Hey there, I am Yev, a software developer and a founder of Scrimmage and Kavun.org.ua. During the winter of 2022, I had the luck to spend 4 months in Silicon Valley. I made a goal to try it all so I have been living in a hacker house, visiting courses at Stanford, and engaging in local startup communities. Before going to the US I have been living in Kyiv for about a year, so my goal was to figure out if we can build a Silicon Valley Kyiv, Ukraine.
San Francisco is the worst place I ever visited
Here is the image of a San Francisco center from Google
Pretty, isn’t it? And here is the same picture, but from the street view.
When I first time visited SF I was there just for 1 day and this 1 day made me hate this city. Last 2 years I have been traveling a lot and this city made me feel worst. Imagine coming to the central part of the city, taking sit near the fountain, and hoping that you won’t die while you wait for the bus.
California has huge issues with homeless people and instead of fixing it people just got accustomed to it. During the short 2 hours evening walk I have seen gangs of homeless people peeing on the streets, selling drugs, and shouting on the streets. Not the best first impression of the city. And it is not just an SF problem, it happens all over California. Here is what the Central Part of San Jose (the center of silicon valley) looks like.
Another problem is that silicon valley is not a city, it is actually a valley, a huge valley which is about 1,854 square miles. Events and parties are happening mostly in the main part of SF which is greatly separated from the rest of Silicon Valley and you gonna spend 1 hour driving to network. I would call it, not the best location. It is very cool that silicon valley consists of a couple of cities united by a single name, but it also makes it hard to travel there., especially if you don’t have a car, public transport is bad and you gonna die there. Public transport shootings are happening every week in the US.
The climate in SF is amazing though. It is like an everlasting May with its ideal not hot not cold temperature. Combined with an Ocean breeze, it is just a great place to be all over the year.
On a separate note, weed is legalized in California. There are huge stores with certified weed and weed vapes. Not all people smoke, but those who smoke, prefer weed over tobacco. I did try it as well and weed is just great for brainstorming, but you have to be very careful not to use it too often. I personally believe that you can’t be a successful startup founder if you don’t smoke weed, but it may be just me.
Kyiv is just great, maybe too great…
Starting from location, Ukraine is not having a tropical climate and it is minus. You need to constantly think over what you gonna wear next season, you need to have an air conditioner and heater, you can not drive a bike in winter, and much more stuff. So life is easier in Silicon Valley in terms of climate.
Kyiv is about half of the size of the whole silicon valley and it has a great metro system. You can get from 1 side of Kyiv to another in 30 mins without a car. And also the metro is pretty safe. Kyiv is growing as a circle and there are smaller cities are getting formed around it. I believe that Kyiv is just a great location.
Regarding homeless… While looking at all that trash on the streets and homeless people around I just wanted to close my eyes and come back to Ukraine with its clean sidewalks and cozy places. Ukraine has no problem with homeless people. Of course, everyone has seen a beggar near the metro, but trust me, it is just candy compared to SF. So, we do have them, but government handles it, which is nice. The government provides houses, jobs, and money for homeless people.
But here is a thought which is not letting me accept this simple victory that easily. If broke life is not that bad, why should I work hard to not accept it? Sometimes while walking in Santa Clara I was thinking that I gonna do whatever it takes, to not be in the place of that homeless person who is sleeping on a sidewalk right now. And maybe, it gives some more motivation to work hard, because there is no plan B for success. The government will not give you a house and money, you win or you die. Wait for your comments about this point.
And yeah, weed is not legal in Ukraine and I don’t think we are moving in the direction to make it legal, which is obviously sad, weed is a big part of Silicon Valley.
Price of living
SF is too expensive
Guys from the image above are not only smoking weed, but they are also looking at their monthly utility bills and laughing pathetically. Prices in SF are crazy. The first apartment I rented was for $2600 per month without utility bills. Together with utility bills, it was about $3000. My second apartment was a hacker house in Santa Clara and I was paying $1600 per month for a super small room on a second floor.
My average bill in a restaurant was about $20 for a solo person. The same goes for food delivery. I believe that lack of food was making me concentrate more on what really matters – work, so a big plus for expensive food.
Nonsense like bowling or pool was for a cost of $50. It saved my precious time so that I can spend less time chilling and more time working!
It would be fun to mention hospital costs. To remove or fix teeth you would need to pay $600 – $1000. That was a moment when I understood why most Californians are so obsessed with health. They just can’t afford to be not healthy, it is a choice between being healthy and being homeless.
To summarize, the price of living in Silicon Valley is all about productivity. It makes you don’t waste time on anything, except work.
Kyiv is too cheap
I believe that Ukraine is providing the best experience for its cost in the whole world. During the past 2 years, I visited the US, India, and a couple of EU countries. Some of them were nice but expensive, and some of them were cheap but dirty. Ukraine is cheap and nice which is making it better than Silicon Valley.
However, maybe it is even too cheap. You don’t feel that pressure that if you get health issues – you gonna become homeless. It makes you live a less healthy and less productive life. Which is bad. Ukraine is giving you plan B while SF is like a crazy masochist that doesn’t have a stop word.
SF smells like Steve Jobs
SF is super liberal and has a lot of startup opportunities. As I mentioned I tried and my trip started from Stanford.
Stanford is having continuous education courses which are oriented toward people who already finished their degrees and are looking to expand their knowledge in specific subjects. One such course was “FUNDING A NEW ENTERPRISE: LEARN FROM EXPERIENCED SILICON VALLEY PRACTITIONERS (BUS 28), Winter 2022-2023, Jan 18, 2023 – Mar 8, 2023 (8 weeks)”. I was living not. right near Stanford and I had no car so it was taking me about 1 hour to go there in 1 direction. We had 8 lectures for 3 hours each + afterparty. Each lecture had an invited guest. Some guests were super cool, like a guy designer who was an early employee at Apple. He was telling stories about how he was explaining to Steve that buttons have to be on the left side not the right lol. Most of the guests were VC managers, investors, or retired professionals.
The cost was about $800 for the whole course and it was worth its money. Our group had about 40 participants, some of them were rich people trying to find investment opportunities, and some were startup founders like me. Stanford is running like 10 such courses at the same time and there is always something you can attend with no degree requirements.
Another part of the ecosystem co-working HackerDojo located in Mountain View, near the main office of Google. It is a small volunteering organization that is providing free working spaces and free community meetups about programming, robotics, startups, and career. It is a great place, with games, a library, a 3d printer, some robotics stuff, and a lot of geeks. Everyone is having different past but all are having the same goal – start a startup.
When someone is coming to you for networking they don’t ask “What do you do”, they ask “What are you building”, which basically means that it doesn’t matter to them what you do on your main job or what is your degree, but it does matter what idea are you working toward. People here are obsessed with building startups. And if you don’t have a dream to become a Steve Jobs – you are out of this place man.
Here is a slide from a presentation from a Stanford course that greatly highlights the culture in Silicon Valley
This kind of culture is giving birth to an enormous amount of startup organizations and communities like CoffeeSpace. I was invited to CoffeeSpace by my friend from Techstars. It is a small community of startup founders from Silicon Valley who are working together to achieve success. There is an organizer who is trying to earn some money from the community by organizing paid events. During my stay I heard of about 8 such communities, they are everywhere and they are the actual value that Silicon Valley is giving.
I can’t mention Hacker Houses. The house I was living supposed to be a hacker house but apparently I was the only hacker there. There were no organizers and no events. But the price was also very cheap, so whatever. A hacker house is a place where hackers are living, sleep, and code together. It is like a paid version of Eric’s accelerator from the Silicon Valley movie.
It makes sense for you to stay here if you are actively working on your startup and searching for co-founders, just make sure you choose a hacker house with a great reputation and reviews.
Despite having a lot of opportunities, most of the high-class opportunities are gated by networks. You need to know someone who is already a part of that community to be invited. That is why people who come to Silicon Valley for a short period of time often get disappointed. Public events are full of crap and private events are private, you can’t just find them in 1 day on meetup.com.
Kyiv smells like an e-commerce brand
While I have been in Kyiv was a part of a business community as well as visited a couple of business events. Every person I met was doing something interesting but I barely met someone who was doing something risky and revolutionary. I struggled to find decent startup communities in Ukraine. There are business communities but business ≠ startups.
I said Kyiv smells like e-commerce because it is a very popular business to have. Also, you could have a fashion brand, taxi app, online school, IT agency, courses platform, etc. All of those are great businesses, but they are different from startups I have seen in Valley.
I have been able to find news about the University of Taras Shevchenko online courses but I haven’t been able to actually find out how to participate. As Stanford is a startup heart of Silicon Valley there has to be a startup heart of Kyiv. I have big hopes for a Unit City project.
I was visiting Unit City for about 3 months, it was winter so not much action was going on there and the project is generally in very early stages. However, I love the idea of it and the inspiration it gives to people who visit it.
I believe that Ukraine needs more inspiration and believe that everyone can accomplish everything, no matter the past.
It is small things that are making us feel that place is special, here are those small things that happened to be in the valley.
The guy who pitched me his startup in a restaurant
That was the first day I arrived in SV and I visited an Indian restaurant nearby. The guy who served us took our order and asked “So, what are you guys doing?”. I am not accustomed to talking about such staff with servants but I replied to him about Scrimmage and our web3 game. So the guy took a seat near us and started telling that he is doing some marketing automation agency and that he have a lot of clients who are reselling gold or something. He asked me if he could help me to resell something…
People are just different there if even servants are pitching me startups lol…
Guy passioned about Rust
One day I met a guy in a Hacker Dojo with whom we had just a common chit-chat. Apparently, that guy was a meetup organizer and he was passionate about Rust. He was questioning what we know about Rust and telling passionately telling us why Rust is the best language on earth.
It is very common to meet people who program, but it is very rare to meet people who are so passioned about something
The pitch of my Swidden friend
While visiting Stanford we have the privilege to pitch to some of its professors our ideas. I didn’t because I wasn’t really looking for partners at that moment, but my friend did. He was building a digital Sweden bank. His idea didn’t impress the professor but she still suggested him good luck.
The most surprising fact is that she did agree to meet him for 30 mins coffee even though she doesn’t know the guy. He just asked and she replied.
The guy who got tired of Google
Hacker Dojo was located right near the main office of Google so Google employees were frequent visitors there. At one of the meetups from Hacker Dojo, I met a guy who was working at Google. The meetup was about how to become a tech founder in a startup. For me working at Google was a dream one day and how surprised I was when the guy started saying that he wants to quit and that my life and career as a founder is very inspiring.
A greatly paying corporate job is just the beginning for most of the talents in Valley, most of them dream big.
Does it worth going to Silicon Valley in 2024?
If you are the owner of 2 B2B companies and an advisor for 5 more companies – yes, in Silicon Valley, you will find a community of people who will be excited by what you are doing and you will be able to close tons of deals.
If you are rich and you wanna start a startup – yes, in Silicon Valley you will find a lot of communities, VC funds, accelerators, and friends that will help you to accomplish your goals.
In all other cases, no. If you wanna start a startup but you are not rich, Silicon Valley won’t give you that much, especially in the early stages of your startup. You better invest the money you have into tech or marketing than spend it on covering your cost of living in SV.
If you are just a programmer inspired by salaries in there, just so that you know, people pay crazy taxes there and spend crazy money on things which you get for cheap in your country. $6k per month is like the minimal livable salary in Silicon Valley to just feel comfortable. Even people who work in big tech companies barely can save some money.
Most of the opportunities which small startup need are available online, Silico Valley won’t change your life and don’t use it as an excuse for why your startup is not working. Continue your journey and if it is not working out, consider joining an already existing startup as a co-founder on kavun.org.ua.
I have been coding for the last 5 years, which might be described as "a proven track record" or "delivering consistent results" on LinkedIn. I am currently on a mission to enslave humanity with the power of gambling.
My skills include writing, re-writing, tweeting, startup founding, mixing cocktails, full-stack engineering, and watching the same isekai over and over again. Proficiency ranges from excellent to absolutely awful.