Everyone’s Rushing To Be An Entrepreneur (aka Why I Don’t Have A Startup)

I think deep down I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but it wasn’t until I read Mukund Mohan‘s post today that I was inspired to just get it out there. Definitely read Mukund’s post too, by the way — Great read!

Friends have been asking me for a few years now what my startup is going to be (a dozen or so — is that even considered a lot or am I just kidding myself?) Either way, it’s very kind of them to insinuate I should start my own startup. I’m reading into this the assumption that they think I would be a successful founder. So here are the reasons I haven’t had a go at it yet:

1.) I don’t have the right idea yet. It’s not only about finding a pain point or completely new idea. It’s also about having the instinct for product development, the connections, and the passion to devote several stressful years of your life to making this dream a reality. One great piece of advice I recently heard is that entrepreneurs should always be asking themselves “Am I the right person to be doing this at this time?” Until I find the intersection where something I’m truly passionate about, my strengths and the correct timing meet, it just doesn’t make sense for me to take the plunge.

2.) It takes A LOT of blood, sweat and tears. I’ve been working with entrepreneurs pretty closely the last 3 years, and I’ve seen what it can do to some very intelligent, even-keeled, all-around wonderful people. The stresses of entrepreneurship are often compared to manic depression. One day, it looks like you’re on the right path and things are lining up like it was meant to be, the next, you’re losing traction, faith in yourself, and feel depressed that you spent years of your life on a baby that will ultimately fail.

3.) I’m not sure I have what it takes. It takes a very special and talented person to be successful at founding startups. Why else would there be such a high failure rate? You need to listen to advisors, but also have enough conviction to know when to follow your gut. You need to be stubborn and not give up, but be flexible enough to pivot if your original idea just isn’t resonating with your target market. You need to be very good at sales, marketing and product development (or develop those skills quickly!) since you’ll be wearing all of these hats and more in the beginning. And that’s just scratching the surface.

3 b.) Women lack self-confidence. According to loads of articles on why there are so few female entrepreneurs (a real explosion of those articles in the last 1-2years!), this may also be simply because I am a woman. We are socialized and probably have natural tendencies not to put ourselves out there or just run with it as much as men do. While I’m aware of this and compensate as best I can, it still feels like something that’s holding me back. Either way, if I ever do find an idea I feel strongly enough about to go for it and found a startup, I’ll be very grateful for all the encouragement friends and family gave me along the way!

What I’m really trying to get at here is that entrepreneurship is hip and cool right now, but the media glorify the fulfilling, glamorous aspects of the job to the detriment of a comprehensive understanding of all its realities. While I love the feeling of having a big impact I can see (never mind the celebrity if you strike it Uber famous), I have little illusions about just how hard it’s going to be: years of 70-80 hour weeks, sleepless nights, and despair when it looks like things aren’t going to work, hopefully followed by periods of elation when things look up again… Rinse, wash and repeat.

At a panel at RocketSpace just a few weeks ago the founder of Eventbrite said that if she’d known ahead of time just how difficult and stressful starting her own company would be, she might not have gone through with it. It’s not to say I haven’t learned a lot from everyone I’ve worked with and the hundreds of startup events I’ve attended. I’ve been fortunate to get that much advice before even starting. For better or worse, I know just what I’d be getting myself into.

How to Get In Touch With the Startups @ RocketSpace

It must be that time of year! We’ve been getting lots of out-of-towners who really want to meet entrepreneurs who work at RocketSpace but are only in town “today and tomorrow” the last few weeks.

Truthfully, I haven’t been very helpful (well, people aren’t going to keep working at RocketSpace if they keep on being solicited, now are they?), but now I’m going to have a great little resource to point these networking hopefuls to! Behold:

Sophie’s Guide: How to Meet Folks @ RocketSpace, and fast!

Step One
Check out happenings at RocketSpace this week. RSVP, pencil them into your calendar, and GO!

Step Two
Do some quick perusing of the companies at RocketSpace on our blog. The Community News section includes recaps of our companies in the news as well as startup writeups. The Startup Spotlight tag gathers interviews of entrepreneurs already on the campus. And if you’re interested in finding out about some of the big corporates who take part in RocketX, our Corporate Innovation Program, head to Corporate Innovation for industry news and dossiers on their work with RocketX. Open up a couple of tabs and jot down however many names you like.

Step Three
Now that you have identified 20, 40, 100 companies that work at RocketSpace, look their founders and team up on Twitter. This part is important – you can follow the company Twitter accounts (and probably should, for good measure), but if the founders and teams do have their own accounts, follow them too and give them a little social media love. Retweet an interesting thought or link, find something thoughtful to reply to a recent tweet of theirs… this gives you a way to engage that isn’t cheesy and will open up a conversation so you can sneak in, oh so naturally, that you happen to be in town and will be at Wine Wednesday at RocketSpace tomorrow! Well, it’s 20 ft from their desks so… why, yes! They will come meet you for a glass of wine this Wednesday.

Step Four
Repeat to your little heart’s content.

Step Five
Share your tips and tricks in the comments section below!

A Little Attempt at Tech Fiction

This is a very different blog post I write today, but I thought this could be interesting too. I attended a fiction writing workshop for the tech community last week and my 1st assignment was just to write something. It’s a little socially analytic and rather a reverie on the tech side, but I would love read your feedback!

Notes From the Fringes of the SF Tech Scene

A bird is singing. A bird? Yes, a bird is singing right outside my window. It’s a gorgeous day out, the sky a brilliant shade of blue and Glen Park is sleepily coming out of its peaceful slumber.

It’s a funny thing, living in Glen Park. It’s one of the few bastions of San Francisco neighborhoods still fighting off the assault of all the Googlers, and Facebookers, and miscellaneous other tech startupers engulfing the city with their 6 digit pay checks and voracious appetites for Meetups. In Glen Park, jogging strollers and bright-eyed family dogs are largely more ubiquitous than bespectacled coders. There are not Hackathons or startup houses, just families who have lived in San Francisco their whole lives enjoying brunch at Tyger’s.

Who am I to talk though? I’m a techie myself. Well, so to speak. I don’t know how to code, unless you count a few timid and rather futile flirtations with Codecademy and Le Site Du Zero. As fascinating as the world of web design and databases and compilers churning to keep making our applications faster are, music, writing and my cats and friends always stay steady at the top of my priorities. (I’m still working on mazimizing my time, sadly such a finite resource.) So how does the artsy, cat-obsessed, barely post-adolescent type get involved with startups? Why, doing everything the engineers don’t have the time or interest in doing: the marketing, the recruiting, the fundraising… there’s lots left, but nothing quite as fascinating (or glorious) as building.

Engineers are the kings of the Silicon Valley. They design, they build, they test and automate and optimize and release… some pretty amazing things. When I unlock my iPhone (or imagine using my retina to do so), I see just a few dozen of the many apps they have created that truly make my life more informed and enjoyable – the ones that get a drone to deliver my burrito, tell my scooter fill up on gas & pull up by the curb in front of my apartment in 10 minutes, or simply order me to get off my butt and go on a hike today (yes, my shirt knows what I did yesterday and it’s not happy!). Not to limit engineer’s work to apps, since the work they’re doing on automating and refining medicine, or on bringing space shittle flight to the masses is just as useful and even more revolutionary in many ways, but I simply can’t afford a digital doctor or shuttle ticket just yet. And while I too resent the conceited variety of engineer that patronizes me since I don’t know how to code, I love and admire the many humble, down to earth and caring engineers I have befriended over the years. They’ve always opened their brains to my desire to understand what they do and guided me through some pretty confusing online coding tutorials.

The hipsters engineers poke fun at on Hipster or Homeless aren’t the cool kids anymore. They just don’t bring any creative energy to the table, and as a quirky, curious kid in high school, this feels like a victory for the outsiders who cared about learning and inventing more than being cool and attractive. So while I continue to spend too much time blogging, writing and walking my cats, and birds just don’t sing when you’ve got $300+ headphones drowning the rest of the world out, I secretly hope Code Made Cool might just whip me up into tech royalty.

Start in Paris Recap

I attended my last Start in Paris last night =/ It was a great one though so it was great to end on a great note =]

The evening started with a great potpourri of tips from melty founder Alexander Marsch. Here are a few excerpts:

  1. Your team is THE most important thing. Make sure you have a sales guy (no, your engineer who is kinda OK at sales will not cut it), a CFO and someone in charge of product development/all the techy stuff. Having a competent person in charge of EACH one of these important aspects–sales, vision, development–will inspire trust and win you big bucks with investors (or at least make it possible for you to win all that $$$.)
  2. Continuing the human theme–get your self a kick ass advisory board. Network you ass off to meet people who are not only influential in your industry (to get you clients and partners) but also knowledgeable. Their expert advice will help you with development and market positionment. It will make your job considerably easier.
  3. Don’t raise funds right away. If you do, you will not have complete control over your product, you will get used to having $$ to spend (a good reason Marsch mentioned NOT to raise a lot of money when you do raise btw), you will not be able to adjust to user feedback as quickly and efficiently, and you won’t be able to raise as much money with the same number of shares as you would have with the time to prove your idea. Was that clear enough? Money is bad (in the beginning.)
  4. Surround yourself with people who motivate you. Entrepreneurship is hard, really hard. You are going to jump for joy, feel like the world is caving in and coming to an end, want to give up… so make sure you have people there to give you a good kick in the butt and tell you to keep going.
  5. Last but not least, this one isn’t new, but failure is an amazing teacher. Failure is not the end of the world. If anything, it’s the beginning of a startup that will be even better than your last one.

After that amazing advice, 5 startups took part in the pitch competition:

FioulReduc helps Frenchmen (and women) buy fuel to heat their homes more cheaply.

Sportlinkd is a social network that helps you find someone to play sports with locally.

Potati is a safe internet navigator for kids.

Whoozer you already know from my previous article.

HumanoGames created Happy Life, a Facebook game that teaches players about entrepreneurship all while funding microcredit in real-life and fascilitating players’ transition from Facebook user to real-life donator.

And the winner is.... HumanoGames!

Have You Been Delivering Happiness?

Just because I can’t use my camera doesn’t mean I can’t keep sharing cool stuff with you =]

Today’s pick: Delivering Happiness. I was researching the judges from last week’s Launch conference and got to Tony Hsieh, and boy is this guy awesome! He wrote a book called Delivering Happinesswhich became a full-blown movement dedicated to spreading happiness. See why I’m wild about it?

Picture taken from Nuno Barreto's blog (click for link)

It’s all about sharing the good stuff and making people happy! How do they do that? By inspiring people to do good =] to help each other, to plan events all about making people happy, and by spreading the word!

How can you get involved? Go right here.

And don’t forget to add their button to your website! 

Looking For Work Is Hard Work!

Hi everyone,

Pictures are nice and pretty, but I thought you might all like to get some actual news! I’ve now been in France for two weeks and a half… and things are coming along slowly I guess. My first week I took care of lots of administrative things (as I think I already mentioned in a past post), and then my second week I started sending out tons of CVs and cover letters.

… that wasn’t very successful. The depression hurt the French economy, but , even more than that, it is very difficult for recent graduates “jeunes diplômés” to find work in France. The socialist French government passed legislation (quite a while back) that makes it very difficult for companies to fire employees. As a result, it is rather difficult to get hired in the first place. Furthermore, the French tend to be loaded with degrees, which makes my two Bachelor’s Degrees look rather inadequate.

Not to worry though, I’ve still been finding opportunities! I’ve been working my networks for contacts in France and may have opportunities at Nissan-Renault and HSBC. Job forums have also been an interesting avenue. Thursday, I attended Forum Paris Pour L’Emploi, but it wasn’t very interesting. There were way too many applicants for each position offered, and there were only 8 companies even looking to hire someone in Communications.

The event was held in beautiful Place de la Concorde though–so I took a few pictures. Check out the amazing view!

The Obélisk, Eiffel Tower, and Fontaine des Mers (Fountain of the Seas)

The Forum Paris pour l’Emploi wasn’t very useful, but I got a lead for a great networking event for startups, Jobs for Bob, from an AIESEC US alum in Paris (thanks for introducing us Alex!) The event was great! I made tons of contacts with startups in Paris, met a lot of interesting individuals, and may even have found several jobs! We’ll have to see how it all turns out, but I may just have found an internship for Silicon Sentier, the org that put the event on.

I’m sorry I forgot to take pictures this morning, but you may be able to find some on Silicon Sentier or Le Camping (their startup project)’s website: http://siliconsentier.org/le-camping/

That’s all for now.




Why I’m Moving to France, Part 2

There’s actually a second reason I’m moving back to France this September: I want to prove to myself that I’ll be able to thrive as well there as I have here.

Moving to my country of origin isn’t as scary as relocating to a completely new region where I don’t speak the language (like I did when I first came here), but it’s still intimidating. I’ve been away for more than thirteen years. This means I don’t have firsthand knowledge about general things such as how to get an apartment or what French university grads like to do in their leisure time and, even more importantly, how the employment system works in France. I have no idea how important different things such as university grades, language ability and cover letters are weighed when comparing potential hires, or what I should do to make myself stand out as a desirable candidate.

Can you find little Anne-Sophie in her 1st American class picture?

I know things are different there; they run on a different system. For example, graduating from a prestigious university is pretty much the only way one can hope to reach the higher rungs of management in France. Furthermore, start-ups, which are a great way to learn and develop oneself quickly on the fly, are not very common in France because of a cultural aversion to taking risks. This aversion to risk is probably the reason I’m so intimidated to throw myself back into France and flail around for a bit until I create a strong, secure footing for myself. Back to start-ups: I have loved working with start-ups in the Bay Area for several reasons (which will probably have to take another post, but here’s a shortened, concise-ish list O;] )

  1. Start-ups can’t afford to pay experienced professionals so they love to hire motivated, bright young things like me
  2. This allows affore-mentioned inexperienced, motivated, bright young things to stop making photocopies and dive right into meaningful work that actually yields visible, tangible results (very fulfilling =] )
  3. Diving right into this work with little experience is a great learning experience: you’re not watching a more experienced manager or executive do work–you’re DOING this work and reading everything you can to make sure you learn quickly and do it well!
  4. They often don’t have enough people to do everything so you get to dabble in anything you have the time and interest to

In the interest of stopping this post from “tangenting” into a post about the merits of working for a start-up (I definitely seem to be going on a lot of tangents today!), I’ll stop this list here. Take my word for it though, if you’re fresh out of college and looking for some good experience, work for start-ups–I’m definitely going to try to continue doing so! I’m disappointed that there aren’t many in France (although it seems this may be changing slowly), but I’ve been fortunate enough to nab an interview with one so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Let’s sum all this up before this post turns into a novel. I’m intimidated and afraid of the frustration and tough moments I’ll run into, but I know this challenge will be worth my time. Not only will I gain personal strength from this experience, but I will also become more resourceful, learn to make myself more marketable, and get to reconnect with my native culture.