As there are only a few days left of the SILTA S22 batch, it is a good time to reflect on the experiences from our time here in the SF Bay Area. The last three months at the SILTA house have been an intense experience consisting of building our program in the vibrant SF Bay Area startup ecosystem with a driven group of our S22 founders. The time here has contained both extreme highs and lows and is something that I wouldn't trade for any other experience in the world. Being able to grow personally as well as to gain perspective on different aspects of life and entrepreneurship, being a part of the S22 program has been one of the, if not the most, impactful experiences that I have yet had the chance to experience.
During the program, we have had the chance to make numerous learnings about entrepreneurship as well as the differences and similarities between Helsinki and San Francisco. As for my reflection, I was focused on the aspects I wish I would have known before the S22 batch started. I was lucky enough to learn a ton, and I summarized some of it into the following four key insights I wish I knew before taking off From the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
Own your narrative
People in the SF Bay Area are keen to get to know about the vision for the world, the story, and the direction you're headed to. Therefore, having your narrative figured out preferably as 10, 30, and 60-second version pitches is vital to get your message through effectively. The attention span of an average SF-based entrepreneur is approximately a few seconds (not even joking), and this leaves little room for hesitations and blunders (chess pun intended) when introducing yourself. Therefore, in hindsight, I wish I would have practiced a more structured, appealing introduction already before the program. As an additional pro tip for introducing yourself in SF: if the other person does not ask follow-up questions about you or what you do during or after your introduction, they are most probably not interested in what you do and thus, are probably not worth your while.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
Focus only on doing the things that create value. This is essential to remember while at the SF Bay Area as you have so many opportunities to take on. You might have two to three relevant events taking place each day as well as the possibility to meet brilliant people in different networking settings. Therefore, it is vital to be able to firstly 1) categorize which occasions and activities would be worth a visit and which of them are just noise and 2) make the call whether you should go or stay home to work or recover. Realizing how essential it is to have such strong prioritization, I pivoted my approach into a more value-driven one during the program - going only to the relevant events and activities instead of going everywhere and trying to do everything at once.
Being from Finland is an asset
Maybe the most surprising observation we made during the program. Most people in SF do come from quite similar backgrounds - having been raised in the SF Bay Area, gone to the top tier schools, worked in big tech, and the list goes on. Therefore, coming from Europe not to speak of Finland is an asset in terms of your memorability as a founder - being the only person from Finland in an event does definitely make a difference. As the number of people coming from Nordics and Scandinavia is generally quite small in San Francisco, having a background in the Nordics gives you the advantage of being a more recognizable, memorable, and interesting person among the SF founder community.
Be open-minded and humble; you never know who you're going to meet
The level of serendipity in the SF Bay Area is significantly higher when compared with most of the startup ecosystems worldwide. Consequently, it is an exciting location to build your company and get acquainted with new people as you never know who you are going to meet. We had our fair share of surprising encounters (one of our founders met a Google co-founder at some intimate, house party and I met the co-founder of OpenAI at this random event at the Moomin House in SF). In Finland, as the circles and the number of events are smaller, the value of attending an event can is usually considered a bit ambiguous. However, as SF attracts talent on a global scale and has a larger turnover of people, each event is full of potential for creating a significant amount of value as meeting an interesting person who might be of value to you and to whom you might be able to create value in return is quite high. Usually, the more intimate the setting is the better.
At first, I did have the Finnish, a bit skeptical take on these opportunities to meet new people as I did not recognize the direct value that they could create. Hence, while they are a part of the essence of the San Francisco magic, I wish I would have been more open-minded toward any new opportunities, activities, and events all the way from the start of the program.
These were some of the learnings I wish I knew before coming to San Francisco. In case you have questions or would want to discuss the blog post further, feel free to reach out to me at my email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other than that, I wish you all a great, serendipitous summertime! :)