What I Learned From Working In The Startup Culture of Silicon Valley

Three months after graduating college from UNC-Chapel Hill, I (somewhat spontaneously) hopped on a plane to San Francisco. I knew I was moving to the land of impossibly high hills and golden gate bridges. What I didn’t realize was that I was also moving to Silicon Valley: the technology and start-up hub where almost all the platforms and products that I use regularly were created.

This move to Silicon Valley was a culture shock. In that intense and omnipresent culture are so many practices that employees (whether at a startup or not) can learn from. It’s been 5 or so years since I settled in SF and I have to say, being in the startup culture of Silicon Valley taught me so much about my own job as an employee (and #bossbabe). I’m so excited to share what we all can learn from it, too!

5 Things I’ve Learned Living In the Startup Culture of Silicon Valley

1) Everyone (C-Levels Included) Will Get Their Hands Dirty

Startups don’t have the luxury of tons of people. So many companies in San Francisco don’t have desks, let alone seating charts. Employees can sit where they may, while c-levels sometimes don’t even have offices.

The notion that everyone’s unique experience can add something to the conversation was completely foreign from my internships in the fashion magazine world. The lack of hierarchy is empowering (at least, it for me!) and allows all employees to share their ideas! 

2) Diversity Is Important

The days of hiring a team of people who are exactly like you are over. Companies have become smart enough to know that without diverse working groups, the output will never be scalable. Without a variety of backgrounds in every environment, the company may be missing out on several important pieces of feedback that only someone with a unique skill set could provide.

The lesson here? No matter where you come from, it is vital to be comfortable working with someone who is different from you. Regardless of level, years of experience or skill, feedback should be treated the same whether it comes from a CEO or an entry-level employee.

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3) Always Ask Yourself, “Why Should Someone Else Care?!”

I’ve noticed that people have a larger sense of community in San Francisco for their place of work than any place else. I believe this is because most companies constantly back whatever they’re doing, how big or small, with a “why.” Every company believes that they can change the world – and that’s what drives them to work (if you haven’t watched Simone Sinek’s Ted Talk about ‘the why’ I would highly recommend it).

Whether you are sharing ideas or pitching yourself, understanding why someone should care will make all the difference in getting the result you want. This is how so many companies inspire employees to work long, hard hours with the hope of ‘making it big’. So next time you’re writing an email or sharing an idea, ask yourself – ‘why would someone care about this?’ and incorporate that statement into your wording!

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4) Failing is Fine, As Long As You Fail Fast

One of the aspects of Silicon Valley I was most surprised by was the culture of testing. Most startups are fine with an idea failing, as long it fails quickly. You need to move quickly and make smart decisions based on results, basically, fail fast!

No one is phased by failing if your takeaway is stronger than the failure itself!

I learned that if something didn’t go as planned, it would still be well received if I positioned in a way that showed what we learned and what we could change for the future. This goes for any company. If you can provide an intelligent understanding of something that went wrong, and how you would do it differently for the future – it’s much harder to be mad! And trust me, I lost $60K of company money in my first week at a job and (somehow) did not get fired for exactly this reason!

If you’re interested in learning about how Silicon Valley companies test quick (and grow without much money), read Ryan Holiday’s book, Growth Hacker Marketing.

What I Learned From Working In The Startup Culture of Silicon Valley

5) Winning Is Not Easy

There’s definitely a (sometimes fantasized) vision of ‘making it big’ in Silicon Valley. Heck, if What’sApp can be sold for over $19B to Facebook with less than 100 employees, whose to say that with the right idea I can’t become rich, too?! Wrong. Explosive, viral growth is not something that happens to anyone overnight. Frankly, it’s a misconception that it would ever happen easily – even if that’s how it appears in the media.

The number of weekends, late nights, sweat and tears that are poured into successful companies are truly astonishing. In the crowded world, we live in today, winning and getting people’s attention is harder than ever. Whenever I’m feeling tired or burnt out after a long week, I try and remember how hard everyone else around me is working to achieve their goals!

Living in Silicon Valley has been a wild ride, filled with more growth than I could have ever imagined. What have you learned from your work environment? Comment below!


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