The Playbook for Creating Life-Changing Opportunities in Tech (Without Moving to Silicon Valley)

With the internet now such a large part of everyone’s lives, and tech ecosystems around the world rapidly maturing, a new phenomenon has emerged: globally-connected communities that unlock opportunity for ambitious people worldwide, not just those who happen to live in Northern California. 

 min read
February 27, 2022
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Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring On Deck alums Ming Lu and Vik Duggal. If you’re an early-stage founder, angel investor, or exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs - you’ll be in great company.

Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders.

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring Josefin Graebe. If you’re an early-stage founder, scaling founder, or senior exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs.

This article is the first in our annual series Year in Preview.  In the 4 years since we launched the On Deck Founders program, we’ve seen +1000 companies get started and raise over $2B in funding.

For a long time, there was something very special about just being in Silicon Valley.

People who moved there found they could get access to life-changing opportunities in tech just by attending meetups, tech conferences, cold emailing founders for coffee, or joining random conversations at happy hours.

But today, more and more people are tapping into this magic without ever stepping foot in California. Silicon Valley is moving to the cloud

With the internet now such a large part of everyone’s lives, and tech ecosystems around the world rapidly maturing, a new phenomenon has emerged: globally-connected communities that unlock opportunity for ambitious people worldwide, not just those who happen to live in Northern California. 

People are finding that they’re able to accelerate their career trajectories, craft unique career paths and pivot into new industries simply by taking advantage of opportunities online.

In this article, we’ll go over four ways to create your own life-changing opportunities in tech by using the internet to increase your “global surface area of opportunity” – regardless of where in the world you live. 

Method #1: Build an online presence

Building an online presence is one of the simplest ways to unlock more opportunities.

By publishing content, creating visibility for yourself and attracting a following around your ideas, you grow your network beyond just your friends and coworkers, increasing your surface area of opportunity:

As we’ll see from the examples below, you don’t need to attain worldwide fame in order to create life-changing opportunities. Even a smaller scale of attention can still open doors that can change your life.

Using Twitter to become a full-time content creator

Visakan “Visa” Veerasamy (aka @visakanv) is someone who has parlayed his online presence into a unique career.

Born and raised in Singapore, Visa’s prolific output on social media has helped him build relationships with people all over the world; for instance, his list of interview credentials include Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, award-winning physicist David Deutsch, best-selling author Tucker Max, On Deck founder Erik Torenberg, founder-investor Sahil Lavingia and many more.

Through his online presence, Visa has increased his surface area of opportunity to the point where he can choose not to work a full-time day job, freeing him to focus on his interests. 

The size of his following means that he has an audience for his self-published ebooks and has potential clients for marketing and social media consulting. Visa’s more dedicated followers can also support him on his Patreon.

Visa offers this advice to those looking to start building their online presence:

  1. Shamelessly pursue your curiosities and obsessions.
  2. Use social media to find people obsessed with the same things.
  3. Build relationships with those people by being sincere and authentic.
  4. Think “out loud” and publish content as a way to find more people who share your same curiosities and obsessions.

How to go from part-time blogger to full-time CMO

Tim Soulo started his marketing career in Ukraine, blogging about what he was learning along the way.

The blog was a place for Tim to document what he was learning from his day job and his side projects. Tim also submitted blog posts to industry publications, drawing attention to his work: one of his articles garnered over a hundred comments and became one of the top-ranking posts for a particular year.

With his growing online presence increasing his surface area of opportunity, within Ukraine and around the world, Tim started getting attention from more than just marketing bloggers.

One founder of a startup called Ahrefs noticed Tim’s writing and asked him to join as a remote member of their team. Tim jumped on the chance, coming aboard as their first full-time marketer. As the business grew, he was invited to join the rest of the team and move from Ukraine to Singapore as their Director of Marketing.

Now as their CMO, Tim is on the leadership team of Ahrefs — a software company that generates $100m+ annually. You can still find Tim sharing his lessons on his Twitter account.

For some, turning yourself into a mini-media brand is not aligned with their goals. That’s what makes the next method so popular.

Method #2: Create (or join) online communities

Online communities have many of the same benefits as their offline equivalents, but have one significant advantage:

Online communities can transcend borders and time zones.

This means that you can create a gathering of the best people in the world, not just the best people from who live within a certain radius who also happen to be available at a particular time and date. 

Without online communities, your network (and surface area of opportunity) is constrained to a geographic location:

Online communities are a fantastic way to increase your global surface area of opportunity, as we’ll see in the examples below.

Creating a worldwide community from San Diego

ODNC Fellow Corey Haines had worked in a few marketing roles in startups, but had always felt the itch to work on multiple projects, build products and possibly even start up on his own.

One of his projects – a global community for SaaS marketers called Swipe Files – rapidly increased his surface area of opportunity and became an inflection point in his journey.

Starting with just his personal network and a small social media following, Corey began inviting people to his community, producing unique content for his members and identifying ways to create value that was hard to find in other marketing communities. Today, his community has grown to over 7,000 marketers, with 500 subscribers generating “between $4,000 to $7,000 a month” in revenue.

Creating a community has allowed Corey to pursue other interests like angel investing, equity crowdfunding and consulting, all while working remotely from San Diego.

Using an “instant network” to rapidly build industry contacts

Daniel Yubi, a London-based PM who works in fintech, started feeling like his network was beginning to constrain his career trajectory.

As an ambitious operator, he always wants to understand the latest developments in fintech by trading notes with peers from other industries and regions. However, Daniel only had a small bubble of industry contacts to rely on – a network consisting of coworkers, friends and internet acquaintances.

Daniel found an “instant network” of fintech operators and mentors from around the world at On Deck. The fellowship increased his surface area of opportunity, as he was finally able to set up mastermind groups and 1:1s with peers and mentors from different markets.

“After years of working in the fintech space, I finally feel that I have found my crowd.”

You can read more about Daniel Yubi’s story here.

How to build a peer group (even when nobody else does your job)

As a Chief of Staff at a software company in New Zealand, Kirstie Marsh always had trouble explaining what she did for work. With “Chief of Staff” being such a rare role in her country, everyone thought she worked for the White House.

When she ran into problems, Kirstie didn’t have anyone with whom she could brainstorm solutions. She had to rely on Googling things and finding random articles on social media. This left Kirstie often feeling helpless and directionless.

“What was missing was a kind of lighthouse that could help me navigate my career.”

Looking outside of New Zealand and searching for an international ecosystem of fellow Chiefs of Staff, Kirstie joined On Deck Chief of Staff

Almost immediately, this increased her global surface of opportunity by connecting her with peers she wouldn’t have met otherwise. Instead of random Googling, she could now tap into knowledge from Chief of Staff leaders from companies like Reddit, Dropbox, and Founders Fund.

Kirstie shares more about her journey here.

Method #3: Find people on the frontier

Frontiers are places with lots of unknowns — and with unknowns comes opportunity. Fortunately, if you’re in tech, there’s no shortage of new frontiers to explore, and you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley to explore them.

Frontiers are spaces brimming with optimism. They’re full of early adopters excited to collaborate with other ambitious people who want to build and explore the future.

Frontiers are often value-driven places full of passionate people full of ideas. They’re also places where the demand for talent far exceeds the available talent pool. 

Frontiers are constantly looking for ambitious people with talent. This makes joining people on the frontiers an excellent way to open new doors and increase your surface area of opportunity, as we’ll see below.

How evangelizing No Code led to becoming a thought leader

Karthik Puvveda always wanted to work in a fast-growing startup or build a startup, but didn’t see the path of how to get there.

Karthik is based in Atlanta, a city not known for having a vibrant startup scene. He was also mindful of visa issues, which led him to always choosing stable corporations to reduce his personal risk. But Karthik always had the itch to be in startups and be a maker.

Karthik discovered and started evangelizing the emerging field of No Code, building (and selling) several projects and documenting his journey along the way. Becoming a vocal advocate of two movements — No Code and “Build in Public” — increased Karthik’s surface area of opportunity, as he built a reputation as an influencer in these nascent spaces.

Karthik would end up leading the creation of On Deck No Code, which further cemented his status as "the Build In Public guy."

Method #4: Co-Create with others

One of the most powerful ways to increase your surface area of opportunity is by co-creating, building and collaborating with others, especially those that already have more influence than you.

This is an old method, but one supercharged by social networks and online communities that transcend borders. 

When you create something valuable and invite the right people to participate – you multiply your reach through others and your work can quickly spread around the world, opening doors for you that you didn’t know existed.

How launching a mentorship directory turned a designer into a CEO

When Covid-19 hit, Felix Lee – a designer at an Indonesia-based startup – wanted to help fellow designers who were hit by the downturn. 

Together with James Badour, a designer from Ghana, they launched the Awesome Design People List, where people could list themselves as looking for work or as someone willing to mentor designers.

Thanks to their spirit of service – and perfect timing – the initiative exploded, quickly graduating from a Google spreadsheet to a global mentorship platform. Boasting over “20,500 mentors” from around the world in the middle of 2021, Felix (also an On Deck Design program partner) and James raised USD$1.3m from Sequoia Capital India and began to work on ADPList full-time.

By creating a platform featuring thousands of mentors worldwide, Felix and James unlocked an incredible opportunity for themselves – while also creating opportunities for fellow designers around the world.

Becoming a VC by writing a book

Vlad Cazacu (ODC1) was like many budding entrepreneurs: he had a few small wins but many more false starts.

Things changed when Vlad attended a conference. He had a conversation with one of the speakers, who convinced him to write a book about what he’d learned researching various startup ecosystems around the world.

Vlad had never considered this before, but it would turn out to be a powerful way to increase his surface area of opportunity. By connecting with influencers in the startup world and offering to feature their insights, Vlad had a way to grow his network by adding value.

He started by interviewing people from his personal network, continuing to ask for introductions as he kept writing.

Vlad’s book and the relationships built along the way helped him kickstart his career in VC, giving him an advantage over MBAs and other candidates with stronger credentials on paper.

From Lima to San Francisco: how a podcast can change your career

Like Karthik, Enzo Cavalie wanted to be in tech and startups, but he was even further away than Atlanta. Enzo began his investing career in Peru and continued it in Mexico.

However, now that he was so close to Silicon Valley, Enzo felt the yawning gap between the amount of USA-focused startups content and what was made specifically for LatAm audiences.

This motivated Enzo to launch Startupeable, a media brand focused on LatAm tech. He would interview and co-create content with other members of LatAm tech ecosystem — increasing his surface area of opportunity —  putting him on the radar of VCs and investors in the Americas as a whole.

Interestingly, building a network outside of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area is what got Enzo into Silicon Valley. Today, Enzo works at Reach Capital, a VC/PE firm based in San Francisco.

Today, you can create life-changing opportunities from anywhere in the world

The old way to build your network (especially in a pre-Covid world) was to do lots of coffee meetings, attend lots of events or rely on your network from university.

Today, due to the ubiquity of social media and the power of online communities, it’s possible to build a global network of ambitious peers and mentors all over the world.

Lets recap the four methods we’ve covered:

  1. Build an online presence
  2. Create or join communities
  3. Find people on the frontiers
  4. Co-create with others

Building a network that creates life-changing opportunities is no longer a matter of being in the right place at the right time — but thinking about what steps you’ll take to increase your surface area of opportunity.

Special thanks to Grant Dever, author of Lead The Future: Strategies and Systems for Emerging Leaders and a Community Consultant focused on web3, for his contributions to this post.

Note: If you’re an experienced professional looking to gain clarity on your next move, check out Execs On Deck

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