The Alchemy of Silicon Valley

I had the good fortune of being introduced to Vito Brandle, Director of Finance at BrightRoll, and recently sat down with him to chat about the allure of startups and the collective growth-mindset of Silicon Valley tapping into the fundamental human desire for growth. Vito’s thoughts on the startup scene—how structure can be the foundation of spontaneity—was of particular interest to me.

There was no sugarcoating from Vito on the topic of mergers and navigating change in the corporate setting. But, I found his honesty to be compelling and his unique perspective as both participant and observer equally intriguing.

Design the life you want

In this town, one could argue there are more opportunities for new companies to acquire VC funding or get acquired than there are Tesla’s gliding around on the highway. There’s no shortage of opportunity in Silicon Valley and companies large and small get acquired all the time. While it can be difficult to remain positive in the face of a corporate merger, one of the choices Vito made early on was to consciously disengage from the personal aspect of the job.

“You have to be OK with putting a part of your work-self to bed” he said. “In a bigger company you have to remove that defense mechanism and let go of the fact that ‘it’s mine’.” This allows you to function without succumbing to the highs and lows of working through change.

I’m of the belief that the best parts of life are that way by our own design. They’re architected in such a way where we enjoy what we have yet we still strive to see how far things can go. “Every choice we look at should be a set of options,” Vito said “creating options allows us to optimize.” Once the track is set, then we just need to start the engine and accelerate down that path.”

What’s the best way to begin? Take action and course correct along the way? Or plan it all out in advance and then begin? There are merits to both but only one produces real results.

Structure allows for spontaneity

Just as there are certain types of people that operate better within a structured environment there are those that perform better when given more freedom. The same is true for the framework of corporations and startups where structured environments can be engineered to deliver growth and alternatively, autonomy fosters new developments. The great irony is that while it might not seem to be the case, companies both large and small rely on some form of structure to grow.

While structure provides a starting point, the inescapable fact of life is that there is ambiguity in almost everything we do. Even when developing structure itself. This is why taking action is so important. Actions produce results (or data), which can be mined for insights. It’s in the doing that there is refinement.

The upside to companies driven by large corporations, Vito noted, is that they can teach you about process and equip you with a more formalized method of operating. Vito had virtually made a mini career out of being at corporate giant, Yahoo!, over the course of four years. Albeit having a variety of jobs and the opportunity to “wear different hats” during that time helped to stave off boredom and career stagnation.

His advice, “Tell your manager up front what you want.” Be clear on your interests, inject variety into your work, and have challenges to work towards.

That’s not to say startups have all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks. But it’s the idea, Vito alluded to, of a collective acknowledgement that everyone in Silicon Valley is creating and playing and inventing in the same sandbox. Collectively, we’re making things better as a result of taking action.

Silicon Valley is one big sandbox

“My reason for coming out here was the tech space [because it offered] flexibility and optionality and the ability to pivot quickly. People have a desire to grow and change. There’s this cohesive mindset here—almost [like we’re in] a sandbox of sorts; there’s not that many obstacles here and you can build what you want.”

Indeed, it’s this consistency of mindset among the individuals in Silicon Valley, at large companies and startups alike, that makes this particular “sandbox” a unique playground. Startups may be the bedrock of Silicon Valley but the mindset of the individuals and their willingness to take action and architect a better way of doing something is what makes Silicon Valley attractive beyond measure. “Even if you’re not the one with the shovel, you’re getting your hands dirty,” Vito remarked.

So, get moving! I’ll leave you with a shortened list of Vito’s recent reads and a link to some great pod casts:

  1. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by James C. Collins
  2. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt
  3. Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica
  4. http://venturebeat.com/2015/04/03/10-tech-podcasts-you-should-listen-to-now/
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