More than a Zip Code, it’s a Mindset

By Monserrat Irazoqui.

“Silicon Valley”. The land of the unicorns, the place where magic meets tech, the region in which nerds and geeks are celebrities, and every tech entrepreneur’s answer to the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years (or less if they’re very enthusiastic)?”.

Personally, I used to daydream of what Silicon Valley would be like. I’ve been into tech since I was a teenager, but I was more into the business aspect of it rather than the actual making of tech. Keeping it real, I always said I would visit; I would have never thought that I would end up living in the heart of it: San Francisco.

I transferred to a business school in San Francisco and as soon as I got there, I realized it was nothing like I had pictured in my head. Life seemed relatively normal rather than the incredibly techie place I thought it would be.

It is known that Silicon Valley is one of the biggest economies in the world, but at plain sight it is not easy to tell why. Sure, they have a port but it wasn’t as busy as others I’ve seen, rent and life expenses are incredibly high, public transportation is uncomfortable and commuting can be a bitch. So, what makes this place the ultimate destination for entrepreneurs and wantpreneurs?

It wasn’t until my “Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley” class (which was taught by 3 professors: a VC from the Valley, the co-founder of The North Face and the former senior VP of Innovation of Philips) that it became clear to me what made this region special. “Silicon Valley is not a geographic location; it is a mindset” were the words that came out of my professor’s mouth and have stuck with me ever since.

From what I could observe and experience, these are the key components of that winning mindset:

Embrace diversity. The city is a mix of traditional and modern; you can go to a doctor’s office and get a normal traditional check-up or go to Forward and get a body scan within seconds using AI. You can go to Chipotle and tell the lady which kind of burrito you want and she makes it in front of you, or go to Eatsa and order your customized meal from an iPad and get it in a couple of minutes from your personalized cubby. This is probably the city with the most diverse kind of services I’ve seen.

There are people from various countries, cultures, religions, sexual orientation, fashion style, and social status, which are represented by the vast number of different restaurants and cuisines that are all over the Bay, temples and churches, clubs and bars, networking opportunities and meetups, as well as multiple events. You can totally go to a ramen place and see a variety of Asian and non-Asian cultures; you could even go to a gay bar in Castro and probably 30% of the people there are straight.

The city is not just composed by people in tech, lots of other people are in finance, other ones in health, fashion, food, among other industries.

There is something for every culture, profession, taste, and religion in that city and people in SF love and embrace this pool of diverse options for everything essential in life. They seem to understand that life is better when diversity is a part of the equation.

Prioritize work-life balance. I thought that people working in Silicon Valley would be workaholics that would work, work, work, and work all day errday. I was wrong.

People in this region care so much about their physical, spiritual, and mental health. They eat all organic, gluten-free, dairy- free, everything-free food. They’re really into yoga; there is a yoga class held at Grace Cathedral every Tuesday and you better get there at least 30 minutes prior to secure your spot because it gets fuuuull. Meditation is very important too; for example, the Equinox gym has meditation sessions every Friday morning and even my alma mater had a prayer room and held meditation workshops.

Social life is important too. After work, it was common to see people with their backpacks at bars that just got out of work but chose to go hang out with their buddies or co-workers. Couples go grocery shopping together at Whole Foods on a weeknight. Sundays at Dolores Park would be full of group of friends, co-workers, neighbors, and families getting together to chill and spend time with each other. They all seemed to have a great balance of work, personal time, and social life…I swear they’re all human.

Open to risk. Have an unconventional idea to increase customer retention? Let’s do it! Have a crazy idea on how to recruit new interns? Let’s do it! Have a more efficient idea that we have never tried before to make shipping less of a hassle? Let’s do it!

This is THE place to try new stuff not to just start a company from the ground up but also to implement new ideas within a company. The crazier and wackier you are, the more you’ll blend in this city. Not only are people not afraid of risk, they want and need it. This is why the greatest ideas come from Silicon Valley.

You started something but it failed? In other places they still see you as a failure, whereas in SV, that’s a badge of honor. The fact that you had the balls to start something and tried to make it work, even though it didn’t, is admired there (as it should be anywhere). Maybe that didn’t work, but you’re smarter, wiser, and more resilient than you were before. You’ve been through dark shit and managed to pull through and that’s what they will see in you, not the failure.

Respect everyone. Because of its world-renowned reputation for hosting all the big tech ideas and companies, you would think that tech has completely overshadowed everything else, but that is not the case here. The tech people do their thing as well as the non-tech ones. They don’t mess with each other; they just focus on how to make their own craft better. If any of these tech and non-tech practices meet, they don’t pick up fights against one another, they find ways to complement each other.

Also, the whole city is filled with homeless people. A small portion of the homeless population get to spend the night at a shelter whereas the rest of them sleep at the subway station, outside a store, or inside a camping tent placed in the sidewalk. No one ever insulted them or mistreated them, even when an occasional one would ramble on the streets cussing everyone and everything he would spot; people would just keep going about their normal life, like NBD. They live and let live.

A few of them perform on the streets and people just gather around them and enjoy the music rather than bitching about the noise or lack of room on the crowded streets of Market St. I did have the chance to see people giving them money and food every now and then as well and that just warmed my heart. This leads me to the next and final point.

Help others. There are a bunch of non-profits in the Bay area that range from rescuing animals, saving the environment, giving food to homeless people, and mentoring young kids in need. Also, many events were held to raise funds for charity.

Not only are these people generous with their money and time, they like sharing their experiences and lessons learned with others as well. It takes just one email (a really well written one) to get an executive from a startup or someone working at a big company to let you pick his/her brain or consider you for an internship or job. They understand that the exchange of ideas benefit the world in a tremendous way and hiding them from others would be just trumping development.

In conclusion, I loved every minute of my time in San Francisco. I hold this city close to my heart because it changed the way I saw my career and life in general. I hope to share the mindset I learned from the amazing people in the city and its surroundings wherever I am and I hope other people who had the opportunity to experience this and move or travel somewhere else scatter this everywhere they go. The more people start thinking this way in other places in the world, the less we outsiders will feel the need or want to move out of our places that need us. Let’s implement a winning mindset everywhere!