“This place teaches you more about startups than anywhere else. Every day I learn something new.”
In 2017, it was just a rough idea—change the game of social networking by enabling users to tell stories and react through facial expressions rather than text-heavy messages.
“You don’t want to be reading endless lines of boring text,” says Aakash Dave, 25, an entrepreneur on a mission to catch the eye of Silicon Valley investors. “You want your friends to speak up, listen to your stories, and relive the same moment.”
The Silicon Valley Dream
Dave, the technical designer and solo evangelist for Spotmi, a social network startup, grew up on technology and social media. He was eight years old when he wrote his first line of code. He arrived in Silicon Valley as an international student from India in 2018 and quickly completed the UCSC Silicon Valley Extension Database and Data Analytics certificate program.
“Silicon Valley, this is the helm, the official hub for people with a startup,” Dave says, describing “easy access to investors” and a growing network of supporters offering advice and new connections. “This place teaches you more about startups than anywhere else. Every day I learn something new.”
Starting with School
Like most UCSC Extension students, Aakash already had a bachelor’s degree (in Computer Engineering) and work experience when he arrived in the U.S. He was able to complete the Database and Data Analytics certificate in six months while exploring topics in other programs as well such as IoT, branding and positioning, and finance.
The evening courses felt like “interactive sessions or a great meeting,” rather than a lecture course, he says. In particular, he liked collaborating with other students on projects and meeting people from all walks of life. In one of his favorite courses, Internet of Things, he created a simulated underwater drone to detect threat objects and send out alerts. He studied key marketing concepts in Positioning and Brand Management and the basics of finance in Finance I, Fundamentals.
Building a Network
It was the people that made a difference, he says.
“I made a lot of good connections while I was here,” he says. A classmate in Data Analytics, Introduction turned out to be an accounting instructor with a deep of knowledge of finance. They talked about fundraising and networking. A student in the advanced Python class got him in touch with another startup entrepreneur who put him in touch with a venture capitalist.
“This place helped me get to a point where I made connections with amazing friends who had positions in the valley. Students over here are really well-versed in networking. It’s been a game-changer.”
Available on the App Store
Throughout this time, he’s continued developing Spotmi. He describes it as a social network app that understands your facial expressions. Facial expressions and photos are favored responses in lieu of comments. The hardest part has been tweaking the features to meet consumer demand, he says, noting that fundraising hasn’t actually been easy either. While it started as an invite-only platform, it’s now available for free on the App Store.
“My main goal is to build a brand that people can relate to in terms of having fun,” he says. “Once you provide users value, people will steer towards the product. That acts as a magnet to the VC capital.”
In true Silicon Valley form, Dave’s also releasing his own podcast, “Psuedo,” which he describes as a conversation about the “blunt truth on the Silicon Valley hustle and how to address it smartly.”
Dave’s favorite pieces of entrepreneurial advice
- Make a fantastic product that people love to use and see if your friends enjoy it, then learn to market it in a really great way.
- Don’t start by raising funds. First, build a good product. Know your team. Don’t start until you’re ready.
- Build personal relationships with people. Your network is your net worth. Leverage it.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
- Soft skills and how you present yourself—those are the first things people judge you on—then comes your technical ability.