Entrepreneurship: A Study in Contrasts
By Shira Kates and Estela Hartley
Photos by Muthamma Thimmaiah
First stop: 500 Startups
Led by our fearless instructor, Teddy Zmrhal, we set off on another action-packed day-in-the-life of Silicon Valley. At 500 Startups, we were immediately greeted by a spectacular 270-degree panoramic of Mountain View. Venture Advisor and Founding Member of the Design Fund, Enrique Allen was our host. There was no lack of natural lighting (three peripheral glass walls surround the entire working space), as Enrique openly shared about accelerator-specific interior design hurdles while we toured the facility. Designing to encourage community development while minimizing distractions is a priority and a tremendous challenge.
Enrique was generous with his time and knowledge, listening intently as we introduced ourselves and our venture projects. He provided immediate feedback along with book, product and other recommendations we might find useful. He emphasized the need for startups to have a distribution advantage and stressed that it’s extremely difficult to get a startup running without a market and cost-effective practices, despite having a great team or product.
On Enrique’s recommended reading list, were:
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein
Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon
500 Startups has three defining features that set it apart:
#1: Founding Partner, Dave McClure, takes a “moneyball” approach. Dave believes that 500 Startups can make more progress with a lot of smaller wins. He tries to identify winners among those startups that haven’t been deemed a good fit for other accelerators.
#2: A strong desire to create a community, helping founders succeed in fun and family. It’s easy to see that community development is at work here; they continue to look for ways to build a tribe between teams.
#3: Admission into 500 Startups is by referral only. They only look at those founding teams who have an internal connection to someone who will vouch for them, staking their own reputation on the investment.
Second Stop: Facebook
Pulling up to the new, massive Facebook campus in Menlo Park, the buildings were immediately reminiscent of a school. We never found out if this was intentional, given Facebook’s roots as a casual social experiment at Harvard University, but the buildings themselves are a legacy of previous occupants like Sun Microsystems, so it could be just a coincidence.
Just outside stood several public bikes, awaiting riders, a fun way to get from meeting to meeting in a jiffy. We assembled briefly, before setting off on our tour. We were instructed not to take photos beyond the foyer, which featured supremely weird mural work by artist Hans Haveron.
We signed NDA’s and our lovely university recruitment contact, Janae, has not shared the names or titles of the designers we met with during our Q&A, so we’re hesitant to share the intimate details of our visit, but we’ll say three things:
#1: Ensuring a super-fun, innovative culture seems to be a top priority and the physical space is a reflection of that.
#2: The people are mostly millennial, smart, motivated and high as a kite on life at Facebook.
#3: The food is dangerously good.
We’d like to say more but, seriously, we’re afraid of Facebook’s lawyers. Just kidding. Sort of.
Final Stop: Innovation Endeavors
Just a few miles away, at Innovation Endeavors, we met with some of the staff and founders that make up this early stage venture capital firm. Rather than describe themselves as an incubator or accelerator like many other similar groups, Innovation Endeavors self-identifies as a firm that invests in the team, as opposed to the idea.
And although we heard some impressive venture ideas while we passed the hour only a block or two from IDEO’s headquarters, their commitment to belief in team building stood out as a core value.
Two businesses were highlighted over the course of our visit; MotionThink and The Muse Factory. MotionThink is engaged in building innovative technology solutions for the freelance economy. Elijah Woolery, Co-founder of MotionThink, told us about one particular endeavor that uses photography to provide relief for the emotional and communication challenges of Alzheimer’s. Relief that comes in the form of a photo book is an easy win for families that want to prolong the quality time they have with their loved ones suffering from a degenerative disease that affects the memory and communication centers Triggering memories through pictures is a way to start the flow of storytelling. It is remarkably moving and effective to see this in action.
The Muse Factory was founded on a few emerging trends that are familiar for members of our class, who have explored similar or related offerings in our own MBA projects. Founders Tony Deifell and Dana Underwood are applying personalization and customized experiences to the act of gift giving. We were impressed by their team dynamics and their candor in expressing their successes and challenges.
And with that, we closed out a day of thought-provoking contrast. From sunshine to torrential downpour. From incubation to Facebook. Startup offices to mega-campus and back. Expand. Contract. Such is the life of the MBA student. Such is the life of the entrepreneur.