I was recently invited to one of the biggest tech events in Armenia, the World Congress on Information Technology, and it blew my mind. I had no idea how big the tech scene was; many people assume Silicon Valley is the only place to be if you’re running a tech startup.
Most of the startups I have advised have asked me where they should build their startup and if it is necessary to move their company to Silicon Valley. I’ve always answered no because I knew there were optimal ways to build a startup. After briefly observing Armenia’s tech scene and personally meeting with many different startups, my thoughts around location and building a startup were confirmed.
Here were the main learnings I gained that I believe all aspiring entrepreneurs can benefit from:
Hone basic skills early.
One of the main things I saw in Armenia was that the kids learn how to code at a very young age, which makes it really easy for them to enter the tech scene as they grow older. They are able to get started right away due to their ability to build right away. I thought this was incredible because this not only gives you a leg up with your startup, but it also gives you the ability to evaluate anyone you might consider for your company. You will want to learn these basic skills as any entrepreneur because you will learn how to manage better when you are ready to hire someone.
For example, to hone your problem solving and decision making skills, you might take up chess. When I was in Armenia, I saw that people there were playing chess all the time. According to the BBC, “All children in Armenia from six to eight years old have compulsory chess lessons.” It teaches them how to make strategic decisions as they grow up.
As entrepreneurs, we are faced with new decisions daily, and we are always wondering which direction to take. I believe learning how to play chess can actually help you become a better decision maker from an early age, which is another essential skill to learn early on, especially if you’re an entrepreneur looking to hire and scale a business. You are faced with decisions on how to build your team, culture and goals around the company.
The earlier entrepreneurs are more curious about the world and the happenings in the world, the sooner they can propel their journey. I wish I had started sooner but it took many failures to get to where I am today.
Believe in humble beginnings.
The one thing I noticed while meeting with startups abroad was that everyone was very humble. Whether they were the best coder in their startup or an entrepreneur who just struck a million-dollar fund, they were able to see eye to eye with everyone else. There was no elite status or hierarchy at any of these startup companies. In fact, being in a community and working together to build a strong company was the norm.
It didn’t matter who was doing what in most places I went; everyone just worked together to get the job done.
I met some incredible and very accomplished people who spoke to me like a human. They acknowledged me as a person, and there was no pride involved. I believe if all startups remembered to stay humble, especially in the beginning, they would be able to achieve a lot more earlier on. I’ve observed a number of young companies that are solely focused on promoting their business and becoming the “next best thing.”
It is important to sell yourself to a certain extent, but remember that humility goes further when you are looking to collaborate in different partnerships or even raise a round of funding. For example, when you pitch your startup to an investor, stay very conservative around your projections and goals. This way, they will be happier when they see that you have surpassed them in a big way.
Know where you belong.
When I was visiting Armenia, I noticed that people and businesses knew their place in the market. They were very aware of exactly who they were and what they had to offer. It was never about being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. They knew where to place themselves to attract a target audience that would value what they had to offer.
This might seem like common sense, but it goes back to finding a product-market fit and how so many startups still struggle with placing themselves in the market with their business. I always advise startups to start small and work themselves up. For example, if you are looking to build a startup in the healthcare space, then you might want to think about starting with a single illness that you are most aware of and building a community around that specific illness. You will want to scale bigger and into other spaces once you are able to accomplish this. The startup you build is always about sharing your gift with the world and finding people who will value your gift the most.
Overall, the Armenian experience was something I would do again. It totally changed my perspective around Silicon Valley’s tech scene, and I learned a lot that other entrepreneurs can benefit from. I believe it’s important for entrepreneurs to practice these three tips to have a leg up when they get into the real world and be prepared for rough experiences they might see along the way.