Thought to Action

People and Pine Cones: URX’s YCombinator Story

pine

TL;DR: Skip to the bolded pieces.

“Andrew, this is it – we’ve got the right team, and the timing’s perfect. If we don’t go for this now, we will regret it for the rest of our lives.”

I could feel him thinking through the silence. “Alright dude, I’m in. Let’s talk to Nate and James and make this happen.”

It was a Friday afternoon in mid-January when Andrew, Nate, James and I went from being close friends to co-founders. Looking back, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but our excitement and eagerness was enough to get us started.

I had just stepped out of a meeting with Bruno Bowden, an angel investor I met out of sheer coincidence: after a night out at bars, I dropped my credit card in front of Bruno’s apartment while getting out of a cab. A few days later, I got a LinkedIn message from him telling me he’d found my card. Being the opportunist that I am, I used this as a chance to meet Bruno and pitch him on a few ideas that Andrew, Nate, James and I were working on.

One week, one prototype and two all-nighters later, Bruno became our first angel investor and our journey began.

This experience solidified one of my theories about how the world works: opportunities present themselves in the most curious of manners and it’s each of our responsibilities to create our own luck.

 The First 90 Days: From Founding to YCombinator

 The First 90 Days: From Founding to YCombinator

The First 90 Days: From Founding to YCombinator

On my first day as, “John Milinovich, Startup CEO” I was shell-shocked. I stared at an empty GMail inbox, unsure of where to start. The novelty quickly faded to the reality of the situation: I needed help. In the early days of a startup, you are battling inertia: how do you force something into existence that doesn’t exist yet?

I reached out to all of the mentors, friends and peers whose opinions I trusted to better understand how to get started. I was humbled by people’s response- people were so excited that I was going after my dreams and were willing to do whatever they could to help out. This led to several introductions, including to potential customers, investors and advisors.

At first, I was scared to share our idea with people. What if they didn’t like our product? What if they thought it wasn’t useful? What if they actually wanted to use it? I didn’t feel we were ready yet, but decided to put ourselves out there anyways.

This process taught me the most valuable lesson I learned early on: no matter what you’re building or “how early” you are in your development, it is never too early to start talking to potential customers. Customers (or users, in B2C companies) are the lifeblood of startups, and step 0 is to understand their problems and feel their pain. The more customers you speak with, the more perspective you gain – if you hear the same things multiple times, it’s probably something you should take into account.

In mid-April, I had the chance to meet Dave Fowler, the CEO of Chartio. Chartio was one of our neighbors in South Park, and had gone through YC a few years prior. It was a beautiful day outside, so we decide to walk around the Park. We ran into Max Mullen, one of the founders of Instacart (also in YC) and we hit it off right away. I shared a bit about what we were working on at URX, and within 5 minutes Max said, “Yep, that sounds awesome – we would totally use this, sign us up.” Serendipity had played its hand again, and we had just landed our first customer. Our product wasn’t fully built yet, but Max was committed to working with us to fully help us understand Instacart’s needs.

By this point, we had been invited to interview for the Summer 2013 class of YCombinator and decided to, “make our own luck” and talk to as many YC founders as possible to get a grasp on the interview process. Bruno introduced us to Sumon Sadhu, who founded Snaptalent out of YC’s S’08 class. Sumon is, single handedly, the most talented strategist and persuasive communicator that I’d ever met. He taught us how the YCombinator interview process works and hammered it into our heads that, no matter what, we need to clearly articulate our 5 Main Points in our interview. We boiled down the entirety of “Why we should be in YC” to five bullet points and committed them to memory.

A few days later we interviewed with Geoff Ralston, Sam Altman, and Garry Tan and it was the most intense 10 minutes of our lives. The interviews are as difficult as they are made out to be, but we crushed it. We got our points across and walked out confident that we had made a good impression. (In retrospect, I’m proud that all of the YC partners we interviewed with ended up becoming investors in URX, along with Sumon).

YCombinator: The 100 Day Journey

YCombinator: The 100 Day Journey

YCombinator: The 100 Day Journey

Getting into YCombinator was a dream come true. Like most young founders, the initial appeal of the program was based on its prestige and the opportunity to quickly gain access to the highest rung in Silicon Valley. For a group of people who understand the value of people and relationships, we knew we were on the right path.

We’d all read Paul Graham’s essays, watched countless YouTube videos about YC, and spent too much time on HackerNews. None of that prepared us for the first time we went on a walk up and down Pioneer Way with PG. After getting into YC but before starting the program, PG meets with all of the startups in the batch. We gave him our quick pitch, and after quickly digesting it he told us that, “We have the opposite problem that most startups face. The opportunity created being able to link into the middle of mobile apps is so big it’s scary. Your challenge is not going to be whether this can be a billion dollar idea, but making sure you don’t get swallowed by it.” Before this we were confident in the opportunity in front of us, but didn’t fully digest how big it could be until hearing it come from PG. This block walk set the tone for the rest of YC- how can we continue to be so big, we’re scary?

At the end of our meeting, PG told us that we need to change our name. It was too generic and not very interesting or differentiated. We spent 20 minutes brainstorming names that better represented our vision than AdLast (our name at the time), and quickly came up with a short-list of 10. URX was at the top of the list but was taken by someone else and had no clear indication of being for sale. We felt like we were at a loss, and admittedly thought we had a lot more important things to worry about than our name.

About a month later, we reported to duty for the first Tuesday dinner at YC. During our first group office hours (a bi-weekly format where 6 startups meet with 2 partners for an hour to discuss updates and challenges), I was introduced to Garry and Geoff outside the scope of our first 10-minute grilling. It’s amazing how similar most early-stage startup problems are to each other, despite all of the surface differences between companies. During that first meeting, Geoff asked a question that has stuck with URX and is now a part of how we evaluate ourselves: What are your bottlenecks to scaling? At any given point, a startup’s growth is inhibited by one of a few things- getting more customers, finding the right market, scaling operations, or technical debt- and by keeping a close pulse on which of these is the largest constraint gives a good perspective on where startups should be applying their limited resources.

During YC, every startup is paired with one of the partners to meet with frequently for 1:1 office hours. Paul Buchheit, the creator of GMail, AdSense and Friendfeed, was our partner. In that first meeting together, we talked about our roadmap, what our customers were saying, and where we saw the biggest immediate opportunity. At the time, we had built a deeplink open source framework and a “bitly for deeplinks,” but had identified that deeplink retargeting was going to be the next frontier. The technology behind a retargeting platform (on either mobile or desktop), is non-trivial to say the least, and during that first meeting PB made us realize that startups don’t get huge by focusing on small wins, but by going for the gold. He told us to stop talking about it and just go do it. We started building and selling our retargeting solution, and quickly realized he was right.

We received an email from PG about a month into YC telling us he’d like to meet because it had been a while since we’d talked last. Excited by the chance to show PG what we’ve built, we booked office hours and prepped what we wanted to talk about. On the familiar walk around Pioneer Way, PG stopped mid-sentence to bend down and pick something up off the ground. It was a mini pine cone from the redwood tree that towered above us. “Startups are like this pine cone,” he told us. “All of them start small and look the same, but only a few will ever realize their full potential.” He handed me the pine cone, and we kept walking. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I still have that pine cone). We continued sharing our plans and he simply shrugged and told us, “Do what will make you the most money first. Use that as your guiding light.” So simple, but more true than we knew at the time.

Towards the end of the meeting, PG gave us a hard time for not yet changing our name from AdLast. We’d looked into it, we told him, but the name wasn’t available. I could see (and hear) his disappointment, and quickly realized that my number one priority had just become our rebrand. 20 minutes later, I was on the phone with the current owner of the name URX and by the time we showed up at the next Tuesday dinner, we were URX.

Demo Day and Beyond

Demo Day and Beyond

Demo Day and Beyond

Demo Day is the culmination of the YC experience. It is the reason for the massive time pressure most startups feel during the program and is usually the first time most talk to investors. We had elected to skip the traditional YC PR push about our product in favor of collecting more data, writing the case studies and honing our messaging. In our case, PG also recommended that we stay, “off the record” at Demo Day, meaning that even though we presented no one was allowed to talk about us. This is not the right idea for most startups, but it turned out being great for us. It let us control our own messaging and focus on better understanding the story that we wanted to tell.

I feel fortunate to have been able to pull together our syndicate of investors in 2 ½ weeks. We had about 40 meetings and ended up raising from 31 investors. I didn’t sleep very much and probably took a few years off of my life, but it was well worth it. We had raised about ⅔ of our allocation in the week leading up to Demo Day and were able to filter through the inbound interest post-Demo Day to be very efficient with our meeting schedules. As PG says, once you find your first investors, the rest will follow- this couldn’t have been more true for us.

Now that we’re a fully funded, rapidly growing company, it feels amazing to be able to focus back on our first principles. Not much has changed- we are still “StartupHard,” still focus on our one thing, and are consistently obsessed with scaling and simplifying.

On a weekly if not daily cadence, I make sure to take a step back from things to fully appreciate the reality of the situation. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the chance to work with a rockstar team and have the chance to build something incredible. As my co-founder Andrew recently said, “It’s an interesting challenge to be fully focused on executing while still having the time to appreciate how much has changed in our lives.” It’s so easy to focus on climbing the mountain in front of us that we often forget to look at how far we’ve already come. We have our work cut out for us, but I am incredibly proud of the progress URX has made over the course of the last 9 months.

We’re not sure what’s around the corner for us, but we know that we will be ready for it when it happens.

People First, Ideas Second

Before becoming a founder, I assumed that when I had the right idea, I would know it was time to, “go for it”. I spent my first few years in Silicon Valley cutting my teeth and gaining as many skills as I possibly could. I worked on variety of side projects, met a ton of interesting people, and had a ton of ideas that I thought were interesting. When push came to shove though, I was still a wantrepreneur and that killed me.

Towards the end of 2012, I knew it was my time. After a fated conversation with one of my mentors, I realized that there was no way to prepare myself for being a founder other than by founding a company. Quickly thereafter, I joined up with 3 of my close friends and we set off to do something crazy. February 1 was my last day at Google and we were off to the races.

Founding a company is more about finding the right people than it is about finding the right idea. After enduring 3 pivots and starting on a fresh code base 4 times (sorry, Andrew) this is more clear to me than ever before. In the early days, ideas are a medium for communication more than anything else. They are a way that people are able to express their beliefs, opinions and assumptions about the world in a way that others can digest and respond to. The right team enables a foundation for many ideas to be explored rapidly until one sticks.

So, if you want to start a company, focus on building your team first and your product second.

Convertible Notes Explained in 201 Words

Convertible notes are a financial instrument for early stage venture fundraising that provide benefits to both entrepreneurs and early investors. They move much faster than equity financing and give investors a premium for taking on early risk.

In San Francisco (AdLast is in South Park) coffee shops it’s common to hear:

“He invested $100,000 at a 20% discount with a $5M cap.”

 

Capped Notes (a form of “convertible debt”) convert to Common Shares in the Company at its next round of funding. For startups, this is usually a Series A round.

  • Notes usually have a Discount that gives them investors a premium for being early and taking on more risk.
  • They can also have a Cap to help protect investors against downsides if you grow too quickly. This helps fully align the incentives of the entrepreneur and the investor.

There are two main scenarios where Capped Note converts to equity:

  • Scenario 1: The Series A round is at a valuation above $5M (for example, $10M). Investor gets 100,000/5,000,000 (2 %) ownership.
  • Scenario 2: The Series A round is at a valuation below $5M (for example, $2M). Investor gets (100,000/(1-.2)) / 2,000,000 (6.25 %) ownership.

 

If you found this valuable, I’d love if you shared it on Twitter.

 

1 year, 11 months at Google University

I feel so fortunate to have spent the last 1 year, 11 months as a student at the most forward thinking company in the world. Working at Google, I was surrounded with incredibly talented people solving difficult problems in a culture of creativity, learning and personal growth.

John as a NooglerToday is my last day at Google and, while I am incredibly sad to leave, I am, “uncomfortably excited” about what the future holds. The relationships, experience and skills that I gained during my time at Google have given me the confidence to pursue my dreams of being a startup co-founder.

Some of the most stimulating conversations that I‘ve ever had have been over the amazing food at Beta, Charlie’s or Big Table. I will miss the lunchtime talks and impassioned diatribes more than anything else. There’s no way to explain the culture more than just, “Googley” – unique viewpoints, analytical thinking and creativity flowed through the hallways and was palpable on campus.

Google lets its employees work at an incredible scale at all levels in the company. There are very few organizations that impact as many people and make as much money as Google, and it is absolutely marveling how they make it all work. I’ve had the opportunity to launch new products, build internal programs with global impact, patent new technologies and manage technology partnerships for products used by tens of millions of people. I worked on 20% projects, attended Author Talks, learned Linux, answered customer support questions and filed bugs. Google gave me the freedom to identify and fix the problems with the most impact.

My favorite perk from Google is their investment into the continued education of its employees. Google offers courses to help develop and round out Googlers’ skillsets to help them grow as professionals and individuals. I was able to structure my own curriculum and took 100+ hours of coursework in Python, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Meditation, Strategic Thinking, Creative Thinking, Negotiations, Data Visualization and Building Authentic Relationships. I received an excellent education and was exposed to new ways of thinking about technology, business and myself all while in the confines of the ‘Plex.

I will always love Google and cherish my memories of my time in Mountain View. I spent some of the most difficult times in my life as a Google employee, and the way they took care of me is something that I will never forget. Google truly cares about its employees and its users and will continue to prosper as long as they keep the spirit alive.

Thank you, Google.

I Love You, Mom.

On October 17, 2012, my Mom passed away after an 11 year battle with cancer.

My life has changed drastically over the last two months but my love and adoration for my Mom has remained constant. I miss her and think about her every day and can’t help but feel a renewed sense of purpose in life. Her memory has filled me with hope and inspiration to go after my dreams and to not be afraid to take risks, as I know the worst failure I might experience will be nothing compared to the suffering that she experienced.

I have been asked a few times to share the Eulogy that I read at her funeral and today I felt inspired to share a glimpse at the type of person that my Mom was.

Thank you all so much for being here today. There were few things that made my Mom as happy as being surrounded by the people she loved and cared for – I couldn’t imagine a better way to honor her life than by having each of you here today.

Susan was the type of person whose warmth and energy filled every room that she stepped into. She had so much enthusiasm for life and seized every opportunity to share and spread her joy with those around her. Whether she acted as a Team Mom or a Chaperone, a Friend or a Trusted Advisor, I know everyone here has experienced my Mom’s exuberant nature and understands the impact she made in the communities that she was a part of. Through her lighthearted outlook on the world, her way of being honest in a way that didn’t make you hate her and of course her booming laugh, she touched so many people’s lives in the time she shared with us.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how my Mom impacted my life and have realized that it is nearly impossible to untangle my own story from her story. She is so much a part of me that it’s difficult to separate the things I’ve learned from her from those that I’ve picked up on my own. The favorite pieces of my personality are those which I admired most about and learned from her. She taught me to love the world and to find the things in it that inspire me. “From there”, she would tell me, “the rest is easy”. My mom showed me how to see the lighter side of life and how to stay mindful of my priorities. “It’s easy to let your world get small and your problems get big”, she told me, “but in those moments it is especially important to remember how grand the world actually is.”

My Mom wanted Charlotte and I to benefit as much as possible from the lessons that she learned on her journey and as we got older she took every opportunity to teach us about life. She was my spiritual mentor and taught me more about myself than I have any capacity to explain. The strength and courage she demonstrated in the face of her biggest fears acts as a measure of the type of person I aspire to be.

The most important lesson I have learned from my Mom is something she didn’t get to share with me but that she gave me the the chance to learn on my own. When her sickness took a turn for the worse in March, I had the chance to spend a lot of time with her at the hospital. I remember distinctly one day that stood out from the rest. It was a Wednesday and had shaped up to be one of the more difficult days for all of us. Mom was having a very difficult time facing the reality of what we then realized was an inoperable, aggressive and rare form of cancer. We cried together until there were no more tears to share and I whispered to her something she had told me many times in the past: “Mom, we can’t always control what happens in life. The only things we can control are what we do and how we react to them.”

We both sat silent for a moment and then decided to make it outside and explore the beautifully kept grounds at the hospital. After a few minutes she built up enough strength for me to take her outside for the first time in weeks to do little more than sit, breathe and watch the wind move through the trees. She even managed to pull out an iconic Susan smile and flash the peace sign.

In that moment 24 years of life lessons all seemed to click as so many “Mom-isms” came together in an expression of pure joy and understanding. Anything that might have mattered seconds before melted away in favor of simply enjoying our time together. For the first time, I had moved from being the one receiving her advice to the one giving it. Once again, my Mom had changed my life.

One of the most difficult things for me to cope over the last few days has been the concept of my Mom’s physical absence from my life. Though I had grown used to not seeing her everyday and her ability to be a huge part of my daily life lessened as she became more ill, there was still an enormous amount of comfort in having my Mom – Mommy – here with us. I know that I will likely feel that for the rest of my life but I find great comfort in knowing that she is with me in every laugh, smile and moment of joy I will experience.

My Mom is the type of person whose life you can’t help but celebrate – I know that if she were here today she would be the first to remind us to fill our hearts with the joyous memories of our time with her rather than the loss that has brought us all here. With that let us remember all that we have to be thankful for in life and take the day to celebrate my Mom’s wonderful legacy. Thank you.

Turn Your Data Diet into an Online Audience

Each of our online interactions leaves a trail of data that, in aggregate, represents how we explore the web. New standards in data portability have prompted companies to open up its users’ data to make it readily available to those who are curious enough to explore. By leveraging Google Reader, Buffer and IFTTT, I have been able to take my personal data traces and turn them into a social media content machine. Additionally, I can analyze clickthrough data to understand what content is most relevant to my online audience to optimize what I share for the highest clickthrough rate.

The steps below will teach you how to take your own content inflow and seamlessly turn it into sharable content that will help build your personal brand.

Step One: Set Up Google Reader

Google Reader is an RSS feed aggregator that allows its users to collect content from its favorites sites across the web and quickly page through all new posts as they come in. In order to fully take advantage of Google Reader and your Digital Tracks, make sure to add your favorite sites to Reader and categorize them with folders.

Step Two: Set Up Buffer for your Twitter Account

Buffer is a Tweet scheduler that allows users to schedule Tweets to be posted at future point in time. This is enormously helpful to make sure you have a consistent stream of Tweets – a must if you’re looking to build a fanfare.

Buffer also provides post-level analytics so you can understand which of your posts people are clicking on, retweeting, replying to and favoriting. This is very important as you start optimizing your content flow.

Step Three: Use IFTTT to Connect Google Reader and Buffer

IFTTT (If This, Then That) is leading the way in machine-to-machine communication and allows its users to do cross-application data mashups in what they call “recipes.” For example, you can use IFTTT to create recipe that says, “when there is a newly starred item in Google Reader, add it to the Buffer Queue for @jmilinovich.” It truly is that simple.

Step Four: Start Reading!

At this point, you have set-up your Google Reader and your Buffer accounts and connected the two using IFTTT. It’s time to start digesting content! Go to your Google Reader and every time you read an article that you enjoy or would like to Tweet about, Star it (protip: keyboard shortcut ‘s’) and move on. You will start to see your Tweets post up to four times a day.

(optional) Step Five: Analyze and Optimize

After you’ve been following this information workflow for a few weeks, log-in to your Buffer Analytics dashboard and observe which of your Tweets people are interacting with and which people are not. You can get a sense of how sticky a post was by looking at how many Clicks it received relative to its Potential audience (Clicks/Potential represents clickthrough rate). When someone retweets you, the Potential audience increases as well.

As your sample size become big enough, you will start to observe trends in which of your posts people enjoy interacting with. In my case, I noticed that people were much more likely to click on links about technology and social media than they were about design and architecture. Fortunately, this doesn’t change what I read in Google Reader but just what I decide to star and share.

Are you currently taking advantage of your Digital Tracks?

Quantified John

Recent innovation in sensors, smartphones and connected devices enable users to measure an unprecedented amount of information about how humans interact with and live in the world. As this data continues to become valuable and actionable, a new layer of data revolution will emerge.

In most of the current ‘Quantified Self‘ products, the most compelling use cases revolve around health and fitness. They all solve for problems that exist within their communities and have a critical mass of users who are willing to try new things.  Soon, similar use cases will evolve within parallel verticals like eco-consciousness and lifelong learning.

My Measurement Framework
My “Quantified Me” exists through 5 main interfaces: FitocracyThe EateryRunKeeperWithings and Fitbit. Each attempts to measure a specific part of my activity, either implicitly through sensors or explicitly through an interface.  The goal of measurement in each context is to help you move towards certain milestones or achievements.  This could be getting to your ideal weight or setting new weightlifting max’s.

Some of the applications (RunKeeper, Withings, Fitbit) have API’s that allow me to connect one product to another. Fitbit integrates with Withings to more accurately measure calories burned, while Fitocracy lets me get Points for Runkeeper runs. There is a certian data economy that is starting to emerge but hasn’t quite hit ubiquity…

(read full post)

Lewis and Clark

“Lewis and Clark were lost most of the time. If your idea of exploration is to always know where you are and to be inside your zone of competence, you don’t do wild new shit. You have to be confused, upset, think you’re stupid. If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t go outside the box.”

-Nathan Myhrvold

Don’t be afraid to experience the world.  Growth comes from discomfort and change.

When have you pushed your own limits of competence and gone outside the box?

The Power of Passion

tl;dr: passion is contagious – finding yours is much easier than you thought.

The Foundations of Passion

When I meet someone new, passion is one of the most quickly identified traits I see and admire.  The excitement that is revealed when someone is talking about their passion is enough to get others interested in what they’re talking about and cannot really be faked.  At a personal level, passion unlocks the ability to truly enjoy the things that you spend your time doing.

People perceive passion in various ways at different stages in life.  Oftentimes, children who are passionate about something outside of the mainstream are called “Nerds” and “Geeks” simply because what they care about is not widely adopted or understood within their peer group.  This certainly happened to me and I know many others who experienced this as well.

As people get older (and usually mature), impassioned individuals start to be perceived differently because of the fact that they start to perceive themselves in a different light.  This inner change and self-confidence is palpable and is very, very real.  I remember a time in college when one of my friends recommended that I, “stop reading so much ‘Internet stuff’ and watch more sports” so I could relate to people better.  I am happy that I didn’t take his advice and now live and work in a place where Tech is cool.  My passion brought me to Silicon Valley and the sense of tech culture and excitement is what will keep me here for a very, very long time.

About a year ago I read a great article by Tim Ferriss called “How to Harness the Superstar Effect” that talks a lot about how people with narrow-focused passions are the ones who become top Opera singers, Sumo wrestlers and CEOs.  He calls it the Superstar corollary:

“Being the best in a field makes you disproportionately impressive to the outside world. This effect holds even if the field is not crowded, competitive, or well-known.”

While I don’t believe you have to be the best at something to be happy or fulfilled, it is a great model to aspire to and in effect, it doesn’t matter what you are interested in – as long as you are willing to put the time into being the best at, you will do well.

Find Your Passion

It might be easy enough to buy into the power of passion, but the challenge then becomes finding something you are truly passionate about.  Fortunately, the answer is simple but not clear cut or well defined: try a lot of stuff you don’t like and eventually something will stick.

Here is a quick play-by-play of how I found my passion for social data and social media marketing:

  1. Identify a list of things you are interesting in learning about from as wide a range of topics as possible.
  2. Take the first item on the list and read everything that there is to read on the subject.  Familiarize yourself with the space, the trends and who the ‘Superstars” are.
  3. Once you have a good base of knowledge in the area (should take about 2 weeks of due diligence), reflect on whether this is something you’re more interested in than when you started.  If yes, continue on; if no, move back to step 2 with the next item on your list.
  4. Reach out to some of the top bloggers, writers and “movers and shakers” in the area to learn more about their journey getting to where they are.  You’d be surprised at how easy it is to reach out to people – don’t be afraid to try!  Start writing and collecting your own thoughts on the subject to start figuring out your own story.
  5. Determine what it would take for you to become a superstar in this area.  List out the steps between where you are and where you want to be.  Rapidly start working through the steps but be conscious of the fact that expertise takes time.
  6. Give things at least 1 month to catch on and if, at that point you’re not more interested in it than you were at the beginning, move on.

This approach has worked for lots of people I have spoken with across many different disciplines.  If your interest is in something like cycling or triathlons, you should move into the ‘practice’ phase in parallel with the ‘knowledge’ phase.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your passion is or how you end up with is as long as you make it your own.

 

What are you passionate about and how did you decide on that pursuit?

A Silicon Valley Love Story

tl;dr: work hard, learn to code and build meaningful professional relationships.

It’s been just over a year and a half since I moved to Silicon Valley.  To the outside world it’s the land of The Internets and the place where kids become billionaires (Thanks a lot, Zuck).  I’ve been here for a year and a half and, while I’m still as much in love with this place as when I arrived, it is for much different reasons.

Hitting the Ground Running

Fresh out of college, I showed up ready to take the world by storm.  With the haze of graduation slowly starting to fade and the everlasting hangover beginning to tide, I felt like I had a purpose in life.  This was the place where the ambitious came to see what they were made of and to know what it felt like to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

I’m an idealist, and the notion of having a chance to change the world was enough of a selling point to take me out of the comfort of Los Angeles (In retrospect, all of the recruiting messages worked extremely well on me) and throw me into something completely new.  I studied Architecture and Accounting at UCLA and always enjoyed thinking abstractly, making stuff and playing with data: combine that with my unhealthy Tech blog habit and a career in technology made perfect sense.

The back of my first “big boy” business card as an Intern at Yahoo.  Seriously.

I started at Yahoo! as a Financial Analyst in August 2010 and hit the ground running.  My group’s job was to focus on streamlining 15 years worth of inefficient financial process and, as our SVP told us, to “try to eliminate our own jobs.”  This was a harsh reality check and it didn’t take too many Weekly Headcount Reports to realize that everything in a big company comes down to dollars on a line item.

Full Speed Ahead

I quickly realized that Finance wasn’t the right profession for me (I think I had I-Banking/Consulting envy) but I had a serious thirst for the way technology frames our experience of the world.  I began to immerse myself in Hackathons and side projects and started to cut my teeth alongside some amazing engineers.  The thing they don’t tell you in High School is that Industry is built on engineers.  If you don’t make stuff, you are supporting those who do.

I joined Google in early 2011 and felt like the treadmill was put into sprint mode.  I was placed on the Google Offers Customer Operations team before our launch and played a pivotal role in defining, designing and implementing our entire social media strategy.  I learned that I’m not afraid to work long hours, pitch my vision or challenge convention: these are all fundamental components of what it takes to suceed in any hyper-competitive environment.

What I’ve Learned

While I am the same person as when I arrive in the Valley, my entire world and what I think is important has changed.  I used to believe in ideas and now I believe in action.  I enjoy spending my free time hacking, reading and learning… passion is what makes people interesting and I feel incredibly lucky to live in a place where everyone is incredibly excited about what they’re working on.

Looking back on the last year of my career, there have been a few monumental shifts that have happened that I wish I had known would be so important earlier in my life.  I hope to outline these here and leave them as items that warrant further exploration:

  1. No matter what part of The Internets you’re interested in, learn to code.  You don’t need to be an expert, but be able to build something;
  2. Find stuff to work on that you enjoy so much, you don’t care how much you work.  Trust me, this makes things much more fun;
  3. Establish meaningful relationships with people, both personally and professionally.  Relationships are the currency of life and without them you’re poor;
  4. Meditate and learn to breathe.  You will never feel as alive as you do when you’re fully living in the present moment.

My relationship to Silicon Valley has deepend drastically since I got here and I wouldn’t change my experience for anything.  I’m not quite sure what will happen next, but where’d the fun be if I did?

ABOUT THIS PLACE

Welcome to Thought to Action, the blog of John Milinovich. I'm interested in data-driven design, social analytics and user-centric data.

I write about social data, tech trends and life in Silicon Valley. I enjoy staying active, photography and engaging with the world and people around me.
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