Chapter 1 - Love and Ambition in Silicon Valley
“How old are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“I was born is a small town in Brazil, it’s not Sao Paulo or Rio but it is one of the largest cities in the country. However I did grow up here in Pal…” I was starting to ramble, but most times peoples found it fascinating to hear about another country. This was not the case.
“Where do your parents work?”
“Well my mom is a stay at home…” the CEO's eyes started to glaze over, so I switch to the punchline “and my dad works at Google”
“Oh,” the attention bounced back “as a manager?”
“No, Sr. Software Engineer,” I said proudly
“Oh” this time disappointment was palpable “Well go on”, the CEO waives me out of his messy office.
I felt awful. Did I lose the internship before I even started working? Walking in a daze towards what looked like the exit I practically bulldozed over Sasha, the guy who waived me into the CEOs office in the first place. Sasha towered almost a foot over me. He was handsome, dressed in form-fitting slacks and button down shirt that was tight enough to display muscle at any slight hint of movement. I presumed that was intentional. Like any hot-girl equivalent, Sasha used his natural attributes to get what he wanted.
“Where are you going, champ?” he mocked me affectionately “the morning meeting is this way”, placing his hand on the small of my back he led me back toward the room across from the one I just came out off. I shuddered. Partly because of the unexpected friendliness, partly because I felt out of place. This tall man only 2 years my senior seemed older, professional, perfectly suited for his role. His confidence was attractive. And I ignorantly followed him into the Lion’s den, thinking it was water. When I reference the king of the jungle, I do not mean it in an admirable way. Many associate the Lion as an image of power and might, while in reality, he is a lazy vicious creature that lets his counterparts hunt and protect the tribe, while he eats all the food and kills off any cubs that aren’t his.
My instincts were correct in making me feel uneasy, but I attributed it to the size of the operation I was seeing. While back in college, the school's tech center occupied a measly house and garage, the place I was currently in took up more than 4 stories and spanned the entire block. It’s insides were just as impressive. The residence were a mix of flip-flop, t-shirt wearing founders and puffy-vest investors, all roaming the halls with a great sense of purpose. There was a tour every time I looked up. And in the span of the 10 min I waited for Sasha to walk down the staircase and get me form the lobby, two separate delegations of 40 people each walked in and disappeared into the building. Another reason everything felt hectic was in part due to the design. A blend between a dorm during the summer and an entrepreneur’s psychedelic dream at Burning man, the space left no room to the imagination. Large posters lined every surface. Famous names in the industry that even I recognized like Google and Dropbox popped up every few meters. I counted 6 screens in this cove. Each display showed static photos of tech stars like Max Levchin and Jeff Bezos opposite world leaders. I even spotted a photo of Obama on the receptionist’s desk. To really shove diversity of the space down viewers throats, world flags hung from the ceiling, swaying with every swing of the front entrance door. I felt small, insignificant really. I imagined this to be the epicenter of silicon valley. A sort of silicon valley inside silicon valley. I affectionately named it ‘Overlord Council’, O.C. for short. Luckily I had an Ace up my sleeve. An introduction to Sasha by an influential investor who promised me that ‘I will be an intern this summer’, with emphasis on the will.
I just couldn’t fuck up.
Easier said than done. Determined to go unnoticed, and therefore inoffensive, when led into the meeting by Sasha, I instinctively scrambled into a corner as soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark lit windowless room. There were about 10 people seated around the table with the 11th seat presumably left for the CEO. More individuals lined the walls, but I couldn’t quite make any of them out. Somehow there were too many and too little people at the same time. Too many for the space to be comfortable. Too little to be possibly responsible for the operation I just witnessed. Plus the distinct silent breathing weighed down the 10 by 10 ft room to a fraction of its size. Finally at a quarter past 8, the CEO wobbled into the room. For such a round man it was impressive to see him so gracefully part the room and take his seat. Without any indication of rehearsal the man to his right started listing activities, it took me a moment to recognize that this was his agenda for the day - “Meeting with Mercedes CIO at 10am, then 3 consecutive blockchain startup interviews, then a lunch meeting with Sandhill investor in Palo Alto..” and so it went, each person seemed to one-up the next with the name dropping. That is up until the militant delivery reached Sasha, of course, he had even better news to share “Just closed a Million dollar contract with the largest retail manufacturer in the Netherlands, I am flying to Paris later this week, in the meantime sending contracts to a few Automation companies and we are ready to launch our new Insurance Program next month, oh and we have a few new sales interns coming in this summer.” he offered as an afterthought.
“Good Good, why don’t they introduce themselves” the man to the right of the CEO announces. Sasha turned to me in expectation.
My mind went black, but luckily my mouth didn’t mute.
“Well, um, my name is Anna, I am just graduated with a BS in Business Marketing and looking to work in Digital Marketing.”
Sasha squinted towards me in slight confusion, but before I could address his look the discussion shifted to another intern Nick, Nick explained that he is the son of the CEO of some major German Bank and is visiting US for the summer to get some experience working at a Silicon Valley Startup Accelerator. His long-winded backstory got lots of nods and greetings of approval, something severely lacking for me. Finally an hour later the meeting ended and employees spilled with such force, the office door reminded me more of a broken dam. Without any delay, the people proceeded to vanish into doorways and hallway I previously did not notice. My only option was to follow the stragglers that stayed to chat with Nick the intern.
Eventually I ended up on the second floor of the building. While the floor was pretty spacious, covered by rows and rows of cubicles and bean bag chairs. The employees filed into a 20 x 20 ft open seat section that I heard someone describe to Nick the intern as the ‘Bull Pen’. Behind frosted glass walls that for some reason only went about 80% up to the ceiling, one singe locked door welcomed the employees into their chaos. Posters and papers litter the walls and desks. Personal photos, snacks, and what seems to be gifts from around the world were stacked on the center table. Surrounding the table were half a dozen cubicles that weaved into one another like a maze, but somehow still faced the open space in the middle. My eye caught a Japanese sword and a dozen geisha fans stacked on edge of a cubicle wall, while to the right of it a small closet door was propped by a glass trophy box with a piece of the Berlin wall inside. On the next side over there was a nice tailored suit hanging on the back of a cubicle wall next to a bottle opener fixture. In this specific organized mess the guys settled into their office chairs.
“I got these Yeezys the other day, check em out” one of the boys showed Sasha.
“Dude, those are sick Greg” Sasha admired.
“Yeah my boy in Abu Dhabi got an in, he shipped them directly to me. Obviously I got 3 sets”
“That’s smart” the others approved.
“Btw are we taking the Deloitte guys to Sandhill?” another by the name of Oleg interjected. A speck of recognition crossed my mind.
“No, wait till Cougar night”
“Hey, there are ladies here” Sasha laughed and slightly glanced at me.
“So you’re the new intern?” Oleg inquired only now noticing me awkwardly standing next to their cubicle, right beside the snazzy suit.
“Yep” I tried to sound casual.
“Well what’s your name?” he leered with cynicism.
“Anna, but I think we already met” I responded, only slightly missing a beat.
I thought back to the startup event I attended a week ago. My friend *Louise* gave me her ticket to a startup Demo Day. As a Stanford Alumni she received plenty of perks that she had no time to use. Feeling sorry for my lack of job opportunities she encouraged me to learn a few terms and network at said event. It was there that I met the investor who introduced me to Sasha. But now I remembered the events that happened even before that:
My hand was scribbling vigorously as I tried to record the finer points of what the entrepreneur on stage was confidently explaining. The 40 year old man was supposedly revolutionizing the Financial industry with something called a Blockchain. He used the same exact words like ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ the previous 7 men before him used. But this time it was something about smart contracts and security, so I felt compelled to record. I had a hard time getting past something called hashes, when a young man with a bushy mustache squeezed into the free chair on my right. The investor on my left enthusiastically reached over me to great the guy. I tried to remain inconspicuous. After a few pleasantries the young man slid his rose gold mac air open, and I peeked over to check if my notes corresponded to his. Instead I was greeted with the checkout page of Amazon. He caught my glance and leaned over,
“Do you think I need special hooks for the hammock.”
I stared at him in confusion.
He noded, “yeah you’re right I need the special hooks,” and went back to purchasing. I watched in trepidation and fascination as he added one item after the other into his cart. The 20+ items ranged from special sun-replacement lights to anime books and cookware. He took sufficient effort to pick each item out, analyzing reviews of products and Reddit posts. Then he moved onto movie tickets, again confiding in me if he and his girlfriend should go to the 5pm or 7pm showing of Wonder Woman. Apparently it was their anniversary and he didn't feel like going ‘all out’, but later secedes to purchasing two sets of Louis Vuitton heels in a size 6 and 7. The extra pair was to ensure he got at least one set that fits. By the time he went through a good chunk of Amazon’s inventory, the dog and pony show on stage ended as well. With a brief goodbye the guy disappeared. I think the investor to my left thought I knew the mustache wielding shopaholic and proceeded to chat me up, eventually leading to the intro to Sasha.
Only now did I see the same face in front of me.
I realized Oleg was the guy from last week. He was the perfect compliment to Sasha, stocky but comfortable with his mass. Clearly brilliant but dismissive of his knowledge.
“Yeah we met last week at the big event here”
“You mean Demo Day?” Oleg corrected me.
“Yes, you asked me what hammock you should buy for your apartment,”
“Oh yeah, you’re that chick that investor brought around.”
“Hmh” I noded
“Oh cool, you his niece or something?” He wickedly asked.
“No, actually I just met him through the Stanford relationship you have...”
“Wow, Stanford alumni, impressive”
“No, actually I …”
Before I could go on, Sasha cut me off. “Stop pestering the child, Oleg. Anna, go research some emails of the top largest retailers in North America! You brought your laptop, right?”
Oleg shrugged and strolled away.
“It’s fine, it's not that hard of a task” Sasha tried to get rid of me.
“That’s not it” I persisted “I just was hoping I would get to work in Marketing”
“Oh yeah…” Sasha finally understood what I was saying. He paused, processing his next move. I saw him perk up as if the solution was written behind my ear. His hand went up and the booming voice traveled toward a man standing behind me.
“Simon, come to meet your new intern!”
The thin, posh, stylish man approached us at his own slow pace. Sasha, ignoring the slight hesitation, hugged Simon with abandon, slightly shaking him off-balance.
“Anna, meet Simon, he’s designing our new website. That’s marketing.” He doesn’t wait for a confirmation.
“That’s not fair” the other bro Greg protests in the background “Simon has been here less than a month and he’s already got 2 interns while I have none!”
“Well, that’s because we can’t leave you around anything that has a vagina!” Sasha shut him down. “Sorry” he half-heartedly apologized to me. “Anyways, go on, figure it out amongst yourselves!”
The conversation is clearly over. Simon and I are pushed out of the cubicle. He is clearly not thrilled to see me but hopeless to do anything about it. He leads me a bit away from the group and gestures me to sit all without saying a word. I sit down, uncomfortable starting off as a burden. Something that Simon is making very clear.
“So..” he started without any hint of completing the sentence.
I offered to assist “Yeah, so my name is Anna and I’m here to help you and such!”
“Have you done any marketing before?”
“Actually yes!” I perked up preparing to continue.
“Okay well, I guess, look at our website and research it,” he said and prepared to get up.
“Wait, I actually already did so and wanted to ask you a few questions?”
“Fine” he defeatingly settled back into his chair.
“What exactly is our product, the startups? Or somehow the corporations? Or is this a real estate company?”
“It’s everything” he cut me off again as if that should be enough of an answer.
“But how could that be, do we have any competitors?”
“No, we have a unique business plan.”
“But any indirect competitors?”
“Fine, research Y Combinator and Tech Stars and such” he conceded. “And make a report”
“Oh, powerpoint _____” the pause was clearly meant to fill in the word dummy.
“Don’t I need any company logins? Like to Google Analytics and such?”
“No.” Simon was clearly at the end of his rope, nervously tapping at the desk.
“Cigarette?” Greg strode by, squinting at me while talking to Simon, who got up without another word.
“Good luck intern!” Greg sung in a chirpy call out, while both his and Simon's backsides moved farther and farther away from me. One pale and lanky the other tan, short, and ripped. They reminded me of a cartoon show about two unlikely partners.
I exhaled, unaware that while speaking with Simon I was talking so fast I forgot to breathe. The laptop felt heavy on my lap and I raised it to situate it on the desk in front of me. Opening it I realize I didn't have the WiFi password. I looked towards the boys, Sasha and Oleg were parading the new intern Nick as if he’s was piece of fresh fish at the Seattle market. I turned back around and turned on the hotspot on my phone, hopefully, when Simon got back I could ask him for the password. Upset at how out of place I felt I start typing in ‘accelerator’ into the search bar of Google. After realizing that tech accelerators and physicist accelerators were two separate things I gave up and start reflecting on the people I just met.
Sasha felt familiar, like I’ve dated someone like him before. Interestingly enough the reason I was back up in Northern California was because I didn’t take my most recent breakup well. Alejandro seemed like the perfect boyfriend, attractive, cultured, attentive, and most importantly smart. He ran the Entrepreneurship center at my college. I met him when I was trying to apply for the class he TA-aid for. The recently added elective that allowed students to work with startup founders to grow their business.
To be completely honest I did not care for business, which is a bit ridiculous given that my major was Business Administration. However, as a first-generation US citizen art school was out of the question. Like my mother said, immigrants have to have a certain hunger for success in order to survive in this country without connections. Business was where networking and bravado was cultivated. It took awhile for me to be convinced, but a few failed art competitions later, I was ready to fight for a position that let me have more control. Entrepreneurship was the most creative aspect of business, so I decided to try it out.
Unfortunately, the class turned out to be a bit underwhelming because serious startups did not know what to do with unseasoned college grads, but it did bring me closer to the Alejandro. On weekdays he taught me the intricacies of the Entrepreneurship center, all the politicking and backstabbing. And on weekends he took me exploring LA. He always paid for dinners and insisted on opening every door. I was caught up in a romantic novel, and my artistic tendencies flared up. We went to museums and I painted a lot. At first I found him sweet, later he turned a bit controlling. The relationship was on his terms. Basically, what made him so good at his job in the Entrepreneurship Center, made him even better at manipulating me. When I brought it up, he dumped sighting work as the main culprit.
It broke my heart. So much so that I canceled my last year of college, having collected enough credits to graduate early. Packed all my stuff and left SoCal, crying the whole 8 hours back to my parent's house in Bay Area. My parents told me that he was a showman, all talk and no game. They even nicknamed him ‘The Peacock’. I took it as if he did not find me smart enough. So I decided to ‘out-entrepreneurship’ him. I did not know what that involved yet, but working at a tech center seemed like a start.