Experiencing the Startup Life in Silicon Valley | A Self-Initiated Mega Tour Part 1


Recently, my professor Chihiro Suematsu of the Graduate School of Economics and Management at Kyoto University sponsored 5 MBA students to join him in a weeklong tour of Silicon Valley startups (Google, EchoUser, Chewse), and universities (Stanford, UC Berkeley, USF). Through both my professor’s connections and my contacts, we scheduled a whirlwind, often back-to-back tour of Silicon Valley companies and highlights.

All in all, we all felt it was an outstanding success! Thank you very much Professor Suematsu and Kyoto University for allowing us to participate in such an enriching and positive experience.

Three cheers to future Silicon Valley trips in 2017!

In Part 1, enjoy an FAQ-style overview about Silicon Valley. In Part 2, you will learn something unique about each of the places we visited.

What is it Like to Visit the San Francisco Bay Area and What Makes Silicon Valley so Special?

Besides the overwhelming sense of being surrounded by hipster coffee shops, ubiquitous on-demand startup services such as dog sitters, and the juxtaposition of influential startups such as Twitter and Uber, alongside drug addicts, it’s a normal, cosmopolitan city. At least for a San Francisco native, who calls this place home.

Growing up in San Francisco, I’ve seen thousands of changes take place, but none so evident as the recent technology boom. While many of my high school friends may disagree, I absolutely adore the influx of highly intelligent, mostly male engineers from all over the world. After all, it’s more fun being surrounded by the best and the brightest, as I’ve had the most intellectually stimulating conversations with strangers at coffee shops and while running. And most importantly, as a female, the odds are in my favor, even with a healthy LGBTQ population.

Although rent prices have quadrupled in the past 5-10 years exceeding that of Tokyo, I still love the grunge, grime, and inherent creativity of such a diverse community. And while technology is the clear industry leader in the area, San Francisco still retains much of its local charm and eclectic history evident in the Haight, Mission, and Castro Districts. All in all, San Francisco is one of the best places to visit and live in the world, especially if you know a local!

Why are Technology Startups so Fascinating in Silicon Valley?

Every millisecond, there is a brand new development within the vast field of “technology.” As such, the inherent dynamism of such constant change is exhilarating. Often, you hear and meet many tech entrepreneurs who stay up all night coding, only to do it again the next day.

Many of my engineering friends have also attended company-sponsored “hackathons,” which are all-night coding events with an abundant supply of free beer, Red Bull, pizza, sodas, sugary foods, and a prize for the winners. Even without an official event, many engineers will stay up all night trying to decode a puzzle, or finishing extremely important code.

In order to master any particular skill such as PowerPoint, Malcolm Gladwell says that one needs to devote 10,000+ hours. Similarly, entrepreneurs need to quickly learn how to pitch their company to complete strangers, negotiate a better investment package, convince and hire their first employee, and sell their first products. It’s an extremely difficult job. Regardless of whether or not your company succeeds, the skills, network, and knowledge that you gain, is absolutely priceless.

What is One Cultural Difference in Product Development Between Japan and Silicon Valley?

In the Valley, most people can come up with unique, interesting ideas. In fact, people in the US say that ideas are “a dime a dozen,” meaning that ideas are cheap and easy to create. It’s the actual execution of the idea to market that is the extremely challenging part. Since ideas are easy to create, but products are not, companies often ship the product as quickly as possible to the market. Based on user feedback, the company will either pivot, meaning they ditch that initial idea and move on to a completely different one, or they quickly reiterate. With fast delivery, comes even speedier redelivery.

On the other hand, in Japan, people excel at building extremely technical, detailed products, but less so, at creating the original ideas, vision, or creative concept. For years, Japan has been known to have outstanding quality and design, because of its attention to minute details. As such, the typical product lifecycle is probably 3x as long as a typical lean startup. While a Japanese person will wait until the product is 100% perfect before delivering it to the market, Silicon Valley folks will deliver once the product is good enough. That being said, that’s also why many products and startups fail often in the US.

Culturally, Japanese people tend to be risk-averse, preferring to work at more stable companies versus venture-backed startups. And having a startup fail, is a mark of great dishonor. Whereas, in the US, failed startup entrepreneurs can position their story as an advantage and get a job at a larger startup in relatively no time.

Both philosophies have pros and cons. But, if we blend the two together, we will theoretically create a nearly perfect, high-quality product that has a shorter production cycle than comparative models. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be one of those entrepreneurs, who creatively blends the eastern and western ideologies together to develop a successful, global product.

What is Your Background and How Did You Schedule All of These Meetings with Technology Startups?

Right after graduating from UC Berkeley, my first job was at the heart of the second Silicon Valley tech boom — Google. After interning for two summers during college, and working full-time on the Patent Team in the Legal Department, I worked hard, and played hard, making lifelong friends throughout the process.  But once I decided that law school was not for me, after consulting with many high-caliber patent attorneys, who became my mentors, I decided to jump ship and work at a tiny, Australian, 25-person startup with a female founder.

There, I not only developed the skills that were particularly strong for me such as research, communication, PR, and writing, but I also wore many hats, often presenting on camera for our product. It was a challenging and exciting experience. Thereafter, I worked as an Associate Corporate Marketing Manager at Equilar, a 100-person startup, before being recruited for a 420-person startup called StrongView that later merged to become Selligent.

At Selligent, I worked with a highly skilled and hard-working boss, who helped me refine my writing, research, and critical thinking skills. This role particularly suited me, as I was able to polish my strengths, while also contributing value to the company’s bottom line through sales enablement materials, event marketing collateral, and website content. 

When the new CEO of Selligent took over, I immediately became friends with him, as we have similar personalities and were trying to make a positive contribution to the happiness of the employees. He taught me the importance of building a strong friendship, earning the trust and respect of colleagues, and acting with integrity. Even 6 months into my research at Kyoto University, I still chat with the CEO of the company often to share more about what I am doing here.

With ~5 years of working experience in Silicon Valley, plus a lifetime of experiences growing up in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to establish lifelong connections with newcomers by attending meetups, Buddhist meetings, and various networking events such as Women 2.0. Thus, we were able to visit my friends’ startups EchoUser, Chewse, Google, and through Professor Suematsu’s connection, University of San Francisco’s Entrepreneurship Center.

Most importantly, through countless conversations with Japanese people during and after my trip to Silicon Valley, I have gradually increased my knowledge store of captivating trends, differences, potential business ideas, etc. All in all, the trip was an outstanding success.

Thank you for finishing Part 1. In Part 2, the focus will be on the most captivating components of our meetings with Silicon Valley startups and a university.

Learn more about Shaherose Charania - Founder of Women 2.0. And meet Japanese entrepreneurs Mariko Fukui, Kay Deguchi, Kanoko Oishi, and Yuka Fujii.