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Silicon Valley has been the birthplace of some of the most innovative (and biggest) startups in the entire world, from Apple, Google, Facebook to Netflix and the list goes on. Located in San Francisco, Silicon Valley is the hot new sensation of the 21st century, no techie is going to deny that.

As such, Tamkeen in collaboration with the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab and with support from TechWadi, organized “The Silicon Valley Program” where they sent several Bahraini startups to Silicon Valley.

No words can describe how awesome this trip was, but we can for sure give you 99 takeaways learnt from this trip. Ready? Here they are.

  1. The goal of this trip, organized by Tamkeen and the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab was to send several startups from Bahrain to Silicon Valley to get exposed to a mature ecosystem, exhibit at one of the top and leading conferences around the world for startups at TechCrunch Disrupt, tour at some of the world’s biggest companies like Google, Uber, and Salesforce, and meet with incredible mentors organized by TechWadi. (Mohammed Al-Alawi, Tamkeen)
  2. The startup delegation from Bahrain included Inagrab, WNNA, Eat, Malaeb, The Experience Accelerator, Nakheel, and Nabdaa.
  3. The startups went on tours at Salesforce, Uber, Google, met with 500 Startups, exhibited and attended TechCrunch Disrupt.
  4. The mentors the delegation met with included respected and experienced individuals from Google, Vugo, TechWadi, 500 Startups, Facebook, TechWomen, KPMG, and more.
  5. Salesforce has proved an impressive ability and achievement in expanding this fast and managing this expansion. Salesforce moved, some time ago, to their massive 61-story tower that redefines San Francisco’s skyline. They have become the tower’s name partner and are its largest tenant, occupying more than half of the building. (Ahmed Gharib, Nabdaa)
  6. Environment in your offices matters, a lot. Salesforce for example, has one of the biggest office footprints (and most beautiful) in San Francisco, considering it’s one of the largest employers in the city, employing and managing around a growing team of 5,000 people. Their environment promotes sustainability, wellness, collaboration, thoughtfulness, and comfort. This environment encourages recharging and an increase in productivity. (Ahmed Gharib, Nabdaa)
  7. Use your own tools and technology to manage your own company and employees, where possible. This is called dogfooding, and it’s when you eat what you cook. This helps you, as it helps Salesforce, reiterate and improve your products much faster and more effectively. Salesforce uses its own technology stack and tools to manage their own employees and its processes.
  8. Your corporate environment, office, and how you deal with guests is a good reflection of the company, its vision, and how it perceives and manage the world around it. Uber welcomed its guests (us) very professionally and formally, however with an a bigger exercise of security than what we had faced in other startups we visited, including Google and Salesforce.
  9. Offices are good reflections of the size of your company as well, though not necessarily always, but it can result in surprising impression left on your guests. Uber is valued around $72 billion, one would expect your offices reflect that value within the market. Sure, other factors play a big role in how your offices look. Uber’s offices looked very rigid, had an excellent execution of its black themed brand identity, and exercised a good amount of risk-taking and hustle within its environment. It shows the core DNA of the startup, it’s a hustle, all the time, always, a true representation of “move fast and break things”.
  10. Ensure there’s a smooth path for new and good ideas your employees can take up management for review and execution. Google champions this ideas throughout its organization. Ideas from employees can see the light through a few channels. First, through their immediate managers, they’re always listening and eager to understand how this could improve its products. Secondly, employees can exercise their 20/80 rule, where employees are expected to spend 20% of their time innovating and working on any feature, product, or idea they see fit. If management likes your idea, they will help you gather the resources required for this idea. Though the 80/20 rule’s existence is debated heavily amongst those on the outside, the core essence of the idea to innovate is still there.
  11. When you’re hiring the best employees in the world, maintaining them is crucial. Google hires the top 1% of engineers from all around the world, and there’s a good reason for that, Anas Osman, Vice President, Global Sales and Product Operations at Google, tells us. Google serves billions of users throughout its hundreds of products managed by over 80,000 employees. That scale requires an immense responsibility to bear, but more importantly, a mounting difficulty and complexity to manage and deliver on.
  12. One of the ways Google succeeds in maintaining the best employees around the world is through making sure they have everything they need nearby. Google’s best engineers won’t need to spend any time or energy figuring out what and where to eat, Google offers all causines on campus, for free. Same goes for free entertainment, free games, free gym facilities, free classes, workshops, and training, bikes readily and widely available, massages, all on campus. Sinister thinking would be led to believe that this is Google’s way to keep their employees from leaving its campus, but really, it’s giving them a good reason not to dread coming in the next morning.
  13. Be humble, no matter your position in a company or society. The impression Anas Osman left us with was nothing less than humble, down to earth, and unassuming. Anas is the Vice President, Global Sales and Product Operations at Google. During a tour of the campus, he was kind to answer all our questions, patient, approachable, and down to earth. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  14. In Silicon Valley, there’s a tremendous amount of respect given to founders of startups, no matter the size or age of the startup. People around you understand the challenge and the odds stacked against you when trying to solve a problem through your startup. They understand what can come out of what at some point seemed like a silly idea. They also understand that opening your eyes to opportunities means you shouldn’t shut them out as you can miss out on some wildly successful opportunities (Facebook for example). (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  15. Many investors in the “valley” are extremely approachable, friendly, and helpful. If they can’t assist you directly, be sure they will point you in the right direction or to someone who can. They see potential and seek opportunities wherever they are through whoever they meet. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  16. One of the key differences noticed amongst startups here in Silicon Valley and those in the Middle East is focus. Startups here, through sheer focus, are able to better and more quickly find a product market fit. There are many startups in Silicon Valley that are built on ideas similar to those from startups in the Middle East, but what separates them is execution. (Ahmed Gharib, Nabdaa)
  17. Priscilla Chan, an American pediatrician and philanthropist (also married to Mark Zuckerberg) believes that privileged people, such as herself, have a deep responsibility to give disadvantaged groups the ability to access additional measures that would allow them the reach to access the future Silicon Valley is building.
  18. At TechCrunch Disrupt, James Monsees, co-founder of JUUL, tells the audience that he believes his startup, JUUL, the e-cigarette (vape) company is still at its infancy with less than 1% market share around the world. However, he aims to get rid of the combustion tobacco market, but it’ll take time.
  19. Technology is getting smarter, tells us James Monsees, co-founder of JUUL. His company aims to introduce a connected device that will help in preventing the youth from having access to their devices. The devices will be able to detect the user that picked it up and figure out if the user is the owner of the device. If not, the device will stop working.
  20. At Google, you are not monitored. The organization trusts that its employees will get the work done and meet deadlines. Underperforming employees will eventually show themselves. Otherwise, you are encouraged to work however you please, at any part of the campus, indoors or outdoors, during flexible hours or otherwise.
  21. Always be thankful and grateful with where and how you started. Google does a great job at holding on to the values they started with. As a small company, Google decided that free food should be the nom, a traditional kicked off with hiring the company’s first executive chef, Chef Charlie Ayers, who headed the kitchen team. Free food, for example, helped developers focus on their work rather than having to worry about food. Today, Google hosts dozens of different cuisines through their countless restaurants scattered around the company’s campus.
  22. It was very interesting to get a peek inside how Uber structures its engineering team and efforts. There’s a centralized team on top that focuses on platform engineering (iOS, Android…). Under that are several mission oriented teams, dedicated to features, different core services, rider team, or driver team. (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  23. At Uber, mission oriented teams can only be large enough to be fed by two large pizzas, we were told. This allowed each task oriented team to have more autonomy and the flexibility to make changes faster within their own scope. (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  24. At Salesforce, like Google, having food free, available, and easily accessible on every floor is crucial to their culture. Having food readily accessible improves employee happiness (not hungry = happy) and saves a tremendous amount of time (ever had to decide where to eat?). Cereal, milk, juices, water, coffee, and much more, it’s all there. (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  25. While we’re at it with the food, San Francisco is home to a tremendous amount of places to dine in and houses the country’s most renowned restaurants. There’s always a good place to eat at, at every corner, on every street. Since you’ll be walking around almost all the time to everywhere you need to go, you’ll never run out of an option just nearby. PS Do yourself a big favor and go get yourself a breakfast burrito from Proper Foods if you’re in town. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  26. Someone in the group had to learn this the hard way, but if you’re ordering a steak in San Francisco, make sure you ask for it to be cooked a level lower than your usual in Bahrain. A medium well in San Francisco is a well done (almost), get it at medium if not less.
  27. It would probably be an exaggeration to say that the city that’s home to Silicon Valley’s (and the world’s) biggest companies is living in the future, it’s not. But, it’s probably quicker and way more comfortable than most cities to adopt technology. Uber drivers are almost always seconds if not a mere few minutes away. Paying through your phone using Stripe, Venmo, Apple Pay is as familiar to the city’s residents as a smartphone is around the world.
  28. A quick tip when trying to find investors, try to get recommended by someone (preferably an investor). It eases the connection and gets things moving faster. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  29. “We’re hiring people for their minds, but the tools we make them use are distracting their minds.” Dropbox’s co-founder Drew Houston tells the audience, referring to the old and legacy tools companies make their employees use. More specifically, referring to Microsoft Word instead of Dropbox Paper. (TechCrunch Disrupt)
  30. “Because of our relative youth, we can start with a blank slate when it comes to our products, we don’t have to start with old metaphors of storage or paper and word processing and what not.” (Drew Houston, Dropbox, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  31. “Listen to your users”, Dropbox’s Drew Houston tells the audience. Dropbox noticed its users hacking its product on their smartphones to be used as a portable scanner for their printed documents. That signaled Dropbox to build a scanner feature within the Dropbox app that would scan, adjust, edit, fix, do perspective correction on your documents, analyze it and give you a searchable PDF within mere seconds.
  32. While browsing the exhibiting startups at TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the things we noticed is the speed at which startups pitch their idea to the passing attendees. It’s obvious how much time and effort was put into perfecting those pitches. Keep it quick, people got things to do.
  33. Startups in the Middle East want to start today like they’re Google in 2018, not like Google when they first started in 1998. (Ahmed Gharib, Nabdaa)
  34. Many of the investors in the Middle East pass by the events and conferences organized within startup ecosystems, just don’t follow with action. One of the main reasons is a sense of security. (Ahmed Gharib, Nabdaa)
  35. Would like to touch on that last part, sense of security. In Silicon Valley, what would seem like an absurd idea to work on or fund somewhere else around the world, is not the case over here. Reason? It’s that there’s tangible (and very expensive) proof that many of those absurd ideas work, and are now worth billions of dollars.
  36. There’s a noteworthy sense of respect and cooperation amongst investors, mainly venture capital firms. Here, it’s “If they invested, it must be good, I could invest too”. Elsewhere, it’s “They invested, why should I?”.
  37. In Asia, investors want to see profitability, in the U.S., they want to see growth, that’s one of the differentiating factors amongst investors. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  38. Another difference between China and the United States is that IPO licenses in China are managed by the government, and for what they believe are good reasons. They don’t want to see IPOs going up and down based on market dynamics, it could make things look bad. Tighter control over licenses controls perception. The license alone costs a tremendous amount of money. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  39. Doing business in China is tough, there are national laws, province laws, and more down from there. You need to be careful not to upset the government, one bad step and you’re stopped from doing business. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  40. In China, you need to know the right people and build the right connections, especially with the right officials. They need to feel good as officials, part of your job there is to make them feel good and being ultra sensitive around them. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  41. Large companies want to fight a global fight as private organizations not as public companies, it makes it easier that way. The Global Growth Fund helps with that. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  42. It’s important founders have many options amongst investors, there’s a lot less competition amongst investors than people assume. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  43. Be your own customer first and foremost, that helps throughout your startup’s journey. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  44. Have a deep understanding of a domain expertise, that can give you a strong edge amongst competitors. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  45. Don’t start a company if you’re just a little bored, start a company because you have the drive, understanding, and eagerness to solve a problem, for yourself first, then your customers who have the same or similar problems. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  46. Customers can only tell you about a problem they are facing a few steps forward, but won’t be able to tell you about problems further down the line. Plan ahead and otherwise. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  47. Choose a strong co-founder, it can make or break your startup. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  48. Raise a little money in the beginning, until the next step of your journey. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  49. Be shrewd and exercise a lot of wisdom when doing business and dealing with people. Use your noodle and listen to common sense. (Doug Leone, Sequoia, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  50. Don’t be afraid of taking firm stances. Sure, you will alienate some groups within your platform, but this is going to work out just fine in the long term. (Whitney Wolfe, Bumble, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  51. You owe your users to make the right decisions when it comes to protecting groups, taking stances, or standing against the right causes. (Whitney Wolfe, Bumble, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  52. The more you empower minorities and disempowered groups on your platform, the safer it becomes, the better it grows, the more people will want to use it. (Whitney Wolfe, Bumble, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  53. Sometimes, it’s not only about a good return on investment when making decisions. You need to ask yourself, how does this decision resonate and engage with your audience, does it help build a strong, safer community? Does it create a deeper connection with my users? In a lot of ways, that’s better than a financial return on any investment. (Whitney Wolfe, Bumble, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  54. Users like choice, that’s why Uber is offering different types of transportation, all the way from electric scooters, to bikes to cars, to luxury vehicles, to helicopters (in some places). (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  55. Uber is aiming for long term results by building deep and long term relationships with scooter partners. Sure, we think Uber’s going to eventually have their own fleet, but for now, the best decision is probably to build long term relationships with your partners. Cooperate first, compete later. Like Amazon, they spent a long time partnering up with different suppliers and vendors on its marketplace, eventually it started its own product lines to compete with its own vendors. (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  56. By partnering up with others at first, you allow yourself to quickly check the quality of your service as it relates to this new feature and continue to test, assess, and optimize. Growing and optimizing are different things and require a different mindset. Sometimes, you need to grow, at other times, you need to optimize. Doing both can be challenging. (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  57. People + computers are a thing, we see it, we understand it, and we believe in it. It’s not computers alone, it’s not people alone. There’s a lot of drama trying to figure out if its computers only or people online, but it’s not either, it’s both. A farmer is never going to go full computer, people will still be involved. (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  58. Investors are not as short term as people make them to be, they are willing to pay, and wait for long term growth. (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  59. If an investor is obsessed about quarterly results, it’s probably not the right kind of investor for companies, sure not the right kind for Uber. (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  60. Everyone says “we want to be the Uber for X”, we say we want to be the Amazon of transportation, that’s a big feet. (Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  61. When it comes to cryptocurrency, there’s now more developmental activity in that space than anything else happening in the world. Much like the activity when the internet showed up. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  62. Cryptography is a new computing platform. Every decade or two, something like this pops up. First, it was mainframes, then personal computers, followed by the smartphones, today it’s crypto. It’s real, it’s here, you better believe it. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  63. At every junction, the new computing platform was worse at the time than anything else out there, but had better potential and better capabilities, until it took the time to prove it. At the time, smartphones sucked and were a lot less capable than any other platform around it. Eventually, that stopped being the case. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  64. Crypto in more ways than one is worse than any other computing platforms today, it lacks a lot of features. But it has this one feature that never existed before, and that’s trust. It’s a super powerful element in the game. You don’t have to trust other entities, no banks, no government, no corporates, trust math and math only. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  65. Program money, law, contracts, just trust the math, no need to trust people. No need to worry about corruption, math is not corrupt. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  66. Cryptography is a transformational idea, and with time, it’ll be as big as the internet.
  67. Not all ICOs are bad, but all bad companies have ICOs. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  68. In the dot com era, every weird old bad company formed a dot com. Everyone that the “dot com” was bad, the internet was bound to fail. How we doing now? (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  69. The dumb thing is to think something’s bad because you’ve invested in some scam, the smart thing is to realize you’re investing in a platform that’s trying to get up on its feet. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  70. Consumers are moved by culture, all the time. You need great people, who are vocal, strong, and can move through culture. As they say, if you’re looking for a lawyer, hire a Jew. If you need strong movers of culture, work with African Americans. They’re better at creating culture through music throughout history, look at Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, and Hip Hop as genres, dominated by a specific group of people and their culture. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  71. This is why at A16z, we developed the Culture Fund. We find leaders in culture, like Quincy Jones, Kevin Durant, and others, and work with them to invest in the companies we invest in. From an entrepreneur standpoint, everyone benefits by bridging and networking between two worlds, technology and culture. (Ben Horowitz, A16z, TechCrunch Disrupt)
  72. If you follow and read news around Facebook, it’s always been the idea that it’s a joke, it’s never gonna be able to monetize, the CEO is not competent, then all of sudden, it shifted to “OMG, it took over the world, it must be stopped!”.
  73. The VP we met at Google had no sense of urgency, other than his time available with us of course. But beyond that, he was very present with us, very attentive, and very calm. It’s not like he’s running Google’s biggest division (he is). (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  74. At Salesforce, employees feel appreciated and welcome. The company culture makes sure of that and works very hard to ensure every touchpoint of the onboarding process is as strong as the other. (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  75. Make sure your employees (like at Salesforce) feel strong and successful, on and off the job, give them the opportunity to give back to the community, and be a part of it. That should be part of the entire company’s culture, not just the HR department, which over time lost its meaning and ended being all about paperwork instead. (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  76. It’s an art to manage growth at the speed Salesforce is growing at. (Ahmed Al-Rawi, Malaeb)
  77. Uber’s culture was obvious to us visitors during our visit to Uber’s HQ. They were fast-paced, almost felt like they were unprepared. But that signals their ideal of taking risks, preparing less, being laid back, but hustle all the time. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  78. Salesforce on the other hand, was much more deliberate, considerate in how they run their organization, team, and company. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  79. We asked Anas Osman, the VP at Google who took us around the campus, what in his observation has he done better than most of those around him to get where he is today. His answer? Integrity. Have a lot of it. People want someone they can trust to have the integrity to do the best job they can and show that they have tried everything in their power to get something done.
  80. Most investors over here are nice, are extremely humble and modest, they’ll take the time to speak to you, ask you about your company. Many times, I was asked to send in monthly reports, progress updates, they’ll spend the time to look into those. They never know, you could be the next big thing and they don’t want to be the last to find out. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  81. There’s an unspoken sense of respect that permeates Silicon Valley towards the “founder”. Everyone understands the challenges of a founder, to beat the wave of odds crashing upon them. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  82. Famous founders here are like celebrities, founders of Dropbox, Uber, Google and others have a celebrity status in Silicon Valley, they are respected, feared, and revered. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  83. The city is fast moving, things are moving fast in the morning. This shows that people are always on the run to get things done, get to the next big thing, not miss out on opportunities. BUT, most people you’ll interact with are friendly, will give you some of their time, even if it’s on their way. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  84. You hear people talking about “the next big thing” almost everywhere. You can eavesdrop at a coffee shop and you’ll quickly think you’re listening to the next Facebook right on the table next to you.
  85. “I know better than you, and you know nothing”, that mentality is almost nonexistent over here, people are very unassuming here. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  86. If you’re ever in town, make sure to visit Pier 39, it’s gorgeous and captures a lot of the city’s history. It’s a tourist trap, but definitely worth the visit. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  87. Salesforce uses technology, mostly its own tools, to manage and structure its teams and company. The use of automation becomes vital when managing a massive team such as the one they have. For example, an automated system sends reminders for each employees anniversary at the company. The reminders go to the employees’s manager to celebrate.
  88. At TechCrunch Disrupt, the startups exhibiting were mostly focused around AI, the Blockchain, machine learning, but also on many practical solutions, including geo-mapping, finding things, selling things, and more.
  89. The mentors we met and interacted with here were very focused and are able to quickly cut through the noise and tell you what to focus on. (Hussain Haji, Inagrab)
  90. The tours were incredible, the exhibition at TechCrunch Disrupt was amazing and tangible, we were able to get many interesting leads. The mentors were super helpful! (Sarah Schwab, The Experience Accelerator)
  91. Sometimes, we don’t think something is possible because of all our preconceived notions. We didn’t think it was possible to get rid of the physical aspect of handing over our keys to users, until we tried to tackle that problem. (Andre Haddad, Turo)
  92. In case you don’t know, Turo is an awesome startup we found out about in Silicon Valley. You rent cars, but not from a company, but from people. Your car is practically dormant most of the day, and for many people more than that, why not rent it out and make a little bit of money?
  93. In the industry, we call a CEO a Cash Extraction Officer, his/her job is to raise money, all the time, probably his/her main job. (Andre Haddad, Turo)
  94. eBay raised 56 million for their IPO, that was back then. Today, that’s around what we raised in our series C round, times have changed. (Andre Haddad, Turo)
  95. The private and public market landscapes have changed, lots of participants didn’t exist years ago. There are many new players within the technology space now, who are ready to throw money into startups. There’s private capital, there are sovereign funds, and more. (Andre Haddad, Turo)
  96. Relationships with auto-manufacturers are important to us, we raised our series E through many of them, we started talking to OEMs, we picked Daimler Chrysler. The corporates are core to our business, and building relationships with them is key. (Andre Haddad, Turo)
  97. Salesforce started from an apartment, and now? Has over 8,000 employees across different continents, how’s that for growth? It’s one of the largest employers in San Francisco.
  98. When all things are leveled between you and your competitor’s, product experience becomes the key differentiator.
  99. “I do this little trick at our company gatherings. I ask everyone who’s been with us for the past seven years to stand up, then six years, then finally the past twelve months, and half the room stands up. It’s a hard realization when you figure out how fast you’ve grown and how far you’ve come.” (Andre Haddad, Turo)

The Silicon Valley Program was an eye opening experience where Bahraini startups from the StartUp Bahrain community witnessed the environment and operations of various startups and got the chance to learn and reflect on what they can do better here in Bahrain.

A big thank you again for Tamkeen, MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab, and TechWadi for putting together the Silicon Valley Program.

Still want more? Then you’re going to love our full live coverage of the Silicon Valley Program on our Instagram story.

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