try to, you know—
Hiten Shah: Blind meeting a blind, that’s what they say.
Steli Efti: Yeah, it’s kind of that kind of a deal and I did this myself for 5 years, right? So it’s not I’m above this. But—I have like now 2 solid case studies of this where somebody came and followed this advice versus trying to do something immediately although their ego could have led them to it because they were successful millionaire founders themselves and they did a year in another startup and then they literally started the next thing with the co-founder that they met there and they got money from the founders and they are crushing it now. Three years later, they are running huge business.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, and I got to say it only works if you’re willing to put in the work for someone else.
Steli Efti: Yes.
Hiten Shah: Literally for someone else even though you want to start your own company and it’s the hack for networking if you want to call it that, I totally agree. Like it is the one anyone can do anytime. You could have done it back then. I could have done it back then if I wanted to. Anybody today can do it. We’re probably going to do an episode on how to get a job at a startup.
Steli Efti: Oh, yeah, shit.
Hiten Shah: Because that’s what it reminded me of, and I think there’s been a lot of tips on this and we’ve got a little long but we told our stories. So, we’re going to end it here.
Steli Efti: Yes.
Hiten Shah: And if you’re thinking of coming to the Bay Area, you can always email us. We’ll help. If anything else, just come join the Facebook group, thestartupchat.com/fb and we’re doing a lot of links and stuff there where we’re sharing links. You can comment on them. We haven’t opened up discussions yet, but we’re still iterating. So, if you want to find startup stuff that we like and that other people in the audience might like and you might like, then join the Facebook group. Again, it’s thestartupchat.com/fb.
Steli Efti: There you go and we’ll hear you very soon.
Hiten Shah: Bye.
[End of transcript]