By Mike Wang
“It’s a sausage fest man, my friends say the bar ratio is like 3:1,” said Steven Chase, a recent graduate of UCLA and current startup engineer. He lives in Silicon Valley, which he apparently doesn’t like.
“I wanted New York, but it’s not that conducive the engineers, you know? It’s stupid, I’m paying just as much to live in this nerd shithole.”
Here at Hopkins, Silicon Valley has a certain appeal that only comes from hearing story after story of success – of those who started their small company only to have it bought by some tech giant for insane amounts of money. We hear about the clichés like Zuckerberg or Musk, and about people closer to our age, who seem to be on the fast track to entrepreneurial success.
The bubble is bursting.
Given, it’s pretty appealing. You come up with some brilliant tech idea, get your “angel investors,” build your startup in a garage or what-have-you, deliver a beta, go through a couple more rounds of investing, and voila! You’ve been bought by Google. In place of your company you now have millions of dollars in cash and options. Of course, now as a bona fide tech success, what must you do? Rinse and repeat, getting richer each time.
It’s not that simple though. If it’s riches, free drinks, laundry, and day care that bring you to Silicon Valley, make sure to survey the landscape realistically. Most companies are not like that.
“Really, the only place that’s like that is San Francisco,” said Charlie Young (named changed) a successful entrepreneur and long-time Silicon Valley resident. “And the companies with all the crazy perks are beginning to cut back. The bubble is bursting.”
He isn’t just speculating. Dropbox, one of the quintessential startups, reported that it spent $38 million on perks last year, or roughly $25,000 a person. This year they’ve cut back significantly, ending their free shuttle service and on-campus laundry. Their bar and food options, once free and unlimited, have been capped.
All across Silicon Valley people are sobering up, with layoffs across the Bay. What’s more 11 percent of startups fell short of their valuation, a rare drop in recent years. Venture capital investments have abruptly fallen almost 20% since last year. Media outlets like the Los Angeles times, Bloomberg, and Mercury News have all sounded the financial death knell for Silicon Valley, fixating on the complete lack of IPO’s this year.
“Honestly, I’m glad. It’s time everyone gets what’s coming to them,” Young said.
You can tell he has a chip on his shoulder. Young, who in his early twenties already has an acquisition and top-dollar house under his belt, says the startup culture is not the friendly, special-snowflake adult playground people think it is.
“Dude, once you’re really connected, things get weird man. All the A-list charity and networking events are just gross, quasi-satanic.”
There’s a definite bitterness in his voice, but it doesn’t seem like the sour-grapes variety. He already has money in the bank, a new job he enjoys very much, and experience under his belt. Nonetheless, he’s had his fill. While working in the incubator, friction built up between him and his business partner. Young was the brains, the other guy was the business. Together they created an innovative online education platform, which ultimately caught the attention of a larger company and led to an acquisition. While he got his money, and his bragging rights, Young hated it.
“In the incubator I had nothing to do but code. [My partner] wanted me to do like, 20 hour days, and I wasn’t going to take it. I was like why are you being such a dick? He said ‘this is a startup, and I can be a dick.’”
That’s when he had enough.
“It’s not cutthroat here per se, but pieces of shit tend to thrive. You see the Social Network and whatever, but it happens. Everyone undercuts everyone, friends, classmates, whatever. All the things you hear about law school, med school, all that– It’s true here too,” Young said.
“Plus, the majority of start-up talk, between young people, between founders and investors – no one knows what’s going on, so they trade buzzwords,” Young said. “‘Hockey-stick growth,’ ‘disruption,’ ‘the ecosystem’, all that.”
These days, he’s put the startup days behind him, and spends his time in a mellower job in a large tech company (which we aren’t allowed to disclose), powerlifting to keep in shape.
James Wang, another young entrepreneur and current Stanford student, echoes the statement. “There’s so much bullshit going on. Everyone thinks their product is going to ‘disrupt’ and change the world, but they don’t even understand the world. It’s a bubble,” Wang said. “People’s idea of the end of the world here is if a virus destroys their porn stash. I got that from [the TV show] Silicon Valley, but it’s true. People blow everything out of proportion here.”
Take for example Palo Alto, Silicon Valley’s epicenter, where Facebook, Apple, HP, Google, and countless other tech companies were started. The city boasts the highest teen suicide rate in the nation, with those under 18 five times more likely to commit suicide compared to the rest of our population. All of Palo Alto is currently under investigation by the CDC for the suicide “epidemic.” Why is this a thing? Wang thinks it’s because the parents, the tech elite, are insane.
“The top dogs succeeded, so they want their kids to succeed. No one says it out loud, but anyone who’s got a shred of potential is expected to make it, big time,” Chang said. “There’s this one kid whose dad is on the board of like 10 different companies, who had Obama over for dinner the other day. He posts on the kid’s facebook every fucking week talking about how important it is to keep the family name and become a tech mogul like him.”
“If you want to work here and succeed, put away your childish things.”
It doesn’t just affect the kids, it drives the younger workers crazy. Companies like Google have a fast turnover rate. At one point, the young blood just can’t take it anymore. Wang, as an aspiring entrepreneur of his own, is eager to share even more of Silicon Valley’s dark underbelly.
“Dude, once you’re really connected, things get weird man. All the A-list charity and networking events are just gross, quasi-satanic,” he said.
“I went to a New Year’s party with some of the higher-ups of Google, and it was disgusting. On one hand you had this high-end cheese booth, serving cheese with gold flakes and black truffles in it, and right next to it I saw an old dude making out with his secretary one second, and an old asian lady like five minutes later. Also, It was a masquerade party, so it was extra creepy. You know?”
It’s safe to say most people don’t, but I let Chang continue.
“I was just standing there and the same old asian lady starts hitting on me, and I’m like ‘sorry, I’m twenty.’ She didn’t flinch. Then some dude in a chicken suit, whose company I’m pretty sure just got acquired by Google, grabbed me and shook me when the clock hit twelve. He was on something, but at least he saved me from the cougar from the East,” he joked.
I asked him if he’d recommend working in Silicon Valley.
“I grew up here, but my brother’s at Johns Hopkins so I’ve been to Baltimore a lot too,” he said. “This is why I stay: I have connections here. Otherwise, everyone here is a nerd. Rent is stupid expensive. So I don’t know. Silicon Valley is like a zeroth world country, for better or worse.”
Silicon Valley is not, in any way, an adult paradise. Yes, it is a unique place, but perks are drying up. Rent is sky high, and by the time you graduate and get your butt over to the West Coast, the hype around start-ups will be dead.
Young has this message for people coming to Silicon Valley: “There’s this quote, ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things,’” Young said.
“If you want to work here and succeed, put away your childish things.”