Chapter 1 version 2
Southern California is such an icy place for how hot it gets. Even 90-degree weather cannot melt the narcissism off its residents. Perhaps the only worthy opponent is the Santa Ana wind, so powerful it rips the lies off peoples tongs as effectively as it unglues the fake lashes from wannabe actresses. Originally from a cold town myself, the one and only birthplace of Hollywood bad guys, I thought I could survive Orange County. Unfortunately, even Siberian winters couldn’t prepare me for my hot entrepreneurial boyfriend dumping me at college graduation. Apparently, his pursuit of new ventures was more important than our 4-year relationship. Serendipitously, on the evening of the aforementioned incident, the LA suburbs were experiencing another attack by the vicious winds. My respect and tears were lifted into the sky along with my ex-boyfriend's convoluted excuses. The current bated me to follow and make sense of my self-perceived tragedy, as if dissecting my ex’s words could repair my heart. I settled for petty revenge. If he was gonna build and sell a startup, I would make a better one. But not here, North - where the Santa Ana winds were headed I would go too. I packed up my things, venmoed my roommates $75 for utilities, and watched the quiet sun ascend over Silicon Valley 9 hours later.
~ 3 weeks later ~
To say finding a job in the techiest place on earth as a college dropout is difficult would be an understatement. And considering Northern California is overrun by immigrants, one would assume that things like legacies and networking would be irrelevant. Unfortunately, dropping out of a University only works favorably if you’re a guy, preferably white, and said school establishment is Harvard or Brown, not say UC Irvine, the ugly boring step-sister of UCLA. I quickly discovered that the jobs I qualified for already employed foreign Ph.D. students, ex-physicians who learned Ruby on Rails in their free time, while ones that I was unqualified for were taken by sons and daughters of post-2008 investors, the very same finance bros that caused the great recession and ventured West to bask in their Government payouts in the Californian sun. I was somehow both late and early to the game. And so I did what any half-decent archetype of an ex-communist spy would do, I infiltrated. No, I am no secret agent, and lying into a job at Google or Cisco was out of the question. However, sneaking into a Stanford Summer Career Fair was easier than I expected. The volunteers basically ushered me in while I was walking by the gymnasium, dejectedly sipping a Philz Mojito and pitying myself for my inability to get into the unofficial 9th ivy league. The airy space and Spanish arcs instantly uplifted my mood. My weary mind soared around the Doric columns and I convincingly donned the cardinal red. One problem remained, I had no idea what companies came to recruit. Among the well-practiced Seniors, I mimicked the columns, biding time to determine where to embarrass myself first. When a booming voice behind me floated in my direction.
“What are you looking for?” a stark-white haired gentleman in a monogrammed salmon shirt repeated.
“Me?” I wanted confirmation that my metamorphosis into a khaki colored slab of rock has not yet completed.
The man cleared his throat and grinned, so I decided to take my chances.
“I’m not sure yet,” I answered honestly.
“If you’re looking for the big tech companies they’re in the large booths in the back, the right is mainly consultancy firms like KPMG and SAP, while left flank are your rising stars like Tesla and Instagram”
The names were all familiar, but I knew I haven’t checked in on tech news since my Business Strategy Group Project on Airbnb 2 months ago. I panicked, prepared to spin around and run towards the Exit. Shooting a polite smile to this helpful man I tried to accompany it with a thank you. Instead, my brain rebooted like a Microsoft Update 2.2.5 and mouth muttered, “Spasibo”
The man paused, suddenly fixating his gaze on me in a much more directed manner. I gulped, aiming to dispel the silence with an apology. The start of my ramble was interrupted by a cacophony of sharp vowels “Vui govorite po ruski?”
“Vui..govo” I sounded out the words in my head, “Yes, yes I speak Russian” I hurriedly corroborated. “And you?” I continued.
“Je suis français, tu comprends?”
“Je comprends un peu, yo hablo Espanol mas bien.” I riffled through my knowledge of the Romance languages, switching from my limited French to my more comprehensible Spanish.
“Bien, muy bien!” The man clapped his hands with delight. “Me llamo Peter, e tu?”
“Julia, a pleasure to meet you.” I switched back to English too unsure of my ability to continue this conversation in another language.
“What are you looking for here, Julia?” The gentleman was more eager to carry on our conversation than before.
“...A job…” I responded candidly, dressing my fear into a joke.
“Where would you like to work?” the man proceeded as if he was a genie that could make all my wishes come true.
“At a startup or an accelerator of some kind” this time my answer stood a bit more upright.
“Would you be willing to intern?” I got a more oriented response back.
“Anything,” I realized I sounded too eager, “Why, do you know a place?” I counteracted my vulnerability with snark.
“Have you heard of ___________?”
“Sounds familiar.” I tried to pretend I’ve heard of the name.
“Well, how about you come get a tour tomorrow?” the gentleman suggested, “See if you’d want to work there.” My golden ticket appeared out of thin air.
“Seriously?” I couldn’t help but confirm.
“Yeah, yeah, just email me.” Peter handed me his card and turned away, focusing on the line of students behind him. I didn’t even realize how many people were crowding around trying to get his attention. They clearly were annoyed by my long chatter. “Ciao” he added, officially truncating the conversation.
“Ciao” I echoed.
The next day I was sitting in awe in the lobby of _________. My mind was focused on the musk under the armpits of my silk shirt while my beat up iPhone was slipping out of my sweaty hands, trying to run up the grandiose staircase in front of me as fast as I wanted to run out the opposite way. Yesterday, Peter responded promptly to my followup email, indicating that I should meet him at this address at 9 am. It was 9:13 and I was already tired of reconfirming that I read all the instructions correctly. The surroundings only up’ed my anxiety. ________ was more of a beehive than a tech workspace. Each individual walked with a purpose, from the formal suited international congregations to the Toe Running Shoe wearing entrepreneurs. The walls not only were painted in obnoxiously bright reds and greens but also served as a backdrop for about a thousand logos. Even the ceiling wasn’t safe. World flags hung from the top, overbearingly reminding the residence of the internationality of the space with their constant swishing murmur. A tour guide, yes the space doubled as a tourist attraction, grazed by.
“The building is 300,000sq ft. It houses over 400 startups and has been a home for some big names like ZoomZoom and Trident”
ZoomZoom? Did a child come up with that? But the audience seemed enthralled and not at all phased by the absurd names. Some of which literally sounded like they were thrown together blindly. What would I call my startup? I guess it all depends on what it is. If it's a matchmaking service like Tinder I can get straight to the point and call it BoomBoom, or more like Slothmate, a company that connects introverts. They can go on first dates via Skype from their own houses a couple miles apart so as not so get out of their sweatpants or face social anxiety. Yeah, I think I could see myself using that.
"Julia" my name soared through the air, plucking me out of my musings. Peter was waving at me from the second floor, urging me to come up. The secretary at the front desk was about to stop me until she saw who was encouraging me to waltz by without signing in.
"So, today is a Demo Day," Peter started explaining, "That of course means about 30 startups per program are pitching their product, and I as an investor will be judging to pick the winner. This also means I can't give you a tour, however you're welcome to join me at the VIP tables."