Many of us were looking forward to visiting Berkeley because one aspect of SkyDeck is a focus on helping teams with international founders connect to the Bay Area and crack the U.S. market.
So, we planned to fly in from not only other parts of the U.S., but places like Taiwan, Russia, Turkey, Chile, India, Israel and even Canada to enjoy the California sunshine and do California stuff, like drink wine in Napa, eat saltwater taffy in Santa Cruz, see some redwoods and maybe go to Yosemite or whatever? Yeah okay, maybe we wouldn’t have time for all that. We are startup founders after all. But it’s always nice to be given a chance to say no to something.
No matter what, we were sure we were going to get a chance to meet a lot of really smart and cool people, brainstorm together and make a lot of friends. All while putting in a lot of hard but rewarding work to achieve product-market fit, learn how to pitch and then raise some fat rounds from world famous venture capital firms after Demo Day. Bling bling bling!
But then this spring, just before our cohort was set to start the program, the pandemic got serious. No flights, no desks, all virtual meetups, and soon (September 15, mark your calendars people) a virtual Demo Day. Most of the international founders couldn’t even come to the United States.
No matter where we are in the world, we all ended up working from home just like the rest of the planet. No Napa wine, no salt water taffy, no redwoods or Yosemite. Some of us even still have imperfect weather to contend with. Sigh.
But despite missing out on what would have been an amazing experience, we want to leave no doubt in the minds of your readers that the program has been fantastic. The SkyDeck team has provided us with:
- VIP access to an extraordinary network of contacts that has gone beyond what we could have imagined: Picture this network in your mind right now … it is even better than that.
- A network of quality advisors: SkyDeck does an amazing job of getting Berkeley alumni with extraordinary professional profiles to function as 1:1 advisors. This high-touch approach to mentoring has worked out smoothly during COVID-19 times because everyone is at home and eager to jump on a call. They have been there to provide advice, make connections, help us recruit, you name it.
- Info sessions that are fun and informative: Bad internet access was sometimes annoying, but on the bright side, nobody had to fight traffic to get there. These sessions included everything from nuts and bolts organizational advice and war stories with Q&As from founders of famous companies to important new perspectives for building 21st-century companies such as DEI training. The speakers are also willing to have a call or hold office hours to discuss specific topics in-depth. It never stops.
- Support from other cohort founders and alums: There is an incredible sense of family in the program. Tough times foster deep experiences and meaningful connections. The SkyDeck team did a great job setting up virtual events so we could all get to know each other, and alums are very active on Slack, responsive to requests for 1:1 mentorship, helping with recruiting and giving other free advice. We have all made new friends that can provide us with social and professional support for many years ahead.
- Full access to UC Berkeley’s diverse ecosystem including brilliant interns, faculty and industry connections. This has really helped us to boost productivity while pushing for product-market fit. Unfortunately, laboratories have been closed during the pandemic so some biotech and hardware founders, in particular, missed out on a perk they were really looking forward to. However, with everyone available online, bioinformatics, machine learning and other computational-focused collaborations have worked out great. Go Bears!
- And of course, a $100,000 investment that was highly appreciated during a pandemic when everyone needs cash to adapt to a completely transformed environment.
While flight restrictions did cause some international founders to pull crazy hours from our home countries to participate in the sessions, virtual sessions allowed additional members of our teams to participate that would otherwise not have been able to do so. We are also hearing chatter that Demo Day will be larger than ever before because virtual events are much more scalable. But you didn’t hear that from us.
We are just starting investor month, and the meetings SkyDeck has been arranging leading up to Demo Day also feel more engaging and efficient. Investors do not have alternative options to communicate with founders, and it’s so much easier to jump from call-to-call than to physically jump around the Valley. Even super rich and famous investors seem to think it is fun to be in Zoom calls with us since, just like everyone else, they are probably kind of bored being at home all the time and just want somebody to talk to.
So yes, we did miss out on a lot we were hoping for when we joined SkyDeck, but even with virtual desks and virtual Demo Day, SkyDeck is absolutely worth it.
SkyDeck Cohort 2020 founders: