I just went on the annual EI Silicon Valley Trip and it was one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever been on (aside from that time my fourth grade class went to the zoo. I got lost and ended up looking at flamingos for over an hour while everyone was running around trying to find me.)
This has got to be one of the most unique opportunities that NC State, or any university, offers and I feel incredibly fortunate to be one of those selected to go on the trip. It’s mindblowing to think that many of these successful entrepreneurs started at NC State, and that many of them went on this trip too! Someday, we could be in their shoes! In a couple years, the people I ate dinner with, the people I sat next to on the bus, or the people I roomed with could very well be the founders of the next big thing!
On average, we visited about four companies a day. The schedule was jam packed with big companies, small companies, tech companies, venture capitalist firms and delicious local food. There was something for everyone. However, this trip is only as good as you make it. You have to walk into each company with excitement and curiosity. You have to be confident and take advantage of the connections you make with your peers as well as your company hosts. Everyone walked away with an unforgettable company that they fell in love with, so I’d say that this was an extremely successful trip.
Since we had so many company visits, I won’t go into detail about what each company did because a) you would probably be 60 years old by the time you finished this and b) I don’t want to give everything away. Instead, I’ll organize it by my favorite takeaways.
People can meander a lot on their way to success.
On the first day, we had dinner with NC State alums. The alum at our table told us that he never really had a solid plan other than a passion for entrepreneurship. Initially, I was surprised because this was the opposite of what people usually tell me. However, I found that to be a common theme in the entrepreneurs that we met throughout the trip. Even the COO of Apple, Jeff Williams, said he didn’t really have a plan or goal after college! It’s okay to be unsure of your future plans. It’s okay if your first attempt at starting your own venture doesn’t work out. Everything around you will fall into place if you keep working hard with perseverance and passion.
Don’t get too comfortable with where you are.
A big chunk of the founders/co-founders we met on this trip jumped around the industries they worked in. Thushan, the co-founder of LaunchPad toys that was acquired by Google, was actually the one that said this to us. He explained to us that getting too comfortable in one job, in one industry, or in one environment means that we have stopped taking risks. To me, that means risks such as taking a position in a completely different industry forces you to learn and adapt to any environment. Ultimately, risks = becoming a well rounded person that is capable of handling whatever life throws your way.
It’s all about the team.
I think this was one of the most repeated phrases, and it was my favorite takeaway. VC’s explained that they not only invest in the idea, but also the founder. If the team fails with their first idea, the VC’s are much more likely to invest in them again if they have a strong team and have learned from their mistakes. Y Combinator, a startup accelerator, says that they often invest in ideas that they have seen before but a solid team becomes a big distinguishing factor.
The EI also puts on a trip to NYC over fall break to visit startups and entrepreneurs! I truly hope that you all consider applying to these trips so you walk away with a new perspective and an unforgettable experience.