clock menu more-arrow no yes

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos used to be just like you, says Y Combinator’s Daniel Gross

“Everyone starts out with very, very humble beginnings,” Gross said on the latest Recode Decode.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Y Combinator Partner Daniel Gross
Y Combinator Partner Daniel Gross
Courtesy Daniel Gross

When Daniel Gross moved to Silicon Valley from Jerusalem, he thought he was right to be intimidated by his new peers. But the Y Combinator partner, formerly the director of machine learning at Apple, says he was happy to be wrong about that.

“The day-to-day emotional rollercoaster ride is intense,” Gross said of being a tech entrepreneur on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “But the thing you need to realize — if you’re listening to this and you’re outside of Silicon Valley and it all looks hard and unapproachable — is that it’s very gradual. Everyone starts out with very, very humble beginnings.”

“One of most important things for me, coming into Silicon Valley, was meeting some of these folks that I thought were titans of the world, and thinking to myself, ‘You know, you’re not that great,’” he added. “And then realizing, 'I could do it too!’”

And that realization, he told Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Casey Newton on the new podcast, matters for a lot more than his personal growth. It might also make a dent in Silicon Valley’s diversity problem.

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Gross said the popular perception of those tech “titans” who once scared him causes people to “self-edit” themselves out of trying. He cited people like SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, recently seen christening a wind farm in surprisingly badass fashion.

“In Silicon Valley, we have this process where we build everyone up,” Gross said. “‘Everyone’s perfect! No one’s having a bad day! Jeff Bezos is just crushing it all the time, on top of windmills, breaking champagne bottles!’ He starts out small, and I’m sure he has bad days, too.”

Someone from an underrepresented minority community who doesn’t know that all entrepreneurs were “silly and small” once, he added, might unnecessarily rule out trying to get into the game altogether.

“If you’re underrepresented, you’re thinking, ‘I feel already behind, there’s no way i’m going to achieve what those guys achieved,’” Gross said. “I think the solution for this is to emphasize how silly some of these people seemed earlier in their careers, to make it feel more approachable.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.