Gustaf Alströmer has had quite a journey. He co-founded Heysan that was a part a of the Y Combinator program, worked for both eBuddy and Voxer and is now Product Manager of Growth at Airbnb. I caught up with him to talk about his background and how it is to work in the Valley.
Hi Gustaf, tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in Silicon Valley?
I grew up on a farm outside Gothenburg in Sweden. I was really lucky that the high school I went to had some special funding and wired up hundreds of computers with broadband. There was a computer cafe that was open until 10pm and I hung out there almost every night for a year and started building stuff – mostly websites. This was around 1995. A couple of years later I went to a school called Hyper Island which is one of those amazing places where everything is learning by doing. I loved it and knew that this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life.
Through some random events I ended up in New York a few years later and someone put a book by Paul Graham in my hands. I read it and thought I should probably google his name.
Through some random events I ended up in New York a few years later and someone put a book by Paul Graham in my hands. I read it and thought I should probably google his name. I found out about Y Combinator and applied with a couple of friends. We got accepted and ended up moving to San Francisco.
You work at Airbnb, tell us what you do and how it is to work at one of the most hyped companies at the moment?
I work as a product manager on the growth team and we’re part of the Airbnb product team. Our team builds products and features that make more people use our site and apps and get more people to become Airbnb hosts. As a growth team we try to think about these problems at scale and we’re serious measuring our success.
Airbnb is the most interesting product I’ve ever worked on and the growth problems are complex but the kind of impact you can have working here will have a real dent in the universe. I had traveled on the site for several years before I joined and love the product and how it changes the way we travel and meet new people.
You have been to Silicon Valley for a couple of years. Has the startup scene changed during this period?
When I moved here the community in San Francisco was really small. Facebook would invite you over for wine and some celebration when they launched something new. Everything was really informal and great. I feel like a lot of that spirit might have disappeared – mostly what have changed since then is that money became really cheap and unreasonable amount of new companies got funded. This might not be bad since more people get to try more things but it attracted folks who weren’t as passionate as before.
I still try to act like the startup community hasn’t changed – if people ask me for help I try to help out. I have so much to thank for when I got started that giving back is the least I can do.
A lot of big startups have come from Sweden, how is our reputation over there?
Spotify is definitely the most high-profile Swedish startup out here but I’m not sure everyone knows its Swedish company though. A lot of companies these days do such a good job of localizing their products that’s it really hard to tell their origin.
I think Sweden would benefit hugely by sending great entrepreneurs over here on workshops, training or just meeting fellow people from the community.
If you ask someone in Silicon Valley which startups that is Swedish a lot of people probably wouldn’t be able to mention some. I think the Swedes that are out here generally have a great reputation – most foreigners have. I think Sweden would benefit hugely by sending great entrepreneurs over here on workshops, training or just meeting fellow people from the community.
Finally, what is best and worst regarding living and working in Silicon Valley?
Living in the bay area you realize that you’re only a short ride from amazing beaches, snow-covered mountains, red wood forests and warm desert-like places. If you don’t like being outdoors then isn’t the place for you. San Francisco still feels like a small city. The city itself is about the size of Stockholm so it’s easy to run in to people you known on the streets. It’s gotten pretty expensive though which is kind of annoying. Finding a decent place to live is becoming a big problem for a lot of people. Still it’s one of the best places on earth (of the places I’ve visited) and I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now!