Silicon Valley has a special place in my heart

Silicon Valley is revered for its success. It is home to outstanding innovation, start-ups, PEs, VCs and incubators that create the next set of disruptive unicorns.

Singapore’s government has identified the tech sector as an engine of growth. Over the years, the government has created a pro-business ecosystem that enhances innovation and supports VCs, PEs and angel investors. Having lived and worked in the Valley, I get asked, very frequently, “What is Silicon Valley’s recipe for success?” As I reflect upon my time spent in the Valley, my network and the reasons behind the success of my family there, I think the biggest differentiator lies in mindset.

When we first moved to Santa Clara, we were invited by my aunt and uncle to join them in their weekly hikes. They have been living there for 45 years. Every Friday, the “hiking gang”, as my children called it, would meet at 5 pm and hike up Mission Peak. As a Singapore born & bred mother, my first thoughts were about the potential risks and failure my sons, aged 5 and 10, would face during the 3.5 hours arduous hike up 2000 ft out in the rough elements. I thought about the harsh dry heat of 35 degrees Celsius, the dry and rocky trail, rattle snakes and the risk of bulls attacking hikers. My thoughts changed, when my uncle talked about the hike positively. He said that the kids will learn to appreciate nature, deal with the challenges of wildlife or weather, build endurance and learn to engage with the other hikers. All of this is hard to teach in a classroom. He also shared what the view would be like close to the top of Mission Peak; a panoramic view of the Bay Area, and on a clear day the view of the Sierra Nevada ranges and an immense sense of accomplishment. Such positivity motivated us to join in the hike. By the end of that summer, we were seasoned hikers and loving it.

My younger son, fearless and not for a second thinking that he was so much younger than the hiking gang, enjoyed every second of the hikes and would be the first one to the top. After every hike, we used to meet at the neighbourhood pizza restaurant. During dinner, we used to be amazed listening to the hiking gang as they talked about their failures and successes. They were the microcosm of success in Silicon Valley. The uncle, who was laid off as part of a restructure, did not waste time being negative. With a loan from a friend, he started manufacturing shampoos and creams and is now one of the largest suppliers in California. The uncle who moved from UK and started his own business of making precision engineered parts for bio-medical clients. The uncle who started a private investment fund focusing on early stage start-ups. Listening to their stories we realized how being in the Valley enabled them to be successful. It was all about risk taking, being open to failure, new ideas, talent from around the world and availability of capital. They gave up the general security and stability of the corporate world and with gumption, positivity and leveraging off their network took the plunge. The three of them have achieved success that they had never dreamed off.

My mindset has evolved. More and more, I think of possibilities and the fact that failure is never a bad thing. If you keep trying and adopting new ways you will succeed. As I spoke with my team and network that worked at start-ups and larger tech firms, I saw the value built by being in an environment that is empowering and lacks the stodginess and formality of hierarchy. In this sort of an environment, the value created by employees comes from higher engagement, nimbleness and minds that work more innovatively and creatively.

So, the recipe for success is in the mindset of:

  • Positivity, bravery, boldness
  • Risk taking
  • Resilience – keep trying until failures become successes
  • Creating collaborative networks and leveraging these for help
  • Thinking of solutions and not obstacles

As I returned to Singapore, I was amazed by the start-up scene and the framework that has been set in motion. Singapore’s government has an admirable strategy for attracting top tech companies, investment capital and top talent. A change in mindset needs to become part of the Singaporean DNA and most of it begins at home and in our schools.

As Robert Frost wrote:

“Two roads diverged in the wood, and I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference.”


by Brindha Bal, partner at Eric Salmon & Partners’ Singapore office.

Source: Linkedin