It was on Friday that I arrived at the San Francisco airport along with some of the other fellows traveling along with me. The excitement of visiting the much talked about Silicon Valley was dampened a bit by the long journey and cramped seats. The savior of the journey was season 2 of Suits . It was also quite a happy sight to see Vinay, seated right next to me, cracking up on episodes of Big Bang Theory.
The view at SFO airport
To provide a bit of a background, we were traveling as part of the Rajeev Circle program on invitation of Asha Jadeja and Stanford StartX. Asha Jadeja is the wife of the late Rajeev Motwani, a Stanford professor and mentor to a host of silicon valley companies including the likes of Google, Paypal etc. When I checked up his profile online, I realized one of his many accomplishments was that he co-authored the paper on Page Rank algorithm along with Sergey & Larry! I was nominated as one of the 12 Rajeev Circle fellows in its first ever batch of fellows from India.
Asha Jadeja and the Rajeev Circle team
We were received at the airport and were then taken to Asha’s parents house in Palo Alto. We got a taste of what was in store for us over the next couple of weeks when we sighted a Google self-driving car on the highway about five minutes after we started from the airport. And yesterday, when I was hurrying to catch a train, I passed by an old man on the street. Realizing it was a familiar face, I paused to take a closer look and to my amazement it was Dr. Amartya Sen. I have heard a lot about the serendipitous encounters that makes the valley what it is. I will have to say that I also got a taste of it in the first couple of days itself.
Asha’s parents house in Palo Alto is a very nice and warm one at walking distance from the Stanford campus. On the day of our arrival itself, she took us on a small tour of Downtown Palo Alto. We also took advantage of the opportunity to get our US phone connections and much needed charger adapters for our electronic gadgets.
Asha’s parents house at Palo Alto
View from the front door
Well, the real fun started after that (well, fun for those of us in the startup world ). We reached University Caf on University Avenue and then Asha pointed us to this small place right next to it. She then went on to explain that Google and Paypal started out of this small space. We started walking around and in the adjacent street she showed us a small space, which was the home of Pinterest until very recently.
Google’s first office
Erstwhile Pinterest office at Palo Alto
We then walked across the road to a small space, which happened to be the office a much talked about startup in the valley, Waze. Walked into their office, interacted for a bit with one of their first employees (their operations head Fej) and learned that much of their development team sits out of Isreal. During our short conversation, I recall him telling a story on how they came across the Groupon founder on the Palo Alto streets and set up a meeting with him for the next day (serendipitous encounters in action again).
Inside the Waze office
Over dinner at the University Caf we met up with Elizabeth Stark of StartX and George and Radhika Shah, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and good friends of Asha. The even more interesting part happened in the evening on our way back to the house when Asha decided to take a small detour. Over the next 10 minutes, Asha drove past houses of Steve Jobs, Larry Page & Marc Zuckerberg. We also realized all of them happens to be walking distance from where we stay.
Even before I reached Palo Alto, I was given a good appraisal of the Caf culture in the Valley by Zubair Ahmed of BBC. Asha gave a much more accurate picture, (mostly out of her own personal experience of handing out her business cards to people out there in her capacity as angel investor). She showed us few Cafes and told us that every other table could be a startup. I am reading this book on YCombinator, The Launch Pad by Randal Stross and the book also mentions that the streets and Cafes of Palo Alto is home to thousands of startups, most of which will be in stealth mode in its initial days.
One of the happening Cafe’s highly recommended by Asha
Lyfe Kitchen: A hip cafe in the Valley (in Asha’s own words)
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we will be meeting some of the best minds in the Valley. Asha has put together an impressive agenda and some of the people that we will get to are truly, wait for it, leg-en-da-ry. When I came across the list for the first time even I could not believe it myself. And these were some of the names in it: Ron Conway of SV Angel, Paul Graham of YCombinator, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square fame, Ram Shriram of Sherpalo Ventures, Andrew Ng of Coursera, Chris Dixon of Andreeson Horowitz, Srinivas Narayan of Facebook, Prof Banny Bannerjee of Stanford Design School, Larry & Sergey of Google, Dinesh Katiyar of Accel Partners etc. Other names being talked about includes the likes of Micheal Arrington of TechCrunch, Prof Steve Blank etc. Asha also remarked that we could catch Mark Zuckerburg one of these days when he is out for a jog.
In front of Google’s first office with Asha and the other Rajeev Circle fellows from India
Thanks to Asha, this whole trip is turning out to be way more interesting than I ever thought it would be. I plan to keep this blog updated with the details of the visit. Will keep you all posted!