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Twitter and Tufano

17 Apr

I’m sitting in San Francisco airport awaiting my flight back to London so I’ve just got time to crank one last Silicon Valley trek blog post out.

Friday morning we visited Kiva. I had heard of them as we have a couple of classmates that have worked with them, but I didn’t really know what they had done there. I knew it had something to do with microloans, but not much more than that.

It turned out to be a really interesting meeting. It was a refreshingly honest meeting (no “PR friendly” soundbites etc.) discussing exactly how Kiva works and where it is going. The Kiva fellowship sounds really interesting, and after my brief stint in Ghana it sounds like that sort of thing I would quite like to do for a few months. However, the fellowship is unpaid and as I said to the guy presenting, my crippling MBA loan repayments make paying for myself to go to a far-flung country quite impossible. Besides, I have a start-up that needs to takeover the world!

I was going to have lunch with the legendary Jerry Sanders, who is currently working on a futuristic transport startup, but I realised it clashed with my last meeting so had to pull out. Shame!

Last visit of the trek was to Twitter, still based (thanks to some tax agreement with the city government) in downtown San Francisco. Twitter had been the subject of an interesting Fortune article the day before our visit, which highlighted some of the companies current issues. Needless to say, none of that was discussed in our meeting, but hey it was fun to visit Twitter HQ and tweet from there (I am that sad).

In the evening we met with incoming Said Business School Dean, Peter Tufano and had an open Q&A session about the future of the Business School. I think he’s going to be good for the school.

Friday night entertainment included Duran Duran, and last night’s entertainment included Trentemoller, but I’m all blogged out so excuse me if I don’t go in to detail.

Seeing as this is my last Silicon Valley trek post a few notes of thanks: firstly to Xavier for being “trek leader” and using his extensive network to set up loads of cool meetings. Next to Nick – without whose logistical skills the trip would have descended in to chaos (herding cats doesn’t come close!). Also Joe for also leveraging his extensive network to sort out some awesome meetings and sending us in the direction of some great SF music nights. Our drivers too – without whom we would have never got anywhere. Lastly all my classmates, for making this such an awesome week in Silicon Valley!

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Beers and Berkley

17 Apr

Thursday morning started off with a visit to media monitoring company Meltwater. This was a particulalrly interesting meeting for me as I’ve been working with the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and was in Ghana last week. This was actually one of the best meetings of the week. Fellow MEST MBA consultant, Louis, gave a good presentation about Meltwater and set us the challenge of suggesting some business areas Meltwater could move in to. Then a Meltwater sales director gave us an hour of B2B sales training, which was really good actually as, strangely, sales training doesn’t appear on any MBA curriculum for some reason. We then did some role-playing in pairs pretending we were selling Meltwater services to each other. At the end of the session I suggested about 6 companies that Meltwater could acquire. I’ll take the credit, and commission,  if they ever move in on these companies.

In the afternoon we had no company visits arranged so Xavier took the trek organisers, including myself, for a tour of the Anchor Steam brewery. At the end of the tour we tried six Anchor Steam beers. Each one was only about 1/3 of a pint, but by the end I felt like I’d drunk 6 full pints. 🙂

Looking at the trek matrix I just realised I was meant to be at the Salesforce meeting later in the afternoon, but I didn’t go. Oops! My bad!

In the evening we travelled over to Berkley for a mixer with the Haas Business School MBA students. I really liked the Berkley campus. Whereas the Stanford campus is all perfectly manicured, like a model village, the Berkley campus feels a lot more “real”. It still has beautiful buildings, but it has a lot more character than Stanford. The mixer with the Haas students was great. They were really out-going and paid for all the drinks and food! Apparently the school puts $400 per student in to a student association budget to spend on social events. Take – note SBS!

Wannabe VC meets actual VCs

15 Apr

Facebook wall

Wednesday morning we visited two of the top venture capital firms in the world – Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins. Between them they have invested in some of Silicon Valley’s, and the world’s, top companies including Apple, Google, Amazon, Sun, Genentech and many, many more.

At Kleiner Perkins we met Valley legend Randy Komisar. It was like having a meeting with Ed Harris – he looks and sounds like him. He also commands the room like I imagine Harris does. He gave us his opinion on a whole bunch of things entrepreneurial. At Sequoia we met Mark Dempster. One of the interesting things he said was that he would rather invest in a B team in an A market, which is the opposite of what most VCs (including Komisar) usually say.

Everyone at the Sequoia meeting was given the opportunity to pitch their start-up ideas to Dempster. He was positive to them all and gave us all some great feedback. He could see the need for my startup and could see how the solution could work and suggested that cost of customer acquisition could be an issue, which is indeed the case. It was damn cool to be able to pitch Sequoia – now I can drop that in to conversation any time I am talking to potential investors – “yeah, when I was pitching at Sequoia…”

Surprisingly neither Dempster nor Komisar mentioned that they read the WannabeVC blog. I presume that they do but didn’t want to bring it up in front of everyone else.

In the afternoon we had lunch with Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn. We spent an hour with him discussing various issues about LinkedIn and the Valley. Some question weren’t answered due to LinkedIn being in a “quiet period“, but I did get his opinion on the proliferation of second market trading (such as on SecondMarket where employee stock options are traded in companies like Facebook, even though they are not yet public): a “local aberration” – not allowed at LinkedIn.

Then we had one of the most eagerly awaited trips of the trek – Facebook. We had a Q&A session with COO Sheryl Sandberg and a bunch of product managers for various departments. We then got a tour of Facebook HQ, which looks like a pretty cool place to work – though they are actually due to move building again due to expansion. We did not meet Mark Zuckerberg but some of the students did see him in a meeting room as we were walking round. I wonder if when he sees us he might be thinking, “yeah, I just whupped your alumni predecessor’s identical asses (again)”. Probably not.

Finally in the evening we had an alumni mixer event (no Winklevii in attendance unfortunately. That would have been interesting) at Nickies bar in Lower Haight. Lots of alumni turned up – including a couple who flew up from San Diego – so it was a great night.

Overall – a great, packed, and very tiring day!

Partying with a Junior University

14 Apr

Stanford MBA band

We visited IDEO on Tuesday. If you haven’t heard of them you almost
certainly have used one of the products they’ve designed. These guys
are legends of the design world. Zylis kitchen products – that was
them. Palm V? Their’s. Apple mouse? Uh-huh! Opposable thumbs? Yup –
that was their idea.

Their place is super cool. You can feel the creativity as soon as you
walk in. We got a tour of several parts of the company including the
shop where try build prototypes. Also we saw the famous shopping
trolley.

In the afternoon we were meant to go to Steve Blank‘s ranch, but
unfortunately that got cancelled. Fortunately, Oxford friend Joe
DeNucci was able to help us out and arranged for us to go to the ranch
of Frost & Sullivan‘s Chairman David Frigstad. Wow – what a place! Amazing views over the mountains. We had some food there, admired the views, then spend a short while discussing some of the “mega-trends” that Frost & Sullivan is tracking for its customers.

In the evening we went for a tour of the Stanford University campus. It’s quite nice…well, as nice as a 130 year-old University can be. Come back to me when you’ve got 900 years of history Stanford.

That evening we went to the house of some Stanford MBA students for a house-party. Most of the things that I see in the movies about US parties did not happen (people flattening beer cans on their heads, girls spontaneously stripping, police turning up because of noise complaints), but they did have a live band in the basement which was rather cool. I also dressed as a tiger which was nice.

Giants and Startups

12 Apr

Our Giants view

Day 1 of our MBA trek to Silicon Valley:

Started the morning with a visit to Y Combinator, where we were meeting Partner and Oxford alum Harjeet Taggar. I knew Y Combinator pretty well already as I had made it to the final stage previously with Affect Labs, but never quite made the final selection. I found it pretty interesting to get to quiz Harj a bit more about the programme, and I was particularly interested to hear his answer when I asked him about the slight anti-MBA feeling from the Hacker News-type audience. I think we’ll have a few YC applications coming in from Said Business School next year!

Next on to Path in San Francisco, which we learnt was partially based on research by Robin Dunbar – an anthropologist at Oxford University who came up with “Dunbar’s number“, which suggests that we can maintain a maximum of 150 relationships at one time. It was a pretty interesting discussion, but unfortunately we had to cut the meeting early to head off to the next company.

Current TV has got some swanky offices down next to the Giants stadium. One of our current classmates previously worked there so it was interesting for him to see how much the place had changed. The Current team were keen to meet us and wanted to discuss how we could possibly work together on some key strategic issues they would like to address. Hopefully there’s a way we can work together soon.

Last for my group was biotech giant Genentech. Very impressive campus. You can tell they make money. Biotech is my home industry so it was pretty cool for me to see how it could be in the #1 biotech (even if it’s not independent any more). Definitely the sort of company I would like to work for if my startup didn’t go anywhere.

Other students on the trek visited other companies today including Google, Paypal, Marvell and Coulomb.

Tonight we went to watch a San Francisco Giants game at the AT&T Stadium. We had pretty awesome seats with a great view. For a lot of us, myself included, it was the first ever baseball game. Unfortunately the Giants lost. In fact when I left with 1 inning left they hadn’t scored any runs, but they managed a homerun in the last inning so at least it wasn’t a whitewash. Still, it was a great experience to be part of that great all-American game! We did have a message up on the board, but most of us missed it!