I overheard a conversation over lunch once.
Behind me were a couple of people dressed “business casual” who by the murmur of their conversation in English I realized they worked in one of the investment firms that are on the same street as “El Cerrito Mexican Food“ in Menlo Park, California.
This “Sand Hill Road” adjoins the Stanford University campus, and is home to almost a hundred of the world’s largest venture capital firms that fund entrepreneurs, in exchange for a piece of their companies without distinction. It does not matter if the startup is in their beginning stages or is well into the next. In total, these firms have between $8B and $10B USD (8-10,000,000,000) dollars to distribute per year.
To name a few, Khosla Ventures has invested in Elon Musk’s Ultrasonic Hyperloop, Kleiner Perkins who’s invested in Google, Airbnb, Amazon, Uber and Waze, and Threshold investors in Tesla Motors, Skype and Hotmail all have an address there. The list goes on and can very well surpass over 100 firms who have invested in renowned and unknown companies that hail from all over the world.
At the table adjacent, there were 4 people speaking in Spanish. Due to the accent and the soccer teams mentioned in the conversation, they were undoubtedly of Mexican origin, my compatriots. At some point they talked about the plumbing jobs they were working on. When I left the restaurant I saw that my car was parked between a work truck with pipes and tools and a brand new Maserati.
These series of situations are recurring in Silicon Valley, especially on Sand Hill Road. The conversations that take place in English are business-related, investment in talent, in companies with global impact. In Spanish, they are associated with topics on services and manual work.
In English they talk about the “pipeline” of the projects in which they intend to invest, in Spanish it’s about the pipes that have to be installed in a home or office.
I want to clarify that I am not judging or demeritting the noble work done by hundreds of thousands of Latino workers, mostly Mexican, in this region of the United States. Despite their low educational level, they are still able to send several billion dollars in remittances to Mexico. In fact, it is all the contrary – they motivate me. They are a living example and serve as inspiration for me to invite those who did have the opportunity to receive a more formal education and a higher socioeconomic status in emerging countries to follow suit and come to Silicon Valley and join the “pipeline” of entrepreneurial investors or generate their own “pipeline of projects”.
A couple of months ago I had a meeting at Khosla Ventures, just a block away from El Cerrito Mexican Food with a friend from India as we were evaluating taking our organization and programs to Africa where he has the right contacts. Upon arriving at their offices, I met some workers who were tidying up the garden with their trimmers at full blast. As we walked by them, they kindly turned off their machines, I graciously thanked them: “Gracias amigos. Good morning,” to which they replied, “Buenos dias patron” or “Good morning, boss.” This situation took me back to reflect on the same topic that I have been talking about for years. I come to the office of an Indian investor in Silicon Valley, who invests in things like Elon Musk’s supersonic train and other such crazy things and those who are working in the garden are compatriots of mine.
As a Mexican person, it is a situation that I can understand because I know the reality of my country of origin as well as its potential, drive and opportunities. However, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the rest of the people who live in these parts of town (Korean, American, Chinese, Russian, English, etc.) who do not know the true multifaceted reality of Mexico and Latin America, regarding their progress and modernization, the image they obtain is given by Mexicans who, due to different circumstances, have had lesser opportunities.
These brothers of ours have already done their part, they have internationalized, they have globalized, they have taken risks even at the cost of their own lives. Many have left their families and still send enormous amounts of remittances. Where are those who go or have gone to the best business schools? The best entrepreneurs who have failed to unleash their greatest potential? Where are the investment professionals or those with a capital surplus?
The fact that the professionals and investing elite from Latin America come to Silicon Valley to meet, learn and connect (not only to take photos in front of buildings belonging to emblematic companies) does our region a huge favor, not only because of the opportunities that this place already offers in terms of business, but because it helps to change a mistaken perception that one has in the Innovation Capital of Latin America. In other words “pipelines” connect the capital, talent and knowledge of our countries with an ocean of opportunities.
If you don’t believe me, just look at the impact that Indians, Chinese and Eastern Europeans based in Silicon Valley are having in their countries of origin.
Fortunately, we increasingly see initiatives that make this connection possible, however it seems to me that we must increase the participation in investments and the migration of our best entrepreneurs as well. We need to talk more about project “pipelines” and less about “pipes”.
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– Miguel Casillas.