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Laine Bruzek says:
1. The one paragraph from my MFP application essay that I am willing to share with the group responds to "Share something about which you are passionate":

The subtle differences between “mutter”, “mumble”, and “murmur” make my heart flutter. Whole stories can read differently depending on which one is used, and that is enough to make me fall irrevocably  in love with the nuance of language. Great power exists in the smallest of distinctions between words, because choosing connotations is how we nudge stories closer to the truth, how we approach describing the indescribable. Words are sacred to me, and it is their delicious distinctions that make them so.

2. My biggest concern is not having any accounting experience going into the program--I'm hoping I'll be able to do outside work to catch up/stay on top of the more technical aspects of the class.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
1. This paragraph responds to "Share something that you're passionate about":
I am passionate about the future of life science research technology. My dream is to have a platform available in the next 20 years that allows non-experts to conduct chemical and biological experiments as quickly and seamlessly as they’d write and test a new C++ algorithm. Once this technology exists, I see the rate of research accelerating by orders of magnitude, leading to incredible advances in science and medicine. I am starting my work towards this goal at Emerald Therapeutics this summer, where I will be automating existing scientific experiments.
2. My biggest concern is that I won't keep up with the reading... Because I'm bad at that. I'm also concerned that I'll get bogged down in work and will brush off hanging out with the other Fellows. Would love to schedule some weekly group reading and hangout sessions!

Revanth Kosaraju says:
1) In response to "What does entrepreneurship mean to you?"

Entrepreneurship is what transforms a promising idea into a sustainable and scalable form. I see entrepreneurship as a way to translate these nascent ideas, such as basic biomedical research or a public service inspiration, into a bench-to-bedside healthcare technology company that can improve people's lives on a large scale. More generally, I see entrepreneurship as identifying a need and implementing a solution, a principle that has continually inspired me. Finally, I want to be a leader in entrepreneurship to apply this principle to make a tangible, lasting positive difference.

2) My biggest concern is definitely the finance aspect of the program...I pretty much forgot all of high school econ (which was my last experience with econ or finance) so I would appreciate any extra resources to get up to speed here.

Tom Byers says:
This will prove to be a very useful thread. Hopefully, Austin Ray can start us off by further sharing info about his summer gig.

See you all on Tuesday in our first official class. Spring has sprung!


Daniel Graifman says:
1) In response to: What are you passionate about:
I am energized by unconventional methods to solve complex problems. My early involvement as ambassador and translator for Heifer International first informed my belief in the value of creativity in combatting global issues like hunger. At Stanford, I learned that innovative technology can have unrivaled and sometimes unintended positive impacts. As team leader for the OTL’s IFARM program, I worked on a commercialization strategy for a med-school athletic motion analysis device originally developed for patients with cerebral palsy. Start-Up Chile’s approach to transforming the Chilean economy has influenced entrenched behavior. These novel initiatives inspire me.

2) My primary concern for the next nine months is making a good choice about the start-up I work for this summer. Although I have been closely involved with several start-ups since my time at Stanford, I have never actually been part of an early stage company. I am hoping to leverage the Mayfield's network and the knowledge of my peers to find a position in which I can both add value and learn.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
1) In response to "Tell us about something about which you are passionate": 

While I get starry-eyed about suspension bridges, evolution, and global health technologies, I find myself just as easily ensorcelled by the release of dance. I was a student of Indian classical dance for eleven years before coming to Stanford, and have been on a dance team at Stanford since my sophomore year. Dance provides me a cathartic explosion of physical energy that allows me to let go of everything in the world but the feeling of movement. Much like engineering and entrepreneurship, dance lets me create and enjoy in unison.

2) My primary concern going in to the next nine months is my complete lack of exposure to entrepreneurship spaces prior to Mayfield.  I have a lot to learn in terms of business models, accounting, and what it takes to found and run a company. Any help in any of these areas would be enormously appreciated!

Nick Ning Xu says:
1 | “Tell us about something about which you are passionate”

My solo photography exhibition, “Study Models: an exploration of the sublime” synthesizes architecture and photography. I have documented my enquiry into the sublime, particularly the materialization of light, air, and atmosphere, through the humble study model. I thrive at the intersection of architecture and photography, where few have ventured, and I am dedicated to inspiring through art.

2 | I am concerned with what happens after the Mayfield Program is over. I am not in a co-term program, and thus will have to face the big, bad world after Fall. I am excited with how my thought-process will develop, however, the future makes me restless.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
1) In response to: “Tell us about something about which you are passionate.”
I am passionate about harnessing the power of biology, coupling it with engineering and technology, to improve human health.  I continue to be fascinated by biology: how a kidney works, how a substrate binds to a protein, or the very existence of DNA.  My four years at Stanford and chemical engineering classes have refined my passion.  I have worked on anti-cancer drugs, researched a novel antibiotic, and developed a business plan for a more efficacious, less toxic MRI contrast agent technology.  My dream is to develop a new device, diagnostic, drug, or product including all three, that can save lives.

2) My primary concern going into this program is finding the “perfect” startup for this summer.  There are three main aspects that are important to me: my own excitement for the technology, exposure to an entrepreneurship culture that people thrive in, and an experience/position that allows for high personal growth.  I am not sure if it possible to find all three of these in one start-up.  But even if I can, how do I assess a start-up before actually working there so I can have an awesome experience?  Hearing insight on how to make good evaluations of startups to work would be very helpful.

Jenna Michelle Berkenkamp says:
1. In response to, "Tell us something about which you are passionate"
I’ve been a certified scuba diver since I was 10 years old. The otherworldliness of ocean life never ceases to amaze me, but the reason scuba diving is my passion is the endless stream of challenges and opportunities for improvement inherent in the sport. I have earned certifications as a Rescue Diver, Lion Fish Tracker, Shipwreck Diver and want to someday be a Dive Master. Diving truly tests my decision-making under pressure and I have to rely on my skills to succeed. For example, once when my dive buddy was stung by a Lion Fish and panicked I had to guide him safely to the surface.
2. My primary concern about the program is finding the right role at a startup this summer. It seems that many employers in the directory are looking for engineers (which I'm not) so I'm hoping I will be able to find a non-engineering role that suits me.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
1) In response to "Share a situation where you were in a leadership position and had to make a difficult decision." :
During high school, summer days smelled like fresh Elmer’s glue and face paint. My sister, friend, and I decided to expand our babysitting business into a summer camp fondly known as “Backyard Fun Camp.” However, as summers passed, my friend became more concerned about profits than the camp experience itself. I didn’t like the idea of skimping on graham crackers during snack time to earn a few extra dollars, so I decided to create our own branch of the camp at our home. It was a difficult decision but necessary in upholding the values and spirit of our camp.
2) My primary concern regarding the upcoming nine months of MFP is figuring out what type of role I'd like to take on at my job this summer. I'm interested in a variety of positions related to design and product, ranging from UX designer to product manager. However, I could also see myself enjoying a role completely unrelated to my major. Ideally, I'm hoping to find a startup that will give me the flexibility to explore many areas of the business so I can figure out what interests me most.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
1. In response to, "Tell us something about which you are passionate" 
Playing basketball throughout my life has helped me build character and teach me the meaning of true determination, hard work, and camaraderie. Now that I coach basketball in East Palo Alto, I’m driven by the statistics and numbers of the game. Similar to Muthu Alagappan and his theory about the expansion of the five traditional positions in basketball, I’m very passionate about the intersection of sports and technology – more specifically, focusing on how big data and wearable equipment has changed the mentality and strategies of athletes, coaches, and management in an industry continuing to expand. 
2. My primary concern for the program is knowing how to pick the right startup to work at. What are the most important factors to look for when looking at a company we might want to work for? What kind of position should we be looking to take? That being said, I'm extremely excited for the nine months ahead.

Priyanka Jain says:
1. In response to: "Tell us something about which you are passionate:"There are 70 million brilliant, passionate girls deprived of an education. While this infuriates me, it also presents a huge opportunity: imagine the problems we could solve if girls worldwide were empowered to reach their full potential. I am confident that educating girls is one of the most powerful opportunities to make an exponential impact. From family health to community literacy to economic growth, the positive ripple effect of educating a girl reaches far beyond just her future. Educating a girl will immediately improve her life, soon her community, and eventually our world.


2. My primary concern: I'm nervous about my lack of experience in the technical and financial aspects of founding and growing a company. I'm hoping to do some extra reading/practice to prepare for the internship and to "learn by doing" throughout the summer!

Jason Risch says:
1. In response to “Tell us something about which you are passionate,” I was apparently the only person who cheated and split my answer into two boxes:

I love baseball. While loving sports sounds clichéd, there’s just something about stepping out onto the field (even for Club Baseball) or sitting in the stands among the energy of a sold-out Giants game. Beyond that, baseball blends qualitative and quantitative analysis together in a way that I hope to emulate in my own work. The sabermetrics movement revolutionized the way baseball front offices evaluate players; it was also my original inspiration to study math and statistics. Even now, I will present at an analytics competition in Arizona at the Society for American Baseball Research conference with other Stanford (continued)
(continued) in March. Still, analyzing baseball on a purely statistical basis is unsatisfying on an emotional enjoyment level and leads to poorer overall performance. Although I believe statistics informs good decision-making, decisions should always be made with the abstract, conceptual thinking necessitated by qualitative analysis. I study classics and philosophy to sharpen these skills (my Boothe Prize was in philosophy) and interject them into my statistical analyses. My boss complimented me last summer, saying my analytical work “read like a good novel,” meaning I incorporated the human side of things, examined several different viewpoints, and made it readily cogent and actionable. 

2. By far my biggest concern is the process of weighing and evaluating different internship options. Almost all of the companies that have posted positions sound like they are doing fascinating work, and we haven't even gone to the VC firms yet. Although I'd like to work in something involving statistics and data, these tools are being used in so many fields right now that I'm not sure how to narrow it down. Beyond the broader subject matter, I don't know how to begin evaluating which startup ideas are feasible and which are not; on the other hand, I suppose if I knew that already then I'd have my own venture fund or something.


Laine Bruzek says:
1. The industry or industries that interest you.

EdTech, wearables, media-related (especially film, creative writing, television),

I would consider industry secondary to how complex the design challenges that I would be tackling are!

2. Job positions you would like to consider.

Anything in product design, UX/UI, marketing, or communications

3. Any companies that you have already identified as potential mentor companies.

Not sure yet. I'd love to find a female exec as a mentor though!

4. On the following scale, how far along are you in the job search?
I'd say I'm 4. Have had a few interviews

Daniel Graifman says:
1. Industries that interest me: life sciences, medical devices, healthcare

2. Roles that I would consider: business development or project management roles

3. Have not yet thought that deeply about potential mentorship companies, but have a few ideas

4. 2-I have started identifying a few potential companies of interest but have not reached out to any so far

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
1. The industry or industries that interest you.

I am really open to any industry but I'm particularly interested in data analytics, edtech and music.

2. Job positions you would like to consider.

Product management, operations or business roles.

3. Any companies that you have already identified as potential mentor companies.

Not sure yet!

4. On the following scale, how far along are you in the job search?

I would say I'm about a 2. I haven't put too much thought into the process yet but I've started thinking about which companies interest me and have spoken to one company of interest.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
1.  I am very interested in industries that better human health through innovative technology.  I am fascinated by both companies that create tangible products (devices, diagnostics, and wearables) and companies that use big data/informatics to make an impact on health.

2. I am definitely more interested in business function roles vs. technical positions (i.e. working in the lab).  Whether that is product management, marketing, or business development I am not sure yet!

3. Not really.  I looked at a couple startups before being accepted into this program, but I am not sure if those companies would still be a good fit.

4. I would say I am a three, but I definitely need and want to contact more companies that I am interested in.

Jason Craig Risch says:
1. Anything involving data mining, machine learning, AI, or data science appeals to me; a place similar to Ayasdi (I believe a Mayfield Fellow worked there a few years ago when it was starting out) that applies advanced data techniques to a number of fields would be awesome. In terms of more narrow fields, I think bioinformatics would be pretty interesting and meaningful, but I'm fairly open to any field. Honestly, the fit of the company is more important to me.

2. Product manager, business development, sales, maybe product design depending on the industry. I'd be open to a data scientist sort of role, but I'm not sure if I quite yet have the programming skills required to work in that capacity for some companies that really stress the CS side of it.

3. Not really. Several companies stick out to me on the employer database already, but I'm excited to discover more at the VC open houses.

4. 1-2. A couple startups have contacted me already, but I don't think they went through Mayfield, so I would need to have them sign up on the site.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
1. The industry or industries that interest you.

I'm interested in a variety of industries, including fashion, food tech, social media, wearables, transportation, health -- any company that has an inspiring product!

2. Job positions you would like to consider.

Product management, product design, UX/UI, or a business role.

3. Any companies that you have already identified as potential mentor companies.

Not sure yet, but I would love to find a company with strong design principles and/or a designer as the CEO.

4. On the following scale, how far along are you in the job search?

I would probably say I'm a 2. I've been researching and have found a few companies of interest, but I haven't reached out to any companies yet.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:

The industry or industries that interest you.

Scientific Research
Artificial Intelligence
Information Technology
Health/Med Tech
The crossroads between the above 4 areas

Job positions you would like to consider.


Any companies that you have already identified as potential mentor companies.

Emerald Therapeutics

On the following scale, how far along are you in the job search?

Have accepted a job!

Priyanka Jain says:
1. Industries that interest me: I'm interested in a wide variety of spaces! I would be excited about tech products focused on education, fashion, health, food, wearables, or enterprise. I think I'm more interested in finding a team with similar values and passion than finding a company in a specific industry or with a specific type of product.

2. Job positions I'd like to consider: I'd love something in product management or business development.

3. Potential mentor companies: I haven't found a specific company yet, but I'd love to work for a young, passionate team (that ideally has a female founder/executive!).

4. Stage of job search: About a 2. I have started to identify potential companies but haven't reached out to any of them yet.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Industries that interest me: biomedical research, health technology, education/personal coaching, data-driven decision making

Job positions I'd consider: product management, business development, data scientist, operations, any of these can have some technical/programming work mixed in

Potential companies: Most of the companies listed on the employer database look pretty interesting to me. Also doing my own research into health-tech startups

Job search: I'm at 2 right now, and considering starting to contact companies this weekend.


Nick Ning Xu says:
1. Industries of interest (I thrive at intersections though):

Physical Infrastructure
Anything related to design/art
Assorted mix
I prioritize mentorship > industry (I seek an industry where I would best engage with entrepreneurship as a learned skill)

2. Positions of interest:

I prioritize mentorship > industry (did I already mention that? :p )
Miscellaneous Positions e.g. "Mayfield Ninja"
Product Manager

3. Companies of interest (strictly from the database):

Khan Academy
Tribe Dynamics
Untrodden Inc.

4. Scale:


Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
1. The industry or industries that interest you: EdTech, Data-Driven Decision Making, Sports, and Wearables. Pretty open though - I think the people you are working for is much more important than the industry.

2. Job positions you would like to consider: Product Management, Business Development, Marketing, Operations.

3. Any companies that you have already identified as potential mentor companies: Not yet - there are a lot of companies that look interesting on the database, but I really want to speak to representatives from these companies at the open houses to discover more. 

4. On the following scale, how far along are you in the job search: Probably a 2 - There are several companies that look really interesting so I will be reaching out to them soon. 






Jotthe Kannappan says:

The industry or industries that interest you. I am primarily interested in healthcare spaces, though I also would really love to work on a physical, rather than software project.
Job positions you would like to consider. I would love to work as an engineer this summer, but I also think I want to try some project managing or business development.
Any companies that you have already identified as potential mentor companies. Haven't delved too deep, but here are some names:

Guardant Health
Emerald Therapeutics
Chrono Therapeutics
Propeller Health

On the following scale, how far along are you in the job search? Have identified (some) companies of interest

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:

Brief description of the product/service, with a link to the website

Emerald was founded in 2010 by two scientists and life-long friends from Philadelphia. Frustrated by the continual deceleration of innovation and the exponentially increasing R&D costs in the pharmaceutical sector, Emerald models itself after start-up companies of the mid-20th century that built the core technologies underlying the rise of the semiconductor industry. The team places as much focus on building tools around how scientific research is conducted as they do on their proprietary anti-viral therapies. In this way, Emerald is striving to bring a Moore’s law-like acceleration to life sciences innovation.

Your summer role at the company (product manager, engineer, etc.)

Engineer (Biomolecular Technician)

Funding (investors and funding rounds)

Series A: $7,500,000
Series B: $6,000,000
Investors: Schooner Capital, Founders Fund, Max Lech

Team Size

2 co-founders
22 employees

Office Location

South San Francisco

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
It really depends what Harvey and Ries's values and goals are.

Do they really believe in their product? Do they believe that they need autonomy to be able to do it right? Is money not as important as making this company a success? If Harvey/Ries answer yes to these, they should take the ROC deal. They're not at the stage where they can afford to go into stealth mode and aim for a public lunch. They need to further refine their product and see continuous growth to ensure they're going in the right direction, at which point partnering with someone like PC would be okay.

Do they think their product is cool and cutting edge, but realize that avatar-based IM isn't that important in the grand scheme of things? Does Janga seem like a competent company that wouldn't kill IMVU even with corporate oversight? If yes, then they should take the Janga acquisition. In my opinion, this is the best deal. It's a lot of cash, so they're pretty much set money-wise after this. If they don't really care about the company's mission that much (which, come on, it's an avatar IM service with a horny, primarily teen-based population talking about dating and hooking up - they're probably just doing it for the cool tech and $$$) then it doesn't really matter if Janga's corporate oversight tanks the company or Janga desides to kick them out. It's a win-win. They can go keep being serial entrepreneurs and work on other projects. They obviously like building new companies with new technology, and haven't had a great track-record of keeping companies afloat once they ship product, so I do think the best choice here is to keep starting startups and giving them to companies/VCs in exchange for cash.

Then again, I also don't understand how much power they'd retain in a buyout vs. VC investment, so I might be a little off here.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
In answering the question of what IMVU should do, I proceeded by process of elimination. First, I think IMVU should not work with Pacific Capital. Pacific Capital wants IMVU to abandon its IMO philosophy, ramp up sales faster, install “professional management” and aggressively target adults as opposed to teens. This partnership would require IMVU to give up a lot of its autonomy and completely change its product to target adults. Additionally, Pacific Capital made it clear that if the current management team made any mistakes, they would be quickly replaced. This constrained approach would stifle creativity and hurt company morale.
Next, I think the Janga acquisition is not the right course of action. While this option would generate the most profit at the moment, it would mean accepting a high degree of corporate oversight and would invariably change the product and company greatly.
The best of the three options appears to be Red Oak Capital. This firm proposed investing even more than Pacific Capital ($5.5 compared to $5.25 million) for a smaller stake in the company. Red Oak also supports the IOM approach that IMVU has used and would also give IMVU more autonomy. Although Red Oak has a less distinguished track record of investments, the large amount of proposed funding combined with IMVU's retained autonomy and the freedom to continue working under the IMO framework seems to be a pretty good deal.
While Red Oak seems to be the best of the three options, I think there is also the possibility that IMVU should reject all three options and proceed on their own. Harvey and Ries say they want to limit external financing to retain as much ownership as possible, and with revenue just beginning to grow and with the large amount of helpful feedback gleaned from customers, it appears that IMVU could be on the brink of huge success without external funding for now. Maybe they should wait twelve months for the potentially higher valuation.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
By process of elimination, I think IMVU should work with ROC. First, addressing Janga, an acquisition isn’t the right approach because the company is still so young and has shown several signs of promise, including a “hockey stick growth pattern” and a significant increase in revenue after making the product easier for teenagers to purchase. I also don’t think that IMVU should work with PC because Stewart’s aggressive vision for the company is just too far from the original. Two of the core values center around the customer: “Test critical assumptions early” and “Take a high touch approach”. With an influx of staff, as well as a drive to get the product finished, customers could likely take a backseat. Stewart has also spoken out against catering teenagers, but I think that’s a very large market to start ignoring, considering the histogram is so heavily skewed left and the founders have received such enthusiastic feedback and adoption by that age group (like the handwritten letters).
Additionally, it’s essential to keep the product in mind when determining strategy. This product and its revenue stream centers around customization. The choices about the avatar and her world are what drive sales. It’s entirely about what the user wants! While I support on-boarding more engineers to make the product iteration cycle shorter, hiring them with the plan to “complete the application” (Stewart’s plan) is counterintuitive—the customizable product has growth capabilities as extensive as the human imagination. It is, after all, a virtual reality platform. Hiring lots of professionals to build a world they think their target market will want is not the right approach when dealing with a customizable product—the innovations that can come from probing the imagination of users (especially teenagers!) is an invaluable resource. Therefore, I think IMVU should partner with ROC because they will let Harvey & Ries continue keeping users at the center of the product as well as provide them with the capital to hire the necessary team to shorten the product iteration cycle.

Priyanka, Kaitlyn, & Revanth says:
IMVU should work with ROC. Working with ROC would best allow Harvey and Reis to continue to adhere to IMVU's vision, values, and strategy.

Vision: The founders’ vision of creating innovative products for entertainment is best served by working with ROC. From their past experience with, bringing in investors that did not align with their vision of “creating entertaining experiences” caused the company to pivot to military applications when the initial launch was unsuccessful. This ultimately led Harvey and Reis to leave If they took the PC investment, they would have to focus on immediate marketing and sales growth instead of building on their vision. Being acquired by Janga requires them to re-orient to Janga's corporate vision. Working with ROC would most likely allow Harvey and Reis to prioritize their own long-term vision.

Values + Strategy: By partnering with ROC, Harvey and Reis would have the latitude to stick to their values (prioritizing the customer and being agile) and their strategy (the IOM). Working with PC or Janga would likely entail corporate oversight, and even the implied message from PC that the management would be replaced if they made a mistake (which would limit risk taking and autonomy). Janga's oversight or PC’s desire to change the IOM strategy to a massive public launch would limit the agile, iterative approach that Harvey and Reis founded IMVU with while preventing them from best serving their customer’s needs.

Jason Craig Risch says:
First, I don't think the IMVU should work with Pacific Capital. Pacific Capital would implement essentially the same strategy that caused to fail. PC would shift the target market to a group that Harvey and Reis, armed with years of experience, already rejected. They would also move the company away from the lean start-up structure. IMVU finally showed some sign of progress by allowing participants to pay through their phone bill, providing hope for squeezing profitability out of the existing customer histogram, but they still have a lot of work to do in terms of understanding their market. Pulling the product back would lose this progress and put a damper on attempts to further understand the market.

The elimination of PC from contention leaves Janga and ROC as viable options. I would take the Janga deal, as it offers a fair amount of money for a company with no revenue and whose idea I don't like that much. However, I have the perspective of an outsider (though Reis would also seem to agree), while Harvey has the perspective of a founder. Harvey likely has a different set of values and priorities than I do, as he has a personal stake in the company. He may care less about money and more about the process of running and growing his company. In that case, he should take the ROC deal in order to retain control. On the other hand, he could fulfill his entrepreneurial side by taking the Janga deal and working on another new startup or other entrepreneurial endeavor; this solution gives him the best of both worlds. For that reason, I would ultimately recommend the Janga deal unless Harvey cares profoundly about the future of his company (as he seems to), in which case I would recommend the ROC deal.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
IMVU should work with ROC.

IMVU was founded on the principle of crowdsourcing, high customer involvement, and a paradigm of product development fundamentally different from most Silicon Valley product developers. If anything, these are their core principles, and their vision is a digital world in which customers can interact and be entertained. So, a huge principle of this particular product is customer satisfaction. The founders' previous work with 3D avatars in There proves that the industry is not yet well developed enough for product development without customer input. There isn't really a framework in which to work if they can't ask their customers what they think. This automatically rules out PC. While they have a reputation for success, this is not a similar industry and they specifically have no concern for what happens to the founders if they wanted to act differently than PC. Thus, PC is not invested in the core values of the company, and is not a viable option.

By process of elimination, we are left with ROC and Janga. Janga offers security, but realistically only in the short term. The shares acquired in the first two years with Janga will likely make the founders a decent sum of money, but it seems clear that Janga would provide the same framework shift that working with PC would. For this product, it is obvious that a lack of consumer input will lead to failure, which will mean no reaped rewards from the performance-based $15 million fund. Both of the founders were passionate about making this product, and the product is already becoming more profitable. Thus, the vision that the founders had for the company precludes a deal with Janga.

So the option left is to work with ROC, which is open to IMVU's strategy of consumer testing. It is critical that IMVU get additional funding (rather than working alone) because they need to address the problem of the lack of adults on the website. Doing so will require a lot of design, engineering,and marketing work. All of these things are only possible with more money. The difference between this money and PC or Janga money, though, is that IMVU will maintain discretion about product development, which is a cornerstone of their business plan.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Let me add one more thing on mine: If the point here is to maximize the company's value and to maximize return to investors, then the ROC deal is the best for the reasons I stated before. If the point is to maximize future happiness for the founders (which could be the case, since they're making the decision), then the Janga deal is the best for the reasons I stated above: good $$$ exit that would set them up well for future serial entrepreneurship.

Nick Ning Xu says:
People matter most.

Judging from Will Harvey's entrepreneurial track-record he's not in the money-making business. Harvey is committed to creating products that sell experience/entertainment (e.g. history of obsessive gaming + coding + entrepreneurship). He's also assessing these various deals while cycling, revealing innate competitiveness, work ethic, and mental-state through "Type-A Relaxation". The ROC offer or twelve-month waiting period, align best with Harvey's personality.

On the other hand, fellow co-founder, Eric Ries, is allured by security and money, which is perfectly fair after his stint ended. He says, "They (Janga) essentially plunked a few million dollars... after watching the value of my equity evaporate, I was pretty excited about and offer". Reis approaches the offers pragmatically, making the Janga acquisition and the Pacific Capital deals most exciting for him.

There is divergent mindsets of both founders, and the real question remains: what is best for IMVU?
Assessing the three deals: Janga - although an amazing offer, will likely leave Harvey and Reis little control over the future of the company, "being acquired by Janga would mean accepting a substantial degree of corporate oversight". Pacific Capital - High likelihood of commercial success, but required aggressive changes, "wanted the company to execute a massive, near-term public launch." ROC - IMVU would remain autonomous, although ROC's track record wasn't as impressive as Pacific Capital's.

From lessons learned at (e.g. hiring Jamie Bell), coupled with Harvey's passion, Ardell's offer makes most sense. It provides sufficient equity and corporate freedom, "why fix something that isn't broken?" (Peter Blank's friendship adds credibility to this promise). Although Reis will not agree with this position, he is noted at saying, "my personal interest was in creating entertaining experiences". Fundamentally, Harvey and Reis are on the same page of pursuing entrepreneurship for entrepreneurship's sake, and for creating experience/entertainment.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Will Harvey should work with Red Oak Capital. In substantiating this claim, I will first examine IMVU’s three alternatives (PC, Janga, and waiting 12 months for a higher valuation) before concluding that both hard and soft facts suggest accepting a term sheet from Jack Ardell’s firm is the optimal move.

Although Pacific Capital boasts a strong track record, its incentives and approach drastically depart from those of IMVU’s core team. First, Harvey’s perception is that PC views this investment as a “binary;” it will either explode into a billion dollar company or implode into a worthless venture. Although the incentives of founders and venture capitalist rarely align perfectly, a sign that an entrepreneur should not take an investor’s money is if they have completely different ideas of what an acceptable exit should look like. Based on Reis’s satisfaction with the $20 million offer from Janga, the gap between IMVU’s team and PC partners is large. IMVU would be happy with a far smaller exit, one that might enable them to continue their serial entrepreneur lifestyle comfortably, compared to PC that likely requires between 5-10x. Moreover, PC’s willingness to replace management if they make any mistakes would engender a negative cultural shift in the company. Existing managers may be afraid of taking risks even if it’s in the best interest of the company. This threat would be even more damaging than in a conventional company because IMVU’s entire approach has been predicated on making mistakes. The iterative lean-start up strategy depends on testing hypotheses, failing, and then reworking them. Not only would accepting this offer lead to hesitant managers, but also straying from what enabled IMVU’s team to find an interesting niche, teenagers. Consequently, a working relationship between Harvey, Reis and the PC partners would likely be untenable. Additionally, it is worth noting, that even venture capital firms with many past successful exits still see portfolio companies fail the majority of the time. A name brand VC firm does not guarantee success.

An offer from Janga may appear more palatable at first glance, however, I also argue that it is the incorrect choice. One of Harvey’s major issues with the culture at during later stages of its development was the introduction of professional managers (also suggested by PC for IMVU) and his inability to influence the direction of the product. Harvey and Reis appeared to disagree with the pivot to a military simulation service when they left to start IMVU. By accepting an offer at Janga, the founders would similarly be ceding high levels of influence. The avatar messaging system may be completely repurposed at Janga in a way that is out of their control. Although each man will be an order of magnitude wealthier after the deal, it is hard to place a price on autonomy. Harvey would essentially become another employee at Janga, a position to which he has clearly demonstrated an aversion based on his professional track record. In short, I believe he will be sacrificing his personal happiness and the chance to grow a much bigger company if he accepts the deal.

Waiting 12 months for a higher valuation may seem to be an appealing move, but I contend that it is too risky and may damage Harvey’s relationship with his cofounder. First, IMVU may be a hot start-up now, but a climate can change drastically within a year. A competitor may introduce a strong product, venture capitalists may be interested in different industries, or IMVU may fail to continue its “hockey stick” growth month-to-month that it is currently experiencing. In short, too many things can go wrong. Moreover, Harvey must consider Reis’s position. He is young and 10 million dollars in guaranteed money from Janga would significantly change his life. It would be hard to justify passing on both the acquisition money and venture capital money to wait another year, particularly if IMVU does fail to gain the traction Harvey predicts. He is not the sole founder, and thus must consider others interests.

Harvey can justify passing on Janga, however, if he chooses Red Oak Capital. Although they are not the most established venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, there are several positives associated with Ardell’s firm. First, and most obvious, they will end up owning a smaller percentage of the company at a higher valuation. This deal would mean Harvey and Reis keep more of the start-up that they are trying to build and have more cash to do it. Additionally, unlike PC, Ardells understands Harvey’s vision. He sees potential (correctly) in a teen demographic that Harvey has started to tap into for profit, but also will inevitably get older and continue to message friends. When venture capitalists respect the culture of a start-up and agree about the path toward profitability, the relationship begins in a healthier place. Accepting venture money also allows IMVU to capitalize on its momentum, hire more engineers to build an even stronger product, and potentially introduce a sales team for the first time. These options would not be available if the founders waited twelve months. No option is perfect, but I believe Red Oak makes the most sense.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
I believe that IMVU should work with ROC.

Business is often framed in terms of risk, where risk is defined as the measure of the potential variability of outcomes that will be experienced in the future. An interesting idea examined in “Technology Ventures” is that all of life is the management of risk, not its elimination. In other words, there is no foolproof method of assessing risk – it is a process of trial and error. It seems that Harvey and Ries’s current strategy (the IOM) advocates the minimization of risk by favoring experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over instinct, and iterative design over extensive development.

In this situation, it seems that the riskiest decision Harvey and Reis could make would be to sacrifice their vision. In the case of, Bell steered the company in a drastically different direction from Harvey’s original vision, focusing on military applications rather than its initial entertainment purposes. This ultimately resulted in the departure of Harvey and Ries. Thus, from prior experience, it seems that vision is an aspect that Harvey and Ries are not willing to compromise on.

Both PC and Janga propose offers that represent the conventional way of building a technology company. However, this type of approach does not align with the values and vision formed by Harvey and Ries. In the case of PC, IMVU would have to change its target audience, a very risky endeavor, which would result in either a massive success or a massive failure. In addition, working with PC would reduce Harvey and Ries’s autonomy and could potentially result in the replacement of the current management team. As for Janga’s acquisition offer, a similar issue exists, wherein a large degree of corporate oversight could threaten Harvey and Ries’s original vision. Based off of Harvey and Ries’ previous experience with, these offers simply do not align with Harvey and Ries’ core values and vision and thus do not seem to be the best option.

Despite ROC’s somewhat less distinguished track record, ROC seems to be the least risky option, and thus the best choice, for IMVU. Choosing ROC will preserve Harvey and Ries’s long-term vision and autonomy and will allow IMVU to continue using the IOM strategy, which is at the core of the company’s values.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Entrepreneurs are often able to succeed because they have a clear vision of where they want to go and a sufficient mission to get there. After evaluating all three options, ROC best aligns with both the vision and the mission of Harvey and Ries.

After months of data collection and interviews, Harvey and Ries have started to prove that their IOM management mentality is beginning to pay off. Some of the biggest components to this strategy are maintaining cash and receiving constant feedback. This kind of approach has helped define the culture of the company. After examining the three offers, it is clear that PC is ready to change the culture Harvey and Ries have built by saying that it is ready to "move on" from the IOM strategy by "ramping up sales" as quickly as possible. This partnership also leaves Harvey and Ries in very vulnerable positions within their own company - PC bluntly stated that if they current management team made an significant mistakes, "they would be quickly replaced." PC provides a prestigious name with an "unmatched track record," but Harvey and Ries should look beyond the titles in order to adhere to their original vision and values.

Although the Janga offer is enticing, IMVU's sales are continuing to rise and show much promise in the near future. Thus, if Harvey and Ries are even considering to be acquired, they should wait for a better offer to be put on the table. Most importantly though, a company acquisition would inevitably change the culture of the entire company. The vision and mission that Harvey and Ries have worked so hard to build would subsequently change towards having more "corporate oversight."

Even though ROC may be the best option of the three, I think Harvey and Ries should carefully think if they want to introduce external partners into the company. Company culture is one of the most defining characteristics of start-ups, and bringing in outside people would inevitably change that.

Daniel Graifman says:
4- (took MS&E 240 accounting course last quarter)

I think the three most important concepts are:
1. burn rate
2. revenue recognition

Kaitlyn Baab says:
1. I would rate my accounting knowledge at a 2.
2. Cash management is the most important metric of a startup because cash is the lifeblood of any organization. It is very important to keep a close eye on “the runway” which is the amount of months of cash a startup has left. This is calculated from the cash balance divided by the burn rate per month. It can take 6-8 months to close a funding round. Knowing when a startup will run out of cash and making sure to raise funding with enough time in advance is essential. Asking for money when the company is desperate can lead to a lower evaluation and more dilution for the current shareholders.

Jason Risch says:
1. 2 - We covered some basic accounting in my Econ 140: Introduction to Financial Economics, but I don't really remember it that well.
2. I think cash flow is the most important. Startups often begin by losing money as they develop both a product and an understanding of their customer and market. If they do not start bringing in cash on their own, they may have to sell off more of the company in future funding rounds. As such, managing the cash flow is important for a startup to retain control and to remain solvent.
Also, while intangibles may be hard to value, they can be an important metric, as patents and intellectual property can be a critical component of a startup's competitive advantage.
As a broader concept, it is important to remember that the traditional financial metrics for evaluating a company must be viewed differently for a startup than for a established company.

Laine Bruzek says:
1. 1--and my mom's an accountant!
2. I think gross margin and accounts receivable. Gross margin indicates how sustainable your product is and how much outside financing will have to go into scaling it. This is a crucial thing to consider at a start-up. Accounts receivable is really important because it often largely impacts your cash flow, and cash is obviously the most important resource for a startup. I think it can also give insights your relationship with your clients, because if they're hesitating or lagging in payments they could be dissatisfied, etc, and it might be useful to hire someone to directly manage collections or customer relations.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
1. 4 - took MS&E 140 (Accounting) last quarter
2. a. I think it's incredibly important for startups to fully understand the differences between equity and debt and when to choose one over the other when raising money. I also think it is very important to have a complete understanding of the three financial statements, especially the cash flow statement. It seems that most startups tend to fail because they have poor management of their cash flow and simply run out of money. Lastly, understanding different margins from the income statement (gross, operating) allow a startup to see how much money they are actually making before and after certain deductions (tax, interest, etc.).

Jotthe Kannappan says:
1. I would rate my accounting knowledge at 2.

2. While I think there are a variety of financial figures important for start-ups, the main focus should be on cash flow. If there is no cash, the organization no longer has anything to run on. I also think it is really important to put these numbers in context by performing accrual accounting and using the other two types of financial statements so you get a better understanding of when you are making money and when you aren't. Of course, part of this is tracking gross margin to see how the company is doing at different points in time.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
1. I'd rate my accounting knowledge at a 2: I remember some terms from my high school econ class and from what I see in the news, but nothing more than that.

2. I think it's especially valuable for startups to know the difference between the three types of financial statements, and what each one says about their company. One comment that really stuck with me from the MBA Mondays readings + Khan Academy videos was that it's important for startups to either have a solid handle on accounting as a whole, and especially these three financial statements, or to hire a trusted accountant part-time.
The next metric I would say is especially important is cash burn rate, particularly for the lean startup. By comparing cash burn rate to internal company checkpoints which the founders can establish to track progress, a startup can better understand if its personnel are making efficient and productive use of the money which may be the founders' own personal funds, family/friend funds, or VC money.
Another metric I would say is important is new customer acquisition rate, or sales growth rate, as a measure of whether the startup is achieving its desired growth in the market. These numbers might be more relevant to startups after they have deployed at least one of their products.

Priyanka Jain says:
1 I would rate my accounting knowledge at a 1.

2. I think the most important finance metric for a startup is the cash flow/cash burn rate. As an entrepreneur is trying to build a scalable and profitable business, it is incredibly important to pay close attention to how much money is coming in and out of the company at all times. Especially for a startup, spending money efficiently is important to avoid having to raise extra rounds of financing which causes dilution for the founders.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
1. I would rate my knowledge of accounting at a 2.

2. I think the most important accounting metric is the Profit & Loss statement because it provides a snapshot into the health of the business. With a positive operating income (revenue - expenses) the business is profitable and can sustain itself without needing outside funding. I also think cash flow is very important because a business should always understand the movement of money into or out of the business to ensure growth and profitability.

Nick Ning Xu says:
1. My accounting knowledge is DEFINITELY a 1.

2. If cash is the blood of a startup, then my best guess would be cash flow as the most important measure of a startup. Cash flow, in combination with income statement and balance sheet, give an overview of where money is flowing in a startup. These three metrics on different time-scales, allows an entrepreneur to assess company profit/loss (and which areas they arise from) and to project future outcomes.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
1. Accounting Knowledge: 2
2. I think it's important to get a general picture of what your venture's revenues/costs and liabilities/assets will look like over time. If it looks good in general, and you've made good assumptions, then you can probably proceed without analyzing it too heavily (actually doing the financials correctly in the future isn't really a worry - there are guides for that). Once you have a good picture of your venture's financial forecast, it becomes vitally important to understand what types of sources of capital you should target and at what points in time.
To me, it seems sufficient to understand accounting/finance concepts in broad strokes to get an intuition for it (you can always get the details down later or pay a professional bookkeeper to set you up, as Fred Wilson recommended). What seems more important to me is having a really good understanding of what decisions to make based on these forecasts.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
1. I would rate my accounting knowledge at a 1. However, I'm currently taking ME115C, a class about Design and Business Factors, so hopefully that will help build my knowledge!
2. I think two of the most important accounting metrics are cash flow and burn rate. These concepts are key for startups in evaluating whether or not a business model is worth scaling into a company. The incomings and outgoings of cash should be tracked on a regular basis. Cash flow is a major factor in the success of any business, driving everyday operations and expansion. In addition, failing to track your burn rate can seriously hinder your startup operations, as you won't have the cash needed to run your company.

Tom Byers says:
This paradox goes straight to the heart of the MFP/E140 curriculum! Let's ask our remaining guest teachers and speakers in E140 what they think ... starting tomorrow with Ann. See you in class and glad to hear things went so well yesterday with Dimitre and Susan in class and with the Floodgate portfolio companies at the reception. Great to be home in this sunshine!


PS I think we have a small issue for this tool ... who posted this new thread?

Tom Byers says:
These posts are terrific! And coupled with the actual IMVU and lean startup methods session taught by Steve last Thursday, it makes for a truly winning combination.

Here is a tip to maximize your learning ... please do not read the posts of other fellows until AFTER the session itself. Rather, return to the Forum and read them after we have completed the corresponding classroom. Always insightful to see how your own opinion has been shaped as a result of the class discussion as well as seeing the initial thoughts of your peers.


Jenna Berkenkamp (on behalf of team Coast2Coast) says:
We suggest Jerry and David accept Sequoia’s offer because 1) the company has an opportunity to become extremely successful but needs funding to do so, 2) the other options don’t align with Jerry and David’s interests, 3) Sequoia is specifically well positioned to finance them.

1) The company is worth pursuing because Yahoo!’s advantages outweigh its risks, and with sufficient funding the company can become extremely successful. First, Yahoo! has a very compelling value proposition. They are providing a way to make sense of the vast amount of information available on the Internet, a service that is becoming increasingly important as the amount of information online is expanding exponentially. Their human crafted hierarchical approach to organizing content on the internet sets it apart from competitor search engines that rely solely on algorithms and lack the human discretion and judgment built into Yahoo!’s platform. The market is growing rapidly and user demand is extremely strong. In a single month the number of hits went from thousands to hundreds of thousands daily. Yahoo! also has a strong first mover advantage and has an opportunity to establish itself as a leader in the market. A lot of the risks that Yahoo! currently confronts (such as the difficulty of scaling quickly with such a small team and the risk that competitors will enter the market and introduce key products faster) can be solved with financing.
2) Both corporate partnerships and acquisition are not viable options given Jerry and David’s interests and motivation. The main disadvantage of corporate sponsorships is the perception of selling out to corporate America, especially given that Yahoo! started out as a grassroots effort. Jerry and David would also lose some control of the company. Acquisition is also not a good option because they would be completely giving up control and essentially killing any chance of moving forward with the idea. While pursuing this option could make them a lot of money, neither Jerry nor David appear to be particularly motivated by the desire for wealth and would rather see their idea through. They should choose the option that will propel their vision forward the most. This leaves VC funding as the best option.
3) Sequoia is specifically a great VC firm to provide financing for Yahoo!. Sequoia has experience, an incredible track record, and access to valuable resources and contacts. They will be able to help Yahoo! assemble a great management team quickly. Jerry and David also have great chemistry with Michael Moritz and could have a successful partnership with him and the firm. While Jerry and David are reasonably concerned about giving away 25% ownership of the company, their relationship with the people funding them is more important than the specific terms of the deal. Also, they could try to find a better deal from another VC firm but there is no guarantee they would be able to do so. Most importantly, Jerry and David need the money to keep Yahoo! alive and need it as quickly as possible in order to beat competitors to market. Therefore, they should accept Sequoia’s offer.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan (on behalf of Destiny's Child) says:
After examining the case, we suggest that Jerry and David accept Sequoia’s offer. Reasons include: the mentorship and vision alignment of Sequoia Capital, the need for a sustainable product, and the growing risk of competitors to Yahoo.

One of the biggest reasons for Jerry and David to take Sequoia’s deal is because of the resources and mentorship that Moritz would provide, especially as an investor whose vision aligns with theirs so smoothly. In addition, Sequoia has an incredibly impressive track record and would also assist Yahoo in assembling a top management team, which could help increase traffic and enhance the Yahoo brand. Though Jerry and David were also faced with several alternatives for financing, none of those options seemed as appealing. Given their personal visions, selling the entire company or even entering a corporate partnership were both less attractive options than Sequoia’s offer.

Yahoo is growing at an unbelievable pace, improving their number of hits from thousands to hundreds of thousands in one short month. Because the Stanford computers are maxed out, the university is ready to kick them off campus. Not only are physical resources becoming scarce, but time is too. Jerry and David’s hobby is quickly transforming into a growing business and if they want to seriously pursue this endeavor, they need to fully commit to it by leaving school. The $1 million investment by Sequoia Capital would allow them to sustain themselves while growing Yahoo.

Also, Yahoo is faced with several competitors in the market such as Architext, Webcrawler, and Infoseek that are quickly gaining traction. In addition, AOL and Microsoft represent bigger names in the market that have the resources to build their own software or acquire one of the startups. Thus, in the midst of the dot com doom with growing competition, Yahoo must take action as soon as possible.

In all, Sequoia Capital offers Yahoo the proper mentorship, sustainability of resources, and urgency it needs in order to continue to succeed.

Kaitlyn, Priyanka, & Revanth (T Team) says:
In this case Yang and Filo are faced with the choice of accepting the first offer from a major VC, Sequoia Capital, or exploring their other options. If they choose not to go with Sequoia's immediate offer, they have the options of being acquired by Netscape, working with other large corporations (i.e. AOL, Reuters, etc.) or looking for funding from other VCs.

Based on their current situation, Yang and Filo should not take the offer from Sequoia. We believe they should also avoid acquisition or corporate sponsorship by AOL, Reuters, etc. to maintain their core brand values of “reliability, pizzaz, and credibility.” Affiliation with one of these big companies would compromise their ability to maintain their brand, and this is a primary concern expressed by Yang in the case. As he notes, corporate funding would come with a “taint” of commercialization, directly countering Yahoo’s unique selling point, which is their ability to use human discretion to find intuitive paths to information on the web in both a timely and relevant manner. Corporate funding would also reduce Yang and Filo’s control in the company and perhaps hamper their ability to continue to execute their vision of providing “human-filtered” information.

Since they’ve only received a term sheet/valuation ($1 million for a 25% stake) from one VC firm, it would be wise to meet with other VCs and see what other options are available. It is clear that this is a space of interest because of KCPB’s recent investment in Architext and Sequoia's immediate offer for Yahoo!. Based on this, there is a strong possibility that Yang and Filo could receive more money for the same percentage of the company from a different VC.

The founders’ personal relationship with Moritz is strong and they would likely not burn their personal bridge or the potential for a future investment by turning down this 24 hour offer. In fact, the 24 hour offer seems framed to push them into choosing Sequoia overnight, when in reality, the state of the market and the heavy interest from other companies indicates that they could probably get a better offer elsewhere. As a caveat, it’s important to note that the partnership with Moritz would have the benefit of his contacts in publications and knowledge about managing content, but this information isn’t necessarily exclusive to Moritz. Plus, since Yang and Filo would not have burned their bridge with Moritz, they can potentially come back to Sequoia later and ask for a higher offer once they have a better understanding of the market and are in a better position to negotiate.

Therefore, we think the optimal decision for them is not to take Sequoia’s offer.

Jotthe, Laine, and Jason (The Argonauts) says:
We think that Filo and Yang should partner with Sequoia.

More than anything else, the most potent reason for Filo and Yang to go with Sequoia is their necessity for capital immediately. There are many competitors on the horizon as other people develop strategies for navigating the world wide web. In order for Yang and Filo to keep their edge, they need manpower. This manpower needs to be primarily focused on hiring additional management and engineers. Hiring people requires money, as does running the service. Capital is needed to pay for the high power servers that host the website and the equipment necessary to continue cataloguing sites well.

Another aspect of working with Sequoia that is invaluable is their connection with other successful tech companies. Not only does this provide promising prospects for Yahoo!, but it also give Yang and Filo a network in which to find the talent they are seeking. The network provides access to other individuals with the human touch that gives Yahoo its edge- “categories are designated by people, not computers.” The genius of the product lies in its humanistic product curation. By taking Sequoia’s money, the Yahoo! team is exposed to both capital with which to expand and the amazing network of tech people in Sequoia’s portfolio.

Working with Sequoia also affords Filo and Yang the ability to work with Moritz. While Moritz didn’t initially have the same approach to Yahoo!, he proved to understand the pulse of the company when he articulated that Sequoia is “always enamored with people that seem to be on to something, even if they can’t define that something. They had a real passion and a real spark.” At a base level, Moritz understands the culture that Yahoo! already possess, and wants to foster it. It also helps that Filo and Yang like working with Mortiz, and a good VC-founder relationship has tremendous value.

Overall, Sequoia provides mentorship, cash, professional network, a synergy with company culture, and the ability for Filo and Yang to maintain control of the company. We would advise Yahoo! to take Sequoia’s offer.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
Posted on behalf of the Argonauts: Laine, Jason, & Jotthe

a. As Jeff Miller, we would have Documentum decline the $300k Marsh and McLennan deal. There are several compelling reasons for turning down the deal, the strongest and most relevant one being that insurance isn’t the best choice for a vertical (in fact is it ranked lowest on the list of possible verticals in Exhibit 6). In particular, insurance has very low scores in established competition and existing relationships with partners, both of which are critical given the limited size of Documentum and the necessity of systems integration for their technology. Additionally, Marsh and McLennan asked for additional functionality, which is a huge, immediate burden on R&D that could not only stall forward progress but put the company in tension, the kind that the director of Product Development describes on page 12, with their first customer in that vertical. Since reference-ability is crucial to the success of the product, this tension (and potentially not being able to deliver on all additional features) could prevent Marsh and McLennan from recommending the product highly to other customers. Without this recommendation, Documentum doesn’t stand a good chance against the many competitors that already exist in the Insurance vertical.
We believe that Pharmaceutical NDA is the best choice of vertical for Documentum, which requires Miller to turn down the Marsh & McLennan deal. Not only did this vertical have the best overall score in Exhibit 6, but the market seems to be of the perfect size for Documentum’s current product. Miller’s vertical concept relies on picking “an industry and an application with a strong value proposition that you can dominate” (7). We believe Documentum is best suited for dominating the Pharmaceutical vertical because there are relatively few companies in it and Documentum already has a company (Syntex) in that market that can act as a reference. Though the IT departments of these companies are slow to adopt new technology, we believe that the incentive for trying new technology is incredibly high, since organizations with a monopoly on a specific drug stand to make $1m/day, and it could drastically reduce the 17yr development and FDA application period. Further, vertical approaches usually involve targeting line-of-business users over IT professionals, for whom the $1m/day figure is even more important. Additionally, R&D has experience with and functionality developed for Syntex that can be applied to the whole Pharmaceuticals industry. Overall, this industry has a well-defined need for which a solution would provide multi-million dollar returns. Documentum has already proved themselves capable of providing this solution to Syntex and should focus their efforts on dominating the rest of the companies in the Pharmaceutical NDA vertical.

b. For Pharmaceutical companies who need to simplify New Drug Application documentation, Documentum is a database solution for unstructured information that will drastically improve time to market for new drugs. Unlike the current system of manual labor and attempted patched fixes, our product’s integration of workflow features and text retrieval features will allow for automatic compilation and formatting as well as a superior way to update specific reports in response to regulatory requests.

Revanth Kosaraju on behalf of T-Team: Revanth, Kaitlyn, Priyanka says:
1) As Jeff Miller, we would have Documentum accept the $300K Marsh and McLennan deal because it is a good opportunity to start gaining customers in their vertical market strategy. Additionally, focusing on developing the insurance vertical will likely allow them to easily expand to other financial verticals in the future and complete the transition from visionaries to the early majority. Though Documentum does not have direct experience in the insurance industry, this deal allows them to work with a highly interested customer who can help them find the key pain points and develop a finalized product for insurance policy documentation. This initial customer can act as a sponsor for Documentum by “[pulling] for them against the pragmatist resistance to anything new,” which is an essential factor for crossing the chasm. Insurance is an attractive industry for Documentum to begin their vertical marketing strategy because there are a plethora of local insurance companies in many cities around the world. This is advantageous because their sales team can stay in their current locations, meaning Documentum does not have to relocate their current team or hire and train an entirely new sales team. As noted in the case, Documentum would face difficulties with an industry like airlines, for example, which is concentrated in a few large cities, and might run into internal issues such as large turnover in their sales force. Further, the insurance industry is known to invest in new technology, suggesting that this deal is representative of other firms that would be interested in implementing Documentum’s technology as well.

2) Sentence 1: For the insurance market, whose documentation process is laborious and outdated, Documentum is a content management software that enables firms to quickly and easily organize their documents in a logical and searchable fashion.

Sentence 2: Unlike Documentum’s many unspecified competitors who are using a horizontal marketing strategy, their product manages unstructured information by providing a complete solution: the document management system.

Destiny's Child says:

“They key is you don’t need the best application; you just need one that’s good enough.”

As Jeff Miller we accept the $300k Marsh and McLennan deal because it aligns with the proposed vertical marketing strategy, is immediate, and although is a conservative course of action would ultimately help Documentum “cross the chasm” between the early adopters and the early majority.

Exhibit 6 of the case study indicates that Insurance Policy Documentation has the lowest total scenario rating out of all the different industries. Nevertheless, the value of Marsh and McLennan being early adopters to Documentum’s product is of more value since opportunities were scarce in the 1993 landscape. As read in the case, “getting VC funding was difficult in the best times, but the market conditions of 1993 made it almost impossible”. Furthermore, such enterprise software projects necessitated significant capital and resources on the company’s end and were regarded as incredibly risky endeavors -- with failure rates between 15% and 50%. However, despite these inopportune circumstances, Marsh and McLennan evidently believe in Documentum and Miller’s desired shift towards a vertical strategy, as the insurance company “would only” pursue the deal if insurance was Documentum’s first target application. This trust and support is particularly significant because of the inherent risks associated with startups and enterprise software projects.

If Documentum proves to provide a successful solution for Marsh and McLennan, their momentum could subsequently carry them to serve as a reference for the entire insurance industry, solidifying their credibility and opening them to the gateway of the enormous financial services industry. Building this trust with Marsh and McLennan is vital to Documentum’s success in shifting from early adopters to early majority. Furthermore, other industries of interest would require Documentum to pursue a horizontal marketing strategy. Government regulations in the pharmaceutical, chemical regulation management and telecom manufacturing industries necessitate horizontal strategies.

By not optimizing for industry, and acting now, it mitigates undue risk in the early adoption phase of Documentum’s product. In order to effectively cross the chasm and move from the market of the early adopters, such as Marsh and McLennan, to the early majority, accepting the deal is a key stepping stone in building a credible reputation for Documentum and positioning them for success.


Sentence 1: For insurance policy makers, Documentum enables a way to organize, aggregate and output client data that improves productivity, and policy claims turnaround.

Sentence 2: Unlike Oracle or Ingres that provide a good platform for data organization across multiple industries, Documentum focuses on insurance policy makers, and optimizes for maximal efficiency in insurance data management.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Overview: As Jeff Miller, we would have Documentum accept the $300K Marsh and McLennan deal. We are confident that this is the right decision, as a vertical strategy is optimal here and we have a deal on the table from a player in an application area with a top-5 Moore rating, meaning this is a perfectly valid choice for the beachhead of our D-Day plan. We explain in more detail below.
Horizontal or Vertical: With a paradigm-busting product and stiff competition in the horizontal marketplace, it makes sense to go vertical. Paradigm-busting products don’t do well in horizontal markets. Additionally, if a market has existing competitors with similar value propositions, it doesn’t make sense to battle them head on horizontally, but to instead outmaneuver them and dominate specific markets vertically.
Which Application Area: Moore & co. have already whittled down 100 possible application areas to the top 5 via the Chasm rating system. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages - we will discuss only the most important ones here.
Telecom Manufacturing
- Pro: Highest profit margins (19.6%), most spending on IT (3.5%), historically open to incorporating innovative tech, no partnering required.
- Con: Possible allegiance to traditional (manual) practices.
Chemical Regulation Management
- Con: Government regulations are roadblock for employing innovative tech, not big IT spenders, would require partnering.
Pharmaceutical NDA
- Pro: Have track record/foothold.
- Con: Conservative about using innovative tech, IT team comprised of scientists (who are not good digital tech visionaries / early adopters), clustered in non-Silicon-Valley cities (so sales would be upended/disgruntled).
Aircraft Maintenance Documentation
- Pro: Have track record/foothold, highest total IT budget, professional IT staffs who would make good early adopters.
- Con: Documentum has tried and failed to find additional early adopters in this market, partnering required (which historically has given Documentum a much smaller cut of the deal).
Insurance Policy Documentation
- Pro: High interest/history investing in innovative tech (especially automation), likely have companies near Silicon Valley (Documentum’s sales team = happy), serves as gateway to financial services industry (early majority).
- Con: Need high-volume imaging tech (from R&D or a technology partnership) for broader fit, need to find a systems-integration partner, no industry references.
Making the Decision: Telecom’s wealth of advantages make it a great option. Additionally, Pharma’s high Moore rating, advantages, and history with Documentum make it a very viable option as well. However, it’s important to remember that these are the top 5 application areas from 100 options. In “Crossing the Chasm” Moore emphasizes that “You do not have to pick the optimal beachhead to be successful. What you must do is win the beachhead you have picked.” Well, it seems as though the beachhead has picked us in this case, and while it may not be the optimal choice, it is definitely good enough. With a good deal on the table from one of the top 5 application areas available, we’ve been given clear skies and calm seas for a strong landing, and so we plan to kick off our attack on the Insurance Policy Documentation beachhead by accepting the deal at hand.
Positioning Statement
1. For insurance policy companies that can’t keep up with business volume, spend excessive time proofing and validating policies, make lots of errors, and experience slow turnaround times for policy changes, Documentum provides enterprise document management software that - in addition to solving the aforementioned problems - can handle more policies with fewer people, gain more follow-on business from improved customer responsiveness, and reduce claim negotiating and unwarranted paybacks via greater accuracy, allowing insurance companies to provide superior products and customer service at a lower cost.
2a. Unlike other information management systems, Documentum specializes in solutions for insurance companies and sells directly to line-of-business users.
2b. Unlike traditional, manual document management, Documentum’s technology employs automation to decrease costs and errors and increase speed and business volume capacity.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
^Written and directed by me, Jenna, and Daniel (Team Coast2Coast)

Tom Byers says:
Outstanding posts! Some of the best I have ever seen. Please do not read them until after class today. :)

Thx for all the diligent work. We know this was a lot of reading and prep.


Nick Ning Xu says:
I like to think my devotion to architecture is a reflection of my interests: art, music, sport, philosophy and engineering. I have lived in four different countries (Australia, New Zealand, China, America), am passionate about my commitments (to the annoyance of my friends who hear me endlessly talk) and embody a frenetic type of energy (probably stemming from my caffeine addiction).

I am grateful for the love, care, and faith my parents and friends have provided me, and dedicated to acting with service. Consistency and authenticity are the tenants I ascribe to when maintaining or beginning relationships.

My cardinal sin is that I care too much of what others think of me. When providing value to someone who has more power than me, I must trust myself to be myself. Life would be too exhausting if I was acting.

Priyanka Jain says:
My key contribution is often passion; when I get excited about something, I will put all of my resources into driving it forwards. I think I can provide value to someone with more power than me by being a team member who is always dedicated, loyal, and supportive through all ups and down.

I approach relationships in a similar way: with dedication, loyalty, support, and passion. I think that by putting these traits forward, along with personal integrity, I can build relationships that encourage me to contribute to the best of my ability.

Daniel Graifman says:
I think I can add value with my work ethic and ability to learn quickly. At this point in my career, I lack significant experience and a clearly defined set of skills. As a result, I try to enter every professional environment with the mentality that I will work as hard and long as necessary to achieve a result. I am not afraid to tackle complex problems because I know that I am willing to put in the requisite time to achieve an outcome. I believe this approach is always valued in a company. When a junior employee shows that he is as dedicated to a project as a senior manager, the relationship typically has a strong core.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
I think I offer a valuable multifaceted perspective. As a Symbolic Systems major I have both a technical capacity and a deep appreciation of the humanities and social sciences such as philosophy and psychology. This allows me to approach problems in a creative, yet logical and data-driven way. I also have a very strong work ethic and innate desire to tackle complex projects. I think my enthusiasm, dedication, and ability to work hard would be valued by someone with more power than me.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
I offer my intense drive and willingness to always learn & tackle any challenge. My love and extreme desire to understand how anything and everything works pushes me to excel. This love for knowledge makes me a “sponge" that is capable of soaking up everything in its environment. As a result, I am a quick learner and adaptable to new projects and environments. To a person of power I may not have the most industry experience, but the intensity and devotion I always bring to my work can add value to them.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
I think I have a few thinks to offer:
___1. Entertainment. When I'm not able to provide significant value from my limited skills, experience, and wealth, I can certainly provide value through friendship, interesting conversation, and humor. Everyone likes to have a good time!
___2. Skill set. My studies in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship at Stanford have given me a set of skills that I believe can be useful to those with power (in a utilitarian sense).
___3. Creativity. Even if I know little about a subject or company, I can at least offer my creativity. I love brainstorming and coming up with crazy ideas, and I think I'm pretty good at it too.
___4. Passion. I work very hard at the things I am passionate about. So mostly CS, entrepreneurship, and anything that might lead to enhancing human health and longevity. These are the areas that make me forget to eat and sleep. I think I can provide a lot of additional value here because I am motivated to learn/do whatever it takes to reach the goal. Additionally, passion is contagious. I greatly enjoy working with people who really love what they're doing or who really believe in the objective. So I think I provide value in this way to the people I work with.
___5. Future (?). I make an effort to stay in touch with people who might not have done anything amazing yet but who will probably do something amazing eventually. In my opinion, us Mayfield Fellows are kind of like early stage startups without products (so just the founders I guess). Powerful people might 'invest' in us by staying in touch with us, allowing them to actually invest in us when we do something important. I guess we're offering them the chance to get in early with our startups in the future if they help us out now. (probably pretty unlikely, but maybe??)
___6. Inspiration. VC veterans who see you as a young version of them or are inspired by your vision might be more likely to help out. Here, I guess I'm giving them reinvigoration and possibly a renewed sense of purpose.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
I offer agility in learning and eagerness to take on any role to help out a larger initiative, as I find no task "below" my skill set or beneath me. That being said, I prefer positions in which I'm entrusted with significant responsibility and mentored, as opposed to being hand-held or extensively trained, so I can contribute as much as possible to a larger enterprise without imposing a large cost. I also offer a driving core value: whatever I do is to contribute to or lead an effort that is larger than myself and benefits others through lasting change, and I relentlessly stick to this value. I also consider myself a strong team player and really listen to what someone has to say, as opposed to figuring out how I'm going to respond, when engaging in a conversation.
I believe a great way to provide value to someone who has more power than I do is to figure out how my values coincide with theirs, and how I can work to achieve something in line with both of our core values. The people of power I met in DC were interested in ensuring their values lasted long past their lifetimes, and were committed to working with young people as a result.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
My best assets are people skills, ability to learn quickly, and energy. I love working with people. I love talking to them, learning from them, and growing with them. I am also good at contributing to and forming a work environment where everyone feels supported and challenged. Over the course of my lifetime, I have fostered many individual interests. This eclecticity in experience has led me to adapt to new situations and information quickly. More than anything, though, I think the biggest way in which I contribute is my constant verve and drive.

I can provide value to people in positions of power by learning the skills they seek and meeting their needs at large. I never refrain from hard work and would be willing to try anything and everything that someone might desire me to.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
I think some of the most valuable assets I offer are my passion and commitment to any project I work on. Regardless of the situation, I always put in my full effort into any given situation and stay focused and committed to working as hard as I can.

In addition, I think it is incredibly important to have very strong communication skills. The ability to successfully work on teams is often looked over, and so I am always trying to work on these skills.

Lastly, I think being detail-oriented is another skill that is very useful, regardless of the position of power someone is in. While understanding the big picture is important, executing on it with as few mistakes as possible is essential.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
In any relationship, I offer honesty, empathy, and respect.

I think that someone who has more power than I do would value my level of responsibility as well as my work ethic. I am incredibly committed to my word and feel strongly about following through on my promises. In addition, I’m dedicated to working hard and think that I bring a fresh perspective to a situation given my background in design, which has taught me to problem solve in a creative, yet analytical manner.

Tom Byers says:
Once again, these are compelling posts. Can't wait for class in 30 minutes.

Tom Byers says:
As mentioned at the end of class with Geoff, I highly recommend that you now read 91-95 in CTC regarding Documenttum as well as Appendix 2 regarding the four gears model for B2C startups.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
It is clear that one of Lew's primary concerns is about company culture. It is the most important factor in his hiring decisions, to the point where Lew would reject obviously qualified candidates in favor of keeping a stable and healthy work environment. So I believe that I can get him to step down as chairman if I let him have an active and valued voice in hiring decisions and company culture going forward. Additionally, I know that David has favored candidates that Lew doesn't believe fit with the company culture, which Lew might take to mean that David doesn't fully understand the family atmosphere that he has worked hard to put in place. Therefore, I think one of the first steps is to meet with the three of us and discuss in depth the kind of company culture Lew would like to see kept in place, even as he steps down. I would make sure it was clear to him that he would always have a seat at the hiring table, and would be able to freely voice any and all concerns about company culture going forward.

Jason Risch says:
Lew, from the very beginning you've had the best interest of this company at heart. Based on my track record, you know that I'm the guy who can take this company to the top while maintaining the company culture you so value. I have enough experience to know what is best for a small company. You're a compassionate person, but that works well with your employees, but the chairman of the company needs to be forceful in their responsibility of running board meetings. It takes experience to command a room full of executives and VCs. You're an incredibly talented man and may someday be ready to fill that role; for now, consider this as an opportunity to learn more about business as is your goal. As it is, you've bent over backwards to help this company succeed; the chairman can't afford to do so and needs the objectivity afforded by an outside position. I will personally show you the ropes of being a CEO, so that if you found another venture in the future, you may be able to stay on as CEO. I will also give you full hiring privileges so that you can maintain company culture. As CTO, I hope you'll take the opportunity to brainstorm with you past hires and engineers to continue providing innovation and ensure that they stay happy. That role will also increase comfort and communication between us on the board and the employees.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
Lew, I know that you want to do what is best for the company, and what is best for the company right now is to have the best management in place in both the CEO and chairman roles. You know that David and I are uniquely qualified for these positions, and we will attract serious funding and secure a better valuation in venture rounds with a world-class executive team in place. I respect you greatly and see your tremendous potential as a future CEO, but right now Wily is facing new challenges that you lack experience with and we cannot afford any ramp-up time. The sooner we get this transition of leadership out of the way, the sooner we can build Wily to its full potential. I want you to know that I feel confident that I can work with the existing team that you have built, so the company culture that you value so greatly will surely remain intact. And to continue to preserve the company culture I would like you to be heavily involved in the hiring process moving forward. I know you will continue to contribute your incredible talent and innovation to Wily in your role as CTO.

Kaitlyn, Priyanka, & Revanth (T Team) says:
Hi Lew,

The key, from my point of view, is to assure the maximum benefit possible for three parties: myself, you, and the company as a whole.

1) I stand to benefit financially from the deal (a generous salary + almost as much equity as you), and from this point of view, no further action is necessary.

2) I know how important it is for you to have an opportunity to continue your impact on the company and continue your personal growth.

a) Impact on the company: The current org chart in Exhibit 6 has you as a CTO, but with no one reporting to you, so you would unfortunately be a figurehead. In my opinion, this is an untenable situation. Although you might not have the same degree of business expertise as I do, you have certainly developed your business skill set through years at Wily, and I pledge to have a number of people reporting to you as CTO. Additionally, I will offer a seat on the board to you so you can continue shaping the company’s direction.

b) Personal growth: From your experience at Hummingbird, you wanted to be a part of a venture where he could gain business experience, and this rationale motivated your founding of Wily. Lew, I want to respect your personal vision that you had when founding Wily. I will continue to offer you mentorship and guidance, and will ensure that David Strohm does so as well, so that in the future if you want to be a CEO of a high-growth, larger venture, you will have the capability to do so.

3)Company as a whole: you have spent much of your time at Wily building a strong culture. It would be detrimental to the company culture, and to the morale as a whole, if I were to replace your hires with my own, for example. Although there may be some turnover of employees, and some hires of professional managers as we transition into a higher-growth phase for Wily, I pledge to make a concerted effort to retain the strong company culture you have established here, and to be loyal to the employees you have spent years cultivating a relationship with as founder. That being said, my number one priority is to ensure the company achieves the highest growth possible during my time as CEO.

If you have any additional requests, I am of course open to listening. However, I believe the combination of giving you power as both CTO and a board member, and making a concerted effort to retain Wily’s culture, is a very reasonable offer.

-Dick Williams

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Lou- I know this must be difficult for you, but in the broader context of Wily's future, selecting David as chairman of the board is the right thing to do. There are several reasons why David makes sense for the position at this pivotal time, but before identifying them, we should take a moment and reflect on your motivations behind starting this company. From my understanding, you not only wanted to create a game-changing product, but build a company that would achieve a lasting legacy. Moreover, you wanted to break free from the tech role you filled at Apple and develop business skills. By my estimation, you've absolutely achieved the latter. From the earliest challenges of shifting development efforts to a server-side Java performance-monitoring product, to nurturing a culture through intelligent hiring and a flat hierarchy, there is no doubt that you have learned and developed a tremendous set of auxiliary skills that are crucial in an early-stage venture. The former goal, however, has yet to be achieved. Wily has demonstrated promise, as evidenced by the uptick in 2001 revenue and the attraction of high-profile capitalists, but this company could very easily fail if not guided properly. Unfortunately, your skill set is not best suited for a role that may well determine the legacy of Wily Technologies. In order for Wily to truly have a shot at disruption, we must undergo careful internal evaluation, just as you spent months doing the same for this external hire. Wily needs talent, connections, and strong business experience; three traits David brings if he is chosen as chairman of the board. David will be more vested in the company, and consequently, Wily will benefit in the longterm. We all must sacrifice and play a new role as Wily continues to evolve. I absolutely encourage you to maintain a board seat and participate in macro-level business decisions-we still very much need you to be part of the team. I will personally pledge to consult with you on major outside hires and periodically meet with you to discuss broader strategy. I hope this will enable you to further develop your business skills and facilitate active involvement in board matters. Lou, for the sake of your company, this is the best move.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
Lew, I want to preface this by applauding you for all that you have done for Wily the past few years. I know that this has been a difficult transition, but I think you should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished thus far, and I look forward to seeing the tremendous impact you will have on the company as our new CTO. However, in the interests of the company, I urge you to step down as chairman of the board and hand over the reins to David.

In considering this decision, I think it’s important to acknowledge your motivations behind starting Wily. You created Wily with the intention to learn. At Apple, you felt constrained by the narrow specialization of your role and yearned to build the skills needed to play a central role in a start-up. It seems to me that you have accomplished this goal with Wily and I certainly believe that you have grown as an entrepreneur in the process.

However, at this point in time, Wily needs experience. Nonetheless, stepping down as chairman would allow you to continue your mission to learn and grow as an entrepreneur. I would like for you to remain an active board member, with David serving as your mentor in a new capacity. As I’ve mentioned to you before, David played a large role in convincing me to join Wily. I have faith in his leadership skills and truly believe that he is the right person for the job. Furthermore, I take comfort in the fact that David has been by your side from the beginning and shares your vision of creating an innovative product that will revolutionize the technology industry. I think that, as an engaged board member, you would be able to continue learning from David’s expertise, and I believe that this would pay dividends in your entrepreneurial future.

I think it’s evident that I believe in you, Lew, and find Wily to be a promising opportunity. However, when I officially join Wily, I intend to fully commit myself to the company, investing all of my time and effort in its success. This proposal is my first step in doing so and I think it will be key in the company’s success down the line. I also hope you know that I plan to preserve your vision and the culture that you have so carefully crafted. I hope you will respect my opinion and consider what’s best for Wily in the long term.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
Lew- I know that you have long acted in the best interests of the company. You gave the company direction and a mission. You are it's beginning, and you will always be an integral part of this company. But, the company is growing too fast. The faster it grows, the more changes need to be made. All of these changes are business end changes that aren't going to make everyone happy. You are a great human being Lew- you diluted your shares to pay a partner, and you have never acted in greed. You have only ever wanted what is best for your employees. In the practice of running a business though, not all of us can afford to be that compassionate. A chairman needs to be willing to make tough decisions and you just care too much to be objective.

You have become exceedingly adept at your job in the past few years, Lew, but you aren't a business scaling mind. You know how to run a small team, and you know how to develop products. You are a a scientist, and an engineer, but you are not someone seasoned in the experience of crossing the chasm. Both David and I have been there, and we know what it takes. This isn't just about individual products that make sense anymore- this is about making a start-up in to a corporation. Trust me when I tell you that I have the company's culture at heart, and that I want nothing more than this business to grow enormously and succeed. That's why we need you to step down. I need you to trust David and me- we know what we're doing. You'll still be a part of this team, even if you feel like you're being edged out. That isn't the intention, and you need to know that this is the best possible direction for the company to take. Please Lew, think about it.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Lewis - I fully understand how big of a role you've played in bringing the company to where it is today. With your endless tenacity and passion, you've been one of the biggest reasons as to why the company has been so successful. Yet, we're beginning to move at such a quick pace and we only get one shot to do it right - we can't afford to make any mistakes. I know you're incredibly committed, but right now you have to do what's best for the company. And right now, that means taking a step back and letting David take your spot on the board.

We have several upcoming decisions to make that will help predict the future success of the company. In order to make well-informed decisions, we need experience and wisdom right now from our board. While you're an amazingly gifted engineer, you just don't have that experience as of yet. We need to pass judgement using our intuition, and you still need to gain some new experiences in order to build that intuition. Take the opportunity of being CTO as a chance to learn as much as you can from those around you. You've been a great leader up to this point, but we need you to follow us right now. Know that I have the company's best intentions at heart - I'm here to preserve the culture you established since the first day you started Wily. I'm as committed as ever, and I promise I won't let you down. But right now, I need you to listen to me and do what's best for the company, even if that means removing yourself from the board.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Lew, we've worked a long time to make this deal happen. I know you trust my experience and expertise as a businessman, and I hope you've come to trust me as a person as well. I've put a lot of thought into this, and I really do think that David Strohm is the best person for the chairman job. He's an experienced guy who knows how to run these kinds of things, and that's exactly who we need in that role. You know I wouldn't be asking you to do this unless I thought it was essential to the future of the company. I hope you see this makes sense.
As for you, I don't think the chairman position would really help you grow professionally by achieving as a businessperson like you want. You'd be planning meetings and herding cattle - not much achieving to be done. No, if you really want to achieve something in business, you'll need to get outside of the boardroom.
I've seen how you can take innovative tech and grind on it until it's a profitable company. That's something special. The way I see it, you have the makings of a truly great businessman - you just need to be in a role where you can innovate and pursue business at the same time. That's why I want to expand your position as CTO and give you a fully staffed department to manage. You'll learn a lot of business know-how from this role and hopefully develop some great new tech for Wily while your at it.
Additionally, when your team develops any groundbreaking new tech that's perpindicular to Wily's current path, I'll give you the full go-ahead to pursue that venture within the company, letting you handle all business aspects of the new sub-venture in the process. I think this will give you a great opportunity to keep achieving in business while doing what you love - developing new tech. You've got a long career ahead of you, and I trust that you'll do some amazing things in this role.
I'm excited to lead this company to great places in the coming years, and I really do think making David chairman while expanding your role as CTO is a critical piece to getting there. What do you say?

Nick Ning Xu says:

Wily Technologies is a phenomenal company, the culture is extraordinary and our product is saving so many precious hours. Thank you for making this dream possible!

I realize what I am asking of you is a lot. I understand that you are offering me a huge chunk of the pie, my compensation package is more than generous, and I haven't even bought you a beer yet! The reason why I urge Dave to be chairman is for all the reasons you want me to be a part of the team. You can definitely say no, but unfortunately if you do, I won't be able to accept your generous offer.

I ensure you that if you say yes, which I hope you do, this transition for our company will be a smooth and exciting one. I promise you three things. One, I will preserve the culture of family that you have so amazingly built. Two, I will buy you lunch every week, and I mean it. Three, I will ensure that our company will always remain "wily" - innovative and cool.

Think on it, and get back to me. Now how about that beer?

Nick Ning Xu says:
Since I am a disguised introvert, my commitment is to spend one-on-one time with everyone. I would love to have coffee or shoot your portrait (for one of my art projects). More details to come!

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
I want to commit to the uniqueness of this year's program--I love talking about "skill prints", that is, how people can visually represent their uniqueness in a way that's separate from a resume or a transcript. Even if it's just sending around the prompt that helped me create mine, I'd love to be a point person for other fellows to start thinking about creating a visual representation of their skills and interests.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
One of the words from the card that resonates most with me is "support." I would love for us to be able to support each other both inside and outside of the classroom. I know everyone is very talented in numerous ways, so I'm committing to putting together a calendar of personal events (from musical performances to sporting events, etc.). I'm hoping that this will allow us to roll out and support each other in a different kind of setting.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
I want to commit to making Mayfield as collaborative, open and fun as I know it can be. I am pledging to plan at least one event every two weeks (whether that's dinners, SF outings, etc.) for us to do together over the summer so that we can bond as a group even while we're all busy at our separate internships.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
My experience has taught me that nothing is a more valuable teacher than failure. As discussed in the readings, it is critical to take risks that push you outside of your comfort zone and to learn from your mistakes when they don't work out perfectly. I think we should foster a culture in which individuals are unafraid to push their own boundaries. No one bats 1000 and it's important to be comfortable with messing up. I pledge to make my own painfully honest "failure resume" and (if there is sufficient interest) lead the exercise Tina discussed in her book about how it resulted in growth.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
I am making the commitment of stretching both of myself and others. The amazingly collaborative and supportive culture of this group allows us to push each other and make mistakes in a safe environment. I believe that having an active goal towards stretching will help myself and others gain the most from the 9 months. It was hard for me to come up with a completely tangible commitment for this word so I have a couple. Firstly, I am committing to asking at least one question of our speakers for the rest of the class. Sometimes I am so amazed by the guests that I just sit back and listen. I think I learn this way, but I would like to take a more active role at times to push their thinking and mine. Secondly, I am committing to critically thinking about comments and opinions expressed in class. Instead of just accepting these comments because I know the people that said them are smart, I will reflect more and try to engage in conversation to make everyone think further. This further discussion can occur after or during class time.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
One or two sentences, kebaab! :)

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
So I'm pretty bad at being on time and fulfilling commitments that are outside work and school. I'm late to classes. I'm late to meetings (and often reschedule them). I wait until the (very) last minute to do assignments. These are really bad, disrespectful habits that inconvenience others and I'm going to really try to work on them.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Oh and the culture word is "punctual".

Revanth Kosaraju says:
The words that most resonate with me are flat and stretching. I appreciate flat in particular because I feel like it encompasses so many other things about culture which I find valuable, including collaboration, an honest and open nature, and a generally fun environment rather than a stressful one. With respect to stretching, I like the T framework introduced on one of the first days of class, and I feel like I'm still searching for the particular area of depth I want to make myself an expert in. I want to commit to setting aside some time each week to think about what that area is for me and how I can help others find that area in themselves.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
The word that really stood out to me was "supportive." At the end of the day, we help make up the Mayfield family, and so it is incredibly important for us to be supportive of one another, both inside and outside the classroom. Not only can I do that by just getting to know people, but by also helping out as much as I can. If you guys ever need anything, don't be afraid to ask - just let me know and I'll do my best!

Jotthe Kannappan says:
As someone who has been on a lot of different teams, the word that resonates with me most is "supportive." I plan on being supportive by being excited for myself and for other people, but also being open and eager to talk about the things that aren't going so well. I want to be someone with who you can share joy and anxiety, because I think all things are better when experienced with people who care about you.

Priyanka Jain says:
The word that resonates most with me is "supportive." Between the Mayfield courses and our internship experiences, we will be pushed to evaluate and then re-evaluate our own interests, passions, and plans for the future. While this can be incredibly scary, I hope that we are able to foster a support system to help each other through this. To help make this happen, I pledge to help organize a class get together at least once every two weeks for the rest of our 9 months together. I will start gathering ideas for things people are interested in doing in the area and then we can make a "Mayfield bucket list" and start checking them off!

Tom Byers says:
Long live "The Mayfield Bucket List"!

Jason Risch says:
My actionable commitment relates to punctual. I've never really used a calendar before this quarter, so I'm making a concerted effort to respond to emails and meetings quickly while still maintaining quality and meaningful content. Apologies this post is late, perhaps fittingly.

Daniel Graifman says:
Brief Description: ZenPayroll is a comprehensive payroll service enabling businesses to set up and run payroll from any web enabled device. ZenPayroll was founded by second-time entrepreneurs and best friends from Stanford University who have sold two prior businesses, including Josh Reeves (Mayfield '05).

My role: Growth team intern-includes business development and product functions

Seed round (undisclosed)- Y Combinator, Salesforce Ventures
Follow up Seed ($6,100,000)- Y Combinator, Salesforce, other angel investors
Series A ($20,000,000)- KPCB, General Catalyst Partners, Obvious Ventures, AFSquare
Series B ($60,000,000)- Google Capital, KPCB, Altimeter Capital, Glynn Capital Management, and 3 others

Team Size-roughly 100-200, but growing quickly

Office Location: San Francisco

Other Interesting Companies: Doubledutch, Inscopix, Blendlabs

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
This summer I'll be working at Enjoy Tech (!

Brief Description: Enjoy Tech launched today (05/06/15), and it's defining a new style of ecommerce around high investment technology products (GoPros, drones, iPhones, home speaker systems etc.). When you buy a product through Enjoy, for the same price you would pay at a regular store you get it hand delivered to you from a technology profession who will spend an hour teaching you how to use it. Headed up by Ron Johnson and some cool ex-Apple guys!

Role: Creative Intern--I'll be working on UX/UI projects as well as filming/editing product videos with the seasoned director they've hired.

Funding: $30 million in funding to date, the latest round co-led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Oak Investment Partners with participation from Andreessen Horowitz.
Team Size: 40-50
Location: Menlo Park

Other companies I loved: Homebase, Kanjoya, Oculeve

Nick Ning Xu says:
Emotion (Excitement)
I'm so excited to be a part of the Kanjoya Family!!!!! Woohoo!!!!!!

• At Kanjoya, we us proprietary natural language processing, and machine learning to humanize data. We are able discern the motivations, emotions, and intent behind employees' and customers' feedback, giving unprecedented insight for employers to make real-time changes.

Summer Role
• Product Marketing/Design Intern

• Seed (undisclosed) - SV Angel
• Series A ($900K) - Ron Conway
• Series B ($3M) - Constantin Partners, D.E. Shaw & Co.
• Series C ($1.7M) - D.E. Shaw & Co.
• Series C ($3.9M) - Constantin Partners, D.E. Shaw & Co.
• Series D ($4M) - D.E. Shaw & Co., FLOODGATE, Allegro Venture Partners
• ($13.5M) to date

Team Size
• 35 - 40 (and growing rapidly!)

• SF

Other Companies I loved
• ZenPayroll, Riffsy, Plaid, SOMA

Jotthe Kannappan says:
This summer, I will be working at Oculeve!

Brief description: Oculeve makes devices that fundamentally cure dry eye disease! There are handheld and implantable devices that rely on neural stimulation to activate your tear ducts. The device is used to treat people with chronically dry or irritated eyes, and works really robustly!

Summer Role: I am going to be a weird combination of technical marketing and product engineer. Basically, I will be providing the feedback cycle between consumer desire and experience and bringing that back to the engineering team.

$32.3 Million in 4 Rounds from 2 Investors; One of those investors is KPCB, which also helped them with their last round.

team size & office location: Team is about 20-30 people, and the office is in South San Francisco!

Other companies I liked a lot: Inscopix, Xamarin, Glow, Soma

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
There are many benefits to staged financing for both VCs and the companies they invest in. For VCs, staged financing allows a closer eye on how the funds are being spent and more opportunity for negotiating the direction of the company between rounds of financing. Since VCs are looking for the best bang for their buck, so to speak, staged rounds let them reconsider often how much to invest based on current market, new management and hired talent, and overall direction. Additionally, different firms will be interested at different stages in the company's development, especially as the company tweaks/changes its core product. For companies, the benefits of having staged financing are a bit subtler: I think one of the most compelling reasons is that it removes the temptation to spend it all at once. This common pitfall could cause many new startups to spend money unnecessarily before they have their final product/market fit. In the Dropbox case, we saw how many little changes they made to their core product, user, and marketing strategy. If they had raised all $1b dollars at once, let's say, they might have wasted a good chunk of it on advertising before realizing that paid advertising wasn't the most compelling way to attract customers. By having a limited amount of capital, startups are smarter about how they spend their resources, which ultimately reveals valuable insights into the market. Also, by attracting different investors at different stages of growth, the company gains valuable, stage specific mentors and networks that can help grow the business in a targeted way.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
For a company, raising financing in stages minimizes dilution. As a company reaches each milestone, it is worth more and therefore has a higher valuation. If a company received all the funding up front, the founders would be left with less % ownership in the company. By financing in stages, a company can receive the same amount of money as financing in one stage, but this amount of money will be a smaller percentage of the total company value. For example, if a company was valued at $10 M before a milestone but $50 M after it, $5 M is a much greater percentage of the whole in the pre-milestone valuation. Stage financing allows the founders to retain more ownership in the company.

For VCs, financing in stages helps them retain control of a company and minimize risk. If the VCs gave a company all of the financing in the beginning, the company may be less careful with their money and burn through it faster by spending it on unnecessary items. The VCs keep the company coming back for more by using stages. Also, stage financing allows the VCs to see which companies are not going to last before putting all their money into them. It acts as a check to see if the company is actually a good investment and therefore minimizes risk.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
There are several benefits of staged financing for a VC. First, staged investment lets VCs abandon ventures that have low early returns and essentially helps them weed out the bad investments early on. Along those same lines, staged financing reduces risk for investors because they can assess whether the company has met certain goals, whether the market is still favorable, etc. before investing more money into the venture. Staged financing is useful for companies as well because it allows the founders to retain more equity as the valuation of the company increases over time, rather than give up significant equity to a VC upfront before the company achieves a higher valuation. Additionally, raising all of the capital at once could tempt startups to burn through their cash quickly and throw money at short-term solutions rather than optimizing for the long-term. For example, Drew Houston noted in the case that after the $6 million Series A round of financing, “even with the additional capital in the bank, relying on advertising for customer acquisition would not be a viable long-term option.” Drew knew that spending the money they had raised on advertising was not the right solution for customer acquisition in the long term, but another CEO could easily be tempted to continue to spend money on advertising simply because the money was available to spend.

Daniel Graifman says:
Staged financing is typically how venture capitalists invest in early stage companies. Financiers provide money in segments based on either the achievement of milestones (total amount of money negotiated in initial contract) or more commonly, a round structure (each contract negotiated separately). The value of staged financing for venture capitalists is clear; it dramatically reduces risk. Rather than provide all of the money a start-up will need to either get acquired or reach IPO in the beginning, a VC can make sure a company is following a healthy trajectory over the course of an investment cycle. Start-ups are inherently risk as each stage brings new challenges and environments change rapidly. A seemingly intelligent investment in the seed stage may no longer be appealing during a Series A, in which case staged financing affords a VC the opportunity to decide whether to continue supporting a business or liquidate. In the case of Dropbox, Sequoia led a small Series A to minimize risk before investing in a substantially larger Series B when the company had demonstrated growth and validated its business model. For entrepreneurs, staged financing provides motivation and, in round structures, the flexibility to periodically select new lead investors and leverage growth to negotiate contracts. Essentially, it better positions entrepreneurs to surrender a smaller amount of equity for a larger amount of money over the lifecycle of a business. If terms were negotiated at the beginning, a VC firm may require a larger stake in the company because it is taking such a big risk. Rather, when a start-up is able to point to metrics that indicate a smaller risk, they are in a better negotiating position. Moreover, entrepreneurs may want to know whether a business idea is worth their time early on. Often, it takes a smaller amount of capital in the beginning to validate an idea. In the case of Dropbox, 1.6B and a six-year effort was not required at the beginning to prove concept, and it is likely Houston would not have even known how to allocate those funds in a two-person company in 2007.

Jason Risch says:
Staged financing is mutually beneficial for the entrepreneur and the VC. It allows the entrepreneur to avoid give up only the amount of their company that is necessary at each stage (or necessary ever). If a company can become profitable relatively quickly, which is of course not recommended for all types of companies, then there is no reason for the entrepreneur to continue giving up large shares of the company to VCs that could better be saved or used to attract talented employees. Further, if the company succeeds, then the entrepreneur can receive far better value for the company's equity down the road then they can in the beginning when the company has no track record. The entrepreneur can also receive funding from multiple companies at different stages depending on what they need at the time - some VCs may give better advice and provide better connections for seed stage companies, while others are more suited to the growth stage of the company.
On the VC side, investing at multiple stages allows companies to hedge their risk by following the progression of a startup. If a startup begins to succeed, then they may merit further investment. From a Markowitz-esque portfolio optimization standpoint, it also allows VC firms to diversify their investments across more companies (they can get in a later deal if they miss the first round) and at varying stages of development and risk.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
On behalf of Destiny's Child: There are several advantages of staged financing for both a company and a VC. First, entrepreneurs are motivated by staged financing because they understand that future VCs will only invest if the company meets its goals. This lessens a company’s temptation to spend money wastefully, and thus leaves them to be much more resourceful. For example, following the $1.2 million seed round of financing, Houston and Ferdowsi “continued to run lean, operating the company out of a 900-square-foot office sublet.” Second, staged financing allows a company to reevaluate itself after each stage. If a company sees that it is doing better than expected, it can value itself higher and thus give up less equity for more capital in future funding rounds. Third, it allows the company to pivot or iterate in its business model or team after each funding round. If it sees that it is not performing well in certain areas, it can properly make adjustments in order to set itself up for future funding.

There are also several advantages of staged financing for a VC. First, it reduces the risk of the VC’s investment because the investments are smaller. If a VC sees that a company is not performing to standards, it can choose not to invest in subsequent rounds. Second, if a drastic change in the company’s management team or business model is altered that the VC does not necessarily agree with, the VC is not obligated to invest in future funding rounds. Third, it motivates the entrepreneur to work towards a specific milestones. Instead of just receiving all the money at once, staged financing keeps the entrepreneur in check because it imposes tighter budget constraints on their resources and thus reduces the risk of the entrepreneur wasting money.

All in all, the underlying reason for both a company and a VC to undergo staged financing is for the reduction of risk. By not committing all of the money at once, the VC leaves the company with a set of goals to work towards if they hope to get future funding. Ultimately, this helps align the interests of both parties.

Priyanka Jain says:
Staged financing benefits both entrepreneurs and VCs. For the startup, staged financing allows the founders to retain a higher percentage of the company because the money is raised over a longer period of time and dilution is much lower than if the money was raised all at once. Additionally, having smaller pools of money drives the team to be innovative and entrepreneurial with how the resources are allocated; this prevents unnecessary spending and promotes the development of a sustainable and lean business. Finally, staged financing allows for entrepreneurs to learn from varying investors as they grow; while a certain VC firm might have the ideal network and advice for a seed stage company, there might be a different VC that would be better fit to help them in a growth stage.
From the VC perspective, staged financing drastically reduces risk. Each round, the VC is able to evaluate if the company has met the desired milestones and determine whether or not to put in more capital. By putting in smaller amounts of capital into each company at the beginning, the VC can diversify their portfolio and only invest larger sums of capital into the companies that have demonstrated growth and proven their business model, maximizing their returns.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Staged financing is beneficial both for entrepreneurs and for VC investors.

For entrepreneurs:
Staged financing encourages entrepreneurs to keep cash burn rate low, to be lean, and to be efficient. By financing a larger amount of money all at once, entrepreneurs risk spending this large amount of money more quickly.
Staged financing also allows entrepreneurs to retain maximal ownership of the company for a longer period of time. Naturally, with increased financing from investors comes increased dilution. By going through this financing process in stages, entrepreneurs/founders can retain more ownership of the company for longer.
Additionally, staged financing can prevent the “down round,” when a company is devalued in later financing rounds due to not meeting expectations. Financing in stages allows both entrepreneurs and VCs to have a more realistic understanding of the company’s true worth, and to hopefully prevent such a down round. However, financing a large amount of money at once means that founders incur the risk of not meeting these lofty expectations, leading to a lower company valuation in the future.

For VCs:
VC firms have different investment strategies and often focus on investing at different times or stages of a company (series A, B, etc.). By engaging in staged financing, VC firms can develop and leverage the deep understanding of the market at a particular point in time, rather than trying to invest across all stages of a company during times in which they might not have as much knowledge regarding how to identify a company with a higher chance of success. For example, if a particular VC firm focuses only on series A investments, it will develop a more robust understanding of how to identify the most promising companies at this point in time.
Staged financing also allows VC firms to reduce risk. VC firms can invest in several more companies (for example, $1 million to 15 companies each instead of $15 to 1 company), and can also avoid putting a significant amount of money into a company that might end up failing later.

Both VCs and entrepreneurs have much to gain from staged financing rather than raising all the money at once. From the VC perspective, there is great risk reduction, and from the entrepreneur’s perspective, there are benefits of efficiency, lower cash burn rate, and ownership.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
You and your friend have just created an awesome new mobile app. It's like Uber for people who just ran out of toothpaste. You and your cofounder are ecstatic at the prospect of growing InstaPastely into a billion dollar company. Your cofounder - let's call him "Mitch" - tells you he's got financing all figured out: he's going to go out and raise $50M in a single Series A-Z round - enough capital to fund 6 years of development and growth to reach profitability. You respond thusly:
"Mitch, you know I love you, but I think this is a genuinely horrible idea. First of all, no VCs are going to go for this deal. They'd be taking on a huge risk. They'd be investing large amounts of money in a yet unproven company, which would be the antithesis of commonly accepted diversification investment strategy and just a bad investment in general. Will the founders perform well? Will they be able to recruit good talent over time? Will customers like the product? Will the founders be able to conserve money and not fall victim to the lure of their large pile of cash? Who knows - it's anyone's guess! VCs would rather invest in stages, giving us money and seeing what we do with it before investing more. Why invest all at once and risk it all when you can invest in stages and get out if things go bad?
Also, this wouldn't be good for us. Raising $50M at once might sound awesome, but let's think about this: since we haven't proven anything yet, it's likely that the VC will ask for a huge portion of our equity proportional to the risk they're taking. If we raised in stages, we could prove ourselves after each round of funding, which would raise InstaPastely's value and let us keep more equity after the next round's dilution. Also, do you really think you'll be able to meter out that $50M over 6 years of growth in a way that makes sense for our trajectory? I don't. I think you'll spend more than you would if you were given only a little money at a time. Additionally, do you really want to get that much money so early? Wouldn't you get complacent and feel like "you've made it" and not work as hard? Staged financing would put a fire under your rear and keep you hungry. Finally, do you really think you know exactly which investor you want to work with for a whole 6 years? Don't you think our needs might change over time and require the help of different types of powerful business people? I sure do.
At the end of the day, Mitch, I think it's a matter of agility. It's silly to raise all our capital at once. Why try to fit a straight line to a curve? It doesn't make sense. Both us and our investors will profit more from an interaction that adapts to change and minimizes risk. The way to do this is through staged financing.
Glad we had this talk. Now let's go work on that Brush Sharing feature."

Tom Byers says:
Great going, especially after such a busy MFP weekend. Thanks in advance for all the prep for this important session with Chi-Hua.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
Staged financing has various advantages for both companies and VCs:
Companies: It's in a company's interest to run as a lean start up. You don't want to raise an enormous amount of money at the beginning, give away almost all of your equity, and then wind up not using the majority of that money. Moreover, having all of that money might motivate you to spend more than you really needed to in the first place. Raising in rounds allows you to get smaller sums of money at a time. this forces you to run as a lean start up, and only spend on what is necessary. Raising in several rounds also allows companies to have a better understanding of how much money they need as they grow and develop. We know from this class that the needs and directions of a company are drastically different depending on where they are and how fast they are growing. Similarly, their financial needs fluctuate with this characterization.
VC firms: It is in the interest of VC firms to finance in several rounds. First, financing in several rounds allows firms to identify the type of funding they typically provide. For example, some firms, like Floodgate, are seed firms that like to provide first few rounds of financing. Other firms are larger and are more interested in financing series B or C. Financing in multiple rounds allows VCs to keep to this preferred infrastructure. The timing of multiple round financing is also helpful to VC firms because you are able to watch a company for a little while after an initial investment to decide whether a second round should be given or not. In this model, you get more information about what you should be doing with your money, which is always useful for shrewd investing.

Nick Ning Xu says:
Hey y'all!

Here is the link to the video we showed in class:

Team Coast2Coast says:
1) In order to find the right candidates, we first need to identify our weaknesses and needs as a company. What do we want to achieve and what types of expertise do we need to get there? Imagine the dream team. Who do we want on that team? In general, you need experts to get through tough technical challenges. At the same time, you need driven, curious engineers with ingenuity who can attack novel problems in creative ways. More than that, these people need to be 100% convinced of the company’s vision and passionate about the work they’ll be doing. When experts and younger, more agile engineers work together, they can do amazing things. We would follow the same personal network search approach that Cooliris executed, but we would also heavily look into companies that are excelling in the areas we would like to improve upon in order to find experts that we can recruit.
To attract top choices, there needs to be a vision and culture alignment. We would express this upfront to our potential hires, explaining why and how we’re going to change the world with our product, and have a conversation with them about whether/how they see themselves fitting into that vision. Although it is tempting to try to entice candidates with future worth of stock, smart people to work with, and challenging problems, the fact is that we will never beat companies like Google and Tesla in these areas, although we must be competitive in these areas as well. When it comes down to it, the biggest lure to working with us is the fact that we’re going to change the world in a significant way. If they’re in line with our vision, we want them, and they’ll want us.

2) A comprehensive analysis of Cooliris’ strategy reveals both positives and negatives. Our team agrees that Josh and Soujanya were wise to commit to recruiting exceptional team members from the beginning. We concluded that Josh and Soujanya were smart to leverage their social networks and add a monetary incentive to motivate friends to refer top talent. However, as Vinod Khosla points out, it is extremely important to ensure that a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, personalities and approaches are represented on a team. It is also critical not to hire who you know but who you need. Thus, Josh should have critically examined the weaknesses of his current team and, as Khosla suggests, identified companies who are succeeding in those areas and specifically targeted the top talent from those companies. These names should have become Cooliris’ recruiting ‘hit-list’.
We believe Josh wasted an enormous amount of time contacting and interviewing candidates who were not necessarily A players. A smaller, targeted candidate pool would have allowed Josh and Soujanya to tailor pitches to engineers and sell Cooliris more effectively, thereby perhaps increasing the likelihood a candidate would have accepted. If Josh had taken this approach, he also probably could have been more transparent with candidates about the product and future projects from the outset. In this way, he may have generated excitement from the first interview and made them feel vested in the vision. However, we agreed he was wise in not revealing everything to all 50 candidates, many of whom he did not know personally. Finally, Josh should have recognized earlier that building a great team takes time. He should not be discouraged as his determination to only hire the best talent is critical for the success of the company.

T Team (Priyanka, Kaitlyn, & Revanth) says:
If we were attempting to build our “A Player” team, we would focus on growing and strengthening our personal networks; as Josh expected, the best leads for Cooliris were sourced through their team’s social networks. By nature of being in an environment like Stanford, simply spending time with our peers enables us to create incredibly valuable networks. These personal relationships can later turn into professional connections who can refer friends to join a startup. We believe that the most effective way to find and attract top talent come from personal recommendations, and by investing in authentic and diverse networks now, we can set ourselves up for success in the future.
To balance between ingenuity and experience, we would focus on hiring top talent from universities as well as established firms who are excelling in the sector we are in; this would allow us to build technically strong projects but with a fresh perspective.
Finally, we believe that having a strong vision and mission attract the talent that is willing to work hard through the good times and bad to help the company succeed.

1. The Cooliris team is articulating a big, compelling vision to prospective candidates: the team wants to fundamentally change the way Internet users “access, discover, and navigate information.”
2. The team also reveals information about future plans and potential risks to the strongest candidates in the final round of the interview, which shows candidates that Cooliris is an open and transparent environment.
3. The Cooliris team refuses to compromise on technical ability during the interview process. We believe this is a strength, as both the core team and the KPCB investors want to bring on talent that can execute on their vision and accelerate the development of products, rather than someone who may be less technically competent than is necessary (and may need training/mentoring to be caught up to speed).

Potential Improvements:
1. Josh filters the resumes alone, and instead he should include other opinions on candidates, especially the person’s potential manager. He should consult the technical team (Austin, Kyan) and the other founders during the initial resume screen. This gives multiple people, especially the engineering team, the chance to look through the resumes and decide whose resumes have the skill set that can benefit Cooliris at this time.
2. The email Josh sends is very generic, apart from the candidate name. He should add a personal touch to every email explaining why he believes that candidate would be a good fit. For example, if a candidate was recommended by the KPCB partner Randy Komisar, Josh should add a line in the email describing how he trusts Randy’s recommendation and believes the candidate would be a great fit to the company. If a candidate has a particular skill set that would be useful to Cooliris, Josh should highlight that skill set in his email.
3. Josh should focus more on finding potential candidates through employees’ extended social networks because this yields the most qualified applicants. The other methods of searching on Google/LinkedIn, Ads, and recommendations are finding subpar applicants and therefore a waste of time and money.
4. Josh needs to better differentiate Cooliris from the candidate’s current job or competing offers by making the offer more compelling. By highlighting the perks of a startup through explicitly offering mentorship and a chance to contribute to the long-term future of the company, Josh can better sell the candidates the team likes on the offer. It’s great that the team chats with each candidate about realistic expectations, but Josh should build in some professional development for each candidate into the offer: this is a key advantage a startup job has over working at a big/well established company.

Overall, we think the hiring process Josh is undertaking is composed of four stages: the use of ads, searches, and social networks to obtain resumes, the initial filtering of the resumes he receives from 1200 (a substantial number of resumes) to 400 via the “A player” test, the email (which is sent to 50 candidates), and then the in-house interviews. We think the quality of the in-house interviews is a strength to ensure the team gets the right technical talent, so we would not change this. It is the resume filtering (where Josh only keeps 33% of what he sees) and the email (where he only ends up interviewing ⅛ of the candidates) where the process needs the most work.

Destiny's Child (Nick, Ellen, and Mitchell) says:
1. Recruiting is a long-term game - your network is pivotal in successful recruiting. Building a strong network begins with formulating personal relationships with ethical, driven, and curious people long before any professional interests arise - Heidi Roizen speaks extensively on this notion. Close introspection is important to develop meaningful and fulfilling relationships that might later manifest in a professional relationship.

After developing a strong network, the task of identifying ingenuity and experience is simple. Careful leveraging of your network, and then evaluation of friends and friends of friends can divulge such information. This should be the first area you look in when trying to identify talent - people in your network can often times be more promising than an unknown candidate, even after an incredible interview. Yet, more difficult is identifying those willing to join a new venture, which ultimately comes down to people’s risk tolerance. You should then ask carefully thought out questions, or set clear parameters to recognize people’s risk level. Understanding the amount of risk people are willing to take will give you insight as to whether or not they have the right reasons to join your venture. Otherwise, people can take you for a timely, costly, wild goose chase, as was seen by Josh in the Cooliris case.

2. While Josh has succeeded in certain facets of the recruiting process, we believe that Cooliris’s approach still leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, we acknowledge and support that Josh has developed such a robust interviewing process, which allowed the Cooliris team to thoroughly consider each of its candidates. Furthermore, we think Josh is smart to leverage his strong social network in addition to the circles of KPCB and the Cooliris team, as this approach ultimately yielded five high-potential candidates. We would also urge Josh to continue with the candidate recommendation incentive since this tactic generates high-quality applicants and enthusiasm surrounding the recruiting process on the Cooliris employees’ end. Such positive energy will translate as general excitement about the company as a whole, which we believe will be well-received by prospective employees. Another one of Cooliris’s recruiting strengths is Soujanya’s transparency regarding the venture in the final round interview. We appreciate that Soujanya values “open and clear communication” and believe that starting on the same page is a crucial step to ensure that an employee transitions smoothly to a new company.

However, there are also a number of issues with Cooliris’ approach to recruiting. First, we think that the Cooliris team should share the responsibility of recruiting for Josh’s sake and for the future of the team. We believe that Josh should also be focusing on his business development responsibilities rather than committing an “immense amount of time” to an effort that should be shared by the entire team; the Cooliris team represents a diverse group of people who would likely provide interesting, invaluable insights on prospective employees, and including such diverse perspectives would be an investment in the future of the company. Furthermore, less time should be spent on the technical aspect of the interview. After completing an hour-long preliminary screening for technical ability, Cooliris candidates undergo yet another technical interview that lasts an additional two hours. While technical competency is certainly important, we think that the Cooliris team should spent more time evaluating personal and company alignment if Josh has already gathered a pool of qualified candidates.

While we approve of Josh’s personal welcome to prospective employees at the door, we still believe that there is room for improvement when it comes to adding a personal touch. Thus, we would urge the team to be more personal in all steps of the recruiting process. For example, Josh sends a very generic email to all potential candidates. We think he might find more success if he includes a short anecdote in his email that is specific to a certain candidate, whether that is something that stood out to him on the candidate’s resume or a recommendation from his team. We think that going the extra mile in this case will make all the difference and ultimately attract more interest in Cooliris. Another option would be to emulate ZenPayroll’s approach of identifying and celebrating candidates’ myriad interests. As Joshua Reeves mentioned this past weekend, ZenPayroll celebrates offers by responding in a very personal way. The specific example he mentioned was sending a prospective employee a soccer jersey signed by his favorite player. This small task clearly shows the candidate that the company does care about them and is ready to make an investment in them in exchange for their hard work. In addition, another improvement the company can work on is defining a set clear of values that will be at the heart and the soul of the company. By properly ingraining their philosophies into the minds of their employees, the company will subsequently be in a better place to succeed because the employees will better understand the future direction of the company.

Jotthe Kannappan, Laine Bruzek, and Jason Risch says:
Though building a team can be a challenging endeavor, especially in a new market, there are certain strategies that can guide the hiring process. When finding new hires, one of the most valuable resources is your network. In your own network, utilize your VCs to help identify talent, as well as unique networks that you’re a part of (like Mayfield!). However, sometimes your own network isn’t sufficient--before crossing the rubicon and committing to talent inside just your personal network, consider others you might reach out to for references. Though you might not know of candidates that fit what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance that someone in your immediate network can help you find the right person. By leveraging the networks around you, you open yourself up to many more contacts. Additionally, look for talent in untapped places: a great start is universities. Students are often a unique mix of qualified and enthusiastic. By having readily available marketing materials, like a well-designed email, compelling job fair pitch, or packet that professors can send to their students, you can inspire new talent to join your team.
Since it’s not realistic to assume that your outreach efforts will reach all candidates, it’s also helpful to consider how your company attracts new talent with its culture, perks, and structure. Create an open, honest culture that values hard work and an ownership mentality. Offer services that recognize the needs of transitioning employees, like a housing search database or a carpooling system. Overall, make sure the culture choices you make value the individuals (e.g. Zen Payroll’s personalized gifts with offers). It’s also important that you make your values as specific as possible: generic missions and values can often lose their ability to truly inspire.

Briefly make a list of what Cooliris is doing right and doing wrong, if anything, with its current recruiting process? How should they improve it?
Josh first exhausts his own social circles, as well as those of the founders. Social recruiting is perhaps the most effective method, as testimonies are personal and reliable, and introductions and conversations can occur more naturally.
Personal review of each candidate by Josh
As candidates progress through the interview process, Josh becomes progressively less secret with them in terms of revealing what Cooliris is about and what he is planning for the future. This process of gradual reveal builds a feeling of trust with the candidate.
Advertisements on Facebook/Google do not work, as most talented potential employees are conditioned to ignore ads and be more receptive to recruitment through other avenues.
The whole process is not personal enough - working at a small startup is an extremely personal experience dependent on the other employees. Cooliris spends the majority of interviews on technical questions (which are important) and only gives a formal pitch and a discussion of the company’s values. The interview should also incorporate behavioral questions. In addition, the candidate should meet the other employees and participate in casual conversations over lunch about common interests and work style so that company fit can be better assessed. This process would also build rapport and increase interest from the side of the candidate.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Ahhhhh! I'll be working at ZenPayroll this summer!

ZenPayroll is on a long-term mission to modernize the payroll industry and connect companies with their employees in a more meaningful way. Their comprehensive payroll service enables businesses to set up and run payroll in minutes, from any web enabled device. All government payroll taxes and reporting are taken care of automatically and paperlessly. ZenPayroll has processed millions of dollars in payroll and their customers span a wide variety of businesses, from flower shops to technology start-ups. Founded by MFP alum Josh Reeves in 2011, the company is trying to reinvent the HR department and has been growing at a rapid pace.

Position: Working closely within the growth team on both the channel sales and channel marketing sides.

Seed round (undisclosed) - Y Combinator, Salesforce Ventures
Follow up Seed ($6,100,000) - Y Combinator, Salesforce, other angel investors
Series A ($20,000,000) - KPCB, General Catalyst Partners, Obvious Ventures, AFSquare
Series B ($60,000,000) - Google Capital, KPCB, Altimeter Capital, Glynn Capital Management, General Catalyst Partners, Emergence Capital Partners, and Ribbit Capital

Team Size: about 110 people, but growing at an incredible pace (at the MFP retreat, Josh said they hired 28 people just within the past 3 weeks)

Office Location: San Francisco

Other Interesting Companies: Thuuz, Sourcegraph, Xamarin

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
Jumping on the ZenPayroll train woooo

ZenPayroll provides a cloud-based payroll solution for businesses in the US. ZenPayroll's mission is to make payroll as simple and intuitive as possible using the principles and tools of modern software. The payroll market today is filled with unnecessary layers of complexity, manual tasks and numerous fees. ZenPayroll was built to fix this.

Summer role:
Growth team, focusing on product and marketing

Seed round (undisclosed) – Y Combinator, Salesforce Ventures
Follow up Seed ($6,100,000) – Y Combinator, Salesforce, other angel investors
Series A ($20,000,000) – KPCB, General Catalyst Partners, Obvious Ventures, AFSquare
Series B ($60,000,000) – Google Capital, KPCB, Altimeter Capital, Glynn Capital Management, General Catalyst Partners, Emergence Capital Partners, and Ribbit Capital

Team size: ~110 last time I checked but growing like crazy

Office location: San Francisco

Other companies I liked a lot: Xamarin, Smule, Sitch, Synack

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
One lifetime is not enough for someone to fully experience the universe. My calling is to supply everyone with unlimited time and health to explore everything life has to offer and everything that it could possibly offer. This will require monumental advancements in artificial intelligence and medical technologies, advancements that I strive to drive forward by utilizing my passion for computer science and entrepreneurship, my curiosity for what’s possible, and my love for creative innovation. All the while, I will strive to consistently try new experiences, figure out what in life is meaningful to me, and then do those things in order to conquer my own ego and negative thoughts.

Jason Risch says:
Sitch: Sitch connects you to nearby fun at the push of a button. Initially targeted at 18-35 year olds, Sitch enables you to see the best events happening now - festivals, live music, happy hours, fun runs, comedy shows, wine tastings, food trucks festivals, exhibits, hikes, and more. Say goodbye to endless hours spent hunting for, and co-ordinating your fun.

Sitch is powered by a proprietary technology that allows for cost-effective aggregation of large scale, fragmented, poorly structured ephemeral web-based event data at global scale. This collection of data provides unique opportunities to provide compelling user experiences and enable a local marketplace.

The company’s founders Katie Mitic and Joe Hayashi have built and grown some of the world’s favorite products at Apple, Yahoo!, Palm and Facebook. The company, currently has a beta running in SF
( in the App Store).

Role: Assisting with business and product decisions and analytics.

Funding: 2 seed rounds.

Team size and office location: ~10, Palo Alto and Buenos Aires.

Other companies I considered: Thuuz,, ZenPayroll, Lumity

Revanth Kosaraju says:
I'll be at Synack this summer (where Jordan was last summer)!
They provide "Crowd Security Intelligence" for enterprises, by using the collective intelligence of the best white-hat hackers to discover the most vulnerable parts in an enterprise's software. Their solution is both scalable and continuous. (
My role at the company will be focused on marketing and corporate strategy.
Angel investing in February 2013 (undisclosed): Project 11, David Cohen, Techstars
Seed round in August 2013 ($1.5 million): Greylock, KPCB, Allegis Capital, Derek Smith
Series A in April 2014 ($7.5 million): Derek Smith, Allegis Capital, KPCB, Greylock, Google Ventures
Series B in February 2015 ($25 million): Google Ventures, Greylock, KPCB, Icon Ventures
Team Size: Company is 30-50 people. Office is located in Redwood City.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Oh and other companies I liked:
Oculeve, Spruce, Kanjoya, Soma

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
Jenna & Ellen

Nick Ning Xu says:
Jason & Nick

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Austin. Austin Ray. & Revanth

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Laine & Mitch

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Kaitlyn & Jotthe

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Daniel and Priyanka

Priyanka Jain says:
I'll be at Shift this summer! Shift harnesses the power of technology to reinvent the process of buying and selling used cars. (
I will be working with Minnie Ingersoll on the growth team. The office is in SF (in the Castro area) and the team is about 25 people!
They raised $23.8M for their Series A in November led by DFJ and Highland Capital.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
I think that businesses can only succeed when there is transparency about problems. Some corporate cultures, however, are less conducive to this mentality than others. R3 was a company in which managers used fear of failure as a motivational tool. Repercussions for falling short of goals were severe. Whitney and the rest of the executive team commonly used public shaming, organizational transfers, and dismissals to keep employees working hard. While there may have been some merits to this approach at the beginning of the H&T transfer, particularly when Whitney sought to correct for undisciplined work habits, it clearly had severe drawbacks.

The executive team essentially insulated itself from the reality of what was happening in R3. Sales people were so nervous to meet goals, they issued risky contracts just to meet the expectations that had been broadcasted to shareholders. Later, during Whitney’s “hot seat” meetings, mid-level managers knew they could only share positive news to make it out unscathed. In this way, the executive team fostered an environment in which they only heard what they wanted to hear.

This cycle led to the Micronet issue. Whitney and his associates were unaware of the unconventional contract clause because no one had the courage or incentive to report it. In fact, the executive team was so far removed, its members could not even fathom that R3 was taking such great risks (firing of collection agent) when it was brought to their attention.

R3’s fear driven culture is causing Hess to think twice about reporting the problem to the executive team, however, for the sake of the company, I do not think he has a choice. He must disclose the nature of the contract with Whitney in spite of the fact leadership has not created a safe environment for sharing problems. Hess’s actions have the ability to save R3 from a collapse. Eventually, some of the risky contracts will not pan out and suddenly, shareholders will sell the stock quickly, imperiling R3, or the company will be in other legal trouble as accountants continue to “find” entries. Whitney is the only man capable of changing the course of the company to avoid this fate, but if he does not know there is a problem, he will continue current practices of delivering overly aggressive projections to shareholders.

Hess should schedule a meeting with Whitney and explain that if he were in Whitney’s shoes, he would want to know about the contract. The $5 million sale is not critical to the success of the company, however, the culture that forced the deal is problematic. Hess can offer his hypothesis that the public expectations have enacted toll on R3 employees and stretched them to unreasonable limits. By positioning the meeting as one of genuine concern for the well being of the company, rather than simply about bad news, Hess might save himself from Whitney’s wrath. More importantly, while convincing the auditors to accept the contract might seem like an appealing option, in reality, Hess would only be pushing the problem out several months. Whitney is unlikely to stop making proclamations to stockholders about explosive growth if he keeps seeing his numbers being met. Therefore the source of the problem will remain and it will inevitably arise later on, perhaps in a deal of large volume this one.

Quitting is also not a viable option. Hess lacks other attractive job alternatives and also has a family to support. I think that leaving R3 without any disclosure would also be unethical. Despite how the executive team treats its employees, it is important to let them know what is actually occurring in the company so shareholders are not misled and the company does not break any laws.

When reading this case, I remembered a moment in our conversation with President Hennessey when he explained, “I try to create an environment in which those that directly report to me feel empowered to tell me any news-good or bad. As the head of an organization, there is no excuse for not knowing, it is simply unacceptable.” (or something along those lines). Whitney could probably have benefitted from being in the room.

In order to protect myself from situations like these moving forward, I will commit to avoiding companies that use fear as a motivational tool. I will seek employment at start-ups with flatter structures that encourage dialogue and transparency, and will therefore feel comfortable identifying problems before they spiral out of control.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
This summer I will be working at Zymergen! They leverage data science, automation, and microbiology to revolutionize industrial strain development. A key to their success in this typically slow and risky industry is the use of Big Data technology and machine learning techniques. They can make microbes that produce novel chemicals, advanced materials, and pharmaceuticals much faster and lower cost than existing technology.
Role: I will be working directly with the VP of business development.
Funding: Amounts are undisclosed but some investors include: Innovation Endeavors (Eric Schmidt's fund), Data Collective, and Linden Mobile Ventures.
Team Size: 50 and doubling by December. Office is in Emeryville...not ideal but decided the inconvenience was worth it.
Other companies I loved: Cala Health, GeneWEAVE, Oculeve

Tommy says:
No need to invest a huge amount of time to fully understand all the nuances of this case, just a feel for the basic situation going on for Randy and 3R.

The other readings are worthwhile!

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Yeah, rereading this my bad....probably went a little overboard, had a lot to say and some extra time.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
1) As Hess, a summary of my basic approach to the MicroNet contract problem is to:

My overall approach would be to meet with Whitney and convince him that he has the ability to remedy this situation by reversing the sale to MicroNet, and that it is the only viable option for the long-term health of the company. Quitting, in my opinion, is not a viable option because Hess truly wants to keep his job, and until now, has seen a possibility in the future where 3R can turn things around. Additionally, if Hess were to quit and look for another job, or approach the auditors directly, it is possible that he could burn his bridges with plenty of powerful people within 3R including Whitney. Whitney seems like an individual who could make Hess’ life miserable in the future because he is both volatile and, as chairman and CEO of 3R, is well connected in the industry, and could potentially cause Hess to be blacklisted from future employment in the Lubbock area.

When approaching Whitney, I would highlight the protection of 3R’s long-term health and image.
First, I would note how the collection agent brought the information about the MicroNet deal to the auditors for retaliation, and would point out to Whitney that it’s likely that a similar situation could occur in the future. I would explain to Whitney that although I could meet with the auditors and convince them to accept the inventory as reasonable revenue, I would not feel comfortable doing this for the long-term health of the company. I’d explain to Whitney that there is a strong possibility that some disgruntled employee or ex-employee could disclose this information in the future, and seriously hurt 3R’s public image.
Second, I would point out to Whitney that although reversing the MicroNet deal would temporarily hurt 3R’s public image in the short-term, it is much preferred to covering up the information or smoothing things over with the auditors, having this cover-up inevitably (or very likely) leak out in the future, and then endangering the company long-term. It is true that investors and clients may be unwilling to work with the company in the short-term due to the MicroNet problem, and the company will have to work to regain their trust and the trust of the industry as a whole after unmet financial projections. But this situation is much preferred to omitting or covering up the truth completely and then, once it’s discovered, very likely never having the chance to work with these clients, investors, or anyone in the industry again in the future due to irreparable damage to 3R’s reputation.

2) In order to protect myself from situations like the one in the Hess case during my career, I would consider the following:

A. No matter what the situation is, I will always do my homework before joining a new company. Whether it’s a large company or a small startup where I’m part of a founding team or an early employee, I’ll look to see if the founders or the people I’ll be working with are in my immediate network, and ask my friends, peers, and colleagues about their moral compass, how they are as leaders, and whether my friends/peers/colleagues could see me working in a team with them, even before I meet with the founders/my potential future colleagues.
B. I feel that Randy Hess is in the quandary he is in partially because he ignored the warning signs of the precarious position the company was getting itself into. For instance, the case points out that even though Hess was uncomfortable about the accounting “adjustments” being made, he ignored these feelings because he was a member of the finance team and felt like he had both job security and hadn’t dealt with any ethical issues. Because of his inaction, Hess is now in the situation where he could potentially be risking his personal and family’s future or compromising on his ethical values. Had Hess realized that the situation he was in at 3R was untenable, and had he started looking for other jobs at an earlier stage, he might actually have the additional option of quitting and moving to a different company as opposed to quitting with no viable alternative. This ties back into what President Hennessy was saying on Tuesday about the importance of quick decisions, and in business, often going with your gut and the available data. In the future, I’m definitely going to take warning signs and any available data seriously and put the onus on myself to make quick decisions before things spiral out of control.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
As Hess, a summary of my basic approach to the MicroNet contract problem is to:
Meet with Whitney and confirm that he is aware of the product return contingency clause in the MicroNet contract. I would inform Whitney that the contract cannot be booked as revenue, per the FASB accounting rules, unless 1) the contingency clause is removed and 2) MicroNet pays the outstanding $5M contact balance immediately, since it is currently over 90 days aged. I would ask Whitney to call the CEO of MicroNet and inform him of the required actions. If Whitney does not acknowledge the contingency clause and instructs me to classify the contract as revenue, then I would restate the revenue by removing the $5M, resign, and write an detailed explanation of my resignation. As the Corporate Controller of the company, I am personally responsible for the quality of the company’s financial statements and must make sure they are in compliance with the accounting standards. By making it clear, in writing, that I am aware of the MicroNet contract revenue recognition issue and I attempted to fix it, but management prevented me from doing so, I confirm that I am not responsible or involved in any potential fraud or financial mis-statement. I should probably still leave the company in any case, because it has become an unhealthy work environment that is driven by fear that has lead to unethical behavior and people with low integrity.

One of the options presented in the case is for Hess to go to the Auditors and try to convince them that it is proper to recognize the deal as revenue. The problem with this option is that it is not in compliance with the accounting rules and Hess knows it. By trying to convince the auditors, he is pushing a point-of-view that is not in compliance and the Auditors will lose trust and confidence in his professional accounting ability, which will call into question the quality of the company’s financial statements. The audit team’s confidence in his professional ability is very critical to his long-term career in the accounting field.

In order to protect myself during my career from situations like this, I will consider 1 or 2 specific tactics:
1) I will not work in an environment that is driven by a fear centric-culture, where due to the extreme pressure the potential exists for employees to commit unethical acts. This is not a healthy work environment and can lead to potential fraud/legal problems, like the one described in the case. I will do my best to evaluate the prospective culture to determine that I am entering an environment where I will be working with people of integrity.
2) I will also try to make sure I am entering a company environment that has both process and systems checks and balances. Checks and balances can ensure that no one person or department has absolute control over decisions and prevents any one person or department from having too much power, and forces cooperation in completing tasks. These various procedures help to reduce mistakes and improper behavior, like the MicroNet deal, which can manifest themselves into large legal issues.

Nick Ning Xu says:

Don’t optimize for the short-term.

As Hess, my basic approach to the MicroNet contract problem is to reveal to Whitney the contract’s issues. I would be calm, honest, and employ Cialdini’s persuasion techniques. Despite the negative precedent set by dash meetings and hostile business tactics, in a case where breaking the law is on the precipice, severe action is necessary for both myself and the company.


I would shift mindset to have losing my job as a possibility, and look for ways to manage my personal financials if that were to eventuate (move out of state, downsize etc.) Some things are more important than keeping a job. I would take solace that I maintained integrity, and not run the risk of being thrown in jail - a much worse case than being fired. Tough decisions are tough for a reason.


Honesty may not be rewarded in the short-term, but pays dividends in the long-term. If the mess created by the MicroNet problem, or other questionable bookkeeping were revealed, I bet Whitney, with his previous track-record of connections, hostility and intimidation, would do everything to not be blamed. In essence, it would be a matter of time before I was blamed. I see the law of reciprocity at play. If Whitney doesn’t see my point of view, I must do everything to disassociate with 3R, because eventually the problem will come back to haunt.



I must assess all possible outcomes, and consider the worst case-scenario. Many things are more important than holding down a job.

Actions speak louder than words

In congruence with roadmap, this is what is truly important - integrity, authenticity, and perspective. Everything must be measured against this standard.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Hahaha Graif....
As Hess, a summary of my basic approach to the MicroNet contract problem is to...
--- Keep my job. FASB isn't law, so it's not like I'm going to go to jail. And I certainly care more about providing for my family than abiding by a moral code (if I had to choose one or the other). So here's how I'm going to handle this: First I'm going to go to the auditors and explain why I don't think the MicroNet deal violates FASB (newness of drive, reasonableness of $5M deal, etc.). I'm also going to emphasize that I really value the work they do, but that this issue would probably make Whitney choose another auditor in the future, meaning they'd lose their biggest client (I'd feel pretty bad playing this card, but it's probably true). Given the fuzziness of the rules surrounding this type of deal, the "first-time offense" nature of it, and the gravity of the situation, I hope they'll side with me and give 3R a "clean opinion". If not, I'll go to Whitney, explain the situation, and tell him that I've done everything in my power to get that "clean opinion". If he fires me, then so be it. I probably don't want to work at a place with this toxic of a culture anyway, and it just wouldn't be worth continuing at this point.

In order to protect myself during my career from situations like this, I will consider these 1 or 2 specific tactics... If I am in control of the culture, I will make sure that it is not this high-pressure. Pushing difficult goals is fine, but when you're punishing people who are working extremely hard for not meeting these goals, then that creates an extremely divisive, cutthroat culture. Your employees are your family, not cogs in a wheel. If I was not in control of the culture, I would keep a watchful eye for the direction that the culture is going. If it went bad and people started being stressed and immoral and unmotivated, I'd try my best to improve the culture around me but would probably start considering other job options if it got bad. You never want to be in a position where the job you have is your only option, or you'll end up tolerating treatment and behavior that you really shouldn't. Keep your options open, maintain contacts in the industry, and always have an out. (because if I was Hess and I had another option, I'd be out of there quicker than a cat out of a bathtub)

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
1) As Hess, a summary of my basic approach to the MicroNet contract problem is to meet with Whitney and try to convince him to reverse the sale to MicroNet in an effort to preserve the company’s long-term image. Evidently, Whitney is not moved by ethical considerations, thus it seems that Hess must approach this situation from the standpoint of profitability. As Hess, I would stress that although 3R may suffer some immediate financial setbacks from its inability to achieve its projections, this would pale in comparison to the sweeping consequences of the truth being disclosed. 3R can attribute its mediocre financial performance to overly ambitious projections and attempt to regain the support of investors and customers. Once this trust has been rebuilt, 3R can slowly work its way back to profitability in an ethical manner. However, if word gets out about 3R’s accounting malpractices (which seems likely given the vengeful agent’s actions), the company’s reputation will be unequivocally tarnished, deterring any potential investor or customer from associating with 3R in the future and ultimately leading to the company’s demise.
Evidently, Whitney has created a hostile work environment characterized by unrealistic expectations and denigration of hardworking employees. As the Corporate Controller and one of the leaders of the company, Hess must lead by example in order to enact cultural change or else he will perpetuate the harmful precedent set forth by Whitney. Even if Whitney ends up firing Hess for his actions, at least Hess can feel vindicated in his effort to do the right thing rather than continuing to succumb to immoral behavior. It is clear that Hess possesses some sort of moral compass as he felt uneasy about the accounting “adjustments.” Unfortunately, it seems that this oppressive culture has reordered his priorities, as he has become blindsided by his self-perceived “authority” and job security. However, Hess has the ability to get both himself and the company back on track by urging Whitney to reverse the MicroNet sale.

2) In order to protect myself during my career from situations like this, I will consider these 1 or 2 specific tactics:
1. In my career, I will seek out companies that uphold the values of transparency and open communication. In my experience, I’ve found that a focus on these core values fosters greater innovation and success. Furthermore, I think it’s important to work in an environment where failure is celebrated rather than condemned. Everyone makes mistakes, and they can serve as a valuable learning experience for all parties involved. In the case, 3R’s managers had “no room for error” and would be fired if they did not achieve the unrealistic expectations set forth by Whitney. This resulted in growing unhappiness on the employees’ end as well as stagnated progress. Meanwhile, Hess was very excited about his growing position of authority and influence in the company as he felt very secure in his job. Evidently, this discrepancy resulted in an increasingly hierarchical work environment with employees maneuvering for power and security in the organization. This ultimately created a growing gap between 3R’s organizational tiers, thus stifling effective communication within the company.

2. Throughout my career, I commit to leading with integrity and leading by
example. Even when doing the right thing is difficult (as it often is), it is important to set a good example for those around you. In the case, Hess notes that the accounting department was disdainfully referred to as the “history” department. This stemmed from Whitney and the new management’s attitude towards this department, as they considered it “a relic of the past” and irrelevant to 3R’s operations. This example reveals how a leader’s general attitude can permeate a company - for better or worse. Thus, in my career, I aim to be cognizant of the impact that my behavior has on those around me. Even seemingly small actions can greatly influence others.

Priyanka Jain says:
1. As Hess, a summary of my basic approach to the MicroNet contract problem is to:
meet with Whitney, be honest about the situation, and attempt to convince him that he can reverse the the deal with MicroNet. While Whitney will undoubtedly be unhappy about the situation, being honest now will enable Hess and the company to move past this in the long term. Additionally, Hess should discuss the internal culture with Whitney that led to this problem: the high stress environment with relentless pressure to meet potentially unrealistic goals.

2. In order to protect myself during my career from situations like this, I will consider these 1 or 2 specific tactics:
If I am in charge of the culture of a company, I would follow the advice we received from President Henessy earlier this week: everyone who works for me knows they can always tell me news, good or bad; the only time they would ever be in trouble is if they don’t tell me. I think creating an open culture is extremely important to the success of employees and the overall organization and I would hope to implement this in any work environment I was in charge of.
When I am choosing where I want to work, I will remember to prioritize the culture of the company; while pressure is important, I do not want to spend the majority of my day in an environment that tempts employees to make unethical decisions to make deadlines.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
1. Take action as quickly as possible. The longer Hess waits to make a final decision, the more severe the consequences. If I were in Hess’s position, I would first approach the auditors to gain as much information and insight as possible about the situation. I would then take all of this compiled information and present it to Whitney, explaining in detail what the auditors flagged in their investigation and then attempt to convince Whitney that he should retract the $5 million. While this would not be the best move for the short-term in the eye of the public and the company’s stock would surely take a hit, the ethics of the case presents a slippery slope for Whitney, Hess, and the entire company as a whole. At the end of the day, the retraction of the $5 million would not taint the image of the company in the long-term. Though initially hard to swallow, people quickly forget (just look at what every big investment bank did in 2008, yet everyone still wants to work at one today for the prestige and exit opportunities). At the end of the day, if a company’s culture resides in its norms and behaviors, then what would stop Whitney from doing something like this again and making these shortcuts and loopholes a routine part of the company culture?

After approaching Whitney and objectively explaining both sides of the argument, I would then see how Whitney reacts. If his reaction were one of rage and anger, I would immediately resign and begin to look for another job. As Heidi Roizen discussed when she visited our class, there is something incredibly empowering about quitting. If your gut is telling you to get out, you should get out as quickly as possible (look at what happened when an employee of 3R had enough, resigned on the spot, started his own company, and eventually became 3R’s second largest competitor). While it is clear that Hess enjoys being in the position of power he is in, along with all the perks that come with it, Whitney has created an unhealthy work environment filled with fear. It is only a matter of time before the “tension and anxiety” of the company culture begin to outweigh any positive feelings that Hess has about his own perks and power. Though this might not be beneficial for me in the short-term in regards to supporting my family, it will look a lot better in the future if I’m not part of a company that continues to pursue unethical endeavors and eventually gets caught for something much more serious.

2. One’s gut is a great resource to quickly gauge people and their levels of authenticity; most other decisions should come down to some sense of rational. In order to protect myself during my career from situations like this, I would take action and make decisions very quickly while using as much information as I can. If something doesn’t feel right, I would bring up the issue and attempt to solve it. Often times, these kinds of problems turn into a slippery slope where the boundaries of ethics and integrity continue to be pushed. At the end of the day, working for the right people – those who are honest, genuine, thoughtful, and authentic – will help you make the best decision. Regardless of the perks that come with the job, the most important factor for employees in choosing where they want to work is their boss. If management creates a hostile working environment where ethical standards consistently come into question, then it probably is not the right place to be.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
The executive team of 3R is focused entirely on the short-term goal of “making the books look good” for the investment community. This had led the company to issue very risky contracts to meet aggressive projections that the executive team has demanded. In particular, the $5 million sales contract with MicroNet has a very unusual clause that would allow MicroNet to return the drives to 3R if they could not be sold. If Hess were to reverse the sale to MicroNet in order to satisfy the auditors, 3R would not be able to meet its financial projections that Richard Whitney had already released to the public as fact. 3R’s public image and relationship with shareholders would be irrevocably damaged. Therefore, in the short-term, I think it is necessary for the preservation of the company for Hess to try to persuade the auditors to accept the inventory as revenue in order to maintain the deal with MicroNet.

However, this does not solve 3R’s long-term problems. 3R has fostered a toxic culture in which fear is used as a tool for motivation and employees are not free to tell the executive team what is really going on. This forces employees to go to desperate measures to hit revenue targets out of fear of losing their job or the risk of being reprimanded upon reporting back to the executive team with anything less than positive news. This is not sustainable. Therefore, as Hess, I would see it as my duty to have a meeting with Whitney and explain the situation to him as honestly as possible. I would let him know that after this deal with MicroNet, 3R cannot sustainably continue to release such lofty financial projections to shareholders and issue such risky contracts. I would voice my opinion about the underlying problems of the company as well, notably the toxic culture that has prohibited employees from voicing the problems of the company and that has bred the employee fear leading them to issue such risky contracts. Hopefully by meeting on common ground of genuine concern for the company Hess can successfully persuade Whitney to reevaluate the current approach.

In order to protect myself during my career from situations like this, I will factor in company culture very highly when making a decision about where to work. I will commit to never work in a company where I feel like I cannot voice my honest opinions. I also do not want to put myself in future positions in which I have to make decisions that potentially violate my ethics (like in this case). Therefore I will strive to ensure that the company I work for has morals that align with my own.

Jenna Berkenkamp & Ellen Rudolph says:
See attached PDF for Ellen & Jenna’s Job Search Do’s and Don’ts!

Jason Risch says:

Laine Bruzek and Mitchell Kogan says:
Attached is a PDF of our MFP Job Search Lessons Learned!

Priyanka Jain & Daniel Graifman says:
Attached is our guide to identifying & landing the perfect job!

Kaitlyn & Jotthe says:
See attached for job search fact sheet!

Revanth Kosaraju & Austin Ray says:
-Austin and Revanth's job search tips

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
I wanted to focus on relationships--I think we've gotten some amazing advice this quarter about how to deal with professional relationships between company members, between businesses and consumers, and even between leaders and themselves. I compiled some of the takeaways in this doc!

Revanth Kosaraju says:
I felt E140A covered a foundational breadth of material in entrepreneurship, with both specific advice for summer and life lessons packed in. So I picked the one key takeaway that resonated with me from a majority of our classes and put them all together in this crossword form.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
I decided to create an entrepreneurship toolkit to highlight a few of the concepts I found most important and interesting this quarter!

Nick Ning Xu says:
Words are not my forte; I hope to reveal my introspection through image.

(Image Credit: George Qiao,

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Throughout the quarter, we've often asked our guest speakers what advice they would share with their younger selves. For my reflection, I wrote a letter to my younger self with some of they key lessons that proved to be most useful this quarter!

Jotthe Kannappan says:
I made an image with a note to all of you for my reflection!

Jason Risch says:
I applied some of the lessons we learned into reimagining a Greek myth. I think it shows how applicable the lessons we learned are outside of business, and having them in a narrative will certainly help me remember them for a very long time.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Sorry for the long description but I felt mine needed it!
Something I have spent a lot of time understanding and creating in ChemE this year is a Process Flow Diagram (PFD). It is a way to describe a process through symbols, streams, and operations. I decided to apply this idea to my Mayfield experience this past quarter. There were so many things I wanted to include in this, but I tried to include only my most memorable experiences.
Events, cases, activities, and speakers are represented as different equipment. Words are written in the equipment to describe the most important concepts for that particular event. The streams or arrows leaving the equipment and words above represent the very key/big ideas I left with. All events funnel into one of 4 categories or mixers. From these four mixers, the main concepts go into the last reactor to produce the final effect of E140a.
I picked symbols/equipment to be representative of the idea they are describing. For example, I represented cases as heat exchanges. I thought this fits very well because cases act as sparks for ideas and get your thoughts flowing. Also, cases are very controlled – a document typically read alone. This compares well with the controlled nature of a heat exchanger. Specific guests/talks are better represented as boilers. They are typically larger in terms of discussion/ideas and a more informal/open environment. Everything has some slight meaning but I have decided to not write another page on all of the interpretation. Feel free to message me for specific interpretation of a certain equipment etc.!

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
For my reflection, I distilled some of my favorite "big picture" ideas on beginnings, self-awareness, leadership, and humanity.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
I decided to do a Mayfield Oscars and gave out a few minor awards to the instructors too.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Framed Silicon Valley as a video game. Created a gameplay guide + tips & tricks.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Hahahahaha Kaitlyn I was so close to doing that too!

Priyanka Jain says:
I compiled a list of quotes from our speakers about what makes a great leader.

Tom Byers says:
Awesome posts everyone. Enjoy.

Grades all finished and submitted on Axess for E140A. Now head first into E140B this summer with all of you.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
Hello everyone!

Just as a refresher, I am working at a company called Oculeve this summer. At Oculeve, we make neurostimulation devices that treat dry eye disease.

Where did the technology behind your startup come from?
The technology behind Oculeve came form the Stanford Biodesign Fellowship. The product itself came from the marriage of efforts from a physicist (Jim Loudin, VP of clinical affairs), who was just trying to make a really good neurostimulation device, and a neurobiologist (Michael Ackermann, CEO). Stanford Biodesign has been the source of several different start-ups, and after consultation with clinical advisors, Jim and Michael knew that their idea could make it.

What were the unique challenges that the founders faced when trying to transition this technology into a company?
There's an answer to this, but it would require an NDA to tell you guys :/

What is the business model of your startup, and who are the customers?
Because Oculeve makes medical devices, the business model at this point is largely centered around clinical trials in various countries and cities. Of course, these clinical trials are necessary before the devices can be commercially available. This is an especially long process in the US, because the FDA is much pickier than most other national health organizations. I wish I could say more about the plan for commercial, but I'm not allowed to.

Oculeve's core group of customers are people suffering from dry eye disease. These patients suffer from chronically dry eyes that cause pain and impair their sight. The needs of these customers have yet to be met by any other medical solution, so Oculeve is extremely well positioned for success.

Also- something I can tell you all. This morning, Oculeve signed an acquisition deal with Allergan, the world's leading dry eye care company!!!! Due to federal anti-trust review, it might be several months before the deal goes completely through, but Oculeve's technology is so unique and promising that it got acquired before it even hit the market (this is unheard of in the medtech industry). I'll still be finishing my position as a summer intern, doing some pioneering work on a project that's currently pretty hush-hush. Hopefully I'll be able to share more by the end of the summer!

Happy Monday,

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Hey everyone!

Hope you're all having a great summer! Since Jenna, Daniel, and I are all interning at ZenPayroll, each of us decided to focus in on one specific aspect of the company for our forum post. Enjoy!

Founders, Product, and Technology

I’m interning in the channel sales and channel marketing divisions of the growth team at ZenPayroll, a cloud-based payroll company with about 190 employees (but growing exponentially). While ZenPayroll usually sells their product to small businesses, they also sell through their channel accountant program. They think a useful growth channel for their product is to sell to accountants and incentivize these accountants to become resellers and then advertise ZP's services to all of the clients in their portfolio. As an intern, I’m currently working on improving the timeline of the sales cycle, increasing internal efficiency, and optimizing growth.

ZenPayroll wants to make it difficult for employers to make mistakes in their payroll. Started by two-time entrepreneurs Josh Reeves, Tomer London, and Edward Kim, the company is on a mission to modernize payroll, humanize compensation, and empower the employee. The three co-founders and best friends graduated from Stanford with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in electrical engineering. After going on separate paths and starting their own companies, some of which were successfully acquired, the three reunited in 2012 because they all experienced inherent problems with how current payroll was run and wanted to make a change. Soon after, they started ZenPayroll, which has to date raised over $80 million in funding and expanded their services to all 50 states in the US.

The key that makes ZenPayroll so successful is that it’s focused on people, not transactions. Their product helps give both employees and employers piece of mind when filing taxes or any other legal paperwork because their product automatically takes care of all of that for you.

ZenPayroll also prides itself in its exceptional customer service. By focusing so closely on the customer experience, they are able to attract customers from payroll competitors such as Intuit and ADP. They believe that as employers, it’s important to show appreciation to all of your employees for all of their hard work. And as employees, it’s a very important moment in their lives every time they get paid. ZenPayroll is simply facilitating the software for these two stakeholders to recognize one another in an easy and painless way.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
ZenPayroll Part 2: Business Model and Customers

At ZenPayroll I am a product management intern embedded in the Platform Team, working to improve our information security and protect customer information. I am working on two main projects:
1. Customer identity verification: I am establishing a process for validating customer identity when customers call in to our Success and Care teams.
2. Fraud ring detection: Groups of fraudsters often use overlapping information such as names, email addresses, bank accounts, etc. I am working with an engineering intern to build a mechanism to detect these situations so that we can increase our odds of catching fraudsters.

ZenPayroll is a SaaS company that provides cloud-based payroll processing software. Our target customers are small and medium sized businesses who are typically underserved by larger, competing payroll providers like ADP and often resort to processing payments and direct deposits manually. This causes ⅓ of small businesses to be fined each year for mistakes related to processing payroll. Our easy-to-use interface ensures that even business owners who are not “tech savvy” can use ZenPayroll to process payroll in minutes. Eventually, ZenPayroll hopes to reach large businesses as well.

We have a subscription business model in which businesses pay a fee each month for our services. ZenPayroll has extremely transparent, flat pricing: a $25 base price plus $4 per employee per month. We believe that trust is extremely important, especially since we are handling such sensitive information, and this is reflected in our pricing. We have an extremely low churn rate (where businesses drop us as their payroll provider) because our value add only increases over time as businesses hire new employees and their payroll and taxes become more complicated. Our intense focus on people as the core of every business is a large part of our value proposition.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:

Product Management Role
Working with engineering and operations team to build processes that help ZP scale
Owning a new feature from inception to implementation to be incorporated in future offerings.

ZenPayroll has a gigantic market opportunity. There are over 6 million small businesses in the United States and roughly 40% of them currently run payroll by hand. As a result, ZP can focus on capturing new clients that have never used software for payroll before, instead of solely poaching customers from competitors like ADP and Paychex. Some markets, like personal transportation (Uber, Lyft), foster more reactive competition. If one firm adds a new feature, the competitor must try and introduce something similar. From a strategic perspective, ZenPayroll does not operate with this mindset. Leadership elects to focus energy internally, rarely giving the release of another company’s payroll product more than an acknowledging email. ZP recognizes the market is probably big enough for several firms and believes the way to ultimately best competition is not the introduction of flashy features that augment sales in the short term, but through carefully crafted products that fully address customer needs. The quality of the experience-from product to customer support-will ultimately win out and enable ZP to capture the largest market share.
ZP does incorporate elements of the lean startup approach, particularly “getting out of the room.” Before launching any particular feature, ZP makes sure to confirm interest with customers. It can gather data from upwards of 150 clients before determining whether something is worth building.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Hope you all had a great 4th of July weekend and are enjoying this amazing weather!

I'm working at Synack (based in Redwood City) this summer in a Marketing/Strategy position. Synack is a cybersecurity company, focused on providing Security-as-a-Service. The company recruits the best white-hat (ethical) hackers and hires them to find vulnerabilities in customers' software. The premise of the company is that crowdsourced human intelligence can keep up with the latest adversaries/malicious hackers, discover what traditional security software (which is largely static and unable to keep up with adversaries) cannot, and hopefully make enterprise software safer. The company has around 50 employees and they are rapidly hiring.

The idea for Synack came about when the co-founders, Jay Kaplan and Dr. Mark Kuhr, were working as cyber analysts at the National Security Agency (NSA), specializing in counter-terrorism intelligence and information security. Their idea for the company was developed enough to be accepted at Techstars, an accelerator based in Boston, where they received seed funding and further exposure. Eventually they moved out to the West Coast, roughly coinciding with a series A round led by KPCB, and focused on building out their service, acquiring customers, and hiring to make the company bigger. They closed series B funding about 5 months ago.

One unique challenge that the founders faced was in leaving stable, reasonably well-paying government jobs that were intellectually stimulating and taking a chance on what was essentially a slightly developed idea. The founders didn't really know if they were going to be able to make it beyond this seed idea, especially given how crowded the security market has become recently. Another challenge the company has faced is in hiring the best talent, particularly since cost-of-living is so high in Silicon Valley and the company is located reasonably far away from San Francisco.

The business model of the startup is subscription-based security as a service to enterprises of pretty much any size (so B2B). I'm actually not allowed to mention any of the clients by name, but there are some pretty big and well known companies on Synack's customer list. I've definitely seen the people I work with at Synack incorporate the "lean startup" mentality into their approach: the different teams take customer feedback and requests for features quite seriously and often use this input to inform how the product will be developed. Above all, the company prides itself on high quality: around 80% of applicants to the Synack Red Team (their private, highly-vetted hacker team) are rejected due to not meeting technical or professional standards. This makes a lot of sense, seeing as how security is a very sensitive industry: just one breach can seriously ruin a security company's reputation.

Jason Craig Risch says:
This summer I’m working at Sitch, a startup focused on tackling the local event market. Sitch has between 10 and 15 people divided between Palo Alto and Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the bulk of the tech team in Buenos Aires. In terms of planned projects, on the technical side I’m attempting to improve their automatic event recommendation system. As Sitch’s technologies gathers tons of different events from many different sources, this system should highlight certain events for users. A separate recommendation system will incorporate this rating along with user data and preferences (currently utilizing a standard collaborative filtering method - think Netflix or Amazon) in order to rank events for users. On the business side, I will help contribute to the pitch for Series A funding through market research etc. Sitch is still in seed funding, but has raised a fair amount from investors like Jerry Yang, Sheryl Sandberg, and Aileen Lee. They hope to raise their Series A in September or October.

The idea for the company did not derive from a university-developed technology; rather, it came a few years ago when one of the co-founders, Katie Mitic, paid a babysitter to look for events that she and her family could do on the weekend. Upon realizing how ridiculous the process of paying someone else to look for fun stuff for you to do sounded, she surveyed other people and found through market research that many people spent about an hour looking for local events and still came away unsatisfied. Combined with the other co-founder, Joe Hayashi’s, vision for helping people become more connected to their community, the idea for Sitch was born. Both came from product and marketing backgrounds at companies like Apple, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Palm, so only upon diving into the problem did they understand the technical complexity underlying the market. Event data is very poorly structured and ephemeral, as it is spread across thousands of sites in differing formats and by its temporal nature is either deleted or quickly becomes irrelevant. The local event market is a massive market, both in terms of data and advertising potential as well as ticket sales, so many startups have already attempted to revolutionize it. However, no startup to date has succeeded in dominating the field; as such, Sitch has not created a new market but is taking the Dropbox approach of providing a solution that actually works.

In terms of Steve Blank’s methodology, Sitch definitely subscribes to lean startup theory by keeping their burn rate extremely low while constantly iterating on a Beta version of the app in order to receive customer feedback and test engagement. The target audience is millennials, though families and kids also provide another large target audience going forward, as many of the best reviews on Sitch came from adults desperate to find events for their kids before kids’ events were filtered out. It is definitely a less served market than millennials, and thus could provide an easier market to break into than the more crowded millennial market. As of now, Sitch is focused on building user base over revenue. The app has captured new customers through ads at a rate far below the market for apps, demonstrating the need in this specific sector. It also has realized very good engagement and return-user rates, particularly in response to notifications and flash sales.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Hi everyone!

I am working at Zymergen this summer. At Zymergen, we build better microbes with a combination of robotics, big data, and machine learning. The company currently has 55 employees and is growing. My role here is to work directly with head of business development on a variety of projects. My main project includes making a McKinsey style “war room.” This mostly entails compiling and displaying data in an informative and creative way so head scientists and directors can make better decisions. I also have spent time doing market research on potential clients, streamlining/standardizing cross-functional company practices, assisting on client slide decks, and helping make better onboarding documents.

Much of the core technology and business model at Zymergen is confidential so I am sorry if I am somewhat vague in my responses here.

There are three founders. Two of the founders worked together at a synthetic biology company called Amyris (where I also previously worked), and the third founder spent his time before in finance and consulting. The idea for the company came from the founder’s experience in the synthetic biology industry and seeing how the industry could benefit from a pivot. They saw the value of applying automation and data infrastructure to industrial biotechnology.

Zymergen had clients early on and this allowed the company to grow its technology. Zymergen’s clients are mostly industrial biotech companies that make a material (in the industry of chemicals, agriculture, food, etc.) from microbial fermentation. I can’t say exactly how it all works but Zymergen can deliver its clients a significant economic saving in the client’s manufacturing process. Right now, Zymergen acts much like a consulting company giving clients better economics.

Sorry, but I can’t really speak more about the business model and customer development. However, I do see some aspects of Steve Blank’s methodology with constant iterations on the “product” and engaging with potential customers early on.

Priyanka Jain says:
Hi all! I'm working at Shift Technologies this summer, the completely reimagined way to buy or sell a used car.
Size: ~30 people but rapidly hiring!

Shift combines the value of p2p marketplace and the trust of a dealership transaction with unparalleled convenience. Our customers are the buyers and sellers of used cars.

Shift’s concierge service takes care of mechanical inspections, detailing, and professional photos of the car. Shift then lists the car across the web and manages all inquiries, bringing on demand test drives to potential buyers. After the car is sold, Shift handles all of the transfer paperwork with the DMV. All of this is done while guaranteeing higher value to both the buyer and seller.

Shift's Series A was led by Highland and DFJ and we are in the process of raising our Series B :)

-Streamlining internal business operations across teams as we scale (sales, operations, product, engineering, finance)
-Working with product, design, & engineering to build the buyer side of our website
-Creating a tool that allows us to provide valuable customer recommendations
-Working with growth team to find new acquisition channels (new social media outlets, paper marketing, etc.)
-Doing various data analyses as needed

Shift was started because of a personal pain point for one of the founders when he was trying to sell his car. The founders are previous execs from Google and Dropbox (George Arison & Minnie Ingersoll).

Our key technologies are: instant pricing technology (based on an algorithm developed over the past year), an ipad software that allows for our Car Enthusiasts to sell cars in the field, and empowering instantaneous transactions such as signing contracts, enabling instant financing, providing instant warranties, etc. And obviously the use of an online marketplace to more efficiently facilitate what typically happens offline.

When Shift started, the biggest challenge was figuring out the business model. For example, do we take the cars into inventory? Do we bring the test drive to the buyer? How much do we do in house vs. through partners (in terms of repairs, cleaning, photos, etc.)? Another unique challenge was figuring out how to get insurance to cover our unique test drive model.
One of our current challenges is lowering our dependence on other listing sites — how do we build direct traffic to our site rather than through others? Another challenge is figuring out how much of our SF "playbook" scales to new markets and which parts have to be customized for each new city.

Nick Ning Xu says:
Hey everybody,

I hope you're all having a killer summer!

As a refresher I'm working as a Product Marketing/Design Intern at Kanjoya.

In late 2004, my CEO/Founder, Armen Berjikly, was inspired to serve humanity through technology after his friend was diagnosed with Muscular Sclerosis. He set up a forum for patients with MS to provide information about this auto-immune disease. He had a bigger vision. Towards the end of 2006, he introduced "The Experience Project", a social network that connected people through experiences through text-analytics, natural language processing and machine learning. In 2011, utilizing the proprietary technology from "The Experience Project", Moritz Sudhof's (during his Mayfield Summer) devised a way to morph the B2C model of "The Experience Project" into a B2B model. Kanjoya's current product is named "Perception". The history of the company is fascinating, and I am not doing it justice in a forum post. Here is Armen's TedTalk if you seek more information:

From our company's history, the notable challenges have been times of transition. From the forum to the B2C model and then to the B2B model, each time we have had to re-purpose the wheel. We had to ensure work was not wasted, and also make it relevant in another context.

Our customers are enterprises in any sector. We are currently focused on High-Tech, having recently signed Twitter, LinkedIn, Uber with pending interest from Microsoft, and our technology is applicable to any industry. Therein lies the problem. The product we currently have does not cover the entire horizontal of an organization, and at present covers specific verticals within organizations (HR, Executive level etc...). Our features are also limited with only diversity, employee engagement and text-analytics ready to be deployed. A classic chicken and egg problem. We are faced with the task of describing our worldview of greater efficiency, experience and engagement at any organization, without saying something that we can't deliver on. I'm still wrapping my head around all of this, so please bare with me over the next few weeks.

Over the course of my Mayfield Summer I have been tasked with challenge to help develop a brand narrative (working closely with the PR agency, SutherlandGold) that aligns my company's history, product and outcomes. My final deliverables mostly relate to "lead generation", which include Website wire-framing, blog content generation and working closely with a video production company. I will also be working on fundraising decks, sitting on sales pitches (perhaps pitching one myself), and user empathy interviews. The user empathy interviews relate to Steve Blank's customer development process, whereby we have targeted our current customer base (Executives, Human Resource Business Partners, and Analysts), conduct interviews, analyze and, draw conclusions. In a nutshell, I am working on cultural, internal and external alignment.

This is an exciting time for Kanjoya! We are execution focused, motivated and authentic. I know every start-up says they are on the cusp of "unicorning", but we have the team, historical rigor, and drive to deliver. I am excited for what the rest of this summer holds!


Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
Hi everyone!

As a reminder, I’m working at Untrodden (based in SF) this summer with a focus on the company’s product, business development, and marketing segments for the summer. Untrodden is a small travel company that allows travelers to discover and book curated, off-the-beaten path accommodations, near and far. As of now, there are four members of the Untrodden team, aside from two remote freelancers who lead our engineering efforts. Untrodden has been the product of bootstrapping thus far, but we are hoping to begin fundraising efforts in the next few weeks. In the past few weeks, I’ve worked on everything from product fit and finish to customer acquisition to content strategy. I suspect that this trend will be indicative of the rest of my internship, as my cross-functional role will likely continue to evolve as the summer progresses and different areas of need arise. However, even though my role will presumably remain flexible, I will be spearheading the design and overall user experience of the traveler-facing product.

The idea for Untrodden arose when founder, Justin Randolph, was living and working in Chile. As an avid traveler always on the lookout for great places outside of mainstream travel destinations, Justin found it incredibly frustrating to navigate endless search engine results that rarely fit his needs, blast numerous friends for relevant advice and recommendations, and wade through stacks of ripped out pages from old travel magazine articles. He yearned for the serendipity of stumbling upon a hidden gem of a place and, more importantly, sought unique dwellings that would provide authentic, fulfilling experiences. From his travels to remote lodges and base camps, he found that those with similar personalities and interests also struggled to find unique, off-the-beaten-path accommodations. On the flipside, Justin was fascinated to learn that many of the more transformative and inspirational places he stayed at — many of which he had simply stumbled upon during extended holidays — were rarely at full-capacity, in spite of the fact that all the guests present raved about their stay as life-changing. In an effort to solve these pain points, he initially went down the path of a membership-based destination club with the assumption that a limited number of properties fit the market need. However, after conducting research and speaking to numerous properties, Justin discovered that the number of brand-aligned properties was much larger than he expected and that online marketplaces were not as efficient as they could be for this traveler niche. Thus, Untrodden was born.

Fundamentally, Untrodden connects supply and demand through our web app. As a result, we have two customers: our properties and our travelers. Our users are curious, independently-minded travelers who forgo the mass-produced and homogenized in favor of unique experiences. Our properties are character-rich abodes among roads less traveled that serve to inspire and energize our travelers. From remote wilderness lodges to cozy cabins, quaint guesthouses to treehouses, we cover a wide range of styles and budgets. Untrodden is entering an existing market with the approach of segmentation - think a niche AirBnB focused on an inventory outside of cities and mainstream travel destinations and catering to a "geotraveler" who is seeking one-of-a-kind, small-scale lodging. Although I’ve only been at Untrodden for a few weeks, it’s been interesting to see many aspects of Steve Blank’s Customer Development process at play. Last week, we launched our Beta version (MVP) of the property listing portal, which will be vital in building up the supply side of the equation. Using feedback from the properties who fill out this portal, we plan to iterate on our current version to make the onboarding/listing process as seamless as possible. On the traveler’s end, we are hoping to launch our Beta in early to mid-August. Eventually, we hope to generate revenue by taking a competitive percentage of the bookings. However, for the next few weeks, we are focused on testing various hypotheses and assumptions that have been made in the hopes that we will be able to demonstrate proof of concept to potential investors in the near future.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
Company: Enjoy
Employees: ~50
Planned projects: I’m working as a “Creative Intern”--mostly tackling UX/UI mockups in Sketch for partner integrations on the homepage ( and for the backend app that Experts use to schedule visits, community events etc.

Understanding Enjoy relies on understanding it’s founder & CEO, Ron Johnson. An ex-Apple exec responsible for the Genius Bar & the Apple Stores’ open layout, Ron places tremendous value on innovative customer service and helping users delight in their technology. The rest of the team at Enjoy have similar backgrounds: Tom Suiter (my mentor & Chief Creative Officer here...I think. There are no real titles at Enjoy) was Creative Director at Apple in the 90s, and many others have worked with Apple, Facebook, Google, and other organizations that have a high standard for user experience.

So, takeaway number one is that Ron has a passion for giving consumers experiences that they didn’t know they wanted. Enjoy has set itself up as a new market and stakes its claim somewhere between Best Buy and Amazon. Consider the two: Best Buy is a brick and mortar store that sells tech products at a price that includes an overhead for the cost of labor and retail space, while Amazon is able to offer its products at the lowest possible price because it has neither of these things.

Enjoy approached the existing market (stores vs. e-commerce) with a new idea: what if we could take the overhead Best Buy is using to pay for retail space and use it instead to train employees to deliver you the product? In fact, he takes it one step further: the Experts that deliver it to you will also set it up and teach you how to use it, for up to an hour of their time, for free.

One of the first things people ask me is always: so how does Enjoy make money? Well, the revenue is actually there in the overhead. When you’re talking $3k drones, there’s a lot of money to be made in the “markup” that traditional retailers institute, and there’s a huge margin on accessories and batteries for tech products. All of the products on Enjoy’s site are over $200, so the company makes a decent amount on every product sold. In addition, Enjoy offers Visits for $99, where an Enjoy Expert comes to help you operate and optimize the products that you already own.

The target customers for Enjoy are baby boomers and mothers of young children. Baby boomers are a particularly interesting market because they have the money to buy high end technology, but often are unaware of it or feel as though they wouldn’t be able to use it. Take drones for instance. Your 60-year-old dad probably would never think to buy himself a drone and almost certainly couldn’t set it up by himself out of the box. But with Enjoy, these problems evaporate. Not only does the team curate products and partnerships that bring you the best names in technology, but we help you understand and love the technology that we offer. With Enjoy Visits, we can help your 50-something mom understand social media or her Apple TV. We’re hoping that millennials will gift these Visits to their parents so that they don’t have to be their family’s tech support anymore! For mothers of young children, it’s often hard to pack the family in the car, go to Best Buy, and keep everyone behaving long enough to learn about products and make a purchase. With Enjoy, both the help and technology comes straight to your door, circumventing the problem of taking crabby toddlers into a place with tons of breakable equipment.

A last interesting thing about Enjoy is the method of employment for the Enjoy Experts. Though they might be described as Uber for technology, they aren’t contractors with the company, like Uber drivers are. Instead, they are salaried employees--they can elect to take a part-time or full-time salary and receive full health benefits. This is especially relevant in the wake of a court case in California where a judge ruled that an Uber driver must be considered an employee of the company. (Check out this article [] where it discusses the difference and the praise Enjoy is receiving because of this salary model--my mentor, Tom Suiter, is featured midway down the page)

Overall, I think the company is doing very well--it has a strong base in customer service and treating its employees right. The team is committed to helping the company grow, and I’m proud to be a part of it!
Also, I have coupon codes…...for at least $100 off anything on or a free visit. They really want me to give them away!! So please let me know if anything tickles your fancy….as a reward perhaps for making it this far down on my journal post…..

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Hey hey hey. Aray here with your weekly Aray/Emerald Update.

General Company Info Reminder
-- I'm working at Emerald Therapeutics. ~30 people work here. I think there are ~3 interns - unsure.
-- Planned Projects and Contributions: So we're still figuring this part out, but basically I'll be working in an engineering-type role doing both computer science and actual science (burn). I'll be helping enhance Emerald's core software by adding additional features and optimizing current code in the system.

The company is comprised of 5 main teams: Founders (2 of them), Business Operations (2 people), Human Resources (1 person), Lab Operations (5 people), Research (3 people), Scientific Development (8 people), Scientific Computation (1 person), and Engineering (4 people).
-- Both founders (DJ and Frez) have PhDs in biochemistry. DJ does mostly LabOps and BizOps stuff. Frez does mostly SciDev and Research stuff.
-- Business Operations: In charge of inventory, talking with customers, buying new materials, and lots of administrative stuff.
-- Human Resources: Hiring and culture maintenance.
-- Lab Operations: Carry samples between machines, handle restocking of machines, start protocols on the machines. By the end of the month, these people will be the only ones stepping foot in the lab (i.e. those people designing experiments will never enter the lab – pretty cool!)
-- Research: Use Emerald's core software to do lots of anti-viral research really quickly and accurately - yes, Emerald Therapeutics does indeed do research on potential therapeutics.
-- Scientific Development: Validates new experiments, brings them “online” to the Emerald system, codes new functions to automate the experiment and analysis of its data, codes tools for Research team to do their research quicker and be able to do more things, codes tools to allow other SciDev people to automate machinery faster (Emerald’s all about that self-optimization). This team codes the core lab-virtualization and automation software at Emerald.
-- Scientific Computation: Creates tools for data analysis and visualization, deals with more complicated stuff like virtual DNA manipulation, building Units and Statistics packages for SciDev to use, making algorithms that tell users how likely their experiments are to succeed / if they’ve made an error in experimental design, mining into the Emerald experimental data database to glean new knowledge about science or research in general, etc.. SciComp is one guy right now, but he’s a frickin genius and does some insane work. I’ll likely be his minion this summer.
-- Engineering: Worries about more low-level CS stuff like the backend for our databases, linking all our code together, and (importantly) designing the Emerald Cloud Lab web application, which is what our customers will actually use to run experiments and see data.

Where did the technology behind your startup come from? Where was the technology first created? How did the technology transition from being a fledgling idea to a company? What were the unique challenges that the founders faced when trying to transition this technology into a company?
-- DJ and Frez grew up together. They went to Carnegie Mellon together for undergrad and decided to start a biotech company together close to their 3rd year. However, their mentors told them they would never get funding or interest if they didn’t first get PhDs. So they went and got PhDs in biochemistry. During that time, they both became disgruntled with how arcane scientific research is. It’s slow, you’re a slave to your machines, machine software sucks, and results are often not accurate/precise. The stakes are high (academic grants / funding) and the tools are bad, which leads to low-risk experimentation with only minor additions to the scientific knowledge base as well as bad science in general, which leads to a significant amount of irreproducible papers (
-- Additionally, because of limited funding and lab space, academic labs often usedold machinery and needed to beg and borrow from neighboring labs to use specialized machinery – even at top institutions. This means that research labs often first look at their machinery and then figure out what scientific questions they can answer (to get papers, funding, etc.), which means many can’t answer really big or novel questions. Finally, they realized that capital costs for machinery are so high that it’s really hard to get a proof of concept for biotech without getting funding first. An unfortunate repercussion of this is that biotech firms pretty much have to come out of academic research right now, and this gets messy, with the core scientists often taking backseat-founder roles and the funders implanting professional CEOs from the get-go. It also greatly limits the founding of biotech startups in general – imagine if all web tech startups required a PhD and tech transfer from a university! Yikes!
-- So right after they finished their PhDs, Frez moved up to stay with DJ in Palo Alto while they tried to get funding for Emerald. Their pitch was mostly a scientific one: “We’ve got an awesome idea for viral therapeutics”. But it was more than that. Along with the scientific vision, they also pitched a vision for running their company as a team of super-scientists that could use software and machine automation to each output 4x as much research as a normal scientist. A week before they were going to move back to Pittsburgh and find funding there, they met with Peter Thiel, who understood their vision and convinced them to stay. They closed a $5 Million Series A later that month with Founders Fund and Max Levchin among others (really, really low for biotech startups, which usually need a ton of upfront capital to pay for machinery – which was okay for them because of the super-scientist thing). They later extended that Series A with an additional $2.5 Million.
-- So Emerald got going on January 1st, 2010. They developed a software suite and database system to enable their super-scientists to research this anti-viral. A couple years into this, they realized that their software platform was sufficiently awesome to market it as a product to biotech researchers in need. Thus, the Emerald Cloud Lab (ECL) product idea was born. They did a $6 Million Series B in mid-2014 on this product platform. A closed beta for ECL was launched early this year. Emerald selected a few of the hundreds of labs wanting to use the product to participate in the beta. These labs are currently doing experiments in Emerald’s lab. Work by Emerald’s research team also continues. The ECL web app should be out of beta sometime in the next 6 months and Emerald will probably start bringing in more customers gradually after that.

Is your startup entering an existing market or trying to create a new market? What is the business model of your startup, and who are the customers?
-- New market. Scientific outsourcing exists, but you don’t get much control. You can say “I want this plasmid synthesized” but you don’t have control over the exact experimental parameters to get there and get no data from the (many) intermediate steps. So you can’t really do novel science, you can only really treat it as a way to get a reagent to do novel science in your own lab. Emerald is a new thing entirely, allowing you to do novel science remotely and have complete control over the experiments. With Emerald, you don’t need to own the machines you do research on. Instead, you design your experiments on the ECL app to your specification and they’re run for you. Then you get the data from the experiment and virtually design the next experiment. You basically have full remote control over the machines doing your research. A specific experimental result or answer to your hypothesis is not guaranteed. What’s guaranteed is that the experiments you want will be run to your specifications in a timely, accurate manner. You pay for machine time and materials costs, much like how a new web startup would pay for server time and electricity costs through Amazon Web Services – a platform analogous to Emerald that increased the speed at which web startups could develop by orders of magnitude.
-- One of the three types of main customers are small, fledgling biotech firms that can’t buy proper machinery because it’s very expensive. They come to Emerald because they want to get proof-of-concept experiments completed in order to pitch investors and get funding. Once they come in and talk with us, though, they see that this is not a one-off thing and could greatly accelerate their research in general even after funding, and they usually get pretty excited about using ECL long-term.
-- Another type of main customer is academic labs. In a recent survey, 80% of academic labs said they had equipment access problems. They want to be able to answer any scientific questions that interest them and not be limited to the ones that they’re “allowed to ask” because they have the tools to answer them. Again, though these customers usually come in wanting to use ECL for a specific purpose, they end up getting the lab virtualization vision and get excited about using Emerald long-term.
-- The third type of main customer is large biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Emerald is currently in talks with 4 of the 15 largest biotech companies, and one of the top 3 bio-agricultural companies. They’re very excited about getting their hands on the new cutting edge of the technology and are seeking to experiment with small teams on the ECL as a prototype for building larger facilities to service their organizations more broadly.
-- There is no customer acquisition process for any of our customers because all of the currently interested customers have approached Emerald themselves.

What, if any, aspects of Steve Blank's Customer Development process does your startup employ?
-- Interestingly, Emerald is its own best customer! Emerald’s research team has run over 600,000 experiments (!) on their machines in the last 5 years, which have ranged over the 40 experiment types Emerald currently offers. (Note: Emerald plans to bring on 60 additional experiments in the next year, as they’ve recently developed tech to significantly decrease experiment-onboarding time) Thus, from the very beginning, SciDev, SciComp, LabOps, and Engineering have had a customer development process right within their own company. ECL is designed specifically for the customer (us), and not for the sake of cool technology.
-- Emerald is also now working with a few customers that are using the ECL to do experiments remotely. This is now also part of Emerald’s customer development process, and ramping up this userbase will be a good way to vet our web app, pricing system, customer relations, etc.

My Time So Far
-- I get goose bumps all the time at Emerald. The stuff they’re doing is so core to the complaints I’ve had with biotech research over the past 3 years that I’m still constantly delighted that a company is already this far along on a solution. It might be too early to say, but my feeling is that this company has something extraordinarily special and will likely help lead a wave of massive acceleration and democratization of life sciences research. I’m hoping that, as a result, we’ll see a radical uptick in new medical cures coming out of labs in the next 10 years. Very, very excited for the rest of the summer.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
I have an hour meeting every day with my boss, who is working remotely right now. They're important, but we often seem to talk about the same stuff again and again, which is a little frustrating. Other than that, we have an All-Hands meeting on Fridays that usually take an hour or two. Those are run pretty well and are good for keeping moral up and keeping everyone abreast of what's happening in other departments.

I'm in an engineering-type role though, so I imagine my meeting load is going to be a LOT lower than all of you PM/Marketing/Sales people. What do you not like about your meetings? Is it just a bunch of filler or are they good but you just wish there were fewer of them?

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
In terms of frequency of meetings, it really depends on the day. When I do have a lot of meetings in a day, it’s hard to extensively work on my personal projects just because of the limited amount of time. Because of this, I’ll either come in a little earlier or stay later on these busy days just so I can get a head start on my work.

From what I’ve noticed, the most effective meetings have a clear agenda with one person who leads the meeting. This ensures that no one's ever getting too off-topic and that everything gets done. Also, every effective meeting that I’ve been to has a clear set of goals that the team leader announces in the very beginning. This gives people a concise outline and idea of what needs to get accomplished by the end of the meeting.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
1. Introduce yourself - At ZenPayroll, there are always new faces walking around the office because of how quickly the company is growing. During the first week, I made sure to introduce myself whenever I had any kind of conversation with someone, whether it was at lunch or just after talking to someone in the hallway. The longer you wait to introduce yourself the more awkward it gets moving forward.

2. Get involved right away - The first week of my internship involved a lot of onboarding that often left me without a lot of “real” work to do. Using some of the free time I had, I was able to shadow several phone calls, sit-in on a variety of different meetings, and help my team members with some small tasks. By shadowing phone calls and sitting in on meetings, I was able assimilate into the social scene very easily and meet a lot of people very quickly. Likewise, by helping some of my team members with smaller tasks and demonstrating value, some of them have now handed me much larger projects to work on.

3. Always ask for feedback, even if it’s informal - This has really given me the opportunity to grow and learn as much as I can in such a short period of time. By asking my managers for informal feedback every 2-3 weeks, I can really pinpoint some of my areas for improvement and work on developing those a lot more.

4. Make sure you know your manager’s working style - Some of my managers will consistently check in with me throughout the week to see how I’m doing. Others are more than happy to meet with me, but like to see that I take the initiative to put some time on their calendars considering how busy they usually are. Know what works best for each individual manager.

5. Work hard, but never take yourself too seriously - The sales team I currently sit with is the perfect embodiment of this. This team is usually the first one into the office and consistently the last one out. Nevertheless, the mood is always light and they’re always joking around with one another. After working with the team for several weeks and getting my own set of unique nicknames and “intern” jokes thrown my way, I’ve learned that having the ability to laugh at yourself is just as important as anything else when it comes to integrating into the social scene.

6. Coming in at some of the most unappealing times can be surprisingly memorable - Some of my best and most meaningful conversations with my co-workers and managers have come either early in the morning when the day hasn’t really started or late into the evening when they’re unwinding. One of my most memorable days was coming in on the 4th of July and just chatting with one of my managers for several hours about his entire life journey.

7. Send a weekly update - Because I work on both the sales and marketing teams, not all of the projects I’m given completely intersect with both groups. To make sure that both teams know what I’ve been working on throughout the week, I send a weekly update email on Fridays to all of my managers discussing both my achievements and challenges I encountered.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
1) Introduce yourself. I'm blatantly copying Mitch, but definitely think it's one that needs repeating. The first week, there are so many people that you are meeting that you will need to know for the rest of the summer. Make sure that you introduce yourself, and maybe even come up with mnemonics for remembering names. People love it when you remember who they are, and mostly forget how much harder it is for you to learn 30 names than it is for them to learn 1 name. Needing only one introduction to remember someone is a HUGE plus point.

2) Eat lunch with your co-workers! I'm sure a bunch of our offices cater lunch every day, or have open kitchens. Oculeve has a stocked fridge and kitchen and lets people make whatever they want from lunch. Hanging out during the hour that everyone else is there gives you a chance to interact with and learn from people you don't normally talk to every day. It's also just a fun way to break up a long day. Our lunch room often involves boisterous chess and card games, microwave recipe swapping, and secrets on how to make the best lattes. It's a great way to hang out with people, including all the executives, who join in on the fun!

3) Be friends with the office manager. Office managers are the best people in the world. In many ways, they are the people who actually run the company. Get to know them, and hang out with them during breaks. They are the secret to getting to know everybody else, and getting special treats every now and then.

4) Show that you care/ are interested in learning. At Oculeve, we have a ton of weekly departmental meetings that are open to anyone who can contribute. For the first couple weeks I was here, I went to every one of those meetings, just to know what was going on in each portion of the company. I got to meet everyone in the company really easily, and they were all really excited that I wanted to know more about their department, even if I wasn't working for them.

5) When you don't know something, admit it. We all know that we should never pretend to know more than we do. No one is going to think less of you if you don't know something- no one can know everything. The best thing to say when you don't know something is "I don't know, but I can find out."

6) Be willing to just have fun. Everyone who works at a startup is very dedicated to a mission and a central goal. Often times, employees of startups enjoy being in this high performance zone, and flourish when they are there. But, everyone needs to goof off sometimes. Don't take your work so seriously that you forget to goof off a bit too.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
1. Attend optional information sessions
At ZenPayroll, executive leadership frequently holds non-mandatory “Ask Me Anything” gatherings. These open forums are designed to increase transparency and enable more junior employees to gain insights into how the company is thinking about key issues. I have found these meetings to be remarkable chances to learn, providing me with access to sides of the business I have minimal contact with day-to-day. While not every company has AMAs, my advice is to search for similar opportunities. If you are on the product team, for example, and the finance group is hosting optional office hours, definitely attend. Not only will you benefit from the exposure, but you will also develop a more nuanced understanding of the business.
2. Approach senior leadership with a purpose
Senior leaders at start-ups are often extremely busy. They are overwhelmed with growing/managing a team, raising new rounds, and generally making sure the company stays afloat. As a result, it can be challenging to schedule time with them. I have found the most effective way to earn a meeting with an executive is to approach him/her with a specific purpose and make it really easy for them to say “yes.”. For example, last week I sent ZP’s CTO, Eddy, a slack talking about one specific engineering problem the company was facing. I asked if I could find a time on his schedule for a 20 minute coffee to hear his take. Eddy was more receptive to meeting with me than a past executive had been at a previous company when I asked to just grab lunch and talk about general issues. A specific reason and finite time slot makes it easier to justify seeing an intern.
3. Be active in early meetings, even if you don’t speak a lot
It might seem intimidating to raise your hand and contribute in a team meeting but it is important to remain active. In the beginning, I found one of the most effective strategies in earning the confidence of my team members was to take diligent notes, reflect on them, and then formulate specific questions for my supervisor after the meeting ended. In this way, I did not disrupt the flow of the meeting with uninformed comments during my first few days, but demonstrated that I was thinking critically about the issues presented. Probably toward the middle half of the second week, I began to feel more confident during meetings. I now am comfortable asserting my opinion, but recognize that a a reason why I feel this way now was my note taking early on.
4. Check out slack channels for social
A potentially challenging aspect of joining a new start-up is becoming integrated in the social scene. Particularly in a growth phase company like ZP, new faces are coming in constantly and it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. Fortunately there are new tools like Slack that make it easier to find common interests. ZP has tons of Slack channels and I quickly found a few that interested me. I have ended up meeting several employees I probably would never have come in contact with had it not been for the soccer channel.
5. Always make sure you can explain any work decision you make
As a brand new Product Manager, there is a lot I don’t know. I’ve never had to work in between operations and engineering, spec a product, or write roadmaps to help scale. Early on I had difficult time balancing when to ask questions and when to just go ahead and try something. A month in, I have learned that it is alright to try something brand new and make assumptions, so long as you are able to defend your choices. When reviewing a product, my supervisor frequently asks me why I made certain decisions, and I learned quickly that having a coherent rationale-even if it turns out I’m wrong-is really important.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
1. Get to know people in the company: I have learned so much from introducing myself to other people in the company, especially people from other teams. By simply asking to shadow someone for half an hour or grab lunch with them, I’ve met so many interesting people and learned about all parts of the company from marketing to engineering to customer care.

2. Make yourself easy to help: If I want to set up a meeting with someone, I’ll take a look at their calendar beforehand and say something like “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X and it looks like you have some free time after 3. How about I put some time on the calendar for us to talk?” By checking their schedule and offering to set up the meeting, it makes it really easy for them!

3. Plan ahead to avoid wasting time: When I set a meeting with someone, I always try to write out an agenda for myself beforehand with questions I want to ask and what I want to accomplish in the meeting. By planning ahead, I can make sure to use the time most productively.

4. Immerse yourself in the company culture: Make sure you attend company/team events and get to know company traditions and values. For example, this past weekend the product team went on a hike in the redwoods and it was an awesome bonding experience.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: It can be hard to admit that you don’t know something, but people are generally very willing to help if you just reach out and express a genuine interest in learning!

6. Speak up about what you want from your internship: Originally I was supposed to be interning with the growth team but I wasn’t super excited about the projects I would be working on. I spoke up about my interest in gaining product management experience and they were extremely accommodating and transitioned me to the product team and found really interesting projects for me to work on. Just being open and honest helped me find the right role/project for the summer.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
One approach that I’ve been taking in both professional and social respects is to “just say yes.” From a professional standpoint, I came into this summer knowing that I wanted exposure to a variety of business activities and hoped that Untrodden’s small size would allow me to explore and test out areas of interest. At Untrodden, there are a number of things that need to be completed on a daily basis and we don’t have nearly enough bandwidth to do everything. So, when a team member mentions a project or task in a potential area of interest, I try to volunteer to help out in some capacity. So far, this has also required being proactive on my end. When I notice a particular need that interests me, I try to call attention to it with some ideas and potential solutions of my own. And although I have the benefit of there being no shortage of challenges to tackle at such an early-stage venture, I think this approach can applied to larger companies as well; opportunities can arise from being observant and taking initiative. I think it’s good practice to speak up if there’s a need or project outside of your realm that interests you. However, at the same time, there’s certainly a fine line between “saying yes” and completely overwhelming yourself with tasks, so I think this approach only makes sense in moderation and in certain situations (particularly when you think you have the bandwidth to take on a project).
In my opinion, a large part of an internship is finding out what you’re interested in and what you’re not interested in. And who knows? Tackling projects outside of your area of expertise may lead to other interesting opportunities or awaken unexplored passions that you weren’t even aware of in the first place. Even though I haven’t been working at Untrodden for very long, I’ve already found that this approach has been valuable in helping me narrow down future potential job pursuits - I’ve learned that I’m less inclined to pursue sales and more interested in product strategy. In addition, identifying an area of need resulted in me leading a meeting on our company’s content strategy, which was a great experience that revealed a personal interest in high-level strategy.
As aforementioned, I’ve also found this approach to work in social settings. My team recently instituted an informal weekly happy hour (right after I officially started my internship) and asked me to be our official “Fun Czar” (I guess they assume that I know where the fun spots are because I’m young..?). When they proposed that I take on the responsibility of Fun Czar, I was hesitant given that I don’t know San Francisco that well, but I ultimately accepted the position. I thought it would be a good opportunity to familiarize myself with the city and also help determine what our team’s social dynamic is like outside of the office. Also, since we are a travel company, we have planned a tentative road trip for later this summer, which I have also agreed to. In my eyes, one benefit of “saying yes” in a social setting is the opportunity to build rapport (and trust), which, in turn, can lead to better team dynamics. However, more importantly, one of my goals this summer is to invest in my work relationships on a personal level, and there’s no better way to do this than by saying yes to quality time spent outside of the office!
In addition, one of my managers also introduced me to two other exercises that I've found to be useful. During our one-on-one meeting last week, she suggested reflecting on the projects that I've completed thus far and threading together a narrative of how these projects fit into the grand scheme of the company. This task forced me to circle back to my action items and make sure that I was closing the loop. More importantly, it served as a helpful gut check to make sure that we’re still focusing on the right things and staying on track in terms of execution. The second exercise, which ties back into the first, is to critically consider why you’re going to complete a task before you do it. This is particularly applicable to my situation given Untrodden's small size and limited bandwidth, which inevitably forces us to constantly re-evaluate priorities, but I think it can be an effective activity in any situation. There are always a number of ways that you can be spending your time on the job, so it’s important to make sure that you can justify to yourself (and potentially your coworkers) why a certain task is being done at a particular point in time.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
I'd like to kick off this post by echoing what Mitch said: work hard, but never take yourself too seriously. Oculeve's CEO today (and many others that we've talked to during MFP so far) emphasized how hard entrepreneurship is. And undoubtedly, it's important to appreciate that reality, to be dedicated, and to work hard. But for summer survival advice, I think it's important to keep perspective. We're still incredibly young, and our objective this summer is to learn as much from our internships as possible while also enjoying them.

Now onto other tips...

1) Be eager, and lean in, especially during the first few weeks. The first few weeks of an internship can set the tone for how your coworkers will interact with you throughout the rest of the summer, and if they perceive you as someone who's eager to contribute, learn a lot, and have a good time while doing so, they'll be more likely to be engaged and committed to that, and to let you into the company fully as well.

2) Find the unconventional ways of getting to know your coworkers, and embrace them. At Synack, there are a few of these: afternoon walks to stave off food coma, ping pong or company softball, and happy hours on Thursdays. Or even just staying late in the office with a few other people. You can often get to know your coworkers a lot better through these more relaxed, more personal interactions, and you can also more easily get their honest thoughts about how their company experience has been, and what their take on entrepreneurship is.

3) Don't be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone, and to be criticized. If you go outside of your comfort zone and screw up, it's likely that the feedback that you're going to get will be brutally honest, and at the time, perhaps a bitter pill to swallow. But that will also give you an opportunity to prove how competent and agile you are as an intern by learning from the feedback you're given.

4) Attend meetings outside of your division. This is a great way to just get a better understanding of how different divisions in the company work, and what the conflicts are. It'll also give you a window into the leadership style/effectiveness of the startup's executive team, who are often tasked with finding the happy medium between two divisions' working styles/deliverables.

5) If you have a request, just ask someone. The worst answer you're going to hear is "No" and probably an explanation of why. Also chances are, if you've established a good rapport with the person you have the request for, they'll find another way to either meet your request or come as close to it as possible.

Nick Ning Xu says:

Priyanka Jain says:
1. Communicate clearly & frequently and be honest!
One of the main reasons I chose to work for Shift was because it was clear how much they cared about building a strong internship program. All of the other mayfield companies really value your experience — don’t forget that! At one point, I was working on a project that I didn’t feel was teaching me a valuable skill set. As it started to seem like the project was going to grow, I asked to meet with my manager to discuss it. I told her how I was feeling about the project and it turned out that she had no idea I felt that way — she then asked about my goals for the summer, the types of careers I was interested, and if there were any specific other teams I wanted to work with (i.e. engineering, design, etc.). Since then, we’ve been able to have open conversations about what types of projects I spend my time on so that I can maximize the value I contribute and the skills I learn.
Similarly, if your company has feedback sessions, utilize them! Shift scheduled check ins with each intern every two weeks so we can discuss what is working, what we aren't liking, and to create a “wish list” (i.e I wish I could spend more time with X team, I wish I could have more access to the CEO, etc.). It is important that this meeting isn’t with your direct manager so you can reflect on that relationship as well. After each check in, we create a list of action items so we could change the things that aren’t working and create the “best summer possible.” At first I was scared to be completely honest, but I found that the team was really receptive to feedback.

2. Put conscious effort into getting to know new people, beyond just introducing yourself.
This is one of the most valuable things I learned to do. I try to sit next to new people at the office and during at lunch everyday. Also, whenever someone wants to grab coffee, they ask around the office to see if anyone wants to go with them. If someone who I don’t know very well is going, I’ll always get up and go with them. Just spending 15 minutes chatting on the way to and from the coffee shop has given me the chance to learn so much about what other people are up to! While introducing yourself is obviously a great first step, it’s worth it to take it a step further and get to know people on a deeper level.

3. Get to know senior leadership both casually and professionally.
In casual settings: Just striking up conversation during happy hours and lunches has given me the opportunity to learn a lot about their personal and work lives. Also, since Shift has a “hub” in South SF (where we park our cars), we carpool down a few times a week. Whenever possible, I’ll offer a ride to senior leadership — this has been a free ticket to 30 minutes of casual conversation. Once I even offered to run errands with our co-founder just to get time in the car together!
For a more formal setting: I’ll ask for a really short period of time. Asking for 30 minutes of their day might be a lot, but it’s a lot harder for them to say no to 10-15 minutes. I’ll look at their calendar and try to find a really short time period where they’re free and then ask if they want to catch up and answer a few questions. I’ve used mayfield as an excuse to ask questions about how the business is run!

4. Find an informal mentor
Shift has a few other interns who are current MBA students. They have served as invaluable resources for me so far! Not only has it been great to have other interns to work with, but they have been able to give me mentorship and advice based on their past experiences to improve my own. If your company doesn’t have other interns, seek out time with people who are close in age to you (and can relate to your current experience). Ask them about their career paths, interests, and any advice they would have for you.

5. Ask for feedback
If your company doesn’t have a system in place to provide feedback to you, ask for it! Your manager is likely happy to provide it and the feedback is really valuable for personal growth.

6. Keep a log of the things you learn everyday
This is something I want to start doing more regularly — every day, we get to watch incredible people lead teams and face challenges. I have started making a list of three things I learned every day that could be applicable to my future career and it has already been a great opportunity to reflect on my experience and put things in perspective.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
I feel like I spend most of my day thinking in powerpoint charts, so that is what I did. I broke down my learnings about integrating into the culture in 4 main sections. Here it is!

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
I've been extremely lucky to have incredible access to executives at Enjoy as well as the social scene--I think the key has been finding a point person (both professionally and socially) . What I mean by that is one person can open you up to the entire network. It only takes one person to invite you to happy hour, and suddenly, you're in. Similarly, a close professional mentor can introduce you to many other team leaders.

Show up early: most of the executives get into my office well before 9am, so I know that if I show up around 8 I can catch most of them over morning coffee. These informal meetings have been some of the best times with the executive team--since it's the morning, they naturally ask about your weekend or projects that you're expecting to work on for the day.

Step up! I've found out that it's kind of good to bite off more than you can chew...if only because you can chew more than you think you can. By saying yes to even daunting opportunities, you find out how far your skills can take you (and where you need to improve!)

Read the culture--integrating into the social scene is only possible if you know what the scene actually is!

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
What strategies have you found to be successful for gaining access to senior leadership, board meetings, and other interesting opportunities?
-- It has not been hard to get access to senior leadership since Emerald is small and the leadership is pretty darn friendly.
-- I have not asked to get access to board meetings because I don’t feel like that’s very kosher and I’m trying to get a return offer here…

What tips do you have for integrating into the social scene?
-- Juggling is a big fad at Emerald right now. It’s pretty funny – like 50% of the day there’s at least one person walking around the office juggling. So I got into juggling. It’s been a good way to start conversations and have fun with coworkers.
-- Happy hour happens every Friday around 5pm in the dining room. It’s not exceedingly fun but I’ve made an effort since it’s a good place to talk to people.
-- Making an effort to sit down and eat with everyone every day at lunch is also paying off.
-- I live with 3 other Emerald employees in South SF. This has been great for having tight friends from the get-go. We’re hosting an Emerald get-together for everyone at our house next Friday after happy hour. I’ll let you guys know how that goes.
-- It’s harder to make connections with some of the more senior/older engineers and researchers. If anyone has any advice for that, I’d be interested in hearing it.
-- Keeping levity on the job is really hard but I’ve recently realized how important it is, since interactions on the job can make or break relationships. So I’m making an effort to not be so frickin serious about everything all the time. It’s a work in progress.

Efficiency tips
-- I’ve been making my own meals every day. I crockpot chicken and BBQ sauce and veggies overnight, then add rice and make 3 little tupperware meals for myself for the day. I save time by not having to go get food during the day, and I save a ton of money by not eating out (I probably spend $50 per week on food, which comes out to around $7.00 per day).
-- I try to block out all distractions when I’m working for chunks of time (1-2 hours). That means no phone, no email, no messengers, no facebook. Sound isolating/cancelling headphones are super key to blocking out distractions at work.
-- I do all my chores and errands on the weekend so I can completely focus on work during the week.
-- I make a point of not playing video games at night during the week with my roommates. Staying up late playing “just one more game” after “just one more game” is fine at school, but it’s not doable with work. Instead, I try to have fun at work with my coworkers so I don’t feel deprived of fun when I get home.
-- I took naps during school, but it’s harder to do at work. So I’ve been aiming to get good sleep during the night so I can power through my days. It’s challenging to get to sleep earlier, but it really pays off the next day.

Jason Risch says:
Working at a tiny company like Sitch makes it very easy to gain audience with senior leadership. So far I have worked directly with one of the co-founders everyday, and will work directly with the other when she returns from Argentina. I will say that I find I sometimes have to remind myself to learn continually from them while directly working under them. If I were to have say only one hour a week to meet with senior leadership, then I would be in an intense learning mode throughout the entire meeting since that would be the clearly defined purpose of the meeting. When working with senior leaders on everyday, lower level topics, I often forget to ask about the bigger purpose or to inquire as to why they made a certain decision since my focus is more on the work side than the education side. Upon my asking, the CEOs have always been happy to explain, and oftentimes my question prompts a discussion that generates new ideas.
Project-wise, I think it is important to remember to direct your internship towards learning and topics that are of interest to you. I've managed to learn a ton - Python, development environments, recommendation system algorithms - by reading papers and books related to my assignment instead of directly proceeding with it. I've also made sure to take the initiative to ask for more work on the business side of projects in order to get a balanced internship and to avoid ending up only doing data science, as valuable an experience that might be. I also think inviting yourselves to things is a great strategy, provided you can do it in a non-invasive way. For example, if someone asks if I want them to pick me up coffee, I sometimes reply that I actually need a stretch-break and would love to accompany them. On another occasion, one of my bosses mentioned a company adviser discussed a certain strategy in relation to the future of my project, and I said that I would love to be there next time to speak with her directly and pick her mind.
On the social side, I would say the most successful thing I've done is simply ask everyone how last night or their weekend went as they walk in to start work (it helps if you're the first one into the office). You can often get more genuine and enthusiastic response before people have really entered work mode, and it can also permit you insight into how that person may be doing on that particular day - if they had a stressful weekend, you may want to treat them a bit differently. Additionally, don't be afraid to disturb people with headphones on. I was initially surprised by how many employees in our office wear headphones, until I realized it was just to drown out background noise. Someone plays Zedd's Clarity on saxophone for hours at a time right in front of our office, so the employees that have been working there for a while would be driven by now without headphones. As such, headphones do not necessarily mean that people want to work undisturbed, but rather may indicate a preference over background noise.
Another tip is to continue to workout during the summer, be it in the morning or evening. It can be really easy to get caught up in work and forgo working out, but I've found that I always sleep much better and feel more enthusiastic for my job if I workout the day before.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
ZenPayroll has a really strong culture, and it goes beyond just the little quirks like the fact that everyone takes off their shoes and wears slippers in the office. The founding team is very deliberate about the culture and takes a lot of measures to ensure the culture persists even as we’re adding 20 employees a week.

One important aspect of the ZP culture is that we definitely have a “Built-to-last” mentality and are very mission driven. Rather than think of ourselves as a payroll processing company, we think of ourselves as a company that champions small businesses and enriches the relationship between employer and employee. Josh always talks about being on this journey for decades to come and emphasizes the long-term impact we can have as a company on the businesses and people we are helping. I think the fact that we talk a lot about our long-term mission and set aggressive goals motivates everyone to work hard.

Additionally, ZP has a set of core values that we explicitly talk about and aim to embody. The values are:
1. Don’t optimize for the short term
2. Go the extra mile
3. Do what’s right
4. We are all builders
5. Ownership Mentality
6. Be Transparent
Every two weeks, Josh leads an all-hands meeting called State of Z that is completely transparent about company financials, growth, goals etc. This is an example of management embodying the value “be transparent”. The founders and management team are extremely approachable and frequently hold AMAs where members of the company can ask them anything. Also, every few weeks a survey called ZPulse goes out to everyone in the company to measure how everyone is feeling and whether people think the company is embodying our values. The results are shared with the company and we discuss them openly.

Another core aspect of our culture is that we spend a lot of time together and it really does feel like a family. For example, just this past week we had a whisky tasting event in the office, a ZenPayroll Family Picnic, and we had two investors in the company (Pejman Nozad and Kevin Systrom (another MFP’er!)) come talk to us in the office. We also have catered lunches and dinners everyday so everyone eats together in the kitchen which is a great time to socialize. People tend to stay on the later side (I usually leave around 7 but a lot of people stay much later) just because they like spending time in the office.

In addition to general company culture, each individual team seems very close and has its own quirks. For example, I’m a product management intern working on features for the Platform team so i’m basically a member of both the Product team and the Platform team. Last weekend the Product team went on a hike in the redwoods together which was a really great bonding experience, and we also have our own team t-shirts and stickers with our team values that we all put on our laptops (see photo attached). For the platform team, every member gets an Avengers character bobblehead to put on their desk. It’s a silly small thing but it definitely makes us feel like a team.

Overall, everyone feels very appreciated and motivated at ZenPayroll and employee turnover is extremely low (if existent at all) for this reason. On your very first day, all new hires get a swag bag and a balloon at their desk. At your 3-month anniversary you get a ZP jacket. At your 1-year anniversary, you get a plane ticket anywhere in the world. The management team makes sure we all feel empowered and encouraged to lead by example to help maintain the culture as we grow. I couldn’t ask for a better company culture.

With regard to the BTL vs BTF question, I don’t think either mentality/mission is right or wrong, but I do think the mentality of the company has a great impact on its culture. Flippable companies certainly have their place in the innovation engine, however I personally see the positive impact of a BTL company on the culture. Everyone here is extremely motivated and passionately believes in our long-term vision. I think in the future I will continue to seek out mission-driven companies that are built to last.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
I couldn't figure out how to attach multiple files, but I also wanted to share our company selfie with Kevin Systrom!

Jotthe Kannappan says:
How strong of a culture does your startup have, and how does the management maintain the culture?

The culture at Oculeve, for me, is the most compelling thing about working at the company. Oculeve has an extremely strong culture that has developed around our core values (urgency, no BS, patient-centric, camaraderie, and fun). Everyone at the office is immensely dedicated to helping people, doing meaningful work, and poking fun at each other. I think a lot of questions about culture are answered by going through the list of questions above, so here we go.

How do people spend lunch at your startup? How much socializing goes on between co-workers both inside and outside of the office? How do you think this influences team dynamics?

Everyone eats and cooks lunch together in the open kitchen at Oculeve, unless lunch is being specially catered for some reason. Even if we cater, we all sit together and just hang out while eating. There is a ton of socializing at the office, particularly at our office manager's desk (she has a tub of MnMs that she keeps there so that people visit her). People (including all of our executives) also always play impromptu soccer games in the long hallway of the building. Intriguingly, our office also has a really strong pranking culture. This means that anyone is free to prank anyone (including interns pranking executives, and vice versa). All of this makes work a really fun place to be, and makes the team really feel like a family. It also immediately makes the team hierarchically flat, because everyone has hung out with and made fun of everyone else.

What kind of hours do people put in at your startup? Of the people who put in long hours, what do you think drives them to do so?

People often work 8 to 6, or any subset of those hours. A lot of people stay late or come in early, or do both. Right now, a lot of the motivation to work really hard is to push the product through FDA pivotal, but I also think people don't mind doing it because work is fun (for aforementioned reasons).

Why are employees working at your company and not some place else? How dedicated are they to staying and what's the turnover like?

A lot of the people at the company come from lots of industry experience in medtech of big pharma in the dry-eye space. A significant portion of the team is also very young though, and this is their first job out of graduate school. Most people articulate that they came because they loved the feel of the small business, and Michael and Jim seemed like such a delight to work with. A lot of the seasoned people say that they came because as soon as they heard of the product, they knew it was going to be the world leader in dry-eye care treatment.

Do people talk much about expectations for the company's future? When they do so, do they focus on the more obvious milestones and financial goals, or do they talk about missions and a vision set forth by the leadership?

I think it's a mix of both. Of course, clinical trials put an inherent emphasis on more obvious milestones and goals, but every all hands meeting, we talk about a new patient that has been impacted positively by the device, and how that impact is what drives the company. In the words of our CEO, "that's why we're all here, and we're doing a great job, team."

How does the company maintain its culture? How is this effected by the size of the company?

The company maintains its culture through a lot of the stuff mentioned above. This is obviously going to be really hard to keep together as the company grows rapidly, and in light of acquisition by a big pharma company. Allergan seems to want to encourage our quirky culture, but we don't know how that will change as time passes.

With the reality check of your startup experience to date, what are your thoughts on the "BTL vs BTF" question?
Even in light of acquisition, I think that Oculeve was started with the framework of a BTL company. When the team came together to put together a list of values, they also decided on a specific goal: "By 2019, Oculeve will be the world leader in dry-eye care." The company agreed to acquisition because our CEO knew that it would be the fastest way to get the device in to the hands of as many patients as possible, not because it was incredibly lucrative. So I think the mentality is still largely BTL.

Are flippable companies an essential component of the innovation engine that drives the economy or are they a threat to the soul of the entrepreneurial economy?

I think you could go either way on the answer to this, but I think the companies that are disruptive aren't built to be flippable. That said, there are a lot of technologies that do best because they are flippable and get bought by bigger companies who can get them to the appropriate user base.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Synack has quite a strong culture, and that’s due to the founders, the exec team, and the quality and commitment of the employees they’ve hired. This culture goes beyond the fact that most employees eat lunch together, and that the company provides catered lunches, snacks, and other perks (happy hours, gym membership, etc). I think the culture is best represented by the phrase “flat and fun but professional.” The company is flat in the sense that the exec team and founders do a great job of making themselves available to pretty much any employee, and the atmosphere is quite collegial: there are no barriers between upper management and a newly hired engineer, for example, and there are lots of ways that employees socialize during their breaks and off-hours. (Much credit to the HR/workplace team at Synack for fostering this kind of fun atmosphere!) But at the same time, the exec team and founders do continue to maintain a professional atmosphere by emphasizing certain things, such as the confidentiality of our customers, and by making tough decisions and being transparent with the rest of the employees about them. There are regular all-hands meeting and “stand-up” meetings in which any interested employee can get updates on what other divisions of the company are working on.

I feel like Synack is at an interesting place right now where the workload and atmosphere is certainly like that of a small company, but the 8-5 or 9-6ish hours don’t necessarily reflect it (which makes me think that some of the employees work after they go home, or a bit on weekends, which has been confirmed to me by a couple). Interestingly, I haven’t heard much talk from the employees about long-term future, but they do speak excitedly about short-term goals and milestones. That being said, though, I have heard the execs and founders talk about long-term future, in the sense that they want Synack to be one of the dominant security vendors (so certainly a BTL mission).

Speaking of BTL vs. BTF, I personally don’t see anything wrong with a BTF type company, though I can understand someone’s moral objection to starting an entrepreneurial venture solely for the purpose of selling it and cashing in. I think it would be naive to expect every entrepreneur to be compelled by some altruistic vision, and I think one can make an argument that plenty of BTF companies are driven by admirable visions in addition to turning a profit. Additionally, there are distinct benefits to both BTL and BTF. I’m reminded of the Oculeve open house last week - even though the founders didn’t necessarily go in with the BTF mentality, they spoke of the benefits of being in a quick-exit position and being acquired by a company like Allergan. Personally, the BTL path is more appealing for me just because I enjoy the challenges that come with scaling and growing an idea from start to wherever ir goes, but my take on the BTL vs BTF debate is that founders and execs are honest about their motivations, and don’t pretend to take one path when the other is what they are really shooting for: this kind of deception can hurt the employees and culture of a company.

I like what Jenna said about transparency in her post. I don’t think there’s one necessarily “good” or “morally right” culture that fits all companies in the Valley. But I do think it’s critically important for founders, execs, and all employees of a company - right down to the interns - to be transparent and honest about what their view of the culture is, to build cohesion in the workplace in this regard.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
The culture that everyone has helped foster at ZenPayroll is truly something special. I’ve never worked in such an environment where people work this hard, yet have so much fun at the same time. This mentality all starts at the very top, where the executive team works harder than anyone else, often times staying until the late hours of the night and weekends. Subsequently, the strong culture is passed down to everyone else in the office, where employees are working just as hard. For example, the sales team that I sit with usually comes in by 8 am and leaves around 7 pm, with many people staying even longer. This kind of “ownership mentality,” one of the six values of the company, empowers everyone to have the ability to make a lasting impact on the organization.

Even though employees usually work long hours, ZenPayroll operates under an open vacation policy, where anyone can take time off whenever they need to. In fact, another unique aspect about the culture is that on an employee’s one-year anniversary with the company, ZenPayroll will buy them a plane ticket to anywhere in the world. That employee can take off as much time as they want to travel the world. There are two main reasons as to why ZP does this: 1. ZP believes that people are empowered when they have interesting perspectives on the world, so what better way of giving someone an interesting perspective than by buying them a plane ticket to anywhere they want to go to 2. ZP believes that traveling makes people happier, and everyone wants to work with people who are happy and naturally fun to be around.

People are driven here because they genuinely like being here. Just this past Friday, I was hanging out in the office until almost midnight getting to know my co-workers. What’s interesting is that payroll, in itself, isn’t naturally an appealing industry. In fact, payroll is often times overshadowed by connotations of being too transactional and old-school. Yet, many employees here have had experience working with small businesses at one point in their lives, and they understand that if they can save small business owners several hours of their week by automating payroll, their entire small business can grow exponentially. People are passionate about helping these small businesses, and because they are so dedicated to their customers they put in the hours in order to do whatever it takes to be successful.

While the culture has been great thus far, scaling the company while maintaining that strong sense of culture is definitely a concern. Yet, the first step in maintaining it starts with the interview process and hiring the right people. After sitting in on several interviews, I’ve noticed that the interview process is incredibly meticulous that every question has a very specific purpose. Instead of asking about the details of someone’s resume, interviewers here are focused on a candidate’s journey - how they got here, how they make decisions, and what they’ve learned throughout their lives. Because of this difficult screening process, ZP prides itself in hiring the best of the best.

Like I said earlier, the unique culture of ZP is all tied back to the executive team. They have created such a unique environment not by achieving milestones or breaking financial records, but rather by consistently emphasizing the mission and vision of the company. Another important value here is “don’t optimize for the short-term.” I’ve spoken to several young employees here who are eventually hoping to retire from ZenPayroll. In today’s society where people often times switch companies every one to two years, hearing employees wanting to grow and build this company in hopes of someday retiring here is incredibly unique and refreshing.

In regards to the build-to-last vs. built-to-flip question, I completely agree with Revanth - I’m sure there are entrepreneurs who are endlessly trying to start a startup, grow it to a point of acquisition, and eventually cash in on the benefits. While there are distinct advantages to this, the team at ZP has a very strong built-to-last mentality. They know that by being in it for the long-term, they can have a lasting impact on all small businesses in America and disrupt how traditional payroll has always been done.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
So Jenna and Mitch touched on most of the core culture of Zen Payroll, but I’ll try and add some more. ZP is definitely a company that preaches a built-to-last mentality, aspires to be as transparent as possible, and generally makes employees feel comfortable through its flat hierarchy and popular initiatives like “golden ticket” (1 year anniversary comes with a plane ticket to anywhere in the world) and a take-what-you-need vacation policy. Perhaps one of the most important realizations that I have had this summer is that the way ZP is structured truly makes a difference.

Whenever I meet a new employee, I always try to get an understanding of their past history and their personal career journey that led them to ZenPayroll. Without exception, I have found that ZP employees are exceptionally happy in their role here, with many raving that this job is the best they’ve ever had. Part of the reason for such positive responses is worker camaraderie. As a member of the product team, I only have insight into my fellow PMs and the engineers we support, but an observation I have made is that people spend a significant amount of time together outside of work. Whether it’s going out to ball games, seeing movies, or grabbing drinks, my team genuinely enjoys spending time with another. These friendships are reflected in collaboration. Rarely do I see my team fight. Whenever there are disagreements-and there are many-thoughtful and respectful discussions ensue. I believe this to be a reflection of the founders. Josh, Tomer, and Eddy have created an environment (and planned many work outings) that fosters strong and healthy relationships between co-workers from the beginning. I believe they are reaping the benefits of these concerted efforts now.

Further, while people are undoubtedly excited about the financial prospects of ZP, most of the discussion about the company’s future is missions driven. There is a strong belief in the greater mission and everyone feels vested. My direct supervisor puts in 13-hour days regularly and I believe he is driven by the message conveyed to him by the founders in his interview: eliminating a major pain point for small businesses across the country. This culture will certainly be challenging to maintain as ZP scales, but recruiters take such pain-staking efforts to hire the right people, that I think it is highly unlikely the company will change much.

Jason Risch says:
Sitch has a strong culture of having fun and being outgoing in accordance with the goal of Sitch’s product. The product is literally about enabling people to find fun, so the employees tend to be very sociable people who enjoy going out and understand what drives the market. Given the strong personalities of the co-founders, it has not been difficult to maintain the company culture as the employees really respond to their energy. Sitch is also very small at this point, so it will be interesting to see how the co-founders go about maintaining the company culture as Sitch grows. Given this small size, Sitch does not have much of an organizational chart. Given this camaraderie and lack of hierarchy, it is not surprising that everyone at the office feels comfortable sharing their insights and tackling huge challenges. People often either eat lunch together at the office or go out as a group on special occasions.

Both co-founders are older and have young children, a fact that definitely influences the hours and work expectations. Employees do end up working fairly long hours, though not as long as I expect many employees do at other startups. However, the hours tend to be distributed very well. Employees can work from home for part of the day in order to avoid peak traffic hours, and usually leave by 6:00 PM. Sitch has no official vacation policy; rather, employees are trusted to take whatever time they need as long as they get their work done. Unlike at other companies, this policy does not mean that employees never take time off due to having too much work; in fact, I’ve already seen several summer vacations. On the other hand, employees do tend to work some on the weekends. In part, this work results from the particular nature of Sitch’s app (notifications are often pushed for weekend events since the weekend is the time of peak user engagement) but it also derives from this greater ideal of trusting employees to manage their own time.

Sitch definitely follows the Built-to-last model for startups. While I think that it could easily be flipped to a larger company like Facebook or Yelp that wanted to incorporate more events into their user experience, the founders subscribe to the ideal of creating a lasting independent organization. While, many employees have worked at previous startups or founded companies before, both co-founders left very comfortable product positions at larger tech organizations to build their own product from scratch. When they discuss the future of the company, they couch it in terms of great expectations in size and scope. Further, there have been several moments (first and foremost, a third original co-founder leaving) over the last few years that might have led those less dedicated to a cause to move onto another idea or startup. While they do discuss more pressing milestones like Series A funding, it is always incorporated into the company strategy as a means to the more significant future goals
In terms of the broader Built-to-last vs Built-to-flip debate, I think flippable companies are a very valid method of entrepreneurship (though I hesitate to call them essential in driving the economy). Some entrepreneurs prefer the creation of company and the work involved in the nascent stages of a company over the growth and mature stages of a company’s lifecycle. Flipping a company allows this type of entrepreneur to play to his passion and strengths while infusing mature companies with new revenue sources and innovation. However, this opinion comes with several caveats. First, I think it can be very dangerous for inexperienced entrepreneurs to start a company with this mindset, as it can really limit the size of the target market the entrepreneur hopes to address. An entrepreneur who assumes they will flip their company may only pursue a very narrow subset of customers who are not covered by the larger companies the entrepreneur has in mind as potential acquisition partners. However, the larger company will only want to buy the startup if possesses a significant enough customer base to justify the acquisition and provides a product that the larger company could not make on their own. Further, if an entrepreneur espouses this flipping attitude then they may have trouble obtaining funding from certain venture capitalists. Many VCs want to see entrepreneurs passionate enough about their company to work tirelessly on it; an entrepreneur who aims to flip their company may come off as someone who will jump to another idea as soon as their product faces adversity and a seemingly better money-making opportunity presents itself. Again, these warnings do not preclude the Built-to-flip model from being a legitimate method, but simply serve as some points to be cognizant of.

Nick Ning Xu says:

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Zymergen is in the business of making microbes better. Therefore, I thought it was very fitting to represent Zymergen's culture as a cell with each part being a different aspect of the culture/values. Just like a cell, Zymergen is greater than the sum of its parts. In order to operate and execute at such a high level it needs all parts (microbiology, automation, computation) to work together and build something amazing.

Zymergen does not have a list of values to represent its culture. Instead the culture is a result of the early employees and executives. The culture is very organic (another reason I chose to represent it as a cell) and people understand the culture at Zymergen by experiencing it.

The cell is attached and the second page goes into detail about the culture/each part of the cell.

With regards to the last question, I do not see built-to-flip companies as a threat to the entrepreneurial economy. I believe there is a place for them in the economy, but that they do not have the same lasting impact as BTL companies. I agree with the previous comments and prefer a BTL company because of the strong community it builds and long-term vision that everyone shares.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
How do people spend lunch at your startup?
-- People usually order sandwiches/burritos together and eat together at the tables near our desks on our floor. Everyone talks and it’s lively. About 2/3 of the people do this and 1/3 are busy working/running experiments.

How much socializing goes on between co-workers both inside and outside of the office? How do you think this influences team dynamics?
-- There used to be dinners at the co-founders’ house every Sunday, but that faded away after the first year or two.
-- Pairs of people will sometimes talk about hiking/biking trips they’re doing or have done together.
-- Otherwise, I don’t think people really go out on the weekends together. I know some of the employees live together.
-- There will be company parties/trips every couple months. The one I had at my house this past Friday was a blast. It was great seeing everyone outside of work and people seemed to have a lot of fun.
-- I think the more camaraderie the better. As I’ve gotten to know people better, I find things go more smoothly at work when we work with each other.

What kind of hours do people put in at your startup? Of the people who put in long hours, what do you think drives them to do so?
-- Maybe 7/30 people work 8-9 hours per day – they’re very efficient
-- Another 20/30 work between 9-11 hours per day on average - this is the norm
-- The cofounders and another 3/30 people work 11-? Hours per day and are just there all day every day
-- About 10/30 people will come in on Saturdays (used to be more when company was smaller) and almost no one besides the founders comes in on Sundays
-- People seem to really want to get their stuff done. They’re mission-driven and don’t like leaving stuff hanging, so they’ll often stay longer than they planned to polish up or fix bugs. I also think people feel welcome there, and the cofounders will buy everyone dinner if there are a lot of people working late, which is a plus.
-- Older people / people with spouses tend to work more traditional hours

-- Additionally, it should be noted that there is a never-ending stream of work coming from the cofounders and department-heads, so there’s always new stuff to do. And sometimes the upper-level people will get on their people if stuff isn’t getting done fast enough. People sometimes stay late because of this too, which I don’t think is unusual.
-- Lastly, people seem to work late for each other. At this size, everyone is depending on everyone else’s code to work, so if your edits/additions cause crashes, your colleagues suffer. Additionally, if you add lots of cool new stuff, you can help your colleagues reach their goals quicker. It’s a pretty tight-nit group and there’s a mutual sense of accountability.

Why are employees working at your company and not some place else? How dedicated are they to staying and what's the turnover like?
-- I would say the three main reasons are (A) The work is really, really cool and like a playground for tech/science nerds, (B) The mission is super important and resonates with employees, and (C) People believe that the company will succeed big-time and want their share of the payout. I think it’s a combination for all people, but overall the employees just want to make cool tech and they want to see the company succeed. We don’t have many people (that I know of) that are just trying to get through the day and get paid.
-- According to the cofounders and coworkers, people usually leave when they want to pursue their own tech venture or get a PhD and then pursue their own biotech venture. People rarely leave because of bad blood, boredom, or greener grasses.
-- That is not to say that everything is always hunky-dory, and I sometimes hear complaints from employees about management – that they’re not listening and/or they’re pushing too hard.

Do people talk much about expectations for the company's future? When they do so, do they focus on the more obvious milestones and financial goals, or do they talk about missions and a vision set forth by the leadership?
-- Yes, but I think it would feel sort of cult-y if we just talked about the company’s future and how it’s going to change the world all the time, so it’s rarely brought up as the start of a conversation among people who have been working there for awhile. When I see employees talk to new people or outsiders, they’re always excited and talk about how Emerald is going to change the face of scientific research. People are excited. And when people have talked with me about vesting and payment, they usually mention they’re pretty confident Emerald is going to make it big.
-- On average, people talk about milestones and financial goals because it’s more relevant. I think people show commitment to the mission and confidence in the vision of the founders by taking less-cushy jobs here than at other places and by working their asses off more than is required/expected. It’s definitely more of a “show your commitment” than a “talk about your commitment” culture. But, again, you hear people’s excitement when they talk to outsiders.

How does the company maintain its culture? How is this effected by the size of the company?
-- Culture sprouts mostly from the people that work at Emerald. Hiring is a huge deal here, and “culture-fit” is a big part of that. People feel free to be their nerdy selves, which is awesome, and there’s a pretty light and fun air around the office most of the time.
-- Tradition also probably plays a role. There’s obviously a way of things when it comes to meetings, lunches, work-hours, and handling conflicts.
-- The company is small, so the culture is pretty homogenous at the moment. Culture travels fast to new people and it’s hard to get away from it.
-- The management doesn’t play much of a role in maintaining culture anymore because the groundwork they laid in the past 5 years are now self-propagating.

With the reality check of your startup experience to date, what are your thoughts on the "BTL vs BTF" question? Are flippable companies an essential component of the innovation engine that drives the economy or are they a threat to the soul of the entrepreneurial economy?
-- This is a difficult question, and I might be totally off here, but here’s my take on it:
-- I assume BTL means Built To Last and BTF means Built To Flip. I also assume BTL refers to young companies who focus on vision, mission, values, culture, team, board, financials, etc. from the get-go whereas BTF refers to companies that are developing tech for the sake of tech with the main vision being that they might be able to sell it to Google when they get bored.
-- Let’s look at the monomers of Silicon Valley: techies. Fundamentally, techies are looking to have fun building cool tech, make money doing it, and get some social recognition along the way. They might veil these underlying desires with the sentiment that they want to solve some (usually insignificant) problem, but don’t believe them: that’s their business strategy, not their wants and needs.
-- Silicon Valley companies are filled with these types of people. This includes their founders. Do the breakthrough companies that change the tech landscape seem to have founders with grand visions and a following of cultish employees? They do, but I think this is mostly developed after success, not before it. If you offered most struggling entrepreneurs a few million dollars to acquire their companies, I’m sure most would accept. It’s when their ideas explode in popularity that they suddenly change up their act and push the idea that their company was made to change the world from the beginning and they’ve always been BTL. But I doubt this is true.
-- I don’t think many tech companies start out with a true long-term vision – they develop that vision when they need to and lots of them end up doing very well despite their lack of initial focus on culture, vision, mission, etc. In the end, the founders that end up producing breakthrough technology that changes the face of tech are often not the BTL visionaries but rather BTF techies who just wanted to build something cool and flip it but ended up with something groundbreaking and then adapted.
-- So no, as much as I want to hate them, I don’t think young flippable companies threaten the soul of the entrepreneurship economy (whether they threaten the soul of entrepreneurship is whole different question that I have a much different opinion on).

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
Also Jenna that's a funny coincidence about your whiskey tasting thing at your office because the Emerald party at my house last Friday was a whiskey tasting thing too. Apparently that's the go-to party theme at Emerald. Fun stuff.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
“It’s so rare to find coworkers that you actually want to hang out with outside of work,” Walter, a biz dev guy at Enjoy, said to me recently. We were on the way home from a marketing event in Marin, where we had volunteered our Sunday night to throw an Enjoy Party together, a gathering for a hostess and her friends based on the old “Tupperware Party” model (more on that later).
But while it might be rare other places in the Valley, Enjoy is full of coworkers turned friends, twenty-somethings who spend weekend nights together and older members of the leadership team who act as close mentors. In my month at the company, I have been invited to concerts and happy hours and dinners. I’m personally invested in the details of Tom’s vacation and DeLayne’s home refurbishment project and Austin’s baseball team. I am floored and excited by the friendships I’ve cultivated in such a short amount of time. These are people that I want to hang out with outside of work, and I know my coworkers feel similarly about each other.
This camaraderie is what fuels the Enjoy engine. The company launched in May, and I get the sense that without one another, the employees would’ve burnt themselves out beyond repair. The admiration they have for each other, along with a mission driven leadership team, kept the stress of launching and sustaining a fledgling startup from overwhelming them.
The fundamental idea behind the company also sustains Enjoy, because it is certainly built-to-last. When they began Enjoy, Ron Johnson and Tom Suiter decided to invent a new type of commerce, somewhere between Amazon and Best Buy. It’s affectionately referred to as “personal commerce” (p-commerce), and I think it’s a largely untapped market. When we discuss expansion into this market, the underlying concept is mission-driven instead of numbers-driven. The idea behind Enjoy, that you can get amazing people to bring you new, cool tech and help you out with it for free, is a compelling idea that motivates its workers in a way that numbers often can’t.
As a P.S., last week I got to work with freelance creative director Rob Smiley, and as inspiration for a marketing campaign we set up a day long photoshoot with Enjoy Experts and Enjoy employees posing as people getting Enjoy Visits. The result was a hilarious day and an awesome set of pictures (who knows...maybe you’ll see my face on the side of a Muni bus one of these days….)--one of the photos is attached. (I was going to do a few but the forum won't let me) I think they give a great sense for the fun that people at Enjoy have with each other.

Ellen Rudolph & Priyanka Jain says:
Last night, we grabbed froyo and got to talking about the cultures at our respective startups. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between our experiences, especially given the different stages that our companies are at. One of our biggest takeaways was that regardless of the size (whether it’s 4 or 25 in our cases), the most defining aspect of the culture was the people. At the end of the day, while they might promote a certain culture, none of the “perks” or office attributes could create a culture. Below is an individual description of each of our experiences and then our collective takeaways.


Shift has an awesome culture that I think is really different than the typical Silicon Valley startup. Like most startups, it’s really fun and often very casual, but there’s also a uniquely strong culture of openness and support. While we don't have the classic ping pong table, there are more deeply rooted parts of the company that create a supportive, collaborative, and hardworking environment. For example, our office is located in the Castro and I think our immediate environment is reflected in our culture. One of our co-founders is gay, and he has brought together an extremely accepting and diverse (in literally every way - backgrounds, personalities, sexual orientations, races, etc.) group of people. Our other co-founder is the mother of an 18 month old and a 2 year old and we have a room in the office she uses to breastfeed during the day. Both of them are really open about their experiences, so we often end up talking about things that would likely be taboo at a typical company, but lend to creating a comfortable and positive environment for everyone.

We have catered lunch everyday and we always eat together. People also spend a lot of time catching up and socializing over snacks in the kitchen or going on coffee runs to one of the amazing cafes in the Castro. I think this hugely impacts the team dynamics -- I have had great lunch/coffee conversations with team members I likely wouldn’t ever work with directly, which has improved my own experience and I’m sure a lot of other people would say the same.
People at Shift are incredibly passionate about working there. Honestly, when I was interviewing, I was kind of confused by why people seemed so impassioned about used cars. However, after meeting the co-founders and seeing everyone work together, it’s clear why everyone is so excited to solve this problem: it’s a pain point that almost every person can resonate with. The current experience of buying or selling a used car is simply miserable, and Shift exists to drastically transform that. While we talk a lot about milestones, goals, and metrics, the company is extremely big picture driven. I think the balance is healthy; while it’s important to always keep your eye on the big goal, it’s also crucial to have tangible, achievable goals that we can work towards each month.

Given our small size, I would say that Untrodden’s culture is currently a work-in-progress. The four of us come from very different backgrounds - we have Rhea, the self-described whiskey-loving wanderer from the Caribbean who’s in charge of all things product, Justin, a lover of maps and our enthusiastic CEO, and Lauren, our French native who leads Untrodden’s marketing efforts. At such an early-stage venture, it seems that culture is largely dependent on the founding team. And although we haven’t created a list of our internal values yet, some distinctive behaviors and attitudes have emerged. Thus far, I would describe our team dynamic as transparent, collaborative, open, curious, and respectful. Similar to Jason’s experience at Sitch, no real hierarchy exists among the team due to our size. Now that I think about it, no one on the team has ever explicitly mentioned a team member’s position or “title.” Each of us has taken on an “area of expertise,” but that doesn’t exclude us from tackling a variety of other realms as well. This has fostered open communication and the notion that each team member’s opinion is valued. At its core, our culture has been shaped by how we fundamentally treat one another.

However, at the same time, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Luckily, the team is so quirky and entertaining that it has been easy for me to feel like I fit in. From difficult meetings fueled by Bourbon to “get the creative juices flowing” (Rhea’s idea, at 2pm no less..) to happy hours where we give Justin unwarranted relationship advice, there’s never a dull moment at the office. Usually, we all eat lunch together in the office, although sometimes we will go out as a group to a cafe. From time to time, we will spend workdays at a cafe near the office for a change of scenery. Besides our in-office communications, there is also quite a bit of socializing that goes on outside of the office. This time spent together in a social setting, whether it has been happy hours or other gatherings, has been critical to my integration into the company and also to our team’s effectiveness. Most importantly, it has resulted in me viewing my teammates as friends moreso than just coworkers.

In terms of hours spent at the office, it ranges largely depending on the day. However, Justin has been very clear about emphasizing the flexibility of our hours; he has stressed, whether we are a 4 or 40 person team, to use our judgment on work-life balance given the work and priorities we’ve established at any given moment (and be sensitive to the need to disconnect since we can always convince ourselves or justify the need for more work.. we’re a startup after all). The hours on a daily basis are pretty reasonable with most typical workdays lasting from around 9am-6:30pm or so. However, Lauren claims that, just a few months ago, Justin and her would spend the entire day and night at the office and that she actually spent the night at the office once or twice. And just last week, Rhea and Justin stayed in the office until 12:30am, so it completely depends on the day. This desire to work long hours stems from the fact that the people around me are driven, first and foremost, by a passion for our company’s mission; they suffer from and empathize with the same pain points as the travelers we target. Each of us is passionate about travel in our own right. This shared dedication to the vision is so critical among the founding team. And while our company is very mission-centric, we also have to focus on reaching necessary milestones to ensure that we can share our product with the world. I’m very interested to see how our culture will evolve and become more established as we grow.

While we were at froyo, we also ended up having a really interesting conversation about BTL/BTF, summarized below:

It’s hard to imagine any founder openly saying they are starting a “built to flip” company. However, in reality, the vast majority of companies will be acquired rather than IPO. With that in mind, we still think that all companies should be founded with a BTL mentality; even if their own entity doesn’t last, hopefully the product and user experience that they create will last even after a potential acquisition. Additionally, having a BTL mentality directly influences the culture; if employees feel like they’re working towards a long-term, impactful mission, they are more likely to be passionate about what they’re building.

We came to the conclusion that flippable companies are an essential component of the innovation engine; while we don’t believe that people should start companies with an initial goal of simply “flipping” it, acquisitions are incredibly important to pushing innovation. For many massive companies, acquiring innovative startups are how they stay relevant. For many of the startups, being acquired by a large company allows them to achieve distribution they would be unable to achieve with their limited resources.

Overall, we concluded that all companies should be built to last even if most of the companies themselves won’t.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Last week I was in a meeting with the co-founder, Tomer London, and the rest of the product team. He conducted an interesting exercise by which he instructed everyone in the room to identify several positive attributes and several negative attributes of the current system. In essence, “What is Product at ZP doing well? And what could be improved?” An operations PM, Lauren, expressed frustration that her day consisted of running from meeting to meeting for hours, leaving little time to actually accomplish tasks. Another PM, Eric, agreed and added that he rarely had time to sit down and think. In fact, some of his best ideas were developed outside of work in his free time, when he finally had time to contemplate issues.

This exchange caused me to consider company productivity in a new way. Although I would not characterize ZenPayroll as an organization that has too many meetings, it is quite apparent that my immediate supervisors are rarely at their desk. Some employees’ calendars are so heavily booked with commitments that I struggle to understand how they get all of their work done (See Attachment). Admittedly, start-ups are inherently busy so much this problem is unavoidable. However, if I were CEO, I would require each team to set aside 2 hours twice a week for independent, meeting free work sessions. These slots would be created for the explicit purpose of enabling people to work on projects or consider complex issues at hand. For as much feels accomplished by running from meeting to meeting, actual work frequently occurs beforehand and afterward.

Implementation of this policy would be dependent on the team. It would be difficult to mandate a specific day or time company wide dedicated to independent sessions because different departments run on varying schedules. However, the principle is important to institute. I believe that while collaboration is imperative to the success of a company, meetings are not always required to figure something out. Certain problems simply necessitate quiet thought, trial and error, and persistence.

Sometimes the best feedback about innovation can come internally. For the most part, I find ZP does a great job of fostering a creative environment, but it would undoubtedly benefit from some balance.

Jason Risch says:
One aspect that seems to impact creativity is company size. Sitch is very small, a fact that creates both advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side, without a corporate hierarchy in place, all employees are involved in the creative process. Execution is also straightforward, as the employees have a direct line of contact to management simply by virtue of scale. For example, suggestions based on our Mayfield open house last week are already being incorporated into prototypes for the next iteration of the app. On the other hand, I would not yet say Sitch is at an optimal point for creativity in terms of size. I think a few more employees would add a diversity of perspectives and experiences to the mix, allowing for quicker feedback and the emergence of better ideas through the iterative process of debate. Along a similar vein, I think hiring a few more technical employees would add domain expertise in certain areas that are currently underrepresented, thereby creating ideas that are more fully flushed out and consider the requirements of these domains.

In terms of work atmosphere, I think the open office format does enable creativity as it encourages interaction and makes it easy to jump in on conversations. Sitch, uniquely, also has part of its team in Buenos Aires. While I think this system works well in a number of respects, I do find it harder to think creatively with this distance, both in that the relationship lacks the constant dialogue present in an open office and in that I find it difficult to be as creative over the phone. While video-calling technology definitely improves things, it can still be hard to think creatively when part of your focus is spent trying to pick up words and parse between dropped phrases in the call. The process of brainstorming in person also just has a better energy about it and allows you to read facial expressions better.

Sitch also does a solid job of allowing its employees to take vacations as needed, something that I believe also promotes the creative process. By escaping from the workplace briefly, employees can return to problems with a fresh set of eyes. When stressed and in the moment, it can be very easy for us to become bogged down in the minutiae of an issue and cease to think creatively about the bigger picture.

In terms of changes I would make as CEO, I would implement more explicit brainstorming sessions. While creativity is definitely tacitly encouraged and enabled, this creativity can definitely be hindered by more pressing practical issues: if it comes between fixing a bug and pondering the future of the app, many people will fix the bug to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment and progress even if the pondering would be more beneficial long-term. As such, I would earmark certain meetings or even days for active brainstorming sessions. Hiring more employees would also have a positive effect on the feasibility of this mandate, as having more employees will allow the company to rotate who deals with the proximate issues and who is free to think long-term and creatively.

Revanth Sai Kosaraju says:
I think Synack as a company does a great job of broadcasting our wins company-wide through All-Hands meetings and all-company Stand-Up meetings so that all teams know how our work is translating into success. Obviously, this practice - fostered by the leadership of the co-founders + executive team - is beneficial for company morale and the culture, and the execs and co-founders highlight creative ways that the company brought about its wins, which encourages employees to continue to find creative ways to do their jobs.

However, I do wonder if this has the potential to lead into the overconfidence that Steve Blank warned us about in one of our earliest MFP classes. In other words, that the company starts believing too much in the track record of our wins to carry us further, and we slow down on looking outside of the building enough for fresh, creative ideas. As a CEO, I would be intrigued by the practice of assigning someone to be a designated "devil's advocate" or "customer point person" for all major meetings, so that there is at least one person who brings up contrarian, fresh ideas that come from outside of the building.

In addition, I would foster creativity by organizing regular meetings or mixers between 2 different teams, instead of the whole company. For example, Operations and Marketing, or Engineering and Sales. Each team can often have tremendous insight and perspective to add to the work another team is doing, and this insight can only be brought out through making these meetings much more regular. Right now, they sort of happen on an ad-hoc basis, although the Execs are taking care to address this.

I appreciate how the execs leading each team have issued calls to the employees of other teams to contribute. For example, our CMO has issued an invite to any employee who enjoys social media or blogging to submit content that the marketing team can use. This would bring a fresh, creative perspective that helps our marketing team (including me) break out of our natural tendencies when it comes to social media.

Lastly, I'm a huge fan of Steve Blank's model, so I think anything that gets more customer input is a great way to infuse creativity into a company. Right now, our Operations, Sales, and Exec teams get great customer interaction. I think it would be great to expand this to Marketing, Product, Engineering, and HR, perhaps through a quarterly meeting between customers and reps from those teams.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
The first element of a space’s creative energy is undoubtedly its physicality. The Enjoy House in Menlo Park is at first glance a warehouse, but it somehow avoids the claustrophobia of too few windows or the isolation of too many square feet. The layout reflects the flat hierarchical organization of its employees--all the desks are out in the open, side by side, grouped by team. I think that this facilitates a certain energy, one whose source is hard to pinpoint, one that is best described as cheeriness and determination. Ideas are called across sets of tables, small meetings are held at the whiteboards lining the walls, and laughter from any corner of the office tumbles over itself into the opposite one. The happy white noise boosts creativity and the open office encourages open ideas (as well as particularly funny jokes).
Additionally, the dispositions of the Enjoy employees certainly foster imagination and creativity. The leadership team and recruiters have done an amazing job selecting for cohesive but not identical personality types. This fosters interesting, divergent conversation that can spark new and unique ideas.
If I was CEO, I’d try to prevent people from disappearing into the meeting rooms for such long stretches at a time. Certain roles (like product managers) spend almost their entire day in the meeting rooms, which not only drains their energy levels but contributes to the stuffy silence that falls on Enjoy when too many people are absent. I think that having everyone out on the office floor contributes to the magic of Enjoy, so I would work to preserve that as much as possible.
Additionally, Enjoy has yet to work out their exact messaging/core concept/elevator pitch. I think without the 6-word-or-less description of Enjoy, different project teams work with slightly different copy and core customers. This means that eventually, the work will need to be redone so that all the messaging matches, which doesn’t actually hinder creativity but rather wastes it.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
At Zymergen, and probably most startups, everyone is extremely busy. It feels as though there is a constant rush to complete projects and meet deadlines. Since everyone is so busy this obviously leaves less time for creativity and investigational research. Though true, I feel Zymergen does a very good job of promoting creativity even though many employees are so stretched.

The company has two main scientific groups: development and the factory. In short, the factory executes and performs the high throughput experiments while development spends its time creating the protocols the factory will use at scale. Development has more time to investigate and explore. Essentially its main job is too be creative in the experiments it developments and problems it troubleshoots. I believe this division creates more creativity than if the groups were lumped into one. But this doesn’t mean the factory is not allowed to be creative. The factory includes a development team with the main task of optimizing and troubleshooting. Also, every employee within the factory clearly has a creative side and is able to think critically and find bottlenecks in the process.

Zymegern hosts bi-weekly Tech talks which I believe is another essential in promoting creativity. Everyone is encouraged to attend and the non-technical people are required to. The purpose of these talks is to make sure everyone stays up to date on the technical progress/challenges and brainstorm solutions. At the end of every talk the floor is opened up for a 10-15 minutes brainstorm discussion that includes all departments within the company. As one can assume, they all have different approaches to problems due to their backgrounds and strengths. I have found this to be a very effective way to find different insights into a problem.

I think one of hindrances of creativity is the space. Since Zymergen is expanding so quickly they have needed to move outside of their original office. Today Zymergen occupies three separate suites. The suites are all very close to one another but I feel the separation makes collaboration more difficult. Just as I would suggest, the CEO is working very hard to find a new space for Zymergen to live so we can all be in one office but the hunt for a lab space large enough is difficult.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
Overall I think ZenPayroll does a pretty great job of promoting creativity and innovation. As a few other people have already touched on, physical space makes a lot of difference. ZP has a very open layout with all desks out in the open and grouped by teams. This fosters a very communal atmosphere where conversations flow freely. Additionally, we have very open communication across the company through Slack, an online messaging platform. People are always sharing articles, photos or just random gifs that brighten everyone’s days and serve as a springboard for creative thought.

The executive team definitely thinks deliberately about creativity. Two of our core values lend themselves directly to innovation: “we are all builders” and “ownership mentality”. Everyone feels empowered as an owner in the company to contribute ideas and make changes. No one is afraid to speak up in a meeting and offer a dissenting opinion to arrive at the best solution. Additionally, the founders encourage people to take as much vacation time as they need to allow them to take a step back from the day-to-day and come back refreshed with a new, valuable perspective.

If I were the CEO, there are a few changes I would make to foster creativity even more at ZP. First, I would promote more interaction with our customers. Our customer facing roles (customer care, sales, customer success) get such great insights from our customers - I think this would be extremely valuable for our product, design and engineering teams as well. Having a deep understanding of our user experience and the people we are building our products for would help us build the best product possible. On this same vein, I would establish a more direct channel for all employees in the company to share ideas with the product team, whether that’s their own ideas or requests they hear from customers. While this happens informally now, I think having a more formal process would ensure that everyone's ideas are brought to the surface and valued.

I would also like to foster a closer relationship between the design team and the rest of the company. I know the product team could benefit from pairing closely with the design team when working on specs and mockups (I have gone to the design team for their opinions several times) and would love for the design team to share their expertise and approach with the rest of the company.

Priyanka Jain says:
The parts of Shift that seem to encourage creativity and innovation are the cross team meetings, all hands brainstorming sessions, the open style of the office, the daily all team lunches, our hiring process, and the “scrappy" mentality. We have cross team meetings scheduled weekly across almost all groups, which leads to clear communication about problems and priorities and also enables for people on other teams to provide new perspectives. This helps promote creative problem solving and streamlines the process of bringing ideas to execution. Our all hands always consist of feedback and brainstorming, which helps encourage people to think out of the box and constantly iterate. The open office and catered lunches allow people to hear what’s going on with other teams and fosters collaboration, which in turn fosters creativity. Shift also hires from an extremely diverse set of applicants across all teams; employees come from consulting, investment banking, startups, straight from college, and from executive positions at Google and Dropbox. This massive range of experiences on each team brings together many different perspectives and encourages creativity. Finally, there is a strong emphasis on getting product iterations out even when they aren’t perfect. Often, when we see a problem, there is a long-term, high development cost solution. However, Shift has adopted a “scrappy” mindset that pushes us to put together solutions that get things working quickly, even if they’re not perfect. This mindset has pushed me to get really innovative and creative about how we can solve our problems with minimal resources.

One of the hinderances to innovation at Shift is the length of time it takes for an idea to go through design and engineering. I’ve realized that there are a few people higher up on these teams who are very opinionated about certain parts of the product. Because of this, they often want to review all changes which really slows down the process. As the CEO, I would limit the amount of oversight any individual person has to help make changes move more quickly. For example, we could have one designer assigned to each team who could make final decisions related to that team instead of always having to get everything approved by the head of design. Another factor that I think stifles innovation is the physical separation between the “hub” and the “headquarters.” The “hub" (in south SF) is where all of our cars, car enthusiasts, car concierges, and sales teams are. These are the teams that are sent out on test drives and are involved in making sure that our “product” (which is essentially a service) is successful day to day. However, all of the business, design, and engineering teams are based out of the “headquarters” (in SF). I think this physical separation makes it harder for the business/design/eng teams to understand and solve the problems that the other teams are actually facing every day, even with frequent meetings and video calls. However, based on our model, as we scale to new cities, this separation is inevitable (we will have hubs in each city but only one headquarters). If I were CEO, I would bring the two SF teams to the same office for at least a month or two to get everyone on the same page. Then, as we scale to new cities, we can begin to treat the SF hub just like the hubs in LA and DC.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
After reflecting on my experience at Untrodden so far, I’ve realized that our team’s limited bandwidth both hinders and promotes creativity and innovation in the company. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeks’ posts, our efforts are constrained by our size, which inevitably forces us to constantly re-evaluate our priorities on a daily basis. Sometimes this means rolling out a feature that we know needs improvement, but at this point in time, we’re simply trying to test the assumptions we’ve made (as per Steve Blank’s recommendation). At times, this can hinder innovation because we need to focus on executing the bare minimum well before moving on to bigger and more exciting things. For example, after reviewing our current property page layout last week, I brainstormed some ideas for a redesign of a few sections on the page. Later that day, as I was sharing my mockups with one of my coworkers, we realized that the property page was experiencing a few bugs on the backend. At that moment in time, our priority quickly shifted from rethinking aesthetics to ensuring page functionality, preventing us from fully fleshing out the redesign.

However, at the same time, our team’s limited bandwidth has also promoted creativity. Our limited resources have forced us to come up with creative hacks and problem-solving approaches that likely wouldn’t exist if we were a bigger size. Because we are so focused on execution at this point in time, obstacles are oftentimes overcome in nonconventional ways. In addition, when larger problems need to be tackled, the whole team actively participates in the brainstorming process, which fosters creative collaboration among a diverse set of perspectives. This also encourages individuals who are interested in tackling a problem to take initiative and seek out creative solutions.

As CEO of Untrodden, I would place a large emphasis on hiring out-of-the-box thinkers. Although hiring creative minds is certainly not a novel idea, this is particularly relevant to us now, as we are currently in the process of hiring our first engineer. Justin and Rhea have been giving a lot of thought to how we can best interview and evaluate our potential candidates, and it’s been interesting to hear their insights on what sorts of questions we should ask to prompt out-of-the-box responses. One of our candidates expressed a desire to work completely autonomously and didn’t seem to be interested in managing other engineers or getting involved in other aspects of the business. This was a red flag given that our team works very collaboratively and each team member is actively involved in a variety of business domains besides our respective areas of expertise. For our first big hire, we are looking for someone who can serve as a springboard for ideas and who will be a creative asset to the team. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good mutual fit thus far, but a desire to work collaboratively and creatively is a requirement for the position that we aren't willing to compromise on!

Nick Ning Xu says:
Part Trois :)

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
What aspects of your startup seem to PROMOTE creativity and innovation?
-- Employees are encouraged to run with cool new ideas. For example, one employee came up with the idea to enclose all lab machines in their own glass boxes and put a bunch of sensors inside the boxes to monitor heat, humidity, air composition, etc. at all times. He worked on it for a long time and it ended up being a huge success. Another couple of employees came up with a plan to automate the onboarding of new experimental machines. They worked for two months on the tool and are currently unrolling it. The tool will probably decrease machine-onboarding time by an order of magnitude.
-- Slidey chairs so people can go brainstorm with other people easily.
-- There’s a whiteboard within 5 feet of wherever you are.
-- Coding is a naturally creative exercise. There are a million ways to solve each problem, and your job as the programmer is to figure out the fastest, most efficient, cleanest, and most robust way to get there. The creativity that comes with programming is part of the reason I love it.

What aspects of your startup seem to HINDER creativity and innovation?
-- Right now a lot of the engineering at Emerald is focused on building our product, which means doing a lot of what we’ve done before in a very similar manner. The goals are clear and they obviously need to be achieved, so it’s hard to complain about the lack of creativity there.
-- Being focused on what the end-user will want is often hindering, but it’s also vital to our product’s viability – so it’s hard to complain about that either.
-- People are resistant to change in general. Changing code conventions and changing work flows are two big ones. Basically, because we’ve been successful in the past, some of the veterans are convinced that we already have the secret sauce and there’s no reason to mess with it. They think we should just keep on keeping on like we have been and we’ll be victorious eventually. I think it’s okay to be skeptical, but I’ve been wondering myself what the right balance between skepticism and a “yes-and” attitude is. I think people at Emerald consider new ideas carefully before deciding whether to support them or not, but people will fall on the conservative side more often than not, as our current methods are pretty darn good and someone needs to come up with something spectacular to merit the distraction of pursuing it.

If you were the CEO, is there anything you would change to make your startup even more creative and innovative?
-- I would have voluntary breakout brainstorming sessions at happy hour every Friday. These would follow the general schematic that Tina has used in class for brainstorming sessions and center around some key question/topic. For example, I would love to have a brainstorming session on the future of the Emerald product. Might we want to teach people how to do science at a high level? Do we want to offer prizes to people who develop innovative software for our system? How do we screen samples for genes that express poisons or toxins? Etc.
-- I would have an ideas board/forum to discuss topics similar to the one about the product’s future. One interesting question would be: “How do we create a product that grabs the user and makes them want to use the product exclusively forever?”
-- I would have every person try out (or shadow) a role in another department for one day every few months so they can experience the other departments first hand. When we’re all using each other’s tools, we're basically each other’s users. It’s important for us to understand each other's day-today work flows in order to create better tools.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
As Daniel and Jenna stated in their forum posts, ZenPayroll already does a great job at promoting creativity and innovation. While it is important to share ideas with one another, I think creating a work environment where employees are comfortable with one another lies at the core of creativity and innovation.

I currently sit in a pod of five people with the sales leadership team. Because the space is so open and we are all facing one another, conversation is constantly going back and forth. This kind of small talk allows everyone to joke around with one another or ask any lingering questions anyone has. By having so much informal interaction, the channel sales team is very comfortable with one another and no one is afraid or shy of expressing their opinions in any given meeting.

There are also several meetings throughout the week in which team members have the opportunity to get to know one another. For example, at the weekly growth meeting one person is chosen to give a presentation called “Show & Tell.” This presentation consists of that one person telling the rest of the growth team a little bit about themselves - where they’re from, how they grew up, and why they’re here at ZenPayroll. By allowing employees to get to know one another, people are much more comfortable sharing opinions and expressing beliefs.

Another meeting that allows the sales team to get to know one another is called “Sales Highs and Lows.” During this meeting, everyone goes around the room and shares stories of their high-points and low-points of the week. Often times, the low-point is an embarrassing story that occurred during the week, and this allows everyone to have a little fun and laugh as a team. We then go around the room and individually vote for who we think had the highest high and the lowest low. The winner of the highest high claims a red stapler for the week (Office Space reference) and the winner of the lowest low becomes the new owner of a pink Care Bear. Lucky for me, I was able to claim the Care Bear during the first week of my internship for sitting down and accidentally breaking a table in the middle of the office.

While there are many instances where ZP has been able to promote creativity, there have been moments where it has been hindered. For example, several weeks ago the entire office was invited to a brainstorming session for a future project we’re working on, in hopes that only a few people would sign up. Yet, the sign-up response was overwhelming and over 20 people were interested in joining. Because of the sheer size of the company, the manager could only take the first 8 people who signed up because she said that that was the optimal brainstorming session size. Opportunities for creativity and innovation were hindered from individuals because too many people were willing to participate.

If I were CEO, I would continue to promote creativity and innovation by implementing more activities for community and team bonding. For example, while the sales team does a weekly highs and lows meeting, it might be beneficial to also have someone do a “Show & Tell” presentation at a different meeting, especially as the team continues to scale at a rapid pace. Also, as the individual teams get to know one another, it might also be beneficial to have several activities in a given quarter that promote cross-team bonding. When employees are comfortable with one another and don’t shy away from expressing their true opinions, the overall work environment becomes much more creative and innovative.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
In general, I would say Oculeve is pretty good at fostering creativity and innovation.

What aspects of your startup seem to PROMOTE creativity and innovation?

I think the main thing that Oculeve does really well is fostering camaraderie and open collaboration between people in different departments. This is especially important in medtech because the needs and feedback of the clinical team feed directly in the R&D, the output of which impacts quality and manufacturing, and commercial. Everything is really interdependent, so it's really good that everyone actually keeps each other on the same page. This is great for innovation, though, because there are always a lot of perspectives in a room when any problem is being discussed, which means that there are often a lot of ideas about how to address the problem.

Oculeve also does a lot of Design-school-esque brainstorms when we reach major milestones, or are running in to major difficulties. For example, the company values were decided through an all-hands brainstorm. Right now, we are having a major mechanical engineering crisis that is putting our manufacturing at risk for FDA pivotal, and there was a giant anything-goes brainstorm for ideas about how to fix it yesterday. These ideas are being vetted by our engineering team now.

What aspects of your startup seem to HINDER creativity and innovation?

Right now, the number one concern at Oculeve is freezing the design of our nasal stimulator for FDA pivotal, which starts in under a month. This means that there is an immense amount of pressure on everyone in the company, and creativity often doesn't flourish under pressure.

Beyond that, a lot of working in medtech requires filing a lot of paperwork and documentation to the FDA and IRB, which means people are constantly shooting down ideas if there isn't an immediate regulatory path to go through. As we know from brainstorming sessions, "saying no" immediately isn't the best for creativity and innovation.

If you were the CEO, what would you change about your startup to make it even more creative and innovative?

Honestly, I think the most important thing to do is just address that medtech is a really hard space to be traditionally creative in, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. I think that as a CEO, I would enforce a "no saying no" policy when coming up with new ideas, even if they are 20 years out from being possible, or you would fall in to a regulatory black hole in the process. Moreover, I would make creativity a much more explicit goal of the company, instead of just letting is go under the radar.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?

My biggest insight about this summer is that rapid growth is both exciting and dangerous. Oculeve is doing a lot of soul searching with regard to acquisition and the desire to maintain company culture in face of a lot of expansion soon. But more than the larger looming concern, the company’s central focus at the moment is moving in to FDA pivotal, which we have scheduled to start in a month in order to meet a deadline that Allergan (the company that is acquiring us) set forth. This is an incredibly aggressive deadline, especially given that we have yet to freeze the design of the FDA pivotal version of the device. We are struggling to solve a nasty mechanical bug, and no one knows how long it will take to fix. We wanted to use some of these devices in a couple of other trials before FDA pivotal as a trial run, and that puts the pressure on the engineering team and clinical team to have a finalized device design as well as 200 devices ready in 2 weeks. From the outside, the company is doing phenomenal- we got acquired for a pretty big payout and we have a technology that we know works and is helping a lot of patients. In the company, though, I don’t think there is a single person who hasn’t lost sleep over the device problem. The rapid growth with Allergan is exciting and it makes us happy as a company, but has also but us on a bit of a precipice for the next couple of weeks.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?

I love almost everything about my job- my relative autonomy with my project, the office pranking culture, and the open kitchen. But, I wake up excited to go to work every morning because I work with some really amazing people. I sometimes can’t believe that I am surrounded by some of the brightest minds in medtech, and that each of them is invested in the success of a summer intern who may not even be with the company long term. It has been incredibly humbling to hang out with these phenomenally accomplished individuals, and have them give me life advice while making fun of my almond biscuit addiction. Every day I walk in to work and feel supported, which is really really incredible. Working at Oculeve has been really satisfying for me, and working with a technology that thoroughly impacts patients’ lives is rewarding. Honestly speaking, this internship has sold me on a life of working in medtech.

In terms of stuff I don’t like as much, I honestly can’t think of anything major. I would have liked to spend more time in clinic than I have so far this summer, but I think that’s changing soon.

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?

I was really nervous before my first day of work because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to meet expectations for my internship. I had never done anything like this before, and I was worried that I was too underprepared to be vocal during my first couple weeks. If I were to go back, I would tell myself to be more confident- that my opinion would be heard and respected, regardless of how unimportant I felt it was. After a couple of weeks, I fell in to the rhythm, but I think I could have had a lot more fun at the beginning if I had just jumped straight in to it.

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?

I think something I should work on is picking up projects with other teams in the company. I’ve been working between commercial and R&D, but I want to work on specific stuff for clinical, quality, and ops. I also think that all of those things are incredibly important for medtech, and useful to know even if I don’t wind up pursuing them long term.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?

My biggest insight about working at a startup is that it’s absolutely critical to take initiative. Even at a growth stage company like ZenPayroll with a clear org chart, people don’t necessarily have time to watch over your every move and check to see if you’re doing your job well-the environment is simply too fast paced. While I suspected startups moved quickly, I was always under the impression that I would received some sort of guidance on a daily basis during major projects. Eight weeks in, I recognize that this is not always the case. My supervisor, Eric, is extremely smart and a great manager, but in reality, he only has time to give me advice at critical junctures. He told me early on during my first project, “In about three days, you’ll know more than I do about what you’re working on.” At the time, I was a little incredulous, but as conversations progressed from week to week, it was clear that I was in the best position to make meetings, specs, and Google docs happen that would ultimately lead to a successful outcome. As a result, I learned that I couldn’t wait for every single question I had to be answered before I made a decision. This mentality is essential to thriving in an early stage environment. It’s important to act without a committee, so long as you’re able to defend your choices.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?

My favorite part about the job has probably been developing a feature end-to-end. I enjoyed receiving an ambiguous task with little structure and figuring out to reach a broad goal. This process, is in essence, core to the responsibility of product manager. For my specific project, I first researched for three days, trying to become fluent in a brand new space. I conducted customer research from personal interviews and carefully worded surveys. After validating the initial hypothesis, I then learned all about spec’cing software and truly appreciated the building something from scratch. Finally I entered into negotiations to ensure a proper data source for my feature. Considering high-level direction while emphasizing smaller details has been a valuable skill to learn and has caused me to consider becoming a PM when I graduate.
My least favorite part of this role is probably making sure that everyone remains unblocked. Eric, my supervisor, spends a ton of time each day just making sure people have the information to work on what they need to accomplish. This task is the less glamorous responsibility of the PM, but I think a fair trade-off for the ability to oversee products

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?
The advice I would give myself is to pick one or two software tools that the engineering and product teams use and learn them throughout the summer. I probably found out a little too late that My SQL and Tableau were integral to operations at ZP. By the time I started learning how to use them, too much time had passed to incorporate them into a project in a meaningful way. Also, leaving with some harder skills would have also been a big benefit going into my senior year. Overall though, the summer has been a pretty spectacular learning experience. I made an effort to meet as many people as possible and try brand new things. I definitely made mistakes, but understand leaving my comfort zone is a valuable part of an internship like this one.

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?
For the remainder of my internship, I’ve tried to map out areas of the business that I have not seen and make a point to sit in on as many meetings as possible. For example, although I’ve had a decent amount of exposure to Product and Growth, I haven’t spent any time with the Finance team. I’ve already reached out to employees in different areas of the business for shadowing sessions over my final few days. In order to maximize fun, I’ve started making plans to go to social events with the engineering team. A few of the guys go climbing on Thursday night and next Thursday will be my first one.

Nick Ning Xu says:
Mayfield Diaries 第四部分 (For you Jenna :) )

Revanth Kosaraju says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?
-My biggest surprise is how much there is to do, and how much each individual employee (especially in a smaller startup, Synack is around 50 people so it qualifies) has an impact. To clarify, I wasn’t surprised at the amount of work per se, but it’s one thing hearing about or reading about how much work startups are, with respect to day-to-day tasks, long-term planning, and putting out fires, and it’s a totally different thing experiencing it, so this was a pretty big surprise to me. Additionally, it’s been surprising to me how much each individual employee has an impact. Even the interns are working on core things for the company - the engineering interns are working on key software, and the marketing interns (including myself) are working on important collateral, and that’s been a really pleasant surprise.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?
-My favorite part of the job is when we brainstorm and chart out long-term goals and discuss how we can take small steps and position ourselves to get there - essentially Strategy. One of the main reasons why I wanted to have Strategy as part of my internship is I consider myself a better tactician than strategist. Least favorite part has been poring over specific wording for collateral. Although this is a vital part of the job, since every piece of collateral you send out from a company has to be consistent and have just the right tone, it can be pretty dry. I’m actually satisfied with even this part of the job, which is comforting: I’ve been given advice that if you can bear even the most dull parts of a job, it’s probably a good fit for you, and it’s nice to see that affirmed here.

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?
-My advice would be to shadow the other teams outside of Marketing sooner. I’ve gotten to do this during my internship, but I think doing this earlier on would have allowed me to get to know the other interns more quickly, and to get a better view of how the teams at Synack interact with one another (not to mention a more holistic view of the company).

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?
-The number one guideline for me is to continue to seek out experiences, whether they are social or work-related. I’m surprised at how quickly time has passed during the summer, and I hope to continue to get as many insights/as much fun from my internship as possible. I can do this by continuing to interact with my coworkers, seeking out more meetings with execs and other employees, and just taking on as much work as possible for the rest of my internship.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
1. What’s been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?
The biggest surprise for me is how simultaneously exciting and hectic it is to work at a fast-growing company. This rapid growth has a lot of implications - everyone has to wear many hats and there is always a ton of interesting work to be done. Before I joined the Platform team as a PM the engineers were spec’ing and essentially product managing all of their work, which is pretty rare and really awesome to see how everyone can be so flexible. Because there is so much work to do all the time it’s super important for us to focus as a company and do a few things extremely well at a time, rather than stretch ourselves too thin and deliver mediocre products. That being said, ZP spends a significant amount of time planning each team's work for each quarter and ensuring we have a clear roadmap to follow (subject to some change) to make sure we focus on the highest priorities. Additionally, because we now have so many people in the company (~230 I think) and we continue to add dozens every week, internal communication is extremely important. Making sure that everyone is on the same page and that our efforts align is critical.

2. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?
Some of my favorite aspects of my job are the autonomy I have over my projects, the cross-functional nature of my role that allows me to work across Product, Platform, Risk, Design, Engineering and other teams, the incredible support I get from my mentor, manager and co-workers, how much I’ve learned about product (from spec’ing to creating mockups to managing the various stakeholders in a feature), the visibility I have into the rest of the company and being able to sit in on important meetings with senior leadership, and of course the awesome culture and people I get to work with.
There’s not much that I would consider “least favorite” about my job, but I have realized that I most enjoy the days when I’m working with other people a lot, whether that's in meetings, pairing with an engineer on a feature, or informally bouncing ideas off of people. There are some days when I’m mostly working on my own and I find that I feel more drained and less energized on those days. Another small frustration that is a pretty typical part of product management is that I’ll spend weeks perfecting a spec and mockup for a feature that I’m really excited about, but it could be weeks before an engineer has the bandwidth to actually build it.
Overall, I think my experience has solidified my desire to work in Product in the future and helped expose my preference for working closely with other people.

3. Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?
For the first two weeks of my internship I was on the growth team and didn’t have a clearly defined project. If I could go back I would tell myself to be more upfront about what I wanted from the internship earlier on and switched to the product team earlier. I would also tell myself to make even more of an effort to get to know people in the office early on and take the time to shadow people across the company.

4. Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success and fun?
For the remaining weeks I plan to maximize learning by stepping up to work on as many interesting projects as I can handle and immersing myself in as many opportunities as possible. For example, I’ve asked to sit in on PM interviews to learn what that process is like and voluntarily asked if I could present what I’ve worked on this summer to the whole company (which I might regret later) so that I can practice public speaking. I want to continue to learn and grow and also leave knowing that I’ve made a valuable contribution to the company, ensuring that I complete several projects to the best of my ability.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?
One of my biggest insights from working at Untrodden this summer has been the importance of team alignment before executing. After joining the company, it became clear that we were misaligned on our priorities for our beta. Many of the initial meetings when I first joined centered around us getting on the same page and identifying short-term priorities. This required setting strategy milestones as well as key performance indicators for a number of our goals. Once we were well-aligned in terms of brand and strategy, I found that we were able to execute much more efficiently. It was only when we disagreed on what aspects should be prioritized and deprioritized that we really slowed down. At this moment in time, execution is key, so we don’t really have time to spare to disagree on these sorts of issues.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?
So far, I’ve found that my favorite parts of the job have centered around strategy and product. As aforementioned, when I first joined the team, many of our initial conversations focused on alignment, including agreeing on KPIs. I really enjoyed engaging in these discussions and having the chance to think more high-level about how we could approach and, ideally, reach our long-term goals. I’ve also really enjoyed working on product-related projects, from redesigning aspects of our property page to brainstorming improvements for our property onboarding process. I think my interest in product stems from a desire to engage with the customer in a meaningful way and the fact that design is enmeshed in product in so many ways. Product is definitely an area I’d like to continue exploring in the future.
Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?
If I could go back in time to my first day at the company, I would advise myself to be more proactive about understanding why particular choices are made. Looking back, I think I could’ve done a better job probing my coworkers to understand the logic behind why, for example, certain product features were prioritized over others. Having these types of conversations is critical to understanding what kind of reasoning guides decision-making in a company, and I think this is something that I could have benefited from in my early days at Untrodden. However, it’s not too late to start doing this, so I plan to make this a priority in my last few weeks.
In addition, similar to Priyanka’s goal in one of her earlier posts, I would tell myself to keep a journal to track my startup learnings everyday. Although the forum has served as a useful outlet to share my thoughts, I wish I had more actively documented my opinions of and takeaways from decisions that were made by the team. While I do have a general sense of the challenges we’ve overcome and the ensuing aftermath, I think it could’ve been more helpful to explicitly recount my thoughts and revisit them later on. In my final weeks, I’m going to make more of a concerted effort to do this in the hopes that it will allow me to better understand how startups (successfully and unsuccessfully) operate.
Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?
In order to maximize my learning and success in the remaining weeks, I’m going to continue to push for guidance and support in accomplishing my long-term goals. At the beginning of my internship, I fleshed out a few longer-term goals with respect to a few skillsets I had hoped to develop during the span of my summer. These included cultivating skillsets in the following areas: customer acquisition (and retention), engineering management, effective meeting management, and influencing without authority. After reflecting on my projects and tasks thus far, I found that I’ve certainly made progress in a number of those areas. However, I want to continue to grow particularly in the areas of engineering management and effective meeting management in the next few weeks.
As for maximizing for fun, I want to hold my team accountable for spending more time out of the office together. In the past week or two, we’ve had to postpone our happy hours due to one or two people having conflicts or staying in the office for too long. It’s difficult to keep one another accountable with such a small size, because if one person can’t make an event, then that’s 25% of the company that can’t attend. Also, as I mentioned earlier during the summer, our CEO Justin had discussed the idea of us embarking on a company road trip and visiting a few of our own properties along the way. Although it doesn’t look like it will pan out for the summer, I’m going to hold him responsible for scheduling this team bonding trip sometime in the fall!

Kaitlyn Baab says:
1. My biggest surprise has been the amount my manager is gone/traveling. I was expecting her to be in the office most of the summer and I believe she was expecting the same but this summer has been a little crazy for her. Even though I have not had as much of a chance to spend time with her and learn from her, her absence has pushed me to spend more time with others in the office. As a result, I has become closer with more people across functions. I have learned to be completely independent and take my own initiative. She has noticed my “self-starter” character and is very impressed so in the end it turned into a positive. I have also been surprised by the technical aspect of my job. I thought my position would be more strictly on the business side but I have needed to really understand the science as well. This actually leads into the second question...
2. One of my favorite parts of the job has been the technical/science aspect. Losing the science was one of my biggest fears of taking a position in business development but I guess I picked the right startup because everyone here must understand the science. Science has always been my passion and it has been an exciting experience for me to mix science with the business mindset. It is amazing to be surrounded by some of the top scientists in the strain engineering field and learn from them. As a result, I have been able to gain skills in both the business and technical side. This has definitely convinced me that I do not have to lose all of my science knowledge if I am on the business side. My least favorite part is probably what I talked about in the beginning about my manager being gone and limited guidance but like I said that has really turned into a positive!
3. I just started looking at other’s calendars and asking to attend meetings that I find interesting. I went to an awesome meeting last week due to this initiative. I wish I started doing this right away instead of half way through the summer. I also wish I was more upfront with my manager about my goals for the summer. We never really had the chance to sit down and discuss what I wanted to get out of the summer and I believe that would have helped orient and maximize my experience.
4. In order to maximize my success I am going to keep asking to attend meetings that I am interested in. I am also going to try and spend extra time with my manager and pick her brain while she is here for the next couple weeks.

Jason Risch says:
The biggest revelation about Sitch I’ve had while working here concerns the number of strong data challenges the team has faced so far. When I first learned about Sitch, I assumed they predominantly faced a product problem: how can they get tons of users to download their app. While this challenge is certainly a consideration, they’ve postponed mass growth until later on. The more pressing and perhaps more important challenge is on the data side. I knew going in that the web event data Sitch scrapes and compiles is poorly structured and ephemeral by nature; however, knowing about something and seeing it firsthand are entirely different things. Further, Sitch actually has a bigger data problem then that: recommendation. This recommendation challenge extends beyond the event space into almost all commerce and advertising, and affects companies as large as Google and Apple (see Beginning to understand the heart of the problem and brainstorm ways to tackle it in Sitch’s case has been one of the most rewarding and intellectually stimulating parts of my internship experience. I’ve also loved other big-picture ideas like attempting to understand large markets, how products can differentiate themselves, how to iterate a product, etc.

In terms of the job itself, I love the flexibility and the fantastic rapport between everyone within the company. As long as I get my work done, I can take days off when needed and pretty much manage the distribution of my hours. For example, if I feel like sleeping in late and staying at work late, I can do that, or vice versa. My co-founders Joe and Katie are so incredibly warm, genuine, and helpful. Joe has patiently explained countless technical procedures to me, while Katie has always been enthusiastic about answering any questions I may have about Sitch or entrepreneurship in general. We’re also getting professional massages as a team sometime in the next few weeks, and Katie extended an invitation to me and my girlfriend to stay in her beach house next weekend while they’re gone! Going forward, I definitely want to work at a place with a strong company culture that still trusts employees to manage their own time. With respect to my various roles, I’ve found this summer that I love thinking about data science abstractly and in terms of the big picture, but don’t particularly enjoy actually implementing the algorithms myself. For future career goals, I think this has reaffirmed my decision to study data science but made me consider pursuing roles that would allow me the luxury of focusing on this bigger picture stuff (like maybe a technical PM or something). I also found writing copy far less exciting than I expected.

If I could speak with myself on the first day, I’d say something like “don’t worry about actually solving all of Sitch’s challenges; instead, just chip off as much as you can and focus on learning and growing. You’ll also get plenty of experience with the business side, so don’t worry that you’ll be stuck programming all summer; in fact, what you learn about data science will be incredibly rewarding.”
With the last few weeks, I really want to try to learn more about the product side and witness as much as I can of the Series A prep and process. I’ve worn a ton of hats this summer and have found product management to be perhaps the most interesting, so I will try to hone in on it specifically a bit more over the last few weeks. Considering that Katie and Joe both come from product backgrounds, this strategy makes even more sense given that I get to pick their minds on their strength. The fact that Sitch will also be at an inflection point in terms of fundraising for a Series A by the end of my internship also provides a valuable learning opportunity. It will be fascinating to see how Sitch positions itself in order to appeal to VCs and what points they highlight in the pitch slides. I’m also excited to see how having a strong network plays out in Series A financing, as Katie has discussed a strong preference for certain VCs over others in order to work with people she knows personally and who may better understand what Sitch is attempting to do.

Priyanka Jain says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?
One of the biggest insights I’ve had about working at Shift is the importance of communication. Shift is an incredibly operationally driven company, and there are a plethora of teams involved in every decision that is made. It is often really hard to fully communicate each team's motivations behind each decision that get made. This lack of communication can lead to poor team alignment and, consequently, a negative customer experience.
This is why our weekly “team leads” meetings are critical; this is where we can make sure each team is focused on the same goals for the week and month. While these meetings are solving the misalignment problems for now, this will likely be unscalable as we grow to new markets (we’re currently in 2 cities and will likely be in 5 by December). Since there are about 7 team leads in each market, it will become implausible to get everyone on the same page at the same time. We’re learning a lot about what can be centralized and what has to be localized, and dealing with a lot of the growing pains (mainly related to communication) in between.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?
I absolutely love working with the people at Shift. Shift has a really different demographic than I’ve come to expect at a startup coming from Stanford — almost none of the employees came straight out of college and the leadership team is extremely established in the industry. While I was initially nervous about how under-qualified I am, I am now SO grateful for the opportunity to learn from such amazing people everyday. This has definitely reinforced my belief that the people you work with are the most important part of your job.
One of the things I’ve realized is that I probably don’t want to work in a company that is deeply operationally driven (i.e. Uber, Shyp, or any of the new on demand companies). At Shift, since the problem we are solving is extremely operationally complex, a lot of the daily issues we face are logistical and unrelated to technology. In the future, I think I would prefer to work somewhere that is more technology driven. That being said, I’ve learned so much about communication, operations, and effective management that I know will transfer with me no matter where I go.

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?
I would tell myself to be more upfront with my personal and career goals. When I joined Shift, I felt pretty under qualified compared to all of the other employees and the other interns (who are GSB/HBS students). When they asked me what I wanted to do, I basically said I would do anything where I could be useful. While I definitely had the attitude of doing “whatever it takes,” I wish I had been more specific about what I wanted to learn. While I was working on problems that really needed help, I didn’t feel like I was learning a ton of new skills. I ended up having a great conversation with my manager and was able to switch direction. He was incredibly responsive and excited to put me where I wanted to be. I realized how invested they were in creating a positive experience for me and that I could still learn new skills while contributing to meaningful problems.

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?
I scheduled a 15 minute conversation with the engineering team lead and was able to learn about his biggest challenges, his role, and how engineering integrates with the rest of the company. I’ve realized that it’s easy for people to be too busy for a 30 minute meeting, but almost anyone can make 15 minutes in their day for you. I’m planning on scheduling 15 minute meetings with the rest of the team leads before I leave. These conversations are invaluable learning experiences and also enable me to get to know people I don’t spend enough time with otherwise!

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?
- One of my biggest surprises has been that I can get through a full workday without too much trouble. I was always super worried I would lose interest quickly and end up messing around or not coming in on time – but the opposite has happened and I’m ecstatic about this outcome.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?
- My favorite part of the job is the coding, of course. I frickin love coding, so I’ve had just an enormous amount of fun this summer.
- My least favorite part of the job is the official stuff surrounding coding – stuff you have to do after to clean it up and make it production-quality. The hardest part about this is the interactions with other people. Having people critique code that you thought was good is not always fun. Additionally, having to conform to standards that might seem like a waste of time to you is not fun either. I think the biggest reason why the official stuff isn’t fun is because I don’t get to be creative and solve problems – I’m just applying a cleanup formula to my work. It gets boring.
- On the future:
- - I don’t think I’d like to code for a big company.
- - Coding for startups would be awesome.
- - It’s important to me that the company I’m working at has a genuinely cool product with important applications. Fun coding gets you through the days but mission gets you through the weeks.
- - I think I’d have a blast leading a startup like this as long as I was still able to participate on the technical side – if my days just became all meetings I think I’d hate it.

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?
- I’d give myself a few algorithmic pointers but that’s kind of cheating haha.
- I’d tell my past self to spend more lunches with coworkers and wake up earlier – but I’m always telling myself this so past-me would probably tell future-me to go away and it would be a wasteful use of my time machine.

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?
- PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT. Get less sleep. Wake up earlier. Code harder.
- Try more southeast-Asian recipes in the Crockpot.
- On a serious note, this internship has been one of the highlights of my life so far. It’s been a lot of work. I’ve learned a lot, I’m achieving some great things at the moment, and I’m having lots of fun doing it. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 weeks have in store for me. Cheers!

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?

It's been fascinating to uncover how my coworkers feel about working for Enjoy. There's an energy that's both driving people to work really hard and wearing people out at the same time. The only thing that tips the scales in favor of driving hard work is the strong connections between the members of Enjoy. You know how some start-ups advertise being a "family" but it seems like a cliche at the end of the day? It's been really cool to find out that Enjoy, who doesn't often refer to itself explicitly as a "family", is made up of employees that are actually best friends outside of work. The more I talk to the team, the more I realize that it's this bond, which is rooted in friendship experiences in and outside of work, that keeps the stress of a newly launched company from imploding.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?

Honestly, I couldn't be more thrilled with the work I've been able to do. My favorite parts of the job are working with Rob Smiley, a freelance creative director, and Tom & Scott Suiter on determining the future messaging of the company. I'm being pulled into conversations that will determine the future of the company! My least favorite parts of the job are by omission--I wish that I could be more involved in shoots and video creation. And, I suppose, having to be on the phone planning Tupperware Parties! I'm too introverted for that.

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?

I would tell myself to use down time to create work that no one explicitly asked me to do. There's so many creative things to do--content creation wise--that most of the full time designers won't have a chance to make. By doing them without asking, you can serve as a relief to the rest of the design team, allowing them to do their jobs better.

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?

Hang out with coworkers as much as possible outside the office! Get in early and stay late (reasonably). Go to lunch with new people. Take on work that wasn't assigned to me explicitly. Speak up in meetings if I have something worthwhile to say, and find out where others in the office were professionally at my age.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
What's been your biggest surprise or insight about working in your startup?

After working at ZenPayroll for seven weeks, the biggest surprise that I’ve come across has been understanding the importance of sales in any organization. Especially nowadays in Silicon Valley where coding, design, and product seem to get a lot of attention, sales often times gets lost in the mix. Yet in reality, sales is the driving force of any company. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service may be if you don’t have a team that can properly sell it.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? How, if at all, have these affected your future career goals?

My favorite part of the job by far is working with the people I get to work with. From my first day, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and integrated me into their teams really well. In addition, the work that I’m given is very meaningful and I’m put in a position where I can have an impact on the organization at large. I also have a lot of autonomy in my day-to-day work and can pursue any project that piques my interest. For my future career goals, I’ve realized that you should always optimize for two things: 1. learning as much as possible 2. working for the best possible boss. When you’re put in a position where you have both, everything else becomes secondary.

My least favorite part of the job is often times noticing the lack in communication amongst different teams. Working in both the channel sales and marketing teams, sometimes these two groups have differing opinions on projects. Ultimately as a boss, you just have to compromise, understanding that you can’t always please everyone. Communication is essential to any well-run organization and should always be a top priority to maintain.

Suppose that you can go back in time and meet yourself on your first day at the company. What advice would you give yourself to have an even better summer internship?

If I had to go back in time and meet myself on the first day of my internship, I would give myself several pieces of advice. First, I would tell myself to meet as many people as possible within the first several weeks. Getting to know people is at the heart of being integrated with your company culture. Second, I would tell myself to pick and choose my projects very carefully. I was so eager to learn and get exposed to as many areas of the company in the first several weeks, that at one point I just had too many different projects on my plate. Quality is always more important than quantity, especially when you’re just trying to become an established startup.

Looking forward to the remaining weeks in your internship, what can you do to maximize your learning, success, and fun?

In my remaining three weeks, there are several things I can do to maximize both my success and fun. First and foremost, I need to either finish up all of my projects or leave them at a point where they can be easily transitioned to someone else. Some of the projects I have been working on will need to be modified as the weeks go on, so it is crucial that another co-worker fully understands everything about them so that they can make changes accordingly. Second, I’m really hoping to spend some time with people that I may have not interacted with yet. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Chief Product Officer to discuss some of the projects I’ve been working on and listen to some insights from him. As an intern, you want to finish on the highest note possible - that’s how you will be remembered at the office.

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Laine Emily Bruzek says:
I would argue that the primary success metrics at Enjoy are non-financial. At the very least, the only ones that are truly emphasized aren't measured in dollars.

One success metric that's discussed often is the ratings that Enjoyers give our Experts. Currently, Enjoy has a 4.95 out of 5 stars average rating, of which the leadership team is extremely proud. Each week during our company-wide meeting called Friday Forward, the logistics team goes through the ratings for the week and what, if anything, caused a less than 5 star review. Successful weeks are comprised entirely of 5 star reviews--and the single one-star review that we got was investigated in great detail for potential learnings.

The second unconventional metric is often posed as a goal for the company. Instead of hitting a certain cash flow mark, we often talk about making 100 customers so extremely happy that they become Enjoy evangelists. We think that word of mouth is more powerful than any marketing tool we have in our arsenal. Whereas some startups might be concerned with high volume, we think that high volume will accumulate in a way that's more conducive and consistent with our brand and mission if we concentrate primarily on delivering amazing, personalized experiences for each new customer (rather than doing whatever we can to shove customers into our sales channel).

Jotthe Kannappan says:
While financial considerations are at the back of everyone's mind at Oculeve (especially when considering the implications of our acquisition deal and the necessity to meet certain deadlines for increased payout), I would argue that Oculeve defines and measure success through adept problem solving.

The primary way in which Oculeve solves a problem is by helping patients. Since the inception of the company, Oculeve has been motivated by treating and helping as many patients as possible. The internal joke is that we "enjoy making people cry," but really, we just believe in tears of joy. Seeing a patient come back after using the device for 2 weeks and watching them effusively describe how much it has helped them is the ultimate success. Even more important is making sure therapy stays effective, and that patients can experience relief from a chronic condition. The company measures success in biostatistics that say patients are getting better, and personal accounts and testimonials from patients that say that we're doing our job well.

Oculeve also puts a lot of emphasis on solving rigorous engineering problems. As with the manufacture and design of any electromechanical device, iteration and adjustment are critical. Every time the engineering team is able to successfully integrate a new piece of advice from patients, or solve a manufacturing issue, Oculeve counts that as an enormous team success.

Finally, because we are in clinical trials, Oculeve measures success through regulatory approvals. There are a million different regulatory agencies and constrictions when producing a globally commercial medical device, and each milestone is a huge marker for success. As I have alluded to in the past few posts, the main goal right now is launching our device in to FDA pivotal, and getting FDA approval. The more governing bodies that we get on our side, the more patients we can reach.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Success is measured in several different ways at ZenPayroll, but I’ll discuss three main areas of focus - sales, customer care, and recruiting. As an intern on the sales team, the majority of the team’s overall success and the individual success of each account executive and account manager is all based on whether or not they meet their quota. Each month, the sales team manager meets with the growth team to determine what the quota should be (since it increases every month due to company growth). At the end of each month, the account executive with the most new client additions is recognized at the weekly sales meeting.

ZenPayroll also measures success by the quality of customer service it provides. The company has been grown on the belief that valuing people creates value, which translates into all aspects of the company, including its unparalleled customer service experience, which can even be quantified. They have an NPS (Net Promoter Score) of over 75, which is one of the highest in the industry. NPS is a universal index that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company's products or services to others.

Another interesting metric that ZenPayroll uses to measure success is in recruiting. With the recent announcement of a new Denver office, ZenPayroll has aggressive recruiting targets they are hoping to hit. With this in mind, everyone in the office is consistently focused on meeting these goals. In fact, some of the employees on the sales team have been moved to the recruiting team because of its importance. The executive team has consistently said that it’s okay for the company to not meet sales quota, as long as they continue to recruit the best and brightest people.

Even though measuring success is incredibly important to ZenPayroll, the way in which they achieve success is often times even more important. Although everyone here is incredibly competitive and cares about winning, the way in which they go about business transcends all of their competitors. In most startups, it seems that companies are consistently set on hitting financial goals set by their investors. ZenPayroll is much more focused on sustainable growth through a unified long-term vision.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Success at ZenPayroll is measured through a variety of metrics. The first and most important one is growth. Within growth, there are several measurements used: number of people paid, dollars of payroll processed, number of active customers, and new customers. Each quarter, the executive team will set conservative and reach projections for new customers. The team has roughly a 75% confidence level that the team and reach conservative projections and a 25% confidence level that reach projections will be achieved. Growth between these forecasts is considered strong. One metric that is not currently used, or is at least deemphasized to the broader team, is profit. It will likely be a while before ZenPayroll hits the black as the capital raised and number of investments have been gigantic, so profit does not necessarily make sense to scrutinze at this stage.

Another financial metric that determines success is customer acquisition cost (CAC). In essence, this measurement refers to the dollar amount marketing must spend in order to acquire new customers. Under $500 is generally considered a solid benchmark for ZP CAC.

ZenPayroll also uses a host of non financial metrics to determine success. Among these include NPS, churn rate, ZPulse, and until very recently, geographic coverage. NPS (net promoter score) is a feedback tool used by companies to understand satisfaction with the core product. ZP consistently scores in the high 70s-an almost unprecedented score for a firm of this size. The high NPS has led to an exceptionally low churn rate (percentage of people that stop using the product) consistently tracked in the 3% range. ZPulse is an internal metric used to gauge employee happiness. The People team sends out periodic surveys to ZP employees about their level of contentment in the office. Compilations of surveys indicate a 4.5/5 stars outlook. Finally, geographic coverage (the number of states ZP operates in) had been used in the past to measure success, until the 50th state became supported several months ago.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
There are several ways that success is measured at Synack.

The first is financial metrics, including revenue. Unfortunately I can’t discuss this in much more detail other than to say that the company is currently doing pretty well in this regard.

The second is whether or not the company is hitting/exceeding sales benchmarks. In the past, success in sales has been defined by getting a high number of POCs (proof of concepts, which are essentially shorter customer engagements in which the company proves its value to a potential customer in the hopes of later establishing a long-term deal). But now, the company is really starting to shift to trying to get more of these longer, multiyear subscriptions established, and it’s been interesting for me to both observe the change in sales strategy in this regard and contribute to the accompanying shift in marketing strategy so we can best support the sales team.

The third is in hiring. The execs are making hiring - especially of engineering talent - a huge priority, and the company has hired a handful of individuals over the course of the summer so far. This pace of hiring is only going to accelerate as Synack’s execs seek to acquire more engineering talent and scale the company.

The last way, and in my opinion the most important, is quality. Quality is the foundation of our company culture, the foundation of Synack’s success so far, and will be the foundation of Synack’s future. In the security industry, a company that screws up can suffer irreparable brand damage and loss of consumer confidence, so quality is built into everything we do. Some of the metrics that are used to evaluate quality are how impactful the security vulnerabilities that we discover for our clients are, and how many top-tier security researchers we have on our platform (I don’t want to give too much of this away in prep for my open house next week, so stay tuned!)

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Since Zymergen's product/service is currently aimed for a handful of large industrial biotechnology companies, success is not heavily measured by customer retention or satisfaction. Dashboards usually include metrics for each project like cost and our progress compared to set deliverables. They definitely also keep track of potential clients or companies they want to have contracts with and how far they are in the process.

The main metrics come from the lab (or "factory"). I am actually responsible for making this part of the dashboard every month so I know a lot about it. It is really important for us at Zymergen to track what is happening in house. For each step we know what our max capacity is and it is important to see how we are doing compared to that (for example, are we not at full capacity and therefore losing money?). We also keep track of how long all equipment is used and turnaround time of each step so we know if there are major bottlenecks in the process.

I would say the main measures of success is how fast we are creating new design ideas and how efficiently we are doing it. I have found these are the numbers that are most likely to fluctuate or are hardest to track. The number of clients we have and how each project is going is easy right now because the number of potential clients is small. We also keep track of financials but there are little surprises there.

Nick Ning Xu says:

Jason Risch says:
Currently, Sitch measures success based on engagement numbers instead of financials. More specifically, we care more about stickiness than virality as Sitch has not yet entered rapid expansion mode. As such, the primary metric we use to evaluate performance is the percentage of new users (grouped by week) that return the next week, then the week after, then the week after, etc. This metric essentially forms a funnel to see how stable each group of users is as the weeks go on. A new group displays the most attrition in the first week following their on-boarding. While some of this attrition may be due to users simply not liking the app, a large portion of it derives from people downloading the app that do not live in SF or the East Bay. For those users, the app does not yet have content or value. In terms of money, Sitch has never had any issues obtaining seed funding, but I'm sure that the result of Series A will be thought of (at least subconsciously) as a metric for success. At this stage though, the result of funding is probably more indicative of success in communicating goals and product-market fit than actual product success or value.

Sitch primarily uses push notifications to drive this desired reengagement; as an interesting aside, this fact means that it is critical for Sitch to get permission from new users to send push notifications in the first place. I’ve been working a bit on this aspect and utilizing pre-permissioning ( Basically, an app can only directly request location permission, push notification permission, or any other type of permissions once. If the user denies the request, then the app can only suggest that the user leave the app and change the settings themselves, a process that is much more involved and correspondingly a user is less likely to complete. By pre-permissioning, an app can basically explain the rationale behind asking for any one particular permission and ensure the user will accept before sending the legitimate prompt. If the user indicates unwillingness to accept, then the app can ask permission later once the user has more experience with the app and will understand why that particular permission might be useful.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
ZenPayroll uses a variety of metrics to measure success. This includes the number of customers we serve, the percentage of the market we’ve captured, ARR (annual recurring revenue), how much money we process in annual payroll, the rate at which we acquire new customers, our cash burn rate, conversion rates, and CAC (customer acquisition cost).

Additionally, because ZenPayroll cares so deeply about serving our customers, we place a high value on our Net Promoter Score which is a measure of customer satisfaction. Everyone works extremely hard to put customer service at the center of the ZP experience to maintain our NPS of 70+. Another really important metric is hiring. Everyone is incredibly focused on recruiting, and there is even a #WeAreAllRecruiters hashtag in the office and an award for the person who refers the most people. ZenPayroll also cares a lot about employee satisfaction and frequently sends out a survey called ZPulse to measure this. We have a dedicated People team and Environment team to make sure ZP is a great place to work where employees feel happy and inspired.

Outside of metrics for general company success, each team has its own ways to measure success as well. For example, the risk team measures success by how many cases of fraud they catch and prevent. The marketing/growth team focuses on keeping CAC low while maintaining high conversion rates. Each teams has its own goals and metrics while keeping in mind the targets of the company as a whole.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
For the past few months, our efforts have centered around product development, so a number of our success metrics follow the traditional product development approach to tracking a company’s progress. To aid us in this task, we have been using a lightweight project management tool as a mediator between our Product people and our engineers. At this point in time, we are most concerned about the velocity of our development, whether that is tracking the number of code pushes or the number of features that have been pushed to production. We are also framing our performance in terms of development sprints, recording how many critical features are incorporated in a bug-free way. However, as I’ve mentioned before, our priorities tend to shift on a daily basis, particularly when it comes to product-related tasks. This often results in bolstered efforts to ensure critical functionality and pushing “nice-to-haves” to another day.

With our soft launch rapidly approaching, there are a number of key performance indicators that we plan to track, with a primary focus on user engagement. At this stage, fundraising is becoming a larger priority, but in order to present a captivating narrative, we need to prove that we as a company both create and capture value.

In the realm of value creation, we need to demonstrate the size of the pain point on the property side as well as our ability to inspire customers. On the traveler side, some key quantitative metrics that we will track include the number of unique users on the site, the amount of time spent on the site, the number of bookings, as well as the number of social shares. A metric that will be even more compelling for our fundraising story is the number of repeat bookings on the site, as this measure will ideally demonstrate our ability to not only acquire customers, but also retain them. From a qualitative perspective, we hope to gather relevant information about our user engagement with user feedback and testimonials. However, these raw metrics are tracked without context and don’t provide the full story of a user’s experience. With the aid of advanced analytics tools, we can gain a deeper context around how users are actually using the site rather than simply tracking concrete actions.

From a value capture standpoint, we need to demonstrate our ability to monetize at scale. Some key performance indicators in this respect include absolute revenue, property growth rate (both inbound and outbound), booking growth rate, traveler growth rate, property conversion rate over time, and the number of properties that list exclusively with us. And while reaching our value capture goals is vital for our company’s success, I would argue that we as a team are much more incentivized by our ability to create value rather than capture it. In line with this thinking, we’ve also spoken about brainstorming ways to track a more intangible kind of measure, which would ideally capture our ability to inspire others and incite wanderlust.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
As far as I can tell, success is measured at Emerald by perfection. The CEO's do not accept any code that is not perfectly named, commented, optimized, etc. Extensive unit tests are run on all new functions. Everything is surgical at Emerald. A big emphasis is put on doing things really really well the first time through so you don't have to fix them later.

Lab operators are expected to not mess up ever - which is impossible... So that creates a little friction between LabOps and management. Additionally, since our customers are trusting us with their research, we place a huge emphases on making sure all experimental results we hand to customers came out of experiments that had no hiccups - basically perfection, again. It's science, so perfection (or at least perceivable perfection) is crucial.

Otherwise, it seems success is measured pretty traditionally between me and my direct boss: How many mission-critical algorithmic problems did I solve this week? Are the solutions robust and fast? And that's pretty much all there is to it.

My direct boss tends to take over on non-functionality things (i.e. code documentation) after I'm done writing the algorithms, so I get away with some bad habits there.

FInally, side-project success is viewed highly by the CEOs. They love it when employees create tools in parallel to their normal work that will provide big productivity gains for them and their colleagues or that will improve the ECL product greatly. I'm working on my own side-project right now - I'll keep you all posted on how that goes.

Priyanka Jain says:
While there are many ways that we measure success at Shift (especially across teams), I'll try to break it down into three general buckets: sales, operational, and customer service.

Sales: We use a few different numbers to track our sales (which we report on a daily, weekly, & monthly basis). Specifically, there are the number of cars we sell per month (with a specific growth target MoM), the upside we make from each car sold, and the conversion rates between click on website to test drive booked to car sold.

Operational: The biggest growth challenges for Shift right now are operational -- we need to optimize our internal processes to be able to keep up with demand. Metrics in this area include the number of days it takes for a car to go through our processing team and our inventory turnover.

Customer Service: Our current largest source of referrals is through word of mouth. To keep this engine going, Shift strongly focuses on customer service. We can measure this in a few different ways: our NPS score, our Yelp reviews, and our survey responses (which we send out for every step of the Shift process). At the end of every week, the entire company is sent all of the positive feedback and all of the areas we can improve on. We then create new goals to improve the parts of our process to tailor to our customers.

Beyond these three areas, each team sets "OKRs" (Objectives & Key Results) for each month (and each quarter) and we measure our success on these at the end of the relevant term. We consider a term to be "successful" if we complete 70-80% of these goals -- our founders always say that if we reach 100% that we weren't setting ambitious enough goals. We also send "snippets" (can you tell that our founders worked at Google yet? haha) at the end of every week to summarize what projects we worked on that week and what our goals are for the following week. By maintaining constant and open communication across teams about goals, projects, and success rates, we can always make sure that we are aligned to reach our overall company mission instead of getting caught up in individual team success metrics.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
Priyanka curated some great quotes about leadership in her Broad Takeaways assignment. I think that they summarize well what each Mayfield speaker highlighted in their sessions, so I repurposed some of them as inspiration for Enjoy leadership anecdotes.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
I have been highly impressed with the leadership exhibited by senior management at ZenPayroll. Josh Reeves, in particular, has embodied many lessons learned in our Mayfield class. When thinking about Josh’s style, it is clear that he always sets the vision. He plays a major role in every strategic decision, consistently schedules meetings with other executives to discuss targets, potential pivots, and progress, and openly addresses the entire company at bi-monthly ‘State of Z” gatherings to align the organization. Josh has a strong understanding of President Hennessey’s message to “never delegate vision.”

Despite his strong beat on the strengths of weaknesses of teams across the company, Josh tries his best to “fire himself from as many roles as possible.” Although Josh may be best-suited to solve an array of issues currently facing ZenPayroll today, he recognizes that this approach is not scalable. In order for ZP to truly reach its potential, he must remove himself from tactical decision, and instead focus on the broader picture. This belief informs Josh’s opinion that “hiring is perhaps the most important skill for a start-up to get right.” As Behnam Tabrizi suggests, “good leaders must be comfortable letting go.” Josh, largely through excellent delegations skills, has been able to do so.

Josh also stresses transparency and admits when he makes a mistake. Unlike other leaders that refuse to accept blame ever, Josh has no problems holding himself accountable. For example, in a recent “State of Z,” the executive team acknowledged that it had not been particularly forthcoming about information regarding a major strategic decision. Such behavior is generally not condoned at ZP, and thus Josh took it upon himself to explain his decision making and promise to be more inclusive in the future. Consequently, Josh has engendered a sense of trust throughout the entire company.

Finally, Josh understands that it is important to “suspend judgement and actively listen” (Kriens), thereby empowering his employees. Besides simply celebrating promotions and recognizing achievements, Josh has sought to instill a philosophy in which good ideas can come from anywhere. Executive are not the only ones making major decisions. Everyone is a stakeholder and all should be given a voice.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Since I work closely with the channel sales team, I thought I could talk about the head of channel sales, Saad Shahzad, and his leadership style. Saad, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, was the first sales hire at ZenPayroll, and has since built out a team of over 15 salespeople, everything from sales development representatives to account managers. His leadership style is incredibly unique, but he is by far one of the most well-respected and polished individuals in the office.

In one of our discussions during the spring, Tina mentioned “giving everyone a pen.” Saad empowers his team so that each individual has a sound sense of ownership mentality. During weekly meetings, he looks forward to the possibility of hearing feedback and suggestions from his team. By not micromanaging his team and entrusting them to always do the right thing, he has more time to focus on other potential projects that are based on company vision more than day-to-day operational management tasks.

Another unique aspect of his leadership style is the way in which he gives feedback to his team members. Every week, he makes sure to have a 1 x 1 session with everyone on his team as an opportunity not only for feedback, but for his team members to express any concerns they might be having. By making sure to “actively listen,” he’s able to build trust and rapport with his team members. They know that if they ever need anything, that he’ll help them out as much as he can. As the team continues to expand, it will be interesting to see how he continues this feedback style since it does require a significant amount of time and could be difficult to scale.

From the sales team, Saad reports to the Chief Marketing Officer, Brett Wilms. Brett’s style is much more hands-off and because the teams have scaled so quickly, he only meets with the team leads. He holds a meeting every Monday morning called Growth Mania, where certain team leads from growth share any updates they have. In addition, Brett always gives an intro where he expresses some of his main thoughts and how he’s thinking about prioritizing projects. Although this kind of leadership style is very different from Saad’s, it is still incredibly effective in the organization.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
I wanted to form my post around Ellen's Broad Takeaways assignment, because I think she selected a few snippets about leadership and humanity that are particularly relevant to every entrepreneurial adventure, but particularly to Oculeve.

The responsibility of a leader is to be a steward of generative energy.
At Oculeve, our executive primarily focus on creative environments in which creativity is natural and opinions and ideas are encouraged. Our CEO has a philosophy in which, at the end of every conversation, he asks you questions that he doesn't expect an answer to immediately, but wants you to explore and talk to him about the next time you see him. Our VP of R&D is notorious for pursuing and encouraging "crazy" ideas in his team, many of which have made it in to our final design. Generative energy is capital for Oculeve, and our executives are excellent at encouraging it.

The hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.
The executives at Oculeve are very intentional about sharing their lives with other people at the company, because the Oculeve team considers itself a family. These conversations with executives include family life, corporate decisions, and what to eat for breakfast. They make it very clear during these conversations that the decisions they have to make are hard ones, and they value all the input they can get. They are very frank and honest about their struggles as leaders, and I think that makes them even stronger executives. It makes them relatable and human.

Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
As you all know, Oculeve was recently acquired, and the reactions within the company have been mixed. The executives recognized this from the moment they announced acquisition and have made every effort possible to talk to people about their concerns and address them. This included the CEO scheduling 1-on-1s with every member of the company, and each department holding a special teambuilding session in which concerns and fears were discussed.

It's not what you do, but who you are that matters.
At Oculeve, there is an unspoken acceptance and culture that everyone pulls their weight. Because of that, no one is ever concerned about pointing fingers at people for not doing things. There is enormous sympathetic capacity for anyone who seems stressed about getting stuff done, or seems not as excited to be at work. The team focuses on being supportive to everyone, especially when work is hard. This is especially championed by executives, including our VP of Clinical Affairs, who delivers cookies to anyone who seems to be having a rough day :)

Revanth Kosaraju says:
I’ve been impressed so far with the way the execs lead Synack. As a whole they project confidence, are approachable, and are honest with the employees.

Jay, our CEO, had a moment of great honesty today in the all-hands meeting. He was talking about scaling, and about how because of the success Synack had at the conference we attended in Vegas a couple weeks back, it would mean a lot of hard work for everyone moving forward, namely long hours and potentially work on weekends. This kind of honesty is refreshing to see, since even though working long hours isn’t the most pleasant subject to talk about, it’s absolutely necessary, and the employees at Synack tend to be quite adaptable, as long as they’re aware of what’s ahead.

One thing that President Hennessy mentioned to us about leadership in class which has stuck with me is the importance of making tough decisions swiftly, and not looking back. I’ve seen this in action when various executives make tough choices, for instance when it comes to hiring/firing decisions, or whether to pursue one marketing strategy over another.

Leadership styles definitely differ across departments. Some of the department VPs are more hands off than others, particularly the ones that have been with the company for longer and are more established in their roles. But one commonality is that all of them take the time to acknowledge their team members publicly, whether it is through company-wide email recognition or giving someone kudos in an all-hands meeting.

In my interaction with our CMO, who is one of the execs I report to, I’ve noticed that she takes the time to explain her decisions in detail, particularly because she understands the learning aspect of my internship (and the value of this kind of learning for the full-time Marketing employees). She also solicits feedback and asks for pushback if any of her team members aren’t comfortable with existing projects or would like to take on additional ones. This reminds me of how Heidi Roizen mentioned that great leaders lead with humanity. Our CMO gets that she’s leading a group of people, not commodities, and to maximize our output and give us great work experiences at the same time, she’s very receptive.

Nick Ning Xu says:
His name is Bees :)

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
Thinking back to Peter Fenton’s three pillars of leadership, I would classify our CEO as specializing in the Vision domain. Justin is a very personable, approachable leader and incredibly passionate about the underlying vision behind Untrodden, which was something that initially struck me when I was interviewing for my internship. He didn’t really need to convince me to join Untrodden - the way he spoke about the company was enough to inspire and persuade me to get onboard. From the past few months, it has become clear that he leads with his passion, which, as an employee, is extremely empowering and motivating. As Scott Kriens mentioned last spring, it’s impossible to lead unless people are leaning in, and Justin’s generative energy has served as the spark that has kept me excited and engaged.

When I asked Justin about his views on leadership, he shared his belief that leadership needs to be codified and then exemplified. He stressed the importance of being vulnerable and transparent about how decisions are made, which, in turn, builds trust and confidence on the team's end. On the other hand, if decisions are being made in an inconsistent way, this can create confusion and an environment of uncertainty, which then hinders confidence building and productivity among the team. However, given our size, the decision-making process is a little more informal, as the company lacks any true hierarchy with no designated “decision-maker.” We are simply working towards a common goal, and as a result, each team member's opinion plays an important role in the decision-making process. Throughout the summer, I’ve noticed Justin’s eagerness to join the trenches with the rest of the team. No task is too small, and he leads with fervor even when completing the most menial of tasks, such as writing up our terms of use, which is a testament to his commitment and belief in his vision.

It has also been interesting to compare his leadership style with that of Rhea, our Product Manager, who seems to fit more on the Execution end of the leadership spectrum. I’ve found her to be a very effective leader, particularly when guiding many of critical meetings this summer. In each meeting, she sets very clear goals and outcomes for the meeting, emphasizing whether the meeting’s purpose is to align the team or to make an important decision. Based on the meeting's outcome, she would guide us in identifying subsequent action-oriented tasks and then enforce that we follow up on these to ensure task completion. Rhea’s techniques have notably improved the team’s accountability and productivity, which has allowed us make great strides in moving the business forward.

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Authentic, developer of trust, and inspirational are 3 characteristics I believe all leaders we met through Mayfield embodied. I included these traits in my broad takeaway assignment and these 3 characteristics have also really stood out to me at Zymergen.

My first real exposure to Zymergen as an employee was at an off-site a couple days before I officially started work. The first thing I noticed was the authenticity of all three co-founders. They were extremely genuine and open. They answered every type of question and really opened up about their concerns in the future. You could tell the executive team cared deeply about each individual feeling connected to the company and fully understanding how Zymergen is managed.

Develop Trust
Also at the off-site (and continued at work everyday) I noticed the amount of trust the executives put in all the employees. They showed handed everyone a term sheet they recently signed and went through the current financials of the company showing exactly how much money they had in the bank and exact allocations of money for the future. I am not sure how common this is but I was not expecting such transparency around the financials. Handing each individual a highly confidential document puts a lot of trust in the community. This coupled with the openness of the questions asked and answered about the term sheet/financials also created a feeling of ownership in the company.

Each co-founder has their own unspoken role. For example, I find Zach Serber to be the one for inspiration. He gives the company pitch to all of our clients and gets people hooked in the Zymergen story. I remember listening to him talk about the company in my interview, and I knew this was the place. He frames industrial biotechnology and the work we are doing at Zymergen that inspires even non-scientists. His inspiration is part of the reason many are at Zymergen and work so hard.

I have found the execs at Zymergen to be amazing leaders by example. Everything they encourage they are themselves. For example, the employees are Zymergen are ones to work too hard and not take vacation or enough time for themselves. The executives know this and are trying to encourage everyone to take vacation by taking vacation themselves and showing it is possible to leave work for a week without the company being affected.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
I think the leadership at ZenPayroll does an incredible job of motivating everyone in the office, being transparent and accessible, and guiding the vision and strategy of the company. Here are a few key takeaways from our discussions during e140a that I think are particularly relevant at ZP.

Leadership is about being a steward of generative energy
The senior leaders at ZenPayroll always say that the role of leadership is to empower others to do the best work of their lives and provide them with all the support necessary to achieve their full potential. All team managers are referred to as “people empowerers” and regularly schedule 1-on-1’s with team members to check in and provide feedback. My team lead Omar holds “Platform Team Restrospectives” every few weeks to give us a chance to talk openly about what we think we’re doing well and what we think we could improve upon. He empowers us to challenge the status quo and make changes to the way we do things.

It is important for leaders to balance authenticity with intentionality of core values and culture
Josh is incredibly authentic and honest, and this is reflected in the ZP culture. While the leadership team is definitely deliberate about setting and maintaining a strong culture (especially in hiring) our culture has developed naturally and is a reflection of all the unique personalities of the employees. Everyone is encouraged to be themselves and, at the same time, to help propagate our existing traditions and culture as we grow.

Leadership is about self-knowledge
Considering the three pillars of leadership (vision, relationships, and execution), it s clear that Josh excels at vision and relationships. When Josh speaks about the future of the company at State of Z (our bi-weekly all-hands meeting) I leave feeling totally inspired and like I’ve definitely drank the ZP cool-aid. He has the incredible ability to stay true to the mission-driven nature of the company and stay focused on our long-term vision and goals. He is also great at fostering close relationships, both inside and outside the office. He takes mentorship very seriously and always makes time to schedule 1-on-1’s with people despite his incredibly busy schedule. Josh is extremely self-aware and knows that he cannot excel at all three pillars, so he actively “fires himself” from as many execution related jobs as possible, delegating the more tactical roles to allow him to focus on vision and relationships.

Priyanka Jain says:
The main reason I chose to join Shift was to spend time with and learn from Minnie Ingersoll, our co-founder and COO. As I mentioned at the open house, Shift has many female leaders, and I found it fascinating to analyze their leadership style within a male dominated industry. I described Minnie's leadership style below, framing it with lessons we learned throughout E140A.

As the co-founder and COO of Shift, Minnie is one of the key leaders for the company. Especially since the CEO spent most of the summer fundraising, Minnie ran almost every team and company meeting for the three months I was there. Her leadership style is powerful yet humble and empowering to the whole team.

As Tina said in the spring, great leaders "give everyone a pen," and as President Hennessy said, "you cannot delegate vision." While these two statements might seem contradictory, Minnie very clearly embodied both of them. She would set a very clear vision for the team, and then always ask for each member's perspective on how to set and achieve goals to move towards the big vision. Additionally, whenever I presented her with a challenge, even though I was just an intern, she would always start by asking for my opinion on how to solve it. She uses her humor to make people feel comfortable, and her humility empowers everyone to contribute.

Her leadership style created a remarkable culture at the company. As Lew Cirne said, "Culture is not something you declare. You discover core values in your company as it grows." I think Minnie is a great example of this; she leads by example and the culture of the company has formed based on her actions, not just words on a wall. For example, Shift's culture is extremely welcoming for families and employees who have young children. While this was never "declared" to be part of the culture, by bringing her own kids to the office, using conference rooms as makeshift nurseries, and never taking meetings during family dinner (5.30-7pm), Minnie set a precedent for the rest of the company: they can focus on their personal lives as well.

I was blown away by Minnie's ability to lead our team to achieve overly ambitious goals while maintaining a casual, humorous, and empowering demeanor. Minnie has the type of leadership style that I would love to emulate someday!

Jason Risch says:
Priyanka’s final project provides a very useful list of quotes on leadership that can be used to frame certain experiences I have had this summer. For example, I witnessed the importance of the idea that a leader “focuses on the important, not the urgent” can have in an investor pitch today with Katie and Scott. On the phone, Katie answered a lot of questions about the overall strategy of the company including differentiating factors, monetization, and growth plans over the next year. As a member of Sitch, her responses were very interesting to me as they closely detailed the difficulties involved in making these decisions as well as the assets the company had developed through the struggles of the past couple years. However, Scott offered some advice to Katie after the fact: investors couldn’t care less about about the everyday details and in-depth challenges in these sort of discussions. Instead, they want punchy answers explaining big-picture strategy, perhaps supported by some quotable numbers. Entrepreneurs cannot afford to be realistically self-deprecating in any respect or they risk failing to impart their vision to people.

Although this concept seems self-explanatory, it can be difficult to follow in practice. Katie replied that she completely agreed, but elaborated that she and Joe had struggled with the concept recently because of how involved they were in the everyday operations of the company. Joe manages the engineering team, meaning he frequently has to dig into bugs and data infrastructure, while Katie manages marketing and decisions on business partnerships. As such, she claimed that when “dealing with all the shit” it can be extremely challenging to execute the requisite mindshift into visionary leader mode. Scott even commented that he 'could probably pitch her company better because he only knows half the shit." Accordingly, while I think there is incredible value in having hands-on leadership, I can now see the logic behind keeping a degree of separation between those responsible for high-level strategy and everyday implementation and execution.

On the other hand, Katie and Joe display many admirable leadership qualities; foremost of all in my esteem, they lead with their humanity and are incredibly transparent and authentic. No matter how busy or stressed they are, they always take the time to ask about their employees’ weekends, family life, etc, as well as to answer any questions I may have about the company or entrepreneurship. These conversations do not simply pay lip-service to some ideal of promoting a sociable company culture; rather, they are often very meaningful and reflect the camaraderie present among those at Sitch. In terms of transparency, few leaders would be as honest as me about the state of the company as Katie and Joe have been with me. For example, I would never have imagined beforehand that I would be privy to the conversation described above given that it discussed mistakes in a raw and immediate format (to me, that sort of conversation is a level removed from a prepared statement on a mistake given in front of the rest of the company). Further, Katie has always been really straightforward about the subtext of conversations (“we’re really scraping the bottom of the investor barrel with this guy since our note closes so soon” or “we’re straddling the ethical line between interested party and friend giving advice in this meeting”), allowing me to better understand the subtleties of a business negotiation. While this openness has definitely further my learning this summer, it also implies a greater level of trust than I originally would have imagined.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
“Lead by example”
- The two CEOs put in more hours than anyone else at the company.
- Frez, the CEO in charge of our tech, is a big proponent of hygienic code development, meaning lots of documentation, good function names, simple code, etc. He writes great code himself and spends much of his time going through others’ code to make sure it’s up to the company’s standards. This is really monotonous work, so it’s definitely impressive to me that he chooses to do this mission-critical but boring work instead of other more fun things. I think the message is that everyone is responsible for the product Emerald comes out with, and no one gets it easier than anyone else.

“on day one in a startup, all you have is a series of untested hypotheses.”
- The CEOs deliberately use our own Research team as our early adopters. In other words, we test all of our hypotheses about clients on our own research team, who can tell us if we’ve created useful features for researchers.
- Additionally, the CEOs are pursuing a customer development strategy a la Steve Blank. They’re taking on small numbers of customers, doing their experiments for free, and taking copious notes on the experiences to alter our product accordingly.

“the responsibility of a leader is to be a steward of generative energy”
- This could be done better here. The CEOs are always talking about deadlines and achieving product goals. Some of this is exciting, but not nearly enough. It’s very much a “there’s lots to do, so let’s hunker down and do it” atmosphere. This is fine for me, but I can see how this would wear down on others. The good parts of culture here seem to be maintained completely by the employees (humour, office memes, excitement about team breakthroughs).
- At All-Hands meetings every Friday, we talk about developments on teams and clap for presenters after they’re done showing what they’ve done in the past week. This is great for acknowledging individual and team successes and definitely pumps up employees.

“Have to keep innovating over time. Have to have multiple tech growth curves going at once.”
- The CEOs at Emerald are SUPER good at this. They spend much of their time exploring partnering possibilities, attempting to incoorperate new technologies, and creating new code suites within the company that expedite work for everyone. These layers of innovation will keep the company at a rapid growth pace over time.

In general, the CEOs are executors. They have their vision, they know what they want to achieve, they know how to get there, and their focus is therefore 100% on executing. What’s great is that the CEOs are AMAZING executors. Here are the things I’ve noticed they do exceedingly well:
- Striking deals with potential partners and customers (and getting them excited about our vision)
- Hiring extremely tactfully
- Running the various teams like a well-oiled machine to create a really great product/service.

We’re not big, we don’t have a ton of customers yet, and we know exactly what we need to build to launch our product. So the fact that the CEOs are great executers is actually quite reassuring. There’s this sense that there’s no obstacle we won’t be able to overcome to get to market. And even if there isn’t a lot of explicit “HOO-RAH!” type leadership going on, the employees have a ton of trust in their very capable, very hardworking leaders, which is really cool to see.

It’s kind of how I imagine working at one of Elon Musk’s companies would be: you’d be working the hardest you’ve ever worked trying to achieve the mission goal and you’d be exhausted, but since Elon does such amazing things and is so committed to the mission, you know deep down that his ship is the one you want to be on. And you'd make sacrifices to stay on it.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
Topic 1 (by far the most interesting/what I have the most to say about): Marketing & Messaging

Enjoy has been going through a fascinating branding transition. They launched without a clear, concise description of what their service was, which in turn made it hard for our customers to spread the word about what we do. I was fortunate enough to sit in on almost all of the branding and messaging meetings that happened this summer. I've been watching employees struggle with which offering we should highlight: the "Enjoy Visit"/tech help service or the e-commerce side of the website. I've seen how different teams are operating under different assumptions which has led to some friction. This topic deals with themes like internal communication, marketing strategy in a new market, and branding decisions.

Topic 2: How fast to expand the company

Another interesting conversation happening at Enjoy is how fast we should expand into new markets. Some want to make sure the infrastructure is solidly in place before we take on new markets, while others think that expanding is crucial to pleasing our big, essential partners (like AT&T). This also stress-tested internal communications within the company, and it was really cool to see how Ron Johnson adapted to employee feedback and changed his mind about rapid expansion. Themes: market expansion, managing dissenting opinions in a constructive way, speed vs. infrastructure, internal communications

Nick Ning Xu says:
No video from me this time. I will work on something for the next post!

Rebranding Kanjoya
After working closely with the wonderful PR agency, Sutherland Gold, and employing Carl Jung's theory of archetypes, Kanjoya adopted the "Explorer" archetype ( This archetype now informs our worldview, story arc and messaging. This strategy was suggested by Battery East, our fundraising advisors.

The biggest challenge is measuring effectiveness of Sutherland Gold's work. Will they secure enough media publicity? Will their efforts increase fundraising? How are customers receiving the new messaging? Being emotionally-tied, and centered around design-thinking, rebranding effectiveness is only measurable in hindsight.

Kanjoya must trust in the long-term benefits of the rebranding effort, rather than fall susceptible to short-term demands; a historic challenge of Kanjoya has been adopting a clear brand and owning it.

How and What Do We Sell?
Kanjoya sells different things to various stakeholders. This summer, we were in the midst of our largest round of fundraising, which naturally brought about company introspection. Where are we headed in the future? What market can we capitalize on? What do we currently have that demonstrates our potential?

In the enterprise solution space, coupled with an eight-year company history, we must project a massive worldview with infinite market value to investors. To customers, we must provide a tangible product. To the product team, we must insulate them from the stress of business development so they may develop a robust, enterprise-worthy product.

Our project team's short-term focus was developing an Employee Engagement solution. Our near-future messaging was a multi-channel Employee Experience platform - the promise of diversity, performance, on boarding, exit interviews that delivers ultimate business outcomes. Generating a marquee list of clients proved the promise of the far, far future. Our general focus was on Employee Experience, however doing one-off, heavily customized projects on Customer Experience was part of this strategy.

The difficulty lies in not condensing all timelines into one. As seen over the summer, when those timelines are confused, it causes a great deal of undue stress, confusion and inefficiency.

I find both strategic decisions equally interesting to discuss. Happy summer! Much love your way Mayfield Fam!

Revanth Kosaraju says:
Topic 1: How do we scale while retaining our core values?

One of Synack’s core values is quality. In an industry like security, slipping on quality can be critically damaging to a vendor, which is the foremost reason we strive for quality in whatever we do. One of the main ways this core value manifests itself is in our relationship with our customers. The data we give them regarding their cybersecurity vulnerabilities is all quality data: we strive for no noise. Also, our Red Team’s researchers work around the clock to assess our customer’s vulnerabilities, as one slip up in this regard can lead to a breach.

Our quality is maintained by the fact that we have a dedicated Operations team that works closely with each customer, as well as a researcher team that’s able to handle the number of customers we currently have and give them all their due attention.

At the Black Hat conference in Vegas a couple weeks ago, we were enormously successful, generating hundreds of leads and potential new customers. Of course, for the growth of the company, we’re hoping that each one of these leads is turned into a subscription. But there’s the challenge: how do we keep up the same level of quality with each of our customers while scaling to onboard and maintain all these new accounts? Considerations are how we hire internally and find researchers, how fast we can hire, how fast we can find researchers, how low we want to keep the burn rate of the company, and how to incentivize researchers to continue to look at older customers' accounts when there are a bunch of newer customers popping up.

Topic 2: What business model do we adopt in the future?

This is actually the last project I’m working on for the summer (and it’s a massive project, so I’m doing whatever I can in the next 3 weeks), so I’ll be fascinated to see what turns up in my research, and if ends up being my case study topic, to compare my findings to what you guys have to add.

A good number of the deals that Synack has closed so far have been based on referrals - our board members have a wide network that we’ve been able to tap into - and our success at Black Hat this past month. This isn’t the most sustainable strategy: our board members’ rolodexes are finite, and we can’t bank on blowing the competition out of the water at Black Hat every year. Because I’m just starting this project, I’m going to keep this one pretty open ended. What business model do we adopt for the future, with respect to generating leads, getting leads to engage in POCs (proof-of-concept), and converting POCs to subscriptions?

Priyanka Jain says:
Shift faced a few key questions while I was there this summer:
1. Do we prioritize scaling to new cities or “perfecting the playbook” in our current two cities?
There was constant discussion (with strong opinions on both sides) regarding whether we should focus on getting our feet down in as many cities as possible to secure the first mover’s advantage or if we should make sure we understand the product market fit in our current cities first. It was interesting to see how these opinions different from the headquarters to the hub — since I had the opportunity to work with both teams, it was fascinating to see how they viewed the challenges differently and what each of them thought was the right next move. I also had the opportunity to work on our playbook and help figure out what was necessary (in terms of the number of car enthusiasts, size of the repair team, warehouse space, etc.) for a “fully mature” market (SF is the our only “mature” market so far). While I was doing this, I ran into interesting questions around what can be centralized and what has to be localized for each new market. Both of these projects gave me insight into how realistic it is to launch in new markets at an accelerated pace and what our big challenges will be.

It was clear that this discussion occurred ~6 months ago and we decided to focus on mastering our two current cities. However, now it seems like the plan is going to be to launch in multiple cities in the next few months (my guess based on our newest investor’s opinions).

2. How do we effectively explain our value proposition to customers?
Shift is in an interesting place in relation to other players in the used-car market. The average person understands two parties: dealers and private buyers/sellers. However, Shift doesn’t easily fall into either of these categories. I found that one of our big challenges was explaining how our role was to facilitate private party sales, but without ever owning any inventory the way a dealer does. While on customer service calls, many people would hang up the phone (thinking we were a dealer) or try to haggle as if it was a private party sale. This led me to believe that our website and messaging wasn’t clear enough. We iterated on how we pitched ourselves throughout the summer, and I had the opportunity to help figure out what messaging resonated with customers. Shift is still working on this and I believe it will continue to be a challenge as we expand to new markets.

3. Can different styles of leadership be successful within the same small startup?
Our Shift model calls for two types of teams: there is the team at headquarters, which is largely comprised of our technical and business strategy teams, and then there is the team at each hub, which is entirely operational. Each team has its own culture and organizational structure, and I found that the leadership styles at each location were really different as well. Both the headquarters and the hub had strong female leadership, but I think the type of leadership was starkly different. At the hub, Anya led with a much more managerial style; I would describe it as “carrot and stick” — she was appreciative of the work the team was doing while enforcing ambitious goals and a lack of respect for excuses. Conversely, at HQ, Minnie led with a much more laid-back style. She would ask people for their own opinions instead of leading with her own and encourage the team to lead themselves. I would describe her strategy as “hire the smartest people and then let them do what they’re good at.”

Interestingly, both of these leadership styles were extremely successful in their given environments. I think this has to do with the type of work that had to be done in the different offices and the type of people working on each team. Overall, it was fascinating to see such different leadership styles succeed within the same small company.

3.5. What should engineering focus on? (sorry, I couldn't help but add a fourth!)
Another interesting strategic decision we had to make was where to focus our engineering power. There were a lot of operational projects we wanted engineering to build for (such as moving everything to Salesforce), but there were also a handful of consumer facing products we wanted to build (such as a seller app for the iPhone). While I was there, almost all engineering time was put on the consumer side, which led to our first app making it into the app store and a lot of operational tasks falling behind. But now, as we grow at a more accelerated pace, there are many operational challenges that will need to be solved with more engineering power. In my last week, we actually hired three new engineers who will be 100% focused on building for operations.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
Topic #1: Scaling our team rapidly while maintaining our culture and values
During my 10-week internship ZenPayroll grew an incredible 45% to ~230 people. This exponential growth is driven by our desire to meet the needs of the market and achieve our goals on an accelerated timeline. However, growing so quickly can be pretty treacherous, especially with regard to preserving our culture and values. ZenPayroll prides itself on its great culture and dedication to its values, so this is a constant concern as we scale. The key challenge is preserving the delicate balance between encouraging individualized approaches and creativity and still fostering a similar mindset in employees to maintain our core values and replicate our key customs and practices as the organization expands. ZenPayroll has definitely made a few mistakes along the way here - the head recruiter told me he thought we hired a bit too quickly and did not give employees the proper training to be interviewing candidates - so this is really an interesting topic for discussion. There is no right answer as to how to scale most effectively, but it is clear that this is an extremely important topic for all startups seeking to maintain a standard of excellence while simultaneously experiencing rapid growth.

Topic #2: Targeting larger businesses
ZenPayroll has, up until now, been focused on helping the smallest of small businesses, meaning companies that range from about 1 to 10 employees. As ZenPayroll grows, it is looking to expand its offering and begin to focus on larger small businesses that employ 10+ people. We’ve actually already begun to build software more suited to larger companies (such as a new Teams feature that allows the user to group employees for easy departmental reporting). This transition to serving and specifically targeting larger companies seems like a natural progression for ZenPayroll and is certainly on the long-term roadmap of the company. However, I had an interesting conversation with our co-founder and CPO about this, and he said it will actually be quite difficult to focus on larger businesses without alienating our smaller customers who are the foundation of ZenPayroll and are a critical part of our mission to help small businesses. This is an interesting balance and I’m eager to see how ZenPayroll will tackle this challenge and work to to best serve a range of customers.

*There are several other key strategic decisions I would love to talk about (and will probably dive into for the E140C case study) but I can’t really talk about these just yet. By the time class starts I will (hopefully) be able to!

Kaitlyn Baab says:
1. Lab operators
Austin and I were talking about this topic together last week so we might have something similar. Both Emerald and Zymergen have robots which means they need people to set-up and run the robots in a high throughput style often requiring tedious, unavoidable work. There are many options for how to treat these employees: shift-style vs. regular full-time employee, hourly vs. salary, specialization in one part of the process vs. ability to perform all operations, split of time spent on development vs. operations (aka running robots). Austin and I realized that our companies treat these types of employees very differently and started to explore how this affected the employees’ well-being as well as the culture and performance of the company. Most biotech companies will need to hire lab operators in order to perform at the scale required and therefore will have to make a decision on this dichotomy. I think this would be an interesting problem to explore especially by comparing two real-life examples.

2. Deal structure

As we acquire more customers at Zymergen there has been a lot of talk on the business development team about deal structures and how they differ between clients. There are two different ways to approach the financial aspects of a deal: fixed fee vs. value share. The mix of the two depend on several factors: who the client is, their financials, the product we would be working in, the product’s future and current market, the difficulty of the project, the risk, etc. There must be a balance between Zymergen and the client while predicting the future market of the product. This also gets more complicated when you have to think about how the client will read into Zymergen’s interest and business based on the deal it presents. I think exploring how to structure these deals with different types of clients/products/projects would be very interesting. My major concern about this topic though is that I cannot disclose our clients and therefore the details will be limited.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
Topic #1: Building a prototype
During my internship, one of the main focuses at Untrodden was designing and developing a prototype of our web app. With our prototype, we seek to test a number of hypotheses and assumptions that have been made in the hopes that we will be able to demonstrate proof of concept to potential investors in the near future. However, we have faced many challenges and considerations along the way. In the startup world, there are a number of approaches to prototypes - the MVP à la Steve Blank, MDP (minimum delightful product), and MSP (minimum scalable product) to name a few. Given that we are building a consumer product, we found that the MDP approach was most aligned with our goals, as delightful products are adopted faster, get better word of mouth, and create higher satisfaction among customers. In order to build our prototype, Justin decided to outsource development, which led to a number of problem on its own, from time difference difficulties to language barriers. Some key conversations surrounding the creation of our MDP have included how to develop brand on a budget, what features to prioritize given engineering limitations, and how to create a delightful user experience for our customers. Themes: limited engineering resources, lean tactics, brand-building, brand loyalty and high switching costs among customers, UX/UI

Topic #2: Early-stage Fundraising Strategy
At this stage, fundraising is becoming a larger priority and likely our next main focus in the upcoming months. Although investors expressed their interest in the idea of Untrodden early on, Justin decided to forgo fundraising in favor of bootstrapping until we had developed a solid prototype. However, following the soft launch of our beta, we are beginning to reach out to potential investors in the hopes that some funding will allow us to scale up in a number of respects (from hiring employees to continuing our product development efforts, which will ultimately allow us to reach a larger audience). There are a number of considerations that go into fundraising, including determining the right time to seek out funding, identifying KPIs to demonstrate proof of concept, and outlining what criteria comprise a “dream” investor for your company. Justin and I have begun researching some potential candidates and identifying those we find to be well-aligned, but this is an ongoing conversation for the next few months, so I expect our discussions to evolve in the near future. Some other key early-stage fundraising considerations center around launch strategy; we had to ask ourselves what our launch would look like - a full-on public launch versus a soft launch - and if we wanted to fundraise pre-launch, during launch, or post-launch. Themes: bootstrapping, angel & seed fundraising, launch strategy

Topic #3: Leadership Styles
Although the team at Untrodden is very small, it has been interesting for me to compare the leadership styles of two of my managers, Justin and Rhea. While Justin has served as the guiding visionary and our company prophet of sorts, Rhea seems to take a more direct, execution-driven approach to leadership. When handing me new projects, Justin was very hands-off, leaving tasks more open-ended and providing little direction as a means to encourage creative thinking, whereas Rhea would provide me with some guidance before encouraging me to jump in. In addition, in our 1-on-1 meetings, Rhea would lead a more structured conversation, centered around a general debrief of how things were going and OKRS (objectives and key results) to help me track my progress throughout the summer. By contrast, my 1-on-1 meetings with Justin were much more free-form and covered a wide range of topics. I found both approaches to be effective in different ways, with Justin inspiring me through his passion and Rhea motivating me with action-oriented goals. I would be interested to dive deeper and learn more about how differing leadership styles impact employee engagement.

Jason Risch says:
1. Series A fundraising: The last few months, Sitch has been prepping for its Series A. This preparation includes everything from pitching current investors and friends for practice, to scouting out which VCs might provide the best match, to brainstorming about how to craft a narrative around the company and tell the story. The fundraising should be happening during fall quarter, and Katie told me that she would be happy to keep me apprised of everything that goes on during the process. I think this fundraising provides a tremendous opportunity to get an inside look into the mechanics of a Series A and all of the decisions and strategy that surround it; on the other hand, I’m not quite sure yet how much I’d be at liberty to discuss.

2. Friends and conflicts of interest: Most of Sitch’s funding so far has been raised from Katie’s friends, and they’ve been instrumental in providing guidance and practice Series A pitches. Katie has also filled the company with her trusted friends as partners or employees, and most business strategy meetings include a discussion of LinkedIn connections and which friends or acquaintances can provide the best intro to someone they need to talk to. However, having such a wide network can also put an entrepreneur in difficult situations. For example, Sitch is currently interested in acquiring an early-stage startup to fill out its engineering team, but Katie also serves as an advisor to that startup and is a good friend of both that startup’s CEO and its angel investor. Navigating the ethics of such a situation can be difficult, as she has an obligation both to her friends and towards Sitch since she believes the partnership to be mutually beneficial (though I think she has done an admirable job of navigating this situation thus far). Silicon Valley is a small world, so I think this topic can apply to a number of startups; at the very least, many startups are originally founded by a group of friends. As such, how can one gracefully and successfully navigate having friends as coworkers, investors, and competitors?

3. Management styles, particularly older vs younger: Going into this summer, I had a set predefined beliefs about what I thought working at a startup would be like in terms of lifestyle, management attitudes, hours, and corporate structure (or lack thereof). However, my experience has differed radically from what I had assumed. I’m curious to know if my beliefs were simply misconceived or if the difference between my assumption and reality resulted from the older age of Sitch’s management. What are the differences in style and function between startups led by very young entrepreneurs (as many stereotypes would have it) and older entrepreneurs? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each type, and how can it affect work-life balance?

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
Selecting a Second Office Location

In order to better service its customers and grow as an organization, ZenPayroll needed to expand to different parts of the country. Indefinite growth in San Francisco is difficult because of space constraints, and with the $60 million raised from Google Capital, ZP finally had the ability to move beyond SOMA. Consequently, discussions of where to move became a major focus for Josh and the Growth/BD teams. Several options were debated, and ultimately, Denver was selected. There were three major considerations that factored into the opening of a Denver office.

The following is a framework that can be used to select a new location and an explanation of the way ZP though about each aspect:

1. Quality and Availability of of talent

This factor was arguably the most important in selecting a location. A city might be ideal in every way but if it lacks an educated and motivated population, then an office can’t thrive. When evaluating Denver, the executive team conducted an analysis of the 20-30 demographic, the group most drawn to the culture and risk profile of a growth company. They surveyed the number of recent college graduates, majors/talents of these graduates, and where they concentrated in the area. The data from all three tests returned overwhelmingly positive. Denver is a hub for graduating seniors because of its proximity to UC Boulder, Colorado College, University of Denver, and a host of other well-regarded universities. Additionally, ZenPayroll listed job postings throughout the city to understand the type of candidate they would attract. The executive team was pleased that Denver boasted a high number of CS graduates while also receiving a high volume of strong applications for sales/marketing. Finally, college kids concentrate in downtown Denver, a neighborhood with available real estate. Effective public transportation suggested that future employees could easily reach their office without a long commute.

2. Costs/Incentives

Another major concern when selecting a new office is the overall cost of the facility. Although ZenPayroll did recently raise a major round, it still must think like a start-up in some aspects by being extra conscientious of spending. As a result, real estate pricing and other financial considerations played a key role. Denver was attractive to ZenPayroll for two reasons: government incentives and a comparatively cheap office building market. First, the Colorado government offered nearly $15 million of tax breaks to ZenPayroll to attract its investment. The executive team plans to make Denver a 1,000+ employee office in the future, so the state government justified this move on the premise of significant job creation. Second, compared to some cities like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, Denver has lower real estate pricing. Purchasing or renting a facility downtown will cost far less than if the ZP team wanted the same office in Manhattan.

3. Distance from the SF office

The final consideration that entered into the executive team’s mind when selecting Denver was proximity to the San Francisco office. The team wanted the location to be close enough to easily transport back and forth in cost-effectively, but far enough (different time zone) to service a different set of customers and attract talent from brand new places. Cities like Los Angeles were deemed too close, while locations like New York were too far. Denver was the perfect middle ground- a 2 hour flight from SFO.

Thinking about Building a Second Product Offering

Arguably the most important strategic debate I witnessed while at ZenPayroll was whether to launch a second product. As with Jenna and Mitch, I can’t reveal too much information until later in the fall, so this explanation will be very brief. There are three key considerations that factor into whether to offer a second product:

Revenue: The first consideration is revenue generation. Companies like ZP with a single offering must invest substantial resources into engineering, design, sales, and marketing to create something new. As a result, it is important that the product justify the effort in the long-run. A company should only allocate such energy if it believes the product will benefit their bottom line more than incremental improvements to their existing offerings. Such forecasts are critical to examine during the planning phases.
Competitive landscape: If a company elects to build a product in a new area, it must understand the dynamics of the new marketplace. There may be unique competitors, sets of regulations, and strategies to account for in order to be successful. A startup may not be able to rely on historical tactics, and thus, must carefully consider its ability to compete.
Part of product vision: Leadership at ZenPayroll constantly undergoes a process of introspection. The cofounders and other executives contemplate the impact they are having on the world around them presently, but also what they hope ZP can impact in the future. Launching a second product is a way to expand a company’s footprint on the marketplace and world at large. Vision about a start-up’s mission often also plays a critical role in whether to create another offering.

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Perfecting Older Products vs Building Newer Products (Changing the Business Model)

ZenPayroll originated several years ago with the intention of focusing on and rebuilding the way payroll has always been done. They made the process much simpler and easier to use with better customer service and an office culture that helps demonstrate the values of the company. Yet during my 10-week internship, there were several moments where payroll became almost a secondary priority to other upcoming projects. Certain payroll features that other competitors utilized and that were considered to be industry norms were pushed back in favor of other priorities that had the potential to make more revenue in the long-run. Other potential upgrades to the payroll cycle such as 2-day processing (the amount of time it takes for funds to transfer; we still use 4-day processing) had the ability to change the entire business model for ZenPayroll, but were pushed back in favor of other unique opportunities. The question then became whether management and the rest of the company focus on payroll to perfect it to 100%, or whether to begin expanding services in hopes of more revenue in the long-run.

Marketing Strategy and Partnerships

I can’t go into too much detail about this, but I can give a quick overview for now. ZenPayroll had many partnerships with other companies since their inception because they only provided payroll. Yet as an HR system, certain customers needed more than payroll and so we would partner with companies in the same industry as a business strategy to incentive one another for referrals. Yet, this business strategy was only meant to be temporary and was never 100% sustainable. Along those lines, how do you properly brand ZenPayroll to remove the social stigma of just “payroll.” Payroll is simply about transactions. ZenPayroll was all about creating value amongst people. Stay tuned for more!

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
1. Lab Operators
-- Kaitlyn did a good job explaining this. The only thing I’ll add is that I live with 2/5 lab operators at Emerald and there’s a definite feeling of being a “second class citizen”, which has resulted in friction between management and labops and between the other teams and labops. Exploring how to navigate these social dynamics while still maintaining workplace excellence is the crux of the problem for the CEO, which would be very interesting to explore in a case study.
-- Interestingly, it seemed quite a few of the Mayfield startups this year had some sort of “second class workers”, or workers that focused more on pure execution than higher-level product or business development (and thus do not have as much agency as others in the company). Shift: car enthusiasts, Enjoytech: experts, Emerald: lab operators, Zymergen: lab operators, Synack: Red team (even though they’re not technically employees).

2. Refining Old Product vs. Forging Ahead
-- A key decision was made before I started my summer. The problem being faced was that the current code base required a lot of manual input to onboard new instruments. Additionally, database object types were often formatted haphazardly, making their use more difficult. Finally, much of the functional code in the code base was error-prone and poorly documented. Basically, there was a lot of diseased code in the codebase that was unnecessarily slowing down everyone. So the question was: Do we charge ahead to onboard more instruments and get to launch sooner, or do we have the majority of the company sacrifice ~4 months to fix the diseased code, leading to a stronger code base in the future? Interesting things to look at here: company finances, team morale, actual impact of diseased code.

Jotthe Kannappan says:

1. Acquisition/ Startup culture in a large company. A huge strategic decision faced by my company this summer related to acquisition and how large companies can continue to be innovative. In the context of Oculeve, it is important to think about what factors went in to the decision by executives to actually sign for acquisition. From the perspective of Allergan, it's important to consider how a larger corporation can adequately supplement and provide resources to a "startup" without disrupting culture and pace of development. Even more complicated is this notion that, before acquisition, Oculeve's main competitor and sworn enemy was Restasis (a drug developed, manufactured, and sold by Allergan).This has obviously also had an impact on how people within the company have perceived acquisition and how culture has already started to be impacted. Considering culture, and what untied and drives a team is really at the heart of this potential topic.

2. Privilege and social advantage in the Silicon Valley. This is actually a topic that has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time regarding the pipeline of individuals who wind up becoming "successful entrepreneurs" in the Silicon Valley. This topic, of course, is not only relevant to Oculeve, but to every start up represented in our Mayfield class and all others. People who start companies in the Silicon Valley are almost always individuals who come form backgrounds of high social privilege, and were typically raised in background of abounding opportunity. I want to explore the pipeline issues behind why this is the case, and what can be done to start addressed these issues in the supposed world of meritocracy.

Tom Byers says:
My goodness, we are going to have a tremendous time in E140C with such compelling topics. See the E140C website above (or to see how we will narrow things down during our first autumn quarter session on Monday, 9/21/15 at 5PM sharp in Thornton 110. :)

Tom Byers says:
Correction ... our classroom for E140C during this fall quarter is 211 Thornton (next to Terman fountain). Class officially starts at 5PM even though Explore Courses and Axess says 4:30PM. Come early anytime if you wish!

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
Over the past several weeks, I had the opportunity to read Scaling Up Excellence by Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao. Written by two Stanford professors (Sutton from the MS&E department and Rao from the GSB), the book is a collection of case studies, interviews, and observations about the challenges that businesses face once they begin to rapidly scale. Throughout their findings, the authors argue that regardless of the industry, size, or location that various companies might fall into, the challenges they will face when it comes to scaling are extremely similar.

I chose to read this book because as you know, one of the main themes of my summer at ZenPayroll was the ability to scale at an incredibly fast, yet productive rate. When Jenna, Daniel, and I interviewed at ZenPayroll back at the end of April, the company had roughly 80 employees working out of a smaller office on the corner of 2nd and Bryant St. in San Francisco. When we started in June, the company grew to about 150 employees working in a newer office building that was almost five times the size of the old one. Throughout the ten weeks of our internship, the company expanded to 270 employees, furnished and opened up an equally-large room on the opposite side of the same floor, bought out another floor in the same building to be used as a cafeteria and lounge room, and announced the opening of a new Denver office location that hopes to hire over 1,750 new employees in the next several years.

One of the main points that Sutton and Rao discuss in their book is how they perceive the definition of excellence. In an organization that is trying to quickly and efficiently scale, they argue that “excellence” is the ability for people to do the right thing even when there is no one looking over their shoulder. “Excellence” is when you have ingrained in your company the concept of continuously going above and beyond not only for one another, but also for your customers. The management team at ZenPayroll adopted this concept as one of the company values - “ownership mentality.” They define ownership mentality as “If you see something, change something. Every employee has the power and responsibility to make decisions as a literal and figurative owner of the company. You’re a steward of our values and an advocate for our customers.” After working at ZenPayroll for ten weeks, I was able to observe first-hand how the company does everything it can to empower its employees in order for them to truly feel this sense of “ownership mentality.”

In Scaling Up Excellence, Sutton and Rao also argue that the ability to scale is a talent and skillset that needs to be learned by great leaders. Of the “five-step formula” that Sutton and Rao lay out, one of the themes that stuck out and was most relatable to my experience at ZenPayroll was the underlying principle and importance of hiring the right people early on in order to propel proper scaling in the future. The very first step to scaling is to clear up any of the “bad stuff” in an organization because even small amounts of it can be detrimental to a fledgling company. Every organization needs an incredibly strong foundation of people at its core if it hopes to succeed long-term. We discussed the importance of people and culture to an organization extensively in E140A, and it was really interesting to hear how ZenPayroll emphasized the importance of hiring the best and brightest people from the very early days of the company. Up until ZenPayroll was about 40-50 people, every new candidate was screened and interviewed by at least 8-10 people in sessions of 30-45 minute interviews. The interviews were conducted by not only the specific teams that the candidate would potentially be working for, but also by other departments and senior leaders such as the three co-founders. By building such a strong foundation of people from the very beginning, these early employees have become incredible role models and mentors to everyone at the company now and are well-suited to be the champions of the organization that will propel excellence in all directions.

Another principle that Sutton and Rao discuss in their book is the concept of “cutting the cognitive load” of a scaling organization As a company grows, it’s equally as important to understand what to prioritize as it is to understand which projects and initiatives to postpone. Certain processes that worked when the company had 30 people may not work when there are now 200. Other aspects of a company need to be scaled regardless of company size because they will still be just as effective for the organization as a whole. For example, ZenPayroll holds a bimonthly meeting with all of its employees in order to give everyone an update on company financials, strategic initiatives, and anything else on the minds of the management team. The company started this tradition from its very inception and will continue to do it regardless of size because of the importance of educating everyone and being transparent. Yet, other processes within the company have needed to be altered in order to keep the same levels of success. In Scaling Up Excellence, Sutton and Rao point out that big teams are not as efficient and productive as smaller teams. In fact, the ideal team size should always be about 3-5 people because a manager cannot properly keep track of more floating opinions and emotions. I was able to directly notice such changes by working with the partner sales team during my internship. When the partner sales team first started this past October and grew to its first 5 team members, everyone was equally responsible for cold-calling, closing, and maintaining client relationships. Yet as the team scaled to about 18 team members by the time of my internship, the sales team split up into subgroups of 3-5 people, each with their own set of specific responsibilities and managers. Sales development representatives were solely responsible for warming up leads, account executives were responsible for closing deals, and account managers were assigned to maintain client relationships with the product resellers.

If you’re lucky enough to have made it this far down my blog post, I highly encourage you to watch the following video: The video is a Ted Talk that Huggy Rao gave back in February 2014 summarizing some more of his and Bob Sutton’s findings on organizational scaling. He talks about the proper mindset required to scale, the importance of individual accountability to an organization, and the need for a strong core of great people in order to help rid a fledgling company of its faults. Overall, I really enjoyed Scaling Up Excellence and appreciated how relevant it was to my ten weeks at ZenPayroll. If you’ve never read the book, I highly recommend putting it on your list.

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

Nick Ning Xu says:
I hope you enjoy! :)

I can't wait to see everyone at Tina's!

Kaitlyn Baab says:
Like Mitch, I also read Scaling Up Excellence by Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao. My book review is attached!

Revanth Kosaraju says:
The Innovators was written by Walter Isaacson, author of the famous Steve Jobs biography, and it explores the innovations, and the individuals, that led to the creation of computers, the Internet, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Silicon Valley. Each chapter tends to explore a handful of individuals that were chiefly responsible for the creation of a particular innovation, such as the transistor, the PC, the growth of software as the focus of innovation, and the founding of artificial intelligence as a discipline. Side note: I also recommend The Imitation Game, which explores the life and contributions of Alan Turing, who was responsible for the thought leadership and founding of artificial intelligence.

Apart from being a great history lesson, fascinating read, and well-written story by Isaacson (my next book is going to be the Steve Jobs biography), I selected this book because I wanted to learn more about the personalities of the giants who founded the Valley we’re all lucky to be a part of. One of the things I was most interested in learning this summer at my internship was the personalities of different innovators and leaders - what makes them tick, how they interact with each other (both synergistically and when they clash), and in general, whether we as students can distill the leadership and innovative qualities of successful entrepreneurs beyond the platitudes of “work hard” and “be resilient.” I found all that and more in this book.

My takeaways are summarized below:

1) The marriage of art and science is crucial to being an effective innovator. (I’m reminded of our last class from spring quarter in the Anderson Collection…) In particular, Steve Jobs exemplifies it (he was particular about getting the mouse down to 1 button for user considerations, as the book notes, among other things), and so does Grace Hopper: her appreciation of art (effective communication, or art of writing) and mathematics allowed her to write the manual for the Mark I computer and perfect programming practices such as the subroutine, which are fundamental to coding today. An individual entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in both, so long as the team that he or she is leading can contribute both perspectives (see #6).

2) The balance of relentless stubbornness and dedication to an idea, as well as flexibility at the right time, is key to success. For a successful example, note Jobs again, and contrast that with Howard Aiken. Aiken refused to move on from electromechanical relays in his Mark I computer, which meant that it ran at the rate of 3 commands per second as opposed to the 5000 commands/second the EINAC, a competitor’s computer, was executing.

3) Disruptors will face backlash. Alan Turing was regarded as crazy when he first started bringing up the idea that machines could come close to human capabilities of thinking, and today, we see disruptors such as Uber face severe backlash from the established order (Taxi drivers and the NYC government, among others). How we weather this backlash is often a key component of what we consider persistence in entrepreneurship. I saw this firsthand during my summer at Synack: their approach to cybersecurity is simply more effective than the industry standard (which is based on compliance and is essentially a “checkbox” approach, not providing true protection from the most skilled hackers), and because of this, they have faced some backlash from industry executives that are rooted in the old ways and unwilling to allocate budgets to novel solutions.

4) Oftentimes, a recipe for innovation is converging silos. Fred Terman (considered one of the fathers of Silicon Valley and once a Dean of Engineering at Stanford and then Provost) converged academia and business by allowing companies to lease land on Stanford’s campus and encouraging professors to advise companies and employees/executives at growing companies to teach/take classes at the university. Also key to the growth of Silicon Valley? The convergence of government (the Department of Defense), business, and academia. On the West Coast it’s easy for us to consider government as not necessarily as present in our lives, but the DoD in particular played a tremendous role in the founding of Silicon Valley. Interestingly, Ash Carter, the current Defense Secretary, is trying to return to these roots by increasing collaboration between Silicon Valley and the DoD to bring the Valley’s innovative spirit to the military, which brings me to my next point...

5) History repeats itself, or sometimes, paradoxically, things tend to stay the same, with respect to innovation. Some VCs today are known for betting more on people than they are on specific ideas, and that was the case even in the early days of venture capital (as Isaacson explores with Arthur Rock, who was known for betting on people rather than ideas, and who combined the connections he had with old-money families on the East Coast with those he had with companies in California to create what we now know as venture capital). Even the office style that we think of as unique to the valley nowadays - flat, non-hierarchical - is nothing new, as this was found in the early days of Intel, with similar cubicles and desks provided for all employees, as well as no reserved parking places.

6) Lastly, innovations that succeed are often due to the individuals who take care to surround themselves with a team that complements their strengths. In the early days of Intel, we could see this with the flat managerial style of Robert Noyce at Intel (which fostered ownership and creativity in his employees) with the relentless discipline and accountability that Andy Grove imposed. At Synack, Jay and Mark, who are young co-founders, have surrounded himself with seasoned executives with years of experience in Marketing, Strategy, Recruiting, and Product Management.

After reading The Innovators, I have to confess that none of Isaacson’s main points are necessarily different than what we’ve already heard: surround yourself with people who are different/complementary to you, look to what’s worked in the past when informing the future (like we’ve done in our case studies), and converge ostensibly disparate silos such as art and science are just three of the takeaways from his book that we’ve heard before in E140A and through our summer experiences. But his examples, and the context that he puts them in through the comprehensive story covered in the book, make it a worthwhile read.

Looking forward to seeing everyone in just a few days @ Tina’s!

Jotthe Kannappan says:
Hi everyone! Hope you are all having a swell last week of summer  For this book review project, I decided to read The Founder’s Dilemma by Noam Wasserman in light of the difficult decisions made by Oculeve’s co-founder and CEO Michael Ackermann over the past few years. Oculeve has faced decisions about funding, product pivots, and acquisition by our main competitor.

Wasserman offers many insights and examples in The Founder’s Dilemma. I don’t want to summarize, because a lot of Wasserman’s material deserves to be discussed at length. Instead, I decided to pull some quotes that I found insightful or interesting and expand on their relevance to Oculeve.

1. “Unless you have a clear path to the finish line, decisions made during a specific dash can throw you off course or put you out of the race altogether.”
In his introduction to the book, Wasserman puts an emphasis on finding motivation that will elucidate a path forward. Interestingly, I think Oculeve started with the hope of making it big, but no real consideration about how that would play out. The only company-wide declaration of an end-game was a poster from an internal brainstorm: “Oculeve will be the world leader in dry eye care (we will achieve world domination). “ After acquisition by Allergan, Oculeve did become the world leader in dry eye care, but not in a way that anyone expected. Michael even told the company that he had no idea acquisition was going to happen now or ever. There had never been a plan for a payout. Oculeve made a very lucrative turnover in acquisition, but its true success is defined by the success of the product, which we will only witness after commercial launch. It is wholly unclear whether the decision for acquisition made in absence of a plan for it will put Oculeve “out of the race altogether.”

2. “The CareerLeader database… found that for male entrepreneurs in their 20s to 30s, the top four motivators all amounted to forms of control of wealth gain. Other motivations, such as intellectual challenge, altruism, and prestige, can prove important, but across entrepreneurs as a whole, wealth and control compose the big two, and are also the two that repeatedly come in to conflict with each other.” Micheal is, in fact, a male entrepreneur in his 30s, and he shows no real signs of being motivated by wealth or control. Oculeve went through several rounds of funding, and has many board members. Micheal also handed over reigns as CEO when he sold to Allergan. He sold much earlier than he could have, and for much less, which seems to prove that money isn’t his primary concern. I like to think that Michael is motivated by immediate impact to patients (I guess most similar to altruism). It’s pretty unclear whether Michael falls in to this broad generalization or not.

3. “One hears a lot about ‘following your passion.’ Potential founders should avoid the mistake of thinking that their passion excuses them from a rational assessment of their circumstances.”
This particular question has actually crossed my mind a lot at Oculeve. Passion is contagious, especially when you are part of a team wholeheartedly convinced that they are making something novel. We now have reasons to believe that the technology we are creating is universally and scientifically better than any other technology out there for ocular surface health. Yet, Michael started Oculeve with no real evidence about whether neurostimulation would work in ophthalmology. It’s easy to say that he saw a sector with only one prescription solution that didn’t work. That solution was a billion dollar drug that virtually no patients stay on. He had no evidence that his idea was any better, or that patients would want to stay on it. Yet, in the infectious optimism of a young founder, Michael was able to convince investors by following his own blind faith (this is actually a bad pun which you will understand in a second). In order to provide a relevant data set in humans, Michael cut open his own eyelid in his kitchen, and implanted the first Oculeve neurostimulator in his own body. It definitely produced tears. Going back to the bad pun, though, Michael was completely blind in his right eye for 3 days after he inserted the implant himself, because he had nicked his optic nerve. I have yet to decide whether this particular episode is evidence of rational or irrational assessment of circumstances. Either way, Wasserman makes a great point about not letting passion get ahead of you.

4. “Early career founders… will need to consider adding co-founders and experienced hires to make up for their own missing skills.” Oculeve was Michael’s first job out of grad school, and it just so happens that his co-founder, Jim Loudin was also a fresh PhD. Their next two hires were both engineers, one fresh out of a masters program and the other with a couple years of semiconductor experience. It wasn’t until 1 year after founding that Jim and Michael hired executives with more experience than them (VP of operations and VP of clinical). This actually perfectly coincides with the time that the company pivoted away from the implantable to device and toward a handheld, at the strong recommendation of both new hires. This device is now the only device that Oculeve makes, and is the source of international ophthalmological acclaim. Wasserman correctly describes that having a wealth of backgrounds aids in making informed decisions. The 2 new executives came from an industry background, which Jim and Michael thoroughly lacked.

5. “If your founding team is too similar in background, age, and experience, you’re likely to have overlapping skills and role confusion, which can cause tension.” This is particularly interesting in the case of Oculeve because our two co-founders are both PhDs. Michael specialized in neurobiology, while Jim is a Physics PhD. Jim was the individual who designed and invented the injectable neurostimulator, and Michael was the one with the idea to treat dry eye with an injectable neurostimulator. Michael was the “idea man” and became CEO, and Jim was a product geek, who became VP of R&D. This decision, based on different-ish background never led to trouble. However the fact that the VP of Operations had worked in many R&D roles, and was also a PhD in Neurobiology did not bode well for decision making. I would argue that Oculeve’s deadliest flaw now is that no one knows who is calling the shots, especially after acquisition. When Andy (VP of Ops) makes a call impacting R&D, Jim often has a different opinion but isn’t there when the call is made. The same thing happens vice versa. Here, Wasserman hits it on the nail when he says that too many cooks in the kitchen all making French cuisine is a bad idea.

6. “It is natural for a founder-CEO, especially a successful one, to resist his or her own succession, Such resistance can be extremely disruptive- even dangerous- for the startup.” I just thought I would throw this one in there- it’s interesting that in leadership change, Wasserman didn’t feel the need to address change through acquisition. At Oculeve, there is still significant animosity to parent Allergan, even though Michael has remained positive as ever about handing over leadership to Allergan. Michael is still with the company, and signed a non-compete for 3 years, but Oculeve employees now see him as a hollow likeness of what he used to be for the company. In this case, Michael’s lack of resistance actually was more disruptive than other alternatives. On this point, I think Wasserman needs a little bit more analysis on the multiple contexts of leadership switches.

Phew. Sorry that was so long-winded friends. . If you enjoyed what you read here, you can watch this Nam Wasserman talk about building teams:

As a last, more review-ish note: I read The Founder’s Dilemma because I thought it would shed some more insight into decisions made about market exits, which (funnily enough) Wasserman notes in an appendix is an area for further research. Either way, the book is a great read (though somewhat redundant at times) and helped me process what the average founder deals with in terms of big decisions

Overall rating? 4 out of 5, would recommend to anyone interested in being a founder.

Thanks for reading Mayfield fam! Can’t wait to see you all soon!

Priyanka Jain says:
I have been meaning to read “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” for a long time now and I am glad that this assignment got me to finally do it! There were two key lessons that stuck out to me from the book:

-The difference between startups and large companies and how the size affects everything about the company. Specifically, I thought Horowitz did a great job explaining the differences in management skills required. Being an outstanding executive for a massive company does not mean you will be an outstanding startup executive or vice versa.
-I also enjoyed his ongoing discussion on the role of the CEO and the importance of decision making.

I’ve put together a PDF that encapsulates Horowitiz’s quotes about these two topics and a few relevant theories and learnings from ENGR 140A and B.

I thought this book was interesting in the context of my experience this summer. Towards the end of my internship, we were reaching a critical inflection point where growth became the #1 priority. According to a more traditional school of thought, this is when we should hire “senior” executives who have "done this before." However, Shift took the opposite approach. They wanted young people who were ready to do whatever it takes to grow — they put together “launch squads” of ~10 people who we could deploy into any new city to launch a new market. This entire operation was going to be run by someone who was only one year out of business school. Horowitz argues that a company should always have the right executive for the current moment, and argues against hiring for future needs; Shift seemed to follow this mindset as well.

Overall, I found the book to be extremely practical (although quite repetitive). I appreciated how candidly Horowitz shared his difficulties of building a company, which is refreshing considering how glamorized entrepreneurship has become. He also did a great job sharing specific, practical tips that entrepreneurs can use to overcome challenges (related to hiring/firing, management, scaling, etc.). I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about starting a company — if you believe in the idea strongly enough that you are not scared by the challenges he describes, then you know it’s an idea worth pursuing.

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
My book report on Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (current Pixar prez)!

Jason Craig Risch says:
Sull and Eisenhardt’s book Simple Rules discusses the practice of using simple, easy-to-understand rules to combat complexity and complex situations. As systems become increasingly complex, it becomes impractical or even impossible to enumerate every single possible interaction of the variables that impact the system. Consider the U.S. banking system or tax code. Each system has so many interdependent variables that no human or computer can hope to predict all of the possible outcomes and interpretations. For example, when 45 tax professionals were given the finances of a normal family, they calculated 45 different payouts. This book argues that it is often preferable to fight complexity not with complexity but with simplicity. Simple rules are not only superior in the face of stereotypically massive examples as above, but also in personal or corporate decisions in which the relationship between cause and effect is poorly understood and analytical decisions may be inappropriate. These simple rules have a number of advantages. They are easier to remember under time constraints, they are easier to explain and implement throughout all levels of an organization, and perhaps most importantly, they encourage creativity and flexibility. The followers of these simple rules are free to use their judgment and discretion while still obeying or interpreting the rules properly, as the ideal set of simple rules is both limited in size and abstract enough to be broad in application.

These rules can be categorized into several distinct types and can be drawn from many different sources, but the optimal process of designing these rules is relatively simple:

1. Figure out something that will “move the needles” by creating economic or personal value.

2. Choose a bottleneck, i.e. where in the funnel the process typically becomes stuck. A bottleneck is something that will directly impact value creation when solved or redesigned and is a process that will occur multiple times. If the bottleneck only occurs once, then there is no opportunity to test and refine the rules in order to improve them.

3. Craft the rules. Start with simple, obvious rules and iterate by using discussion, reflection, and trial-and-error to create more abstract and domain-specific rules.

I highly recommend applying this process to something in your life as an experiment. As an example, I have recently been thinking a good deal about finding an internship or job for next summer and for after graduation. One key bottleneck in the process of finding a job is the process of interviewing. I reflected on certain rules and practices that I have consistently followed for interviewing over the past few years and realized that I can now update and improve several of my rules. Historically, I have taken every interview offered to me by recruiters, including from companies in which I did no more research than a cursory glance and a submitted resume at a career fair. I took these interviews even if my initial interest in the company was low or if I was clearly unqualified for the position because I viewed them as a learning experience. I feel this rule was initially very helpful as it provided me with valuable practice codifying many of my experiences into succinct anecdotes that showcased my skills. Taking these interviews also alleviated my nerves as I became more accustomed to the interview process and taught me a great deal about the companies themselves as well as the industry they were in. However, moving forward I have more constraints on my time and less to learn from a typical interview, so I decide to update this rule to taking only interviews with companies that I am truly interested in working for someday. Another rule I followed was to ‘always dress in business casual for interviews’. However, after being criticized for wearing a collared shirt to a startup interview (pre-Mayfield days), I changed this rule to ‘dress like the employee would dress’ as based on my knowledge of the company and their industry. For example, when I interviewed at certain startups I wore only a sweater, while when I interviewed at Goldman-Sachs last year I wore a full suit and tie. In fact, I fit in so well at the GS interview that when I showed up to be interviewed, the interviewers assumed I was a current employee and accidentally brought me into a pre-strategy meeting. Both of these rules reflect the usual iterative procedure for simple rules in terms of progressing from general rules to more abstract ones based on domain knowledge derived from experiential learning. Dressing business casual is a good baseline rule; dressing like an employee is better, but requires mores sophisticated knowledge of how the employees will dress.

Simple Rules also reminded me of a number of moments from both our Mayfield class in the spring as well as my internship at Sitch. For example, our brainstorming exercises in class were always directed in some way in order to unlock our creativity. We were never simply exhorted to brainstorm, but rather were proscribed some framework within which to be creative. This book echoes that strategy, claiming that working within the constriction of simple rules actually frees us from a feeling of overwhelming possibility and permits focused ingenuity. Accordingly, the book cites examples like Monet’s decision to master light and shadow by restricting himself to repeatedly drawing the same item while playing with the sense of light. Simple Rules is also an avid proponent of the Steve Blank ‘get out of the building’ approach. It claims that all customers and employees’ views should be considered in crafting corporate rules, both because the resulting rules will be better and because employees will be more likely to follow rules that they had a hand in creating.

With respect to my internship, one of the most notable lessons I learned at Sitch is the amount of critical business dealings that rely on quick decisions made face-to-face or on the phone. It is foolhardy to attempt to plan exactly how a conversation will go; human reactions are difficult enough to interpret in the moment, let alone to account for ahead of time. These conversations may also contain many different motives wrapped up in only a few people. For example, one conversation I listened in on between Katie and a VC included both of their motives as friends, Katie’s motive as CEO, the VC’s motive as a current seed stage investor, her motive as a potential future Series A investor, and the motives of her superiors at the VC firm. I noticed Katie and Scott settled on a number of simple rules (what key points to hammer home, what concessions to avoid making, etc) while brainstorming before the meeting. These rules enabled her to stay focused on her ultimate objective while accounting for a few broad possibilities and granting her all of the flexibility that such a conversation necessitates. They also allowed her to stay engaged in the conversation while keeping only a few things in the background of her mind – imagine trying to keep a list of twelve scenarios in mind while answering complex questions and staying charismatic.

The other critical point that sparked a mental connection for me between this book and my experience at Sitch lies in the theme of complexity in data science and statistics. Simple rules are easy to implement because they straightforward enough to communicate to those with little domain knowledge and are designed such that they are inherently easy to apply. This strength juxtaposes a common complaint levied against data scientists, namely that sometimes their solutions and algorithms fail either because the data scientist is too ineffectual in explaining the solution or because the solution itself is so complex that it fails to hold up to a real-world test. Data can be separated into signal (the valuable part) and noise (the useless random variation). Many data scientists spend their time employing and fine-tuning algorithms that fail to predict when tested out-of-sample (that is, on new data) because they fit their pattern recognition capabilities to the random noise. Here, simple algorithms work better. Further, some algorithms are good at prediction but worse at yielding actionable results in certain situations. For example, linear regression usually returns an interpretable result. In the equation y = mx + b, if the independent variable x rises by 1, then the dependent variable accordingly rises by m. It is easy to act on this insight, as the effect of a change is quite clear. However, more complicated methods may seek to reveal latent factors, or variables that are hidden in the sense that they are not directly measured but are inferred through some collection of other variables. These methods can yield amazing results ( but can also return results that are useless in that the company has no idea how to interpret or affect the detected patterns (which again, are not our measured variables but rather some combination thereof).

While a data scientist may derive a sense of pride from invoking a hot, in-vogue algorithm like deep learning neural nets, it may also be unwise under certain conditions. Therefore, it is imperative the data scientist understand both the algorithm and the objective of the experiment on a fundamental level. One of my Mayfield mentors, Ian Wong lamented that many data scientists apply fancy algorithms without really considering how well they fit to the given data; I saw this firsthand this summer when one programmer picked the most popular algorithm for solving one challenge in our recommendation system. I noticed an incongruity between the algorithm’s intended input and the structure of our data upon reading the academic paper explaining the underlying theory behind the algorithm, and subsequently recommended against its use. I also heard this concept drilled into my supervisor by Sitch’s data science advisor Monica Rogati (one of LinkedIn’s first data scientists). She encouraged us to begin first with a simple solution as a baseline before implementing more complicated algorithms. In fact, she counseled, the simple solution will often end up being the best one considering the limited data that startups frequently have.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Many examples could have been a bit more developed and some parts were a bit repetitive, but I think that it is characteristic of books focused on business. I highly recommend skimming the book or thinking about how you can apply their simple rules framework to your life or in updating any simple rules you may currently use implicitly or explicitly.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
See you all soon!

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
The Monk and The Riddle
Randy Komisar

For my summer Mayfield reading, I chose a book written by KPCB venture capitalist, Randy Komisar. The Monk and the Riddle features episodes of Komisar’s life woven together in such a way to reveal profound advice for entrepreneurs. However, the book is less comprehensive autobiography, than a single narrative with relevant memories in between.

The book focuses on the growth of a young founder named Lenny. In the first few pages, we are introduced to this slick, enthusiastic former salesman pitching to Komisar in a Portola Valley café. Lenny’s idea,, is centered on selling caskets and other funeral related services online at a cheaper price than brick-and-mortar funeral homes. Despite a carefully thought out business plan, Komisar is unimpressed by the lack of purpose behind the idea. Lenny is seeking only to build a profitable business and fails to express deeper motivations for his start-up. Komisar is convinced that absent a vision for positively affecting those around him, Lenny’s idea will inevitably fail because desire for financial gain alone rarely breeds a successful venture. Throughout the text, Komisar engages with Lenny via e-mail to help him reach this same conclusion. Komisar allows Lenny to realize that comforting those who have experienced loss, the true mission all along, would not be achieved by his business. In the final pages, Lenny reworks his plan, convinces a cofounder to join, and produces something more closely related to his goal.

I was engrossed by Komisar’s writing ability and felt a vested interest in the fate of the founder, but was particularly moved by his discussion of the Deferred Life Plan. According to Komisar, many in Silicon Valley convince themselves that if they work hard doing something that will make them rich, they can buy the freedom to do what they really want later on. However, in reality, a founder may dedicate years to a project that she is not truly passionate about without ever getting around to doing what really makes her happy. Hence in this plan, one is deferring a true passion for the promise of eventual emancipation. Komisar suggests that this is an awful approach. In his eyes, life is short and it makes no sense (absent of major obligations) to waste it working on something that is not fulfilling. A founder who I have spoken with about the Deferred Life Plan is Josh Reeves. During one of our mentorship discussions, he echoed Komisar’s sentiments, and partly used it to explain why he sold his first profitable social media company and started ZenPayroll, an organization that is more closely aligned to his true passion. As I begin to consider jobs this September and make lists of what is important to me moving forward, I will undoubtedly keep Komisar’s advice in mind.

Komisar also discusses the type of CEO a start-up needs depending on its size. As highlighted during our Mayfield course in the spring, the role of a CE0 of a four-person company during month 2 requires entirely different leadership than the same start-up 3 years later with 100 people. Varying skills sets, personalities, and experience are best suited for a company depending on its stage, and often, a founder cannot evolve with his venture. Komisar described the three different CEOs in terms of dogs. The first is the retriever, tasked with assembling a team, creating a product, and formulating a vision. Second is the bloodhound, tasked with finding the market and proving the business can function. Finally, the husky must lead a team and rely on strong operational and managerial skills to guide the company as it grows. Komisar emphasized that it is not necessarily a poor reflection on the founder when he is being replaced, but rather an omission that someone with unique strengths is better suited to running a company at a later stage. This transition may in the long run be healthy despite how it might look on the outside. Still, Komisar’s advice can be hard to internalize for some entrepreneurs. This chapter brought me back to our conversation with Lew Cirne. After being asked to step down of CEO of his first company, Cirne went through deep introspection. Surrendering the role had been exceptionally difficult and only years later did he understand that it had been optimal for the company to step down at the time. By the time he started his second company, however, Cirne underwent significant personal growth. He acquired experience and leadership skills and led his team to a billion dollar valuation. Cirne’s example is particularly appealing to me because it demonstrated that a leader could mature. Although Cirne was not necessarily the right guy to lead his first company as it scaled, he has gained skills that now enable him to successfully run New Relic. I believe this point to be something Komisar glossed over during his discussion. While he illuminated the different types of CEO and the challenge finding someone who can fill all three roles during a start-up’s lifecycle, it would have also been interesting to hear his opinion on how serial entrepreneurs can evolve, particularly given his own career path from an operations wiz to a vision setting CEO.

Another compelling element of The Monk and the Riddle was Komisar’s discussion of the role of a CEO. As stressed throughout the Mayfield course by professors and guest speakers alike, a CEO can never delegate vision. When Komisar took over as CEO of a Lucas Gaming company for the first time, he struggled with reconciling his vision with that of the rest of the company, and decided it was not in the best interest of the company if he stayed on board. In essence, his commitment to this philosophy ultimately informed his career path. Komisar also asserted that one of the great joys of a CEO was enabling those around him. He received the most satisfaction by finding and empowering the right person for a specific job and giving them the tools they needed to succeed. Josh Reeves embodies Komisar’s view of a CEO. First, even as ZP scaled from 150 to 250 people over the course of my summer, it was clear that every person walking in the building knew that Reeves was steering the ship. His imprint over the company only seemed to grow even as he continued to scale back his operational role in the company. Josh also suggested that as CEO, he must continue to fire himself from as many roles as possible and enjoyed seeing specialists thrive where he stepped back. Komisar elected not to touch on the hiring duties of a CEO, a role that Josh relishes, but both leaders clearly viewed their jobs similarly.

Overall, I would highly recommend The Monk and the Riddle. Josh initially suggested this book to me during a mentorship session and it’s quite evident how it has shaped his thinking about his responsibilities at ZenPayroll.


Jenna Berkenkamp says:
For my book review, I wanted to do a deep dive into the life of one the most influential and audacious entrepreneurs of our time, Elon Musk. Ashlee Vance’s book "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" paints a picture of a man with unrelenting drive and a fierce leadership style who has disrupted three different industries (aerospace, automotive, and energy) and ultimately created a tech empire that is poised to change the world as we know it.

I really encourage all of you to read this book (I literally loved it) so I won’t dive into the background of Musk’s upbringing and how he came to be the entrepreneur he is today, but will instead focus on who he is as a leader and CEO today.

Musk has many of the important leadership qualities we discussed in e140a. He is focused on major disruptions rather than incremental changes, is never satisfied with the status quo, is able to inspire and motivate an extremely talented workforce, and refuses to be intimidated by complex industries and problems. Elon is currently the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX and the chairman of SolarCity. He previously co-founded Zip2 (an early Yelp meets Google Maps) and PayPal. After selling both Zip2 and PayPal, his net worth skyrocketed, but he believed so strongly in his visions for Tesla and SpaceX that he poured nearly his entire fortune into both companies. Even today with a net worth of $10 billion Elon is never complacent and is always pushing the limits of technological possibility.

While reading this book I noticed many similarities between Josh Reeves, CEO of ZenPayroll, and Musk. Both are extremely mission-driven and have the unique skill of pointing out north stars to motivate their employees toward a common goal. “Putting man on Mars” is the sweeping goal of SpaceX that forms a unifying principle over everything Musk does. He has a clear vision of what he believes the future should look like and will stop at nothing to see that come to life. Musk’s employees know they’re trying to achieve the impossible day in and day out, but they remain loyal because they have a deep respect for Musk’s unrelenting drive and clear mission. Similarly, Josh continuously reinforces the goals we are working toward and emphasizes the idea that we should never be complacent and aways have to earn our successes.

Another similarity between the two CEOs is that they both entered complex industries they knew nearly nothing about. Josh, Eddie and Tomer had no background in payroll before starting ZP but saw an interesting opportunity in an industry that most people glazed over and was dominated by only a few large competitors like ADP. They learned as much as they could and surrounded themselves with knowledgable people to help them along the way. Musk went after the solar, automotive and aerospace industries which are extremely complex, largely weighed down by regulation and bureaucracy, and characterized by deep-pocketed, entrenched competitors such as Boeing. This did not scare Musk at all. He applied a startup mindset to these industries, slashed costs to a fraction of what other industry leaders are spending, and is pushing the limits of technology in all three. As an example of Musk's extreme version of lean startup methodology, a StartX employee once asked Musk for a budget of $100,000 for a project. Musk told him he had only a $5,000 budget and had to make it work. Despite extreme doubt and skepticism initially, the employee did complete the project within that limited budget, and in fact, made some incredible technological breakthroughs by being forced to work in such a lean way without the expensive parts that are traditionally used. This is a large part of the reason why SpaceX has been able to push technology so far and, for example, has come so close to completing reusable rocket technology that will revolutionize the space industry and truly open up space travel.

Additionally, Josh and Musk both share the important characteristic of remaining calm in the face of complexity. Musk has faced many crises in all of his companies. At one point, he had barely enough money to pay the companies’ next payroll and almost had to choose one company (SpaceX or Tesla) to continue to fund while killing the other. Even then, he was able to remain (relatively) calm and make rational decisions to salvage the situation. As the author states, “that ability to stay focused in the midst of a crisis stands as one of Musk’s main advantages over other executives and competitors.” Being able to make decisions quickly with limited information is key to the success of a startup which constantly faces a barrage of problems to be solved.

Despite these similarities, there is one major difference between Josh and Musk as CEOs: their leadership styles. Musk is notoriously demanding and is sometimes even perceived as lacking human emotion or empathy. He works his employees to the bone and demands nothing less than perfection and a 100% commitment to the company. He screams at his employees and kicks them out of meetings while rarely rewarding them for their hard work. He gives them impossible deadlines to meet. One anecdote that I thought illustrated this demanding nature quite well was the case when one SpaceX employee missed a meeting to witness the birth of his son, and Elon emailed him saying that he was extremely disappointed in him and that he needed to reevaluate his priorities and commitment to the company. Josh’s management style stands in stark contrast to Musk’s. Josh is very caring and empathetic. He constantly rewards employees for their hard work and encourages them to take as much time off as they need. He is still demanding in that he has very high expectations of everyone in the company, but he believes that it is a marathon and not a sprint, so it is important for everyone to take care of themselves. What is so interesting is that these completely opposite leadership styles both seem to be extremely effective. Musk’s employees sometimes hate the things he does, but overwhelmingly they support him and are fiercely loyal to him. They respect his extreme dedication and are completely bought in to the mission and the opportunity to change the world. Josh, on the other hand, commands loyalty by fostering an incredible culture that promotes creativity and hard work while still valuing a work-life balance. The concept of “work-life balance” does not even have a meaning for Musk. We learned in class that leaders are supposed to be stewards of generative energy, and yet Musk’s style would seem to be stifling to many who are paralyzed by fear of him. I find it very interesting and unintuitive that Musk’s leadership style is as successful as it is. While there is definitely much more employee churn at his companies than at ZP, he is still able to motivate a critical mass of extremely talented employees to achieve his goals. I think I might like to continue to explore differing leadership styles for my case study.

Overall, I am extremely impressed by Musk. One additional quality that I greatly admire about him is that he really is involved in every part of the business, often getting down onto the factory floor to personally inspect Teslas to ensure perfection. He seems to understand everything - in addition to business and organization and leadership, he has an amazing understanding of the physics and engineering. When an employee brings him a problem, he always wants to bring it down to the first principles, like what are the physics of it? How much time will it take? His ability to understand and simplify problems allows him to make quick decisions even when faced with uncertainty. Musk is incredibly demanding of his employees, but he will always remove obstacles in their way and enable them to do the best work of their lives.

I can’t wait to see what Musk will do in the years to come. An interesting question for the future of Tesla in particular relates to the Crossing the Chasm model we learned in the spring. Right now, Tesla is still essentially building toys for the super-rich. How will Musk expand from the early adopters to the early majority and successfully cross the chasm? This will determine whether Musk is able to really achieve his mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy for transportation. If Musk continues to work outside the existing paradigms and continues to be ruthless and unrelenting in his drive, I have no doubt we will get to Mars with SpaceX and see a global shift to electric cars with Tesla.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
For my book review, I read “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel and really enjoyed it! Thiel’s brazen thoughts stretched the way that I think about what makes a good technology company and forced me to question and reconsider many norms and conventions widely accepted in entrepreneurship today. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s considering reading it!
Thiel opens the first chapter of "Zero to One" by posing his favorite interview question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” And as one might expect, his book begins in typical Thiel contrarian fashion from the get-go. Thiel writes off most responses to this question, but regardless, I found this to be a really interesting thought exercise and would recommend that you all take a moment to think about how you would respond!
For my review, I thought it would be interesting to examine how Thiel’s thoughts stacked up against those of our E140A guests on particular subjects and then how those theories played out in practice during my summer internship. I also documented some of my favorite Thiel quotes from the book. So excited to see you all soon!

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
I thought I'd kick things off with a Medium post that I read the other week, entitled "The No. 1 Predictor of Career Success According to Network Science." The author's big assertion in the article is that simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success. Throughout the post, he makes some interesting points with Steve Jobs as a sort of case study for his argument. Two highlights from the article were the following: 1. the Revisionist Timeline of Steve Jobs' Success and this idea that you can only really connect the dots of your experiences in retrospect and 2. in a similar vein, this quote from a Steve Jobs interview for Wired in 1995: "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something."

Read it here if you're interested:

Deanna Badizadegan says:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading through all these thoughtful and well-written responses. Glad to see that you all gleaned some interesting insights from the assignment, and in some cases rediscovered your love for reading!
Some additional book recommendations, based off of my own summer reading:

The Defining Decade by Meg Jay: a fantastic read for anyone who is starting to think about life post-college.
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman: a cheeky yet informative discussion of the basics of good design.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan: a collection of short stories (fiction and nonfiction) written in the voice of the author, a 2012 Yale grad who tragically passed away a few weeks after her graduation.

Jenna Berkenkamp says:
1. My favorite journal topic was the book review. I thought it was a great opportunity to connect the themes of Mayfield with an outside resource and dive into a particular area/topic of interest. My least favorite journal topic was the "Measuring Success” topic. I felt that the metrics used to measure success were relatively similar across our companies so I feel like there wasn't that much interesting content for discussion.

2. I often found that writing the journals felt more like a chore than something I looked forward to. I think I would have benefited more from a discussion format rather than each of us posting an isolated response. My suggestions are either to create a better journaling platform where it is easier to comment on each other’s posts or maybe switching entirely from posting individual responses to forming pairs or groups of students who must discuss the topic together and post the insights they gained from the discussion.

3. I’d rate the journaling experience a 3 (I felt pretty neutral about it).

4. I thought the open houses were really interesting and I really enjoyed them. Maybe we could pair the open houses with the discussions about forum topics that I suggested above. For example, after an open house we could all go to dinner and discuss the week’s topic as a group.

Deanna Badizadegan says:
Gender in Silicon Valley Keynote presentation (pdf version).

Deanna Badizadegan says:
Gender in Silicon Valley case takeaways handout.

Deanna Badizadegan says:
Firing in Technical Startups (Jordan & Yael) Keynote presentation (pdf version).

Deanna Badizadegan says:
Firing in Technical Startups case takeaways handout.

Revanth Kosaraju says:
1) I'd agree with Jenna on this - the book/video review was definitely my favorite journal. I'd recommend having 2 of these over the course of the summer. Didn't really have a least favorite journal topic - they were all pretty interesting, but depending on how busy I was a certain week, some were more fun to do than others.

2) I think alternating journals with group discussions (so one week has a journal, the next week has a group discussion where we talk about the topics) would be nice, and would get more of an organic discussion going. I know logistically it's already difficult enough to get everyone to be available for the open houses, but having a journal discussion session over a dinner once every two weeks might do the trick. Or if not a repeating session, then at least one over the course of the summer where we get to meet up and talk freely about the topics (in addition to our post-open-house dinners, which are generally more for catching up and not dedicated to talking about journal topics).

3) 2. I liked it, but it definitely did feel like another thing on the to-do list some weeks.

4) Absolutely loved the open houses. I think it would be cool to have one or two where we go to companies that were started by past Mayfield Fellows but that don't necessarily have a fellow for the summer (so like TellApart, for example).

Laine Emily Bruzek says:
1. Favorite and least favorite journal topics?
I loved the book report! I think it was just great to have a few weeks to read a book (sometimes we forget that we can use our free time for something other than Netflix). I think it would be even better to tell people about the assignment at the beginning of the summer, so they have time to gather suggestions from coworkers and friends, as well as time to actually finish the book (not that we all didn't 100% totally finish)

2. Topics you'd like to see, or other suggestions on organization and process?
I think that during the summer it's hard to stay updated on everyone else's journal entries. I think it might be cool to try next year doing weekly meetups with Mayfield Fellows, kind of like a book club. There's a discussion topic for the week and 2 Fellows in charge of hosting and keeping the discussion on track. Everyone goes around and shares their experiences! This would be instead of writing remotely and posting to a blog.

3. Overall, how would you rate the journaling experience on a 1 to 5 scale (e.g., 1=awesome to 5=lose it)?
I would give it a neutral 3. I thought it was a nice opportunity to collect my thoughts about what I was experiencing, which ultimately made me more eloquent about my experience. I did tend to leave it to the last minute however, because during the summer my weekends are fully devoted to having fun! I also found it hard to find time to read other journal entries (not for any valid excuses except that I was a bit averse to doing "schoolwork" in my down time, just to be real for a minute).

4. Other suggestions about E140B and summer component of MFP experience (e.g., open houses)
I think that a bit more structure would be nice for the open houses or perhaps more suggestions for what could be done besides a Q&A. More pre-planned face-to-face interaction with Fellows (like book club style maybe)

Mitchell Nathan Kogan says:
1. My favorite journal entry was the Summer Survival Kit. I found it to be really useful to read everyone’s suggestions and advice on what worked for them when it came to familiarizing themselves with their office, gaining access to senior leadership, and other interesting opportunities. I never really had a “least favorite” journal entry. Depending on how busy things were at ZenPayroll, I enjoyed writing about all of the topics.

2. I’d love to see more multimedia forum posts. After a while, writing all of the forum posts in the same style became a little repetitive. It’d be great to make some videos giving an office tour, personally interviewing your managers, or even talking about the specific projects we worked on.

3. I would give it a 3. I think some sort of journaling process is incredibly beneficial, but I don’t know if writing them all out once a week on a different topic was the best way to discuss our summer internship experiences.

4. I’d love to learn a little more about what everyone specifically worked on at their startup. While we all went to one another’s open houses, I still feel like I don’t really know the details about everyone’s summer projects. Sharing those experiences would be incredibly useful because people would talk about both the pros and cons of the departments and teams they worked with.

Daniel Paul Graifman says:
1. My favorite topic was “Measuring Success.” It forced me to critically examine the metrics used at ZP in comparison with other start-ups and determine which ones I felt were most valuable. My least favorite journal entry was the “Creativity and Innovation.” For me, I thought it was an interesting discussion, but could have been substituted with something more concrete like how the company thinks about asset allocation (to switch it up from a culture topic).
2. I think that there should be certain journal weeks without designated topics at all. These entries can be an opportunity for student to reflect on something interesting that happened during the week, whether it pertains to the direction of the company or an interaction with a coworker. I feel that it would enable students to write more personal and relevant posts that people might be more excited to read.
3. 3-I think an interactive component would have increased levels of engagement (ie. some type of supporting discussion)
4. I agree with Jenna, I think pairing open houses with journal entries could have been really interesting. It would have also allowed students to focus on a particular aspect of a company going in which may have enriched the experience.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:

Really good.

Austin Hemmeter Ray says:
1. I liked the first topic and the book report. I also liked the question that was like "what would you do if you were the CEO" because it forced me to really think about what I could do better, not just observe the way things were. Lots of the other topics just seemed like busywork, but I guess it's pretty hard to come up with spectacular topics.

2. It would be great to have all the topics on one single page. The e140 site is slow and not easily navigable and it would be great to have a centralized page with everything on it. Otherwise, it's definitely hard to coordinate a lot of stuff when everyone's working full time jobs, so I think the program was pretty good considering that. I also would have liked to see more discussion about potential Fall presentation topics before the first class of Fall so we could put more time into it. It would be cool if the journals were something like "read some entrepreneurship article/essay/book of your choice and talk about how the contents of that piece relate to your company and what you thought of the piece in general". This way, we'd be simultaneously learning new stuff and sharing our new thoughts and knowledge with our classmates.

3. 3. I wasn't excited to write every week. I'd be more excited if I was sharing things that I thought everyone could benefit from generally in addition to specific things about my company.

4. The whole open house thing was a blast, and I feel like we can take it further. We should do an ideation session on how to expand/alter this concept in class!

Kaitlyn Baab says:
1. My favorite part of the journaling experience was reading other posts and learning from them. Everyone had amazing insights into their companies and the business (this being said, it was hard for me to remember to read all the posts from the previous week). Therefore my favorite journal entry was reflection at midpoint because I found it the most interesting to read. This journal entry gave me a good summary of how everyone was doing at their companies and their most important learnings so far. It also increased my own reflection and convinced me to push myself my last weeks by reading about what other people had done or wished they had done. I think my least favorite was measurements of success because there was not as much diversity across companies and therefore not as interesting.
2. I think it would help to have more open/design your own topics because then people can just write about what has been on their mind at their company or something they want to get other's advice on. I think this would give some thought provoking responses. Also I found it hard to be completely open on the forum because we are writing online, and I am not sure how private this information is. I know meeting as a group every week would have been impossible but I believe I could have said much more and had better discussions in person.
3. I would rate journaling as a 3 because it was often a chore every week, and I did not have time to work on it until I got back late from work. However, I did think it was good to reflect on your experience, and I enjoyed reading other's posts.
4. Beside trying to get to the open houses, I thought they were awesome! It was great to see each other's companies, and I definitely learned something at each one.

Jotthe Kannappan says:
1. My favorite journal topic was the book review- I'm actually surprised by this. When I first read the description for the book review, it didn't feel like anything more than a book report, but it made a lot of sense when connecting the books back to summer experiences and other things that we have discussed in class. My least favorite topic was actually leadership styles, because I think the discussion could have been much richer if we could have compared and contrasted different leaders.

2. I think that the topics can be too structured sometimes. I often found myself in situations where I would be dying to write about something that happened at the company, or something interesting I had learned during the week, but couldn't because it has no relevance to the topic at hand. I also think it could be interesting to delineate the journal entries a little better so that there isn't massive amounts of scrolling and getting lost in blocks of text on the webpage.

3. I'm pretty neutral about it, but I though some of the discussions were interesting when you got really invested in them, so a 3.5.

4. I LOVE OPEN HOUSES. They were definitely the most valuable portion of the summer, but I wish they could be just a smidgeon longer, and a smidgeon later. I often felt bad leaving work at 4 or earlier to get to an open house twice every week in July and August.

Ellen Russell Rudolph says:
1. Favorite and least favorite journal topics?
My favorite journal topic was also the book review. I really enjoyed having an excuse to read “Zero To One,” which was a book that I had been meaning to read for a while. It was also an interesting way to make connections between E140A topics, my experience at Untrodden, and the book itself, which I found to be a valuable exercise. My least favorite journal topic was probably the Culture and Values topic, but that was mainly because I felt like some of the questions in the prompt seemed to be more geared towards companies that were larger than Untrodden.

2. Topics you'd like to see, or other suggestions on organization and process?
I agree with the idea of making the journaling process more interactive. I would’ve preferred some sort of weekly meetup to discuss the topic at hand, since it would have allowed our conversations to take a more free-flowing form. I also think that the Summer Survival Kit could have been an interesting topic to return to each week, as a way to continually share tips and advice with each other, ideally giving everyone the necessary tools to succeed in their internships. I’m not exactly sure how to best accomplish this logistically (given that this would have been difficult to coordinate), but I often felt like my forum responses were somewhat stiff and wish there had been a more dynamic way to discuss the issues at hand. If in-person discussion sessions would be too difficult to coordinate, then perhaps a Skype session would be a good alternative. In addition, there were times when I wanted to respond to something interesting that another fellow had pointed out, but it just seemed like it would have felt a little out of place in my own post. So maybe it would be helpful to have an easier way to engage directly with others’ posts.

3. Overall, how would you rate the journaling experience on a 1 to 5 scale (e.g., 1=awesome to 5=lose it)?
I would rate the journaling experience as a 3. While I know responding to the forum posts was a helpful exercise in allowing me to reflect on my internship experience, sometimes the posts felt a bit tedious.

4. Other suggestions about E140B and summer component of MFP experience (e.g., open houses)
I really enjoyed the open houses as well. Maybe it would have been interesting for each of us to try to more explicitly weave E140 themes into our presentations as a means of building on our learnings from the spring.

Nick Ning Xu says:
Totally my bad; forgot to do this by Friday. Here are my thoughts. I'm excited to seeing everyone tomorrow!

1. I loved the book report for many of the reasons stipulated in other's entries. It shone new light on all the models we learned in class and saw at work. It helped synthesize complex ideas, with the aid of narrative. I like what Laine said; make this assignment transparent at the beginning of summer to allow better preparation. It was so beneficial that maybe pushing it to two reports would be a good idea?

2. Perhaps instead of a weekly, forum posting, we could implement a high-touch, casual posting? This is so people wouldn't feel the pressure to write well-crafted, lengthy responses - which can feel demanding during a busy week. Maybe starting a "Slack" organization, FB page, or other messaging group that feels more like a game, could serve the same purpose. Every week, there is an overall theme (I like Austin's suggestion that all forum postings are aggregated at the beginning of Summer). In the case of "Slack", a new channel would be made, and it doesn't matter that it goes off-topic, so long as everyone is frequenting the group. Mayfield touch points should serve as an opportunity to strengthen the unity of the class, not just to share everyone's experiences. On some weeks, the postings felt like a bit of a chore, and it seemed like a missed opportunity to be fabulous.

3. I'd give it a 2. Like most folks, I found the forum\ as an effective way to clarify and organize my own thoughts, but ineffective in digesting everyone else's. See above for my "high-touch" suggestion.

4. I LOVED the open houses and the dinners afterwards. Overall, in developing a strong community, I'm a big believer in quantity > quality (the opposite to the age-old axiom). In that same vein, more opportunities encouraging "high-touch" for Mayfield Fellows in the course-guidelines would be beneficial.

Priyanka Jain says:
1. My favorite journal topic was actually the book review because it got me to finally read The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time and was grateful for an assignment that pushed me to pick it up. It was really interesting to read about all of the theories and models we learned about and how they applied in the real world. I also enjoyed reading about the other books and now want to read those as well! My least favorite topic was the “measuring success” one because it felt a little forced. At the end of the day, all of our startups had (necessary) financial metrics and I felt like those were viewed as lesser in the lens of the question.

2. I would have loved to have a prompt dedicated what everyone’s specific projects were so we could have gained a better understanding of the types of roles in different startups.

In terms of organizing the journals, I wish we had done weekly meet ups instead of weekly posts. A few of us talked about how we wish we had the opportunity to talk about what was going on in each of our internships and give each other ideas and feedback about how to get more out of our experiences. Since I realize that it’s logistically challenging to organize a time that works for all of us, maybe we could be set up for 1-1 coffee/dinner with a different fellow each week to discuss a certain topic. We could then submit a joint reflection piece on our conversation.

3. I would give it a 3. I definitely enjoyed hearing about everyone else’s experiences, but I wish it had been in a more dynamic way than forum posts.

4. I loved the open houses! As I mentioned above, I wish we had more in person reflection time to discuss what we were working on, what we were learning, and how we could help each other by providing an outside perspective.

Jason Risch says:
Apologies for completely spacing on this post.

1. My favorite post was on leadership. The leaders of the startups we worked at over the summers come from fascinating and diverse backgrounds, and it's always interesting to see how that may (or may not) be reflected in their leadership styles. My least favorite post was the summer survival kit, as I didn't feel that I got that much out of it - though that may have been because it was easier for me to integrate into a small startup

2. I would add a topic that more explicitly asks for more negative events occurring within the startup. These events do not necessarily have to reflect poorly on the startup; they could simply be ongoing struggles our companies are currently dealing with to remind all of us that entrepreneurship is really really difficult. On the other hand, they could in fact describe internal conflicts or intrigue. I've been told by fellows from previous years that these stories were their favorite parts of their journal experiences, as it allowed them to get the inside scoop on each company and feel the raw emotions associated with the quick-paced and oftentimes disorganized entrepreneurial journey. It does seem to be the case that we all worked at amazing places over the summer, so maybe it was simply impossible to find many negative things to say, but as we've discussed in class it is possible to learn so much from mistakes.

3. I would rate it a 3. It was definitely helpful for me in consolidating my experiences, but I also felt that many of our responses tended to be similar in content.

4. I definitely want to echo Jenna and Revanth's suggestions, as both sound like fantastic ideas. The open house process is amazing as is though.

Nick Ning Xu says:
Meditation gets a bad wrap; for good reasons. The stereotype is to become a monk and live the rest of your life on the top of some mountain, contemplating humanity's mysteries without any sense of the "real world". How is meditation relevant - at all - to our hectic lives?

My opinion shifted when I realized many of my favorite Stanford professors (other than Tina and Tom of course) practiced meditation; Cari Kapur, Amy Larimer and Abraham Verghese just to name a few. From our Mayfield family, Josh Reeves and Armen Berjikly practice mindfulness. There was something to learn from these amazing humans.

The best description of meditation's importance and how it intersects with the real world comes from Andy Puddicombe:

Here are some great online resources to check out. Headspace is subscription based, so I uploaded the first "Take10" session on my own Stanford box account. Please keep this link to MFP '15. I don't want to get in trouble :) I highly, highly, highly recommend headspace!

Mindfulness has given me perspective, positive energy and gratefulness. Sure, it hasn't changed the craziness of my schedule, but it has changed my attitude towards it. The mind is just as important to exercise as the body.

I would love to hear your thoughts on mindfulness. I'm more than happy to discuss this further in person!

Nick Ning Xu says:
On Elon Musk:

Gretchen Zamora says:
Your post is a great example of the power of creativity and innovation.

Erica Mills says:
I appreciate your honest review. It's refreshing to see both the pros and cons.