Tech Deciphered
Tech Deciphered
Jul 6, 2021
# 23 – The mythology (and reality) of Silicon Valley
Play • 1 hr 6 min

In episode 23, we demystify 7 of the most common and core myths on Silicon Valley, from its laid-backness to “everyone is amazing”. 

Check out episode 22, where we explain what Silicon Valley actually is, talk about its history and geography. In episode 24, we will deep dive on our Silicon Valley loves (and hates) and finally address the elephant in the room: is there an exodus going on or not? Has Silicon Valley’s downfall started or is it highly exaggerated?

Navigation:

  • Intro (01:34)
  • Myth 1 – Laid Back (04:25)
  • Myth 2 – Not Transactional (16:11)
  • Myth 3 – Self-Confidence and Assertiveness (27:22)
  • Myth 4 – Ton of Capital Available (37:29)
  • Myth 5 – Everyone is Amazing (47:31)
  • Myth 6 – Failure Always Rewarded (55:17)
  • Myth 7 – “Changing the World…” (1:00:49)
  • Conclusion (1:04:49)

Our co-hosts:

  • Bertrand Schmitt, Tech Entrepreneur, business angel, advisor to startups and VC funds, co-founder at App Annie, @bschmitt
  • Nuno Goncalves Pedro, Investor, Managing Partner, Founder at Chamaeleon, @ngpedro

Our show:
 
Tech DECIPHERED brings you the Entrepreneur and Investor views on Big Tech, VC and Start-up news, opinion pieces and research. We decipher their meaning, and add inside knowledge and context. Being nerds, we also discuss the latest gadgets and pop culture news.

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Intro (01:34)

Bertrand: Welcome to episode 23 of tech deciphered. This would be our second episode of our trilogy around Silicon Valley. If you remember how  previous episode, episode 22 was about what is Silicon valley, as well as what brought us there. For this episode, we’re going to talk about the myth of Silicon Valley versus reality. And we are going to share with you seven myths that we have seen over these years, and we believe come a long way explaining how Silicon valley really work.

Nuno: This started in some ways  with an article I wrote, I think in 2016 and I have four myths in that article. So today we’re going to expand on that. Bertrand has come up with a couple more and that whole story started  with two things, one with an entrepreneur that reached out to me and I used to have a lot of requests on LinkedIn via email  semi warm intros from friends about someone from another was coming to Silicon valley or was visiting, was going to come to Silicon valley to visit and meet with potential customers or investors.

But this particular entrepreneur that shall go un-named reached out to me and we had several people in common. It was a relatively cold reach out. And then he just sent me a follow-up message saying, I’m going there for a visit. Can you introduce me to Google, Facebook, all these companies. And I was like, why am I bugged by this? And as I started thinking through it I started actually taking it one step further, which was, I am bugged by it because people have this understanding of Silicon valley that is fundamentally wrong. And that’s where this whole mythology came from.  In some ways we had people that we knew in common.

We had acquaintances, not even really close friends, but I did not know this person. And that was one of the first things that bugged me. It’s like, why is he asking me for things? I introduced him to people why? I don’t know this guy.  And so again, I started going through it, and the second trigger for me to write this article, the myths of the Bay area back in 2016 which is still on Medium  if you want to take a look at it, I was about to be doing a keynote for an organization that I was a co-founder of called west to west, which was really linking  Portugal to Silicon valley, the two west coast as we call them and really helping entrepreneurs figure out how to best go to market in the U S how to best connect with talents in US, customers, potential investors, et cetera.

So I came up with four  myths that really helped me frame in some ways, a little bit of my messaging back to entrepreneurs that are not classically from Silicon valley, but are coming here. And maybe we’ll start with the first one, and go from there. 

Myth 1 – Laid back (04:25)

The first myth I really identified was that the bay area is laid back.

There’s this clear notion from around the world. It’s like people in the Bay area  are laid back. And a lot of this mythology is around for example, the way we dress that we wear hoodies that we have t-shirts that were pretty informal in how we dress, even in front of investors that we’re trying to raise money from, et cetera.

Bertrand: Specially  in front of investors. 

Nuno: Specially in front of investors. And that is precisely the point to what Bertrand was saying, which is the Bay Area is laid back in a very precise manner, which is it’s not laid back. It’s just a different dress code. If you  show up for a meeting with an investor in Sand hill road, Silicon valley, and you’re wearing a blazer, a jacket, et cetera, immediately, the investor will know you’re not from here.

The reason by the way that we wear a whole lot of hoodies is  the bay a area is a bit of a strange  climate, depending on where you live. Like San Francisco is a bit drizzly and all of that. So hoodie makes a lot of sense in effect, right? Because there’s changes of temperature that are dramatic during the day because you want to cut the wind.

And sometimes it’s pretty windy because it’s drizzly as well. It doesn’t rain heavily, but it’s drizzly. And so that’s one of the reasons why we do wear hoodies and  somehow people got confused, they confused what we dressed and how we apparently talked to each other with fundamentally the mindset. I would say the Bay area is very intense in some ways.

If laid back, it is a laid back in a specific manner. I had a friend of mine who used to characterize it as aggressively laid back and what he meant by that is it’s laid back in a very specific manner. If you behave in a different way, you’re already strange, certainly in the entrepreneurial and VC space, obviously, as we’ve discussed in our previous episode, the bay area does have corporate world and does have the entrepreneurial world, which don’t always touch.

But certainly in the entrepreneur and VC world the dress code and how we behave is in some ways a bit formatted. It is cool that I can wear t-shirts almost all the time. I think the classic way for a VC to dress is kaki and shirt. I sometimes break that as well, cause I’m a cool kid, so I will go t-shirt hoodie, and go in even a more relaxed way than most of my colleagues in the venture capital world.

But in some ways the dress code was what led me initially to this myth.

Bertrand: Yes. And if we stay to the VC side, of course you need your north face vest or, Patagonia jacket.  Yeah, it’s pretty funny. It’s when you start to see that at scale, how everyone  looks the same in the same category, so you can immediately guess who is a developer, for instance, they are the one wearing shorts and having a t- shirt  or if you are a VC we talk about the vest, the jacket, jeans.  And if you are the entrepreneur yes don’t wear a blazer , don’t wear a jacket typically that’s not what you would do.  Personally that’s one side I like that you  don’t need to do too much to wear too much. It’s way more casual. It’s probably more connected to how people naturally live and dress, but at the same time, when it’s enforced in some ways, that’s when it starts to feel weird.

And I’ve seen that. I still remember 20  20 years ago, early in my career, when I showed up in France, actually in an investor meeting as an entrepreneur,  with  a jacket   one investor told me that I was not a real entrepreneur because I was wearing a jacket. And that was in 1999, maybe I forgot  but my point is when it’s enforced that’s when it start to be very weird and to be frank really wrong. But you have to be aware of the codes because if you are totally  out of what is typical and expected yes. You would just stand out and usually you want to stand out for the right reason.

Nuno: The standing out piece is if you have a very specific way that you like to dress and a very specific way that is  different and you stick systematically to it, that might work over time, people will get used to it. Kevin Systrom was  a great example. He was well-dressed most of the time  which in Silicon valley was almost a blasphemy and others have followed suit on that, which is a bit of a double pun there.  But in some ways it has to be part of your personality. I think obviously if it is part of your personality, you should do it. It shouldn’t be just a gimmick. But you need to be careful to your point Bertrand

Bertrand: Yeah. And please be careful. Don’t just dress up like Steve jobs  with your black pullover,  blue jeans. 

Nuno:  With a turtle neck.

Bertrand: Exactly the turtle neck. have seen some in China, some in Silicon Valley dress up like this and usually it didn’t end up  very well for those that were just plainly copying Steve Jobs  .

I would say may he rest in peace and please just let him be, and don’t try to copy, try to be slightly original because when it’s too much, it’s too much.

Nuno: Yeah, the second lateral part of the aggressively laid back, et cetera, is also attitudinal on how we behave here. That part’s really important. I think a lot of people like, yeah, we’re all very relaxed around how we communicate with each other,  how we show up to meetings, et cetera.

Actually, not really people need to show up on time, be it a call, video call in person. Responsiveness is pretty important in keeping  momentum. So if someone sends you an email, they’re a potential customer and you want to show momentum. You should reply quite quickly, right? Even somehow showing effort in doing so.

Like for example, if you’re European company and you get an email at 11:00 PM, you still saw the email, getting back to the person in Silicon valley, actually at 11:00 PM might be a positive thing because people are like, okay, this person is making an effort, to keep up with me and to address my concerns and to be playing a little bit more around my time zones.

I was just interestingly enough, exchanging emails with someone I’m helping in a program that works with European entrepreneurs, actually Portuguese entrepreneurs. And I did the last edition. I’m now preparing to do the second edition of the program and I was telling the person who’s organizing can we for once actually put calls with these guys at 10:00 PM and 11:00 PM, and it’s not, I’m being a douchebag or an asshole. I’m just trying to make sure that these guys were being prepared to go to market in the US understand that they need to start working in US time, including west coast time.

And honestly, we have to adapt to the rest of the world. We wake up pretty early in the bay area. We started working early in the bay area as well. But don’t ask us to do calls at 5:00 AM or 6:00 AM. You guys do calls at 10:00 PM  because you also shoot it out. In particular if you’re trying to get me as a customer, et cetera.

Bertrand: Yeah, I’m certainly a big believer that both sides have to make an effort. And that means that on the west coast, you end up waking up early usually, especially the more you work with Europe. And in Europe, if you are  targeting the US, but you only do 5:00 PM CET central European time,  that’s not enough to get deals, at least if you target the west coast.  And if  we go back to being late in meetings, yeah, I think that’s pretty important. Me if I do a physical meeting, I try to be there in advance actually to be there a few minutes in advance. And that’s usually how it works because if you want to be on time and not be late you have to be in advance.

That’s very hard initially for French people, maybe for Spanish or people from Italy, from Southern Europe. But you have to do it. It’s really the game here and you have to send emails  or messages if you have  to be late by a few minutes. If you are late by really quite some time 10 minutes plus already have to propose a way out of the meeting  if people need that, especially if it’s people you don’t know.

Nuno: And that is an important point. I’ve worked in Europe and Asia and here like you Bertrand, I’d say my latitude in working in Portugal was 20, 30 minutes. My latitude in Asia was maybe 10 to 20, depending on the country. Some countries are worse than others. There’s obviously china was a different ball game, Indonesia as well, but like in Korea, in Japan, it was obviously being on time was important.

But here in the US and particularly in the bay area, it’s very simple at five minutes in, I’ll send you an email at 10. If you’re not around, I’m out.  If it’s a zoom call, et cetera. And even if it’s a meeting and if I have something after that, you might as well reschedule.  So again, the latitude we have here for this in some ways it’s more British than the British as I call it, which is we try to be on time.  We try to respect everyone’s time. I think there was almost an obsession with respecting people’s time here. If you’ve wasted someone’s 15 minutes or 20 minutes, you apologize. Because it was 15, 20 minutes that person could have done something altogether different. And there’s a little bit of that there that aggressiveness of laid back is in there as well.

Bertrand: And I think It’s part of efficiency. if you  have to pack your agenda with a lot of   meetings, 15 minutes meetings, 30 minutes meetings, one hour meetings, the only way to make it work is to be very strict. And that’s the way to get the most of your day. So there is some logic it’s not just to be painful is that some people truly have 10, 15, 20 meetings a day, and you have to acknowledge that and be respectful of that. And the whole system can work if you play by that game.  And on your point on  same day email, I forgot who I was talking to but he was referencing to me, a type of entrepreneur who was going to answer nights and weekends versus the entrepreneur not answering nights and weekends.

And that’s a world of difference. People will judge you based on, are you answering emails nights and weekends? And I think that’s truly part of the game if you are an entrepreneur, if you are a top VC, or if you are a member of the exec team, because business has to move, the show is going on. You have to keep stuff moving. And people make very clear difference very quickly, and you get a reputation and if you don’t get the right reputation, it will hurt you pretty big time when it’s time to get deals.

Nuno: And it generates  momentum back to the point I was making. If people are used to that and they’re used to that pace, they will try and abide by it as well. So if you have a counter party, a potential partnership, a potential customer, et cetera, they’ll try and mirror you in some ways and be faster. And that will also create that speed that we obviously want in those cases.

So again, it’s very positive that you do that and people get impressed just on that, just on responsiveness. Now it doesn’t mean that you are always on your email. It doesn’t mean that you’re on email all the time and you don’t  do anything else, but If you have a chance to look at it, if you have a chance to just in the middle of your Sunday afternoon, and you’re not doing anything anyway, just go through your emails and respond. It’s great. Also having clear rules, I know an entrepreneur that’s very aggressive around his email management he gets too much stuff. So he does emails first thing in the morning and then late in the afternoon and everyone knows that’s what he does. And he does that on weekends as well. But he’s clear about that when he is talking to anyone, he is clear that’s how he works. Okay. Just because he wants to focus the rest of his time on stuff. From that moment on, people work to a schedule, which is great as well, because in some ways they get used to the whole cadence of it.

And this guy is just very famous. Just to be clear. It’s not some guy who just showed up and he’s doing his first startup. He’s done an incredibly successful startup.  His first one was a unicorn slash Decacorn. This one is a unicorn. So we’re talking about that type of thing.

Then you can dictate a little bit to how you like working, but until then you have do a lot of these strange things.

Bertrand: And just to insist on it, especially it’s even more true if you are running a global business,   you have to be responsive. Me when I’m dealing with Europe, for sure first thing in the morning i’m answering emails as fast as I can to make sure that I’m not losing time with people in Europe, if I’m dealing with Asia careful to check my mails until late in the evening, because I want to make sure that we are not wasting a day because I decided not to check emails at that point. So I might make decision between important emails, less important emails, urgent not urgent, of course  but that part of the game is critical. You have to know how work if you are working in a global business 

Myth 2 – Not transactional (16:11)

Nuno: Shall we go to the second myth?

Bertrand: Of course. Another myth,  our myth two  is about the Bay area, Silicon valley, not being transactional.  I think  it cannot be further from the truth. The bay area is transactional, of course it might not be always direct. But there is some expectation. There is some quid pro quo.  It’s part of the game if you want to maintain your network you might not do stuff immediately for something in return, but you of course want to play the game properly and people will remember. And I would say, let’s not forget  on this point is that America is transactional. By nature all of America is very transactional and that’s key to remember if you are from Asia, if you’re from Europe, where typically there is a lot more relationship building. Especially if you take China, if you take Japan. but even in France.  I’m sure in Portugal Nuno there is a decent amount of relationship building.  Here it’s definitely very different. There is a lot of transactional side  for everything and I don’t think it’s good or bad.

I think it’s relatively efficient. It means if you are new that you stand more of a chance because people would just question the value of the transaction you propose, not wonder a lot about how does they know you? How long have they been knowing you, can they trust you? There is a more trust by default as long as you deliver what’s promised and relatively quickly, but that’s something to really keep in mind. America is transactional that makes things easier, early on,  that might make things more difficult later on, because as easily they could sign your first deal they can easily leave your business either as an employee or as a customer or as a supplier.  

Of course, that comes with downside, but at least when you are trying to get in and if you understand the game that can certainly bring some level of efficiency.

Nuno: This myth of the bay area not being transactional is anchored on language, which is quite interesting because people are relatively soft-spoken in the first few meetings they have with you. They’re very nice or apparently very nice. And you’re like, oh, this person likes to shoot the breeze as we say, we just talk about things in life and whatever, which we often do in Europe. I just had a meeting  with Chinese up and coming venture capitalist. And, we had a 45 minutes meeting and I honestly don’t know what that meeting was about. It was an interesting meeting, but it seemed like the person was picking my brain and I’m like, you only pick my brain once for free right after this, what do we do? 

But there are some keywords you should pay attention to one key word I started or key sentence rather that I started really hearing over and over again, as I was thinking about this  myth  was people will often say, how can I be of help or how can I be helpful?  And for the longest time, maybe a year or so, I thought, oh, very nice people they’re asking me how can they help me? That’s not what that sentence means. What that sentence means in the bay area is what can I do for you, and what can you do for me at a later stage that makes this interesting to me, it’s almost the definition of the transaction.  So it’s not like I’m saying I’m going to be of help to you. It’s if I am of help to you, what will you do for me? Thought in another way in a more crass way. Typically New York probably that’s what you would get is what’s in it for me.  Why would I do anything for you? And what is it that you want me to do for you. Again, you know, east coast I think sometimes it’s a bit easier to figure out, cause  you know, there’s less sort of filtering going on. The bay area is more filtering, but it’s the same message literally it’s just put in a nicer way. And it took me, as I said, quite a bit of time to figure that out. And once I figured that out, it’s very simple.

I don’t waste anyone’s time. If I’m meeting with a fellow VC or an entrepreneur or someone who can do anything for me, a service provider, et cetera. I am very clear around why are we having this conversation? Now it gets to a point where you might have friends and you are literally just shooting the breeze. So you’re no longer defining transactions, but that’s friendship. That’s no longer business, right? In business you have to be very clear if you are providing value to the person you’ve asked to meet, or if you’re asking specifically for something that you need, that at some point might be valuable to that person. So again, very transactional defined. 

Both you and I Bertrand we’ve lived in China and China is actually a very transactional place. I’ve spent a lot of time in Shanghai is an incredibly transactional place. And this is a different level of transaction, right? This is, as you said, the US is transactional by nature. I think the bay area is as transactional as the  east  coast, New York, et cetera. Sometimes people get confused with the language that’s used,  which is a little bit softer, but the level of transaction that is implied in that language is the same. There’s really no difference.

Bertrand: And I think that’s a big difference. You touched about it between west coast and east coast and especially in New York city.  New York, people are much more in your face, are much more explicit about what they want. And I think that it’s more clear for a first timer in the US if you start in New York city, it will be much easier to get around on the business side, because there is much less niceties, subtleties, stuff you should understand by reading between the lines.

And we’ll talk more about it in another one of our myth. But you have to be very careful in Silicon valley about trying to understand the language, read the tea leaves properly as we might say in China, read between the lines in some other culture, because not everything is very obvious when it is said here.

Nuno: So a couple of things that I would highlight out of this myth; takeaways for you that are listening to us. One, assuming this is indeed transactional. So the myth is that it’s not transactional, but it is indeed transactional respect very much the time of anyone that you’re reaching out to, the time to meet them, the time to ask for something via email and all the other elements of that. Secondly, if you want something out of that person, be very clear on what’s in it for that person, at least in your mind, you don’t need to be explicit about it with the person, but at least in your mind, frame how that would be mutually advantageous. 

And then in terms of actions, there’s a couple of actions that you should follow. So for example, so don’t take introductions to people for granted. The classic, oh, I saw that you know, this person on LinkedIn, can you introduce us? Why should I introduce you? What’s the benefit to this other person that you’re asking me to introduce you, of meeting you? What’s the benefit to me. So in that point, you have three parties involved in this in some ways. 

I personally do double opt-in almost all the time.

That means that if you asked me for an intro to the other person. If I agreed to do that intro, I will first ping that person one-on-one without CC-ing you, without involving you and ask that person, if they want to meet you. And only if that person wants to meet you or interact with you or an intro to you, I will introduce you both.  that’s a good practice. A lot of people in Silicon valley work like that. And it’s a good practice because none of the parties is forced into this. And it’s not me just sending an email and CCing the person that I’m introducing, oh, I’m introducing you to whatever. And I have given no context to that person before which, in the end ends up being quite negative potentially over time.

The second element of that is be clear in your communications in particular, if it’s email messages, et cetera, be very precise about what do you want from that person and how are you going to be a value to them? So I always  ask  be it with entrepreneurs that I’ve invested in, et cetera, prepare for me an email with these two or three paragraphs describing what the company does, what’s distinctive about what you do, potentially, what is a value add to the company or the person that I’m introducing you to. So be very clear and sharp around that. 

Now it is also true. There is a lot of, giving value. I think you Bertrand  call it good karma. The value of moving it forward, of paying forward as the expression is used in the US, you pay it forward. You’ve been benefited by people that helped you and et cetera. And you’re doing now this for other people, for other generations, for new entrepreneurs. That also exists, but be very cautious in how you use it, because normally the paying it forward comes with some degree of a prior existing relationship with a person. So it’s not like I just met you today and you’re already asking me for a big favor. I don’t know you, but someone I’ve met and I’ve known for maybe six months, nine months, and we’ve had a good rapport and good relationship maybe that’s a good point to say, could you please help me with this? I really want to reach that person, and I am not sure how to do it best. Can you help me frame this? And can you effectively put your brand at the table to help me connect with that person?  And that can work. That can work quite well.

Bertrand: Yes. And to jump again on the email, an intro email, and how you have to make it efficient to the point. But not too short either, I’m amazed how often people send me intro emails that are missing most of what’s necessary for the other side to make sense. They don’t put dollar values. They might talk about what they do, but not what they want or why we should care. It’s really amazing. 

And on the other side, some are sending you, like 20 lines to read. Come on, people have other stuff to do So you have to be more succinct at that. It’s, for me, quite amazing how people don’t really get that right balance at this stage. And I think a lot of this is trying to put yourself in the other person shoe. You have to have some empathy for the other side, you are not just like taking. People have other  things to do. So you need to adjust to them and you need to understand how that ecosystem is working. And here it’s around efficiency and being relatively to the point, especially when you are reaching for an intro  or if you are doing a pitch meeting.   You have to be efficient.

Nuno: And don’t forget that every time you ask someone, to do an intro for you, that person is putting their reputation also on the line in some ways. And I know it’s shocking, but they are. So if I’m saying, let me introduce you to this person. The person on the other side is like, okay, this must be someone that Nuno wants to meet or Nuno  wants me to meet or Nuno wants me to interact with and course I’ll make the time to interact with them. So in principle, there’s a pre disposal to doing it hopefully if my brand is good and if I’m a good reputation and credible, and I have a good relationship with that person. So I can’t do this for everyone under the sun, because unavoidably, there are going to be people that are going to waste the other person’s time.

Unavoidably. There are going to be companies that are not really interesting to the other  person on the other side, and at some point you start getting measured on that as well. And that also exists in Silicon valley. Sometimes I get people that send me interest to a company I could potentially invest in. If I look at two or three companies, four companies systematically that are fundamentally not great or crap to put it in a more crass way. At some point in time, I’m going to be like, oh, ignoring the emails I get from this person for intros.  So again, we live on reputation here. We live on this notion of trust on the quality of what we do in terms of our own work, but also in terms of the quality of the people that we introduce to others. So again very thoughtful about that.

Myth 3- Self-Confidence and Assertiveness (27:22)

In terms of myth three, there’s often a view that this place Silicon valley, the bay area is made on self confidence and assertiveness. And that I think comes from a variety of things. It comes from people being great sales men and women  from tonality, the level of noise of most entrepreneurs here in the bay area, the way they promote themselves, the way they promote their brand, et cetera, it comes from storytelling. There’s always stories. There’s actually mythology in of itself. The story behind Twitter, the story behind Instagram, there’s a mythology that gets created by founders, by their PR agencies, by journalists, because that’s what sells. That’s the cool part, right? Elon Musk being this amazing superhero, our new Tony stark, right? The new Iron Man .

Obviously, this is not true. I often say, and I left McKinsey, which I think is probably  the epitome of how true this is. I think this is more of the other way around, this place is a place that’s made out of insecure overachievers. And that is part of the reason for the success of Silicon valley. And what I mean by that is it’s people that are tremendous overachievers across everything they do. It’s not unheard of that someone starts doing marathons or iron man, and at some point in time they become world champions and they win championships and they’re super competitive. 

So it’s a very competitive place, but in some ways it’s fueled by this insecurity, by the insecurity of having a role in society here, it’s difficult for an entrepreneur to be super successful. Exit the market for a couple of years and come back and still be known. You’re as good as the last thing you did. If today I went around and asked, for people like Scott McNealy, who obviously was CEO of Sun for a very long time. People like John Doerr was one of the most amazing venture capitalists. We talked about him in the past, the guy who led me to becoming a venture capitalist myself many now don’t know who they are, because they’re not as visible. They’re not on the news. And these people did history. So history here is measured,  by one or two years, it’s not measured by the last five or 10 in some ways and that means a couple of things. 

One, it means that. Once I’ve done some success, after a period of time, maybe I’ll go and become a beach bum for a while, et cetera. I will come back to the wheel, the hamster wheel, as I call it, I’ll come back because that’s the only way I will be relevant. I’ll come back from my next startup. I’ll come back to be a VC . I’ll come back to be an angel investor. And that’s part of the secrets of success of Silicon valley. It’s this flywheel that insecurity generates of people going back to it and doing the same thing over and over again, although they might have been already super mega successful. And that should not be confused again with salesmanship, with tonality, with storytelling, that’s always going to be part of Silicon valley. It’s actually part of the US as we’ve discussed before, it’s a country built on marketing and sales and therefore creating noise, being visible, well-known matters a lot, creating that brand.

Bertrand: Yes. I think you make a good point to remind everyone that storytelling, salesmanship, it’s a key part of the US, that’s the very definition of America, USA. It’s around telling the story well, even if it’s very empty behind the scene, even if there is not much, at the very least usually, typically people are good at that. And of course, sometimes they will, but it’s a key part of the game. You cannot just say, I will be just data. For instance, of course data is key, but you have to mix it with a story because everyone expects the story. Everyone expects some good or even great level of salesmanship. So you have to up your game and especially key for other cultures, especially in Asia, but also in Europe where you are used to be quite humble not to promote yourself or your company so much. So that’s definitely a key part of the game all over the USA, including Silicon Valley. But as you say, that’s one side of the coin.

Maybe another piece to talk about in this myth number three is the importance of the language. And we briefly talked about it in a previous myth,  it’s very special I would say to Silicon valley – language.

And when I talk about language  first thing obviously, you have to speak good English. You cannot be a very bad English speaker. People have other things to do, have a lot of opportunities everywhere. So there is some bar to speak proper English and obviously if you are absolutely so truly exceptional and everything maybe they will cut some slack, but up to a point to be very clear. And the same with your accent. Yes, accent is fine, but at some point beware be careful  know that people will also look at that. Even if you hear lot of accents from all over the world, you have to step-by-step invest, if you want to be truly part of the ecosystem, to improve your accent.

But I would say the bigger point is really around what do word means. And here, you have to learn that when people say, for instance your product is okay or your product is good. It’s a very bad sign, actually. That might be the right word in the French language to make you feel good and happy.

This is not the right word, good or okay, that you want to hear in Silicon valley in a meeting, after a meeting. Because  if your product is just okay, actually you should hear it’s awesome. 

Nuno: Awesome is the keyword. Yes. 

Bertrand: Awesome or great. That’s your basic level of resistance. If you don’t clear that bar, you suck so bad, you are in trouble. But they won’t tell you in your face. It will be just very nice. It’s okay. It’s good. But ultimately it means that we never be a second meeting and ultimately what you want to hear is that people on the other side want a second meeting. If you don’t have that clear, next step that is  proposed to you, it means that, yeah its over.  Whatever has been said, even if there was a lot of niceties it doesn’t work. It’s over and good luck next time. 

So that’s a huge difference versus east coast or New York city it will be in your face. Your product sucks. It’s crap. And some like Steve jobs, Bill gates of fame will play that game, but they where UFO’s in Silicon Valley. Most people don’t behave like that at all. So that is something to keep in mind. And if you plan to play that game in Silicon valley, good luck with that, if you’re not Steve Jobs or  Bill Gates, because people won’t accept it, won’t like it

Nuno: And there’s another side to that. Obviously language and epistemology is like its own thing in the bay area.  But there’s another side to it, which is words that have meaning in other parts of the world that here have almost no meaning.  And sometimes I like 10, 15 minutes into conversation and can figure out if you’ve spent a lot of time in the bay area or not, without even knowing just by the language you’re using what you’re saying, words like innovation. 

It’s very rare, certainly in the startup and venture capital world, maybe in the big corporate world, people can talk about that. And obviously we have non-tech companies here as we’ve discussed in the last episode, but if you talk about innovation, it’s like, what do you mean innovation? A startup wouldn’t talk about,  I don’t remember the last time I heard a startup talking about innovation or use the word innovative, or we are innovating. What does that mean? 

I mean, of course they are, it’s almost like it’s a word you wouldn’t use. It doesn’t make any actual sense to use it. 

Digital in many mechanisms, we talk about digital transformation and all of that stuff.

Again, very non-tech word, right? For tech companies. It’s it is digital in principle by nature with some exceptions. So again, a word that you don’t see being used here. So again adapt the language. There’s no other way to do it, except experience except listening to people, listening to their podcasts like ours, hopefully interacting and seeing what words resonate and don’t resonate. I remember when I was at Deloitte consulting way back when, and we’re almost becoming Braxton, we got a little tool that we could use to check our words in our PowerPoints, which was a bullshit meter. It was just a funny tool. We didn’t really use it, but it was like figuring out, all these words seem like consultees or bullshit and here in the bay area  there’s a lot of that, but you need to understand that the ones that do exist have had a meaning attached to them and using them sometime is a way for you to actually show that you get this place and getting the place matters a lot to create credibility, trust, and relationships over time.

Bertrand: Yes. And that’s funny that you use these two words innovation or head of innovation as well as digital transformation, because when someone says these words in front of me, I’m running as fast as I can the other way because I know I am going to waste my time. And I don’t want to hear about it. 

Me, I’m all about digital native, myself investing in digital native companies, building a digital native company.  It’s only for the a big corporates that are trying  to reinvent themselves. But what I mean is that ultimately it you truly have a problem. If you are not digitally native in your process, in your organization, in how you work. It means you are late by five, 10, 15, 20 years. 

One thing I noticed maybe is that I’m hearing that more in Europe than in the US and they have some of this in US, but I  feel in Europe, for instance, it’s a cult. The cult of the head of innovations, the cult of digital transformation. 

Cult  coming, of course, with a lot of very expensive consultants. And that’s very, for me, scary because it’s already, in some ways showing some level of abdication. Yes. I’m not a digital native company and wow. That’s trouble then, that’s what it means. And look at what happened during COVID. Good luck if you are not optimized and suddenly you have to all work remotely and make the business running. So yeah,  some words are anathema here.

Nuno: Yes, and it’s very funny cause Aaron Levy from box put a tweet the other day I found really good, which is software eats the world except handbags because obviously Bernard Arnault was the richest man in the world for a small period of time. But that’s about it, right? Software  eats the world except handbags or luxury goods. 

Myth 4 – Ton of Capital Available (37:29)

Moving maybe to myth number four, Bertrand do you wanna take us through it?

 Bertrand: Myth number four, there’s a ton of capital to invest in startups available in the bay.  So of course there is a lot of capital available to invest in the bay. The question is it capital that will be interested to invest in your business, in your idea, in your project?  And that’s a big gap. It’s not because there is a lot of money that it’s easy to get. It might be easy to get for some, if you are a repeat entrepreneur, if you have followed all the right  codes of Silicon Valley . Let’s say being a Stanford MBA, with a Y Combinator company, but if you are outside of what’s typical, then it might be much harder, especially if you’re…

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