A Delayed Homecoming: How a College Grad Landed Back into the Heart of Silicon ValleyAugust 1st, 2012 | Posted by in Culture | Uncategorized
This post was written by Alex Popp, Business Development, at Quixey. He recently graduated from Harvard University, where he was a four-year varsity athlete on the water polo team. In college he worked at the Massachusetts State House and interned for different tech start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. You can find him at monsieurpopp.wordpress.com and follow him at @monsieurpopp on Twitter.
Four years ago I left California to go to college on the East Coast. For the first eighteen years of my life, Menlo Park was my playground–one that seemed ever so boring. When I finally graduated, I was excited to pack my bags to attend school on the other side of the country. I wanted to do something new, experience the East Coast, and brave the cold. Trading in my flip-flops for snow boots, turning in my Ray Bans for a beanie, I was moving straight ahead, not thinking of looking back.
Funny how the moment I began my new life on the East Coast, I started looking back more frequently than not.
Silicon Valley is an incredible place, and leaving it only put that more in perspective. Throughout my undergrad years, I would chuckle under my breath as my peers gushed about this hub of innovation and talent, this epicenter of technology and entrepreneurship, where people dared to find optimism at every turn. I realized that if you live outside of the Valley, you mostly hear of the Facebooks, Twitters, and Googles of Palo Alto and Mountain View. But, you don’t always hear about the smaller start-ups, bootstrapped by two or three founders hunkered down in the attic of their mother’s home, living off hot pockets and Mountain Dew.
In Silicon Valley these stories are the stuff of lore; failure is a badge that every successful CEO or VC proudly emblazons on their credentials. It is that attitude that was put more so in perspective some three thousand miles away. I missed that defiance, this willingness to stop at nothing, the intellectual creativity of the Valley. The more time I spent away, the more I realized how much I missed it and had taken it for granted. After my freshman year, I decided to come back to California to soak up some much needed sunlight and to see if I could forge a connection to the start-up world. At the end of every summer after that, I kept telling myself I had to come back.
So I did for the next three years, working for a couple of established Fortune 500 companies’ corporate strategy groups, helping start-ups launch by getting involved in their product management and business development efforts. I remembered why Silicon Valley has no equivalent in the world (sorry NYC tech scene). The intellectual creativity was pragmatic in the Valley. You had to solve problems that were neither academic nor black and white. I realized that while strategizing was rewarding, it more often than not resulted in recommendations rather than results; after a while someone had to have the guts to take the reins and directly involve themselves in pushing the needle forward. That was the biggest lesson I learned in my time reconnecting to the Valley: you have to get down in the trenches if you actually want to build something.
I know I was very lucky to find a start-up that was doing exactly that, and wanted to take a chance on me in helping them pursue their vision of the world. When Quixey approached me in March, I was desperate to add value, but I didn’t know where I would fit in best. Through my interviews with the BD team, conversations with our Director of BD Jake Orrin, CEO Tomer Kagan, and Chief Strategy Officer David Hytha, I realized that Quixey–in the corniest of terms–was trying to build a product that would make people’s lives easier. I’ve always wanted to build something of value, and to distribute a product in the hands of many. Quixey was taking a chance on me and allowing me to do exactly that.
Quixey is very product oriented; we’re building a functional and platform-agnostic search engine that allows people to find apps by searching for what they need at the moment without knowing the name or description of an app. In a world where there are millions upon millions of apps, Quixey aggregates and organizes unstructured and structured data, analyzes all that information through a complex array of advanced machine-learning algorithms, and then services result queries based on the relative weights placed on the collected data. Search, by nature, is technologically fascinating, but Quixey takes it an extra step by tweaking it to fit the more specific case of app search.
I guess I am glad that for the last four years I kept glancing over my shoulder from time to time. Had I not done so, I probably would not have ended up at Quixey. Alan Kay once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I won’t go as far as to say that I’m doing exactly what he suggests, but I am humbled to take part in a company that is attempting to help mold the future. I am thankful for this one chance, because my decision to join the Quixey team makes me confident that the future is only going to get that much better.