From Costa Rica to Silicon Valley
When I was in high school I made a vision board of goals I wanted to achieve when I was older. One of those goals was to work in Silicon Valley. With this story my goal is to share my journey to accomplishing that dream and to encourage people to pursue a career in business and tech.
Technology has been one of my biggest passions since I was a little kid. I always liked watching futuristic movies and going to electronics stores to see the latest and greatest in tech gadgets. I was born in the United States, but grew up in Costa Rica. In 2008, at the age of sixteen, I decided to move by myself back to the U.S. to pursue a better future. I come from a modest family in Costa Rica. My parents helped me save up some money to make the move and bought me a one way ticket to the U.S. I will always be grateful to them for doing this.
Something interesting about growing up in Latin America is that oftentimes if you say that you like technology and you want to work in tech, your friends and family automatically expect that you become an engineer. At least that’s how it used to be. I also had this preconception about tech, so I decided to major in Computer Science at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia. While studying Computer Science I thought I was going to build cool apps all the time, but the first two years were full of math courses and hardcore programming classes that burned a few too many brain cells.
One semester my grades were dropping to a point where I realized I could lose my academic scholarship. It was scary because in my mind Computer Science was the only route to work in tech, but I had to be honest with myself. I wasn’t the most competitive at programming and I was going to be a lousy software engineer if I continued on the Computer Science path.
I remember asking myself, how am I going to work in tech if I’m not an engineer?
After talking to a few mentors, doing lots of research, and reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses, I realized that I could still work in tech, but on the business side. I decided to change my major to Business Economics and thankfully I was able to graduate with honors.
As I was approaching my graduation date I was having a hard time finding a job, so I decided to become an entrepreneur. I figured if there wasn’t a tech company that would hire me then I’d start my own. It’s now easier to get an entry level business role at a tech company, but back in 2015 it wasn’t the case unless you were well connected or you were living in a tech hub like San Francisco. 2020 helped spread tech jobs all over the country and the world with the option of working remotely for many companies.
In my last year of college I partnered with one of my classmates to found a startup called Turbee. It was an on-demand courier service similar to Instacart and Uber Eats. We recruited former college classmates and friends to join the company and build the prototype. Back in 2014–2015 these apps were not mainstream. I remember going to pitch competitions and some of the judges looked at us like we were crazy. Even one of my college professors was confused about the economics of a service like that. It’s fascinating that a few years later pretty much everyone uses on-demand delivery apps. We didn’t have the capital to pay for the infrastructure to get the prototype to market, and raising investment money in Georgia was very challenging, so the startup didn’t make it to market. This experience taught me lots about fundraising, pitching, and the process of legally incorporating a business. It also helped me connect with the tech ecosystem and other entrepreneurs.
After Turbee I was able to raise $30k to found a new startup to help organizations improve teamwork through digital tools and courses. The business was called Watson Works. I started consulting and facilitating team development workshops for small businesses while getting them to test the digital tools that we were building. The end goal was to sell the digital products and eventually transition out of consulting to scale the business. The consulting side became more sticky with customers than the digital tools. We didn’t have product-market fit and I realized that I didn’t want to become a consultant long-term. I decided to move on to something different.
I was unemployed and pretty broke after my second startup. I didn’t know what to do next. During that time I read The Dip by Seth Godin. The Dip’s thesis is that people who strategically quit often to find the things in which they are the best, are the people who eventually find the most success. It’s a contrarian view of accomplishing success, but it’s a fascinating way to look at succeeding in a capitalistic economy like the United States.
The dip is a downward and then upward curve that usually entails the struggle of mastering a new skill or growing through the learning curve to get to a level that you are better than the majority of people. When you get through the dip you will reap the benefits of being at the top of your game and being number one. Think Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams, Jay-Z, Kobe, and Jeff Bezos. The world rewards the best in remarkable ways. If you can’t get through the dip, chances are that you will be stuck in a cul-de-sac with no growth opportunities and vulnerability of being replaced easily. The moral of the story here is to do what you do best and better than 90% of people. That will open many doors.
Have you heard of the phrase, “be so good that they can’t ignore you”? That’s pretty much what conquering the dip means.
The areas where I thrived the most as an entrepreneur were business development and sales. I truly enjoyed the process of meeting new customers, learning about their challenges, and coming up with solutions to help them. I realized that the next dip I wanted to conquer would be pursuing a career in tech sales for fast growing companies. This was also going to help me learn from more experienced people and take my business skills to the next level.
I was able to find a job as a Sales Development Representative (SDR) in Atlanta. This is usually the first step for someone who wants to pursue a career in tech sales. Companies need sales professionals to help customers navigate complex business conversations. When business executives make negotiations for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, they usually won’t trust Siri to help navigate the conversation. They need a sales professional to understand how one solution is better than the other and how it can help them grow their business. I was willing to work my way up from the bottom since I knew that there was a promising future in the tech industry.
One day I was randomly scrolling on social media and came across SVAcademy, which was my doorway to reaching my dream of working in Silicon Valley! SVAcademy is a sales bootcamp that trains people to become top-performing sales professionals. They help you develop sales skills, leadership skills, and emotional intelligence to thrive in fast growing companies. I joined the 3-month program and SVAcademy helped me land a job at a fast growing startup in Silicon Valley!
I have been living in San Francisco for ~ 3 years now and this week I joined Twilio as an Account Executive. I will be helping the world’s most innovative developers build amazing products. I’m definitely living the dream!
It was worth it to make that vision board many years ago about where I wanted to be and who I wanted to become. I encourage you to write your own vision board. Keep your eyes on the prize and go for it! The path will not be perfect, but if you are truly passionate about it, I have no doubt that you will get there one day.
P.S. Thank you for reading and making it all the way to the end of this post! Feel free to connect on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to meet new people and help in any way I can.