We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
Harry Gandhi, an Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) and BET 300 student, recently traveled to Silicon Valley to attend Startup Grind 2014 and a "Biotech Business Bootcamp" as a semi-finalist in the OneStart Competition, the world's largest biotech idea competition.
As entrepreneurs, most of us will probably end up going to Silicon Valley at some point, whether it’s to meet potential investors, build relationships or learn about the "Valley mentality."
These are five main take-aways I learnt in my recent trip to Silicon Valley:
1. Take advice with a massive grain of salt.
Even this advice.
Advisers, angels, venture capitalists, and fellow entrepreneurs all give advice based on their experiences and their expertise. That’s it. Therefore, no one knows your business better than you. Walmart and Google are great examples of companies that received heavy negative feedback on their businesses in their early phases, but they decided not to listen to their advisers and investors, and it worked out for the better.
Customer validation solves some of this (when you have time to do it), but mostly what matters is an advice filter. The trick is to know what to do when you don’t have the data in front of you.
2. "Sorrow is crucial for an entrepreneur."
This was a quote from George Zachary, who has invested in some of the most successful companies in the world, including Pebble. He said 80% of the entrepreneurs he invests in have gone through hard times prior to being an entrepreneur. It’s not something he looks for (or knows of) when he’s investing, but it’s something that comes up once he gets to know the entrepreneur better over time.
Entrepreneurs have a need to constantly oppose the status quo and that’s where true passion comes in. This need comes from feeling extremely down at some point, and developing the skill of being able to handle the emotional roller-coasters of the entrepreneurial experience. If everything is daises and champagne, we don't feel the deep desire to change the status quo. And if you’re an entrepreneur, that need for change is your bread and butter, and must be oozing out of you.
3. Know your elevator pitch extremely well.
On my first day, enroute from the airport, I found myself lost. I happened to be with a social entrepreneur in healthcare from Bahrain and a tech entrepreneur; in the midst of this mishap, I ended up with the opportunity to pitch my business to them. Unexpectedly I was able to get some great insights via their networks including hubs I should visit while in California.
Having a solid elevator pitch creates more opportunities to impress the right people in a very short period of time, and is extremely crucial.
People are intrinsically motivated by stories; how you and your team got there, why you are building a company, and the vision. At the end of the day, the idea becomes a relatively small part of the selling point for a mentor, adviser or investor.
Most investors (angels and venture capitalists) are interested in companies because of the team. Investors in the Valley talk about the infamous Twitter story, where the original idea was something completely different than what Twitter ended up being. They invested in the founders, Jack and Evan, because they thought they could make the right pivots at the right times (which they did). The only reason they were convinced by Jack and Evan was because they had a compelling "why" and "how" - the "what" didn’t matter.
5. "Experiences are just a set of biases."
This was a quote by Vinod Khosla, one of the most prominent venture capitalists in the Valley. The older you get, the more you start understanding the world, and the more you understand the world, the more your mind becomes attuned to follow the rules. The people who do not know the rules are much better at inventing or re-inventing them, whereas those who know the rules just know how they work. The naive entrepreneur is typically in the former category and the veteran mentor is usually in the latter category. This is because the naïve entrepreneur is "stupid" enough to try something crazy and the veteran has the experience and the know-how to make the crazy vision come true.
Vinod's advice reminded me of a quote from George Bernard Shaw, "Human progress depends on the unreasonable man (or woman)."
Let’s be young, unreasonable and break things.
Harry Gandhi is a fourth year Biotechnology and Economics student and co-founder of Medella Health. Harry describes himself as intrigued by knowledge and its pursuit, with a passion for transforming ideas into actions that will have a meaningful impact on the world.
Read more from Harry on his blog.
Medella Health is a wearable technology solution that continuously and non-invasively monitor blood glucose levels and transmits the information to a mobile phone, so patients can better manage their diabetes.
Earlier this term, Harry won an E-Launch Award for Medella Health.
Medella Health is one of six Canadian startups among the 35 semi-finalists in the OneStart Americas Competition. Companies are competing for a $150,000 cash prize and 12 months of free lab space in San Francisco.