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A Few Funny Characters You'll Find In Silicon Valley

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on December 15, 2014 4 Comments

The following is a guest post by Nathan Beckord.  Nathan is co-founder and CEO of Foundersuite, a San Francisco-based company developing the ultimate collection of software tools and templates for entrepreneurs.  

I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for quite awhile now, and a lot has changed—SaaS and social have supplanted silicon as the medium of choice for starting new companies; San Francisco has usurped Palo Alto as the center of the startup universe; and the 280, long a delightful drive to Sand Hill Road, is now almost as traffic clogged as the 101.multiple-characters

But one thing that has stayed relatively constant is the people. Here’s a quick review of a few of the entrepreneurial archetypes you’ll meet in Silicon Valley.

1. The Socially Awkward Technical Genius Founder CEO

As recently as a decade ago, the Technical Genius toiled quietly in the background behind a “business guy,” but now they are front and center as CEO. Silicon Valley was literally built by this cohort; without them, it wouldn’t exist. However, if you’re not working in their specific industry or niche, it can be painful to chat with them, and you end up making small talk and asking awkward questions like, “how does it feel to grow so fast,” and getting single-word answers. Younger members of this cohort tend to be accepted into YCombinator at an exceedingly high rate.

2. The Happy Hipster Worker Bee

Supporting every Technical Genius CEO is a small army of Worker Bees. Worker Bees rarely become founders, and they’re okay with that. They are paid well, and if they land at the right startup early enough, they typically gain enough vested stock to be able to swing a SOMA condo or a Sunset flat (but rarely a Mission Victorian or Marina split level). They find great joy in the free lunches and gourmet snack bars offered by their IPO-track or just-IPO’d company; indeed, they’ve never worked at a company that didn’thave these perks. When not at work, they can be found in line for a burrito at Senor Sessig’s, an ice cream at BiRite, or hanging out in Dolores Park with a Coolest Cooler full of Pliny the Elder. They have more (and more interesting) facial hair than any of the other cohorts.

3. The Social Climber

Social Climbers usually work in BD, Corp Dev or “Strategy” at a well-funded company, and have a predilection for button-down shirts, dark blue expensive jeans, and North Face vests. They frequently jump from one hot startup to the next; at present you might find them at Uber, but only a year ago they were at Square or Dropbox. You’ll meet them at high-profile startup events like Disrupt or Launch, but they’re difficult to have a meaningful conversation with, as they’re constantly scanning the room to see whom else they should be talking to. Social Climbers often end up in VC, but they rarely make partner.

4. The Legacy VC

Legacy VCs work at firms that are on their 10th fund—funds that have become rather bloated and risk-averse. As recently as a decade ago, this group was at the top of the food chain—they had power, man! But their funds made too many clean tech bets in 2004 and totally missed the social / local / mobile wave. Now they have to fight hard to even get into second-tier big data, IoT, and wearables deals with their remaining dry powder. Simultaneously, this cohort is being disrupted by the likes of AngelList, syndicates, and crowdfunding, as well as by the Young Turks.

5. The Young Turk VC

The Young Turks are on their first or second fund, which they started shortly after leaving Google in the mid- to late-2000’s. They differentiate by being more “entrepreneur-friendly” which means being reachable and responsive, offering solid feedback, and by actually saying “no” when it’s not a fit (vs. retaining optionality). This attitude is extraordinarily refreshing for entrepreneurs courting them, but it is often short-lived, as it leads to a deluge of needy founders emailing, Twitter-stalking, and following them into restrooms at tech conferences; they simply can’t keep up. Thus, the entrepreneur-friendly attitude tends to last until their second or third fund, at which time the Young Turks start to resemble the Legacy VCs (and the cycle repeats itself).       

6. The New Angel

New Angels are a supercharged variation of the Worker Bee; they are folks who were among the first 50 or so hires at a moonshot company that recently went public—think Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn—and they are now bravely wading into the world of angel investing. For several brilliant months—typically from the time they start investing until they experience their first total write-off—the New Angel is a founder’s best friend, as she is hungry for deal flow, not yet jaded, and willing to open her check book when others won’t. Catch her while you can.  

7. The Socialite

The Socialite is often a co-founder of a company, but spends a huge amount of his or her time putting on events, happy hours, pub crawls, and meet-ups. They’re always pushing you to attend a new event or to spam your network with their latest shin-dig. In their mind, this work is “marketing” or “community development”; back in college, they threw incredible keggers, calling them “networking opportunities.” They have 3k+ connections on LinkedIn, but few actually know them. Notably, Eventbrite derives approximately 74% of its total revenue from this cohort.

8. The Professional Event-Goer

Symbiotic to the Socialite is the Professional Event-Goer. This person is ubiquitous—you see them at Every. Single. Event. They get in for free by promising to promote it to their “network” which usually means a quick tweet or a plug in their spam-filtered newsletter. They always sit in the front row so they can rush the speakers afterward. They wear a rotating set of startup t-shirts and their laptop is covered in startup stickers (some of which have already gone bust). How they pay their rent in absurdistan San Francisco remains a mystery.

9. The Charity Case

The Charity Case is a startup founder, but they really shouldn’t be. They have no money, little to no technical chops to build a product, and quite frankly, their idea is highly derivative and just not that good. They’re constantly hitting you up for introductions to the mythical “technical co-founder” that would make their dreams a reality, and they start a lot of sentences with, “if only I had…” They go to numerous events but never pay; instead, they earn their place by checking people in at the door. 

10. The Old-Schooler

The Old-Schooler originally came from the East Coast or sometimes Chicago or London, and even though they’ve been here for a decade, they never adopt Silicon Valley ways. They don’t own a hoodie and occasionally they even wear a suit. They use their phone primarily to talk, not text. They write formal business plans, eschew AngelList, and raise money by pitching ex-banker friends from Goldman. They might not be on a Mac Book Pro, but they definitely “think different” and are immune to the Silicon Valley echo chamber. Though seemingly a relic, they’re often extraordinarily successful, precisely because they’re outliers and not chasing the herd.

Each of the above was based on one or more real Silicon Valley heroes that I personally know and love—collectively, these characters make the tech world go ‘round. (PS If I’ve described you to a T, please don’t be offended—the above was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek).  All in good fun.