My day with 5 CEOs of successful startups

Just as a foreword, I wanted to give credit to Alex Hwang for giving me inspiration for starting up a blog. I had read a lot of good reads on Medium but had never thought to start up my own. I thought it would be a good opportunity to keep track of my thoughts and experiences and look back on when I’m older. I hope you find my content interesting and thanks for reading!

Last Thursday, I had an externship with SilverTech Ventures, a venture capitalist firm based in New York City. The day started off with the daunting task of navigating the train station and subway system of New York while operating with very little sleep. I have never been to New York in the winter, so it was surprising how beautiful of a day it was despite being freezing. I think the one image I saw that truly captures the essence of New York would be the massive Freedom Tower encapsulating my entire view as I climbed out of the subway.

Eventually, I made my way over to 7 World Trade Center and took the elevator to the 46th floor, where SilverTech was situated. The perk of being 40 minutes early was being able to marvel at the view overlooking downtown New York from the office. The rest was spent twiddling my thumbs and coming up with more questions to ask the CEOs. Soon, the other students participating in the externship arrived, and the day started.

Charlie Federman, the externship host and one of the partners at SilverTech, showed us around the office space and finally his office, the worst one of all, stuck in the middle without any view. He said that way no one would complain to him about their offices. One quote hanging in his office stuck to me:

Proceed as if success is inevitable.

We always worry about failure, and it distracts us from actually working towards our goal of success. If you act as if success is already accomplished, you are more confident and effective in making your goal a reality. There is no losing scenario. “If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise.”

The first company we had a round table with was tapd, a startup matching employers with graduates who fit. Although our round table wasn’t with the CEO, we later met her at lunch. A woman in her mid-late twenties, she was the classic CEO type, charismatic, charming, and naturally complaining about lawyers.

The second company was DomainSkate, seeking to define brand security in the market by scouring the entire domain space for reputation damaging material like phishing sites pretending to be a reputable company. The CEO was a middle aged man who acted and dressed very young compared to his age. Donning the casual outfit of a baseball cap with a button down shirt and jeans and an easygoing manner, he seemed completely different from his background as a lawyer.

The third company was Shade, the first and I believe only company of SilverTech’s that has actual hardware. They created a small disk device that can be attached to any piece of clothing that monitors UV exposure, personalized according to the patients’ needs, to cater to people suffering from Lupus or skin cancer. The CEO was a real character, almost indescribable. He was originally from France, and his background ranged from working on Wall Street to making art that is featured in Venice to completing a Ph.D in biophysics to where he currently is now. Efficient and frank, he finished his presentation to us about the his background and the product in 5 minutes, highlighting all the important points, and he even recommended us not to start our own startup (or get a Ph.D for that matter) because you have to do everything yourself to start.

The fourth company was CityHive, a plugin that provided an easy medium for people reading content to buy related products from local suppliers. The CEO was a developer from Israel, and the CTO was also from Israel where he worked for Israeli intelligence for 5 years prior. They were both very straightforward, logical, and efficient. Like true developers, they said what came to their mind, and constantly wanted to improve the product.

The last company was HYPR, a branding and advertising company that helps you promote your product with the right celebrities based on their followers. The CEO was an unassuming balding guy in his late thirties wearing a HYPR t-shirt. His partner, a tall imposing man with one seemingly mechanical eye, explained how he left his successful career at an advertising firm to join HYPR’s team of three at the time because “fuck it.”

What all of them shared was a dedication to their product and a vision of what they wanted it to be. Despite their completely different backgrounds and experiences, they were all passionate about achieving their dreams and doing so on their own terms. They took charge in their lives to make something. I recently read on Reddit a quote by Robert Morrison:

To do what ought to be done but what would not have been done unless I did it, I thought to be my duty.

They risked a lot, namely stable, high-paying jobs and their back-breaking hard work, to pursue their dream, and they had to put in long hours beyond belief to start transforming it from a good idea into a good product. All of their teams have less than 10 people, yet all of them have managed to raise millions in seed funding. The most successful, HYPR, recently closed a round with $15 million. I’ve always been a really cautious person, but it’s been growing clearer to me that risks are necessary to overachieve and reach your goals. You have to continue testing your limits to see how far you can go; otherwise, you will never truly know what you can accomplish.

Engineering @ Coda. I like optimistic dreaming and deep thinking. Exploring, learning, and laughing through life. spencerchang.me

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