What it’s really like to work in a Silicon Valley start-up?

What is it like to work in a Silicon Valley start-up? I have been working in a tech startup for over a year now and this is my story.

Me and the two founders

Me, the two founders and a remote team member at a hack-a-thon in Palo Alto

In August 2013 my wife and I moved into the Bay Area after she found a job at Stanford. Because of Stanford’s vicinity to Silicon Valley, I was excited to join her and decided to leave my electronic engineering job in The Netherlands. In January 2014, I met my current bosses at an Internet of Things meetup in the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View. They had a cool idea for an industrial Internet of Things start-up and needed an electronic engineer. I volunteered for one week and built a prototype, after which I became employee number one of Petasense.

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is a great place to be as an engineer. It is the homeland of companies like Google, Tesla, Apple, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard, etc. Also all the other major tech companies want their offices here, because this is where everything happens. In addition there is great funding opportunities for startups. Silicon Valley alone accounts for one-third of all of the venture capital investment in the United States. Besides there is now more funding than ever making it easy to find investors.

My start-up works from the Hacker Dojo, which is a hacker space, a meeting place, and a co-working space in one. It is full of engineers, entrepreneurs, investors, and tech events. Daily, I am in the office space, using electronics tools and meeting with other engineers. I find it inspiring to be around people in the Hacker Dojo who work hard and passionately pursue their ideas.

Fast developments

Because there is no bureaucracy in a small start-up I am able to develop super fast. Eight weeks after I started working we already had prototypes running in field trials. I have never developed electronics so quickly!

One of the reasons that I could develop electronics so quickly, is that the big tech companies want to help start-ups developing a product, using one of their products, because they fear missing out on the next big thing in the Silicon Valley.

Additionally, for the first time ever I had my electronics produced in China for 1/10th of the normal cost. I found it really exciting. I had no expectation of the quality, but it turned out really good.

Small size, quick growth

Since the company is so small I needed to really own the technical problems, take responsibility, wear many hats, make important decisions, and learn from my mistakes. This risk and responsibility is actually liberating, as well as addictive.

One year after I started, both customers and investors showed so much interest that the company can now afford to hire consultants, industrial designers and work with a contract manufacturer to make a real product instead of a prototype. It is really exciting to see the company grow from an idea to a real product and getting purchase orders, and to know that I played an important role in achieving this.

In general young start-ups don’t have much money. Everyone in a start-up usually takes a little cash salary, but also stock options. In return of my efforts I get partly cash and partly stock options. If you don’t need so much money then it is an exciting adventure and maybe in the future it will pay out. After one year working for a start-up I can say that I truly enjoy it.

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