“Hey, can you help me? Can you tell me how to get to Silicon Valley?” Standing in the middle of the bustling San Francisco airport, I picked a friendly-looking stranger to help me find my way. He gave me a puzzled look, but San Franciscans are used to weird people asking weird questions.
The stranger replied, “Silicon Valley? Do you mean Palo Alto, Stanford?”
“That’s right,” I said. “How do I get there?”
He helped me find my way to the Caltrain headed to Palo Alto. Filled with anticipation, I sat on that train with all my belongings in my bags and my used one-way ticket from Germany in my pocket. This was it—coming to America to make my dream come true.
I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t know where I would stay. All I knew was that Silicon Valley was the entrepreneurial promised land where people with big dreams could do big things.
I got off at the wrong station: California Avenue. (If you ever want to visit the heart of Silicon Valley, get off at the following stop: University Avenue.)
Walking around, I saw something familiar in this foreign land—Hotel California.
I knew that song! This must be a sign. I walked in, booked a room at the reception, got the key, and put all my stuff in the room. At around 3 p.m., I set up my laptop to make myself feel at home, thinking: “This is my first office in the US.”
"Well, what should I do now?" I asked myself. "It's my first day in the US. I'm jetlagged ..."
The little voice in my head, I call it the asshole voice, piped in, “Just relax and watch a movie, Steli. Maybe respond to some emails. Take it easy for today. Let the adventure begin tomorrow.”
But then a second voice in my head, which I call the voice of awesomeness, perked up, “This is crazy, Steli! It’s your first day in the U.S.! This is a new chapter of your life, the big adventure! You’re not going to start it by sitting on your ass, watching a movie all by yourself in your hotel room! Get out there! Meet people! Do shit!”
So I decided to check out meetup.com to see if there was some event I could attend to meet people. That's when I found this thing called “Geek Dinner”.
"That sounds good! Geeks!" I said to myself. "I’ll need to know geeks because I want to do this startup and I can’t write code, I’m not a technical guy."
After first taking the train in the wrong direction, I finally found my way to the Geek Dinner. Somehow, I sat down next to Robert Scoble. If you don't know, Robert Scoble is a famous blogger, who knows a lot of people and is very influential in Silicon Valley.
At some point, he turned to me and said, “Hey, what do you do here?”
I told him my story: first day in the U.S., came here with a one-way ticket, wanted to change the world with an education startup. And I told him how excited I was about the whole thing.
Scoble looked at me and said, “You know what? This is such a cool story. Give me a call tomorrow, and let’s chat.” Then he left.
The intimidating interview
The next day, I dialed his number from my hotel room.
“Yes, this is Robert,” he answered.
“Hey, Robert! This is Steli from last night at the Geek Dinner. The guy that doesn’t know anyone or anything, and, yeah, I just wanted to give you a call.”
“Cool, I know that. Meet me in ten minutes downstairs.”
I hung up and went downstairs to wait. I was nervous.
He came, and we went to a coffee shop. Before I could take my first sip of cappuccino, however, he got up and went back to his car. Minutes later, he came back with this massive camera equipment. After he set it up, he said, “Let me do an interview with you.” He pressed the record button and asked me, “Who are you and what do you do here?”
If you have great Google skills, you can still find that video online. If you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with witnessing me making a fool of myself for a full hour. Looking like an idiot is one of my methods for success, but it still hurts.
After I stumbled my way through that interview, he asked me, “What’s your plan for the rest of the day?”
I had no plan.
He said, “Well, I’m speaking at this meetup event called SF New Tech. Do you want to come with me?”
“Yes!” (That’s the magic word. Say yes to opportunities. Receive and appreciate them, and good things will come your way.)
Shutting up and speaking up
At SF New Tech, there were four speakers and about 300 people in the audience. At the end of the event, they held a “20-second soapbox.” Everyone could go up to the mic and say something for 20 seconds.
Most people said things like: “Hey, I’m doing a startup in the ecommerce space, and I’m looking for investors and developers.”
The little asshole voice in my head piped in again, “This is awesome! But let’s not push things too far. Everything is going well. Let’s not fuck things up. Don’t do something stupid and crazy.”
The voice of awesomeness in my head retorted, “Shut the fuck up, asshole! Do something, dude! Pick up the mic and say hi! I need friends!”
So I did.
“Listen, guys, this is my second day in the US. I just bought a one-way ticket here. I don’t know anyone or anything about this industry. I want to build a massive tech startup, but more importantly what I need most right now are friends. If you guys need a friend, a Greek friend from Europe that grew up in Germany, come and say hi.”
My twenty seconds were over, and someone else grabbed the mic. Finally, all the speakers had their moments. A little crowd surrounded one speaker. Another little crowd surrounded another speaker. The biggest crowd? Surrounded me!
I think I got around 200 business cards that day from people who wanted to help me and people who wanted to get to know me. All I did for the next four weeks was get in touch with all these amazing people who wanted to help me get started in Silicon Valley. Eight years later, some of them are still my friends!
How did I do this?
I showed up.
I showed up in the U.S.
I showed up in Silicon Valley.
I showed up at the Geek Dinner.
I showed up at the intimidating interview.
I showed up at the event.
I showed up and spoke up at the mic.
I showed up and followed up with the amazing people who gave me their business cards.
All it took was the guts to show up.
What do you do when you hear that little voice inside your head that tells you that you don’t have anything smart to say, that you’ll just make a fool of yourself, that you should take it easy? How do you respond to that voice that holds you back and makes you feel fear and shame?
Tell that little voice to shut the fuck up.
That moment when you want to stop is the moment when you have to dig deep to keep going.
Cold feet vs. courage
I have felt scared and nervous many times since that day. But I conquered my fear with courage.
But courage is the great equalizer because anyone can choose to be courageous. You might not have the skills or the confidence, but if you have the courage, you can build the skills and gain the confidence to make it happen.
Let me share the Formula Of Hustle with you. It’s my home-made recipe for success. It goes like this:
HUSTLE = show up + follow up + follow through
Put this formula to work, and success will follow.
Showing up is the smallest part of this equation. It may be 20% of the whole pie, but it’s the necessary foundation. When you don’t show up, you can’t follow up, and you can’t follow through.
Use the power of showing up to make your life count and do things that matter.