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.
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.”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.