Tag Archives: etl

Kathryn Gould, Co-founder of Foundation Capital: A New Opportunity When at a Crossroads

Kathryn Gould sat smiling and engaged, ready to respond to the questions posed by Mike Malone, a seasoned tech industry author and journalist. Gould, a well-known Valley entrepreneur and one of the first women venture capitalists is now enjoying semi-retirement at her country ranch home. She is the co-founder of Foundation Capital and started her career working at Oracle. It was there where she learned many of the foundational skills that would prove useful throughout her career such as how to sell. A firm believer in the idea that “chance favors the prepared mind” she was always open to opportunities.

One of these opportunities presented itself after a less than cordial encounter with Oracle founder, Larry Ellison, in which Gould was asked to leave the company. Realizing that unlike in times past, Ellison was serious, she found herself at a difficult crossroads. Rather than taking this as a setback she saw an opportunity to begin her own executive search firm, leveraging the connections she had made working at Oracle for many years. Having successfully placed thousands, she eventually decided to create Foundation Capital so that she could begin to invest in these quality people she so carefully sourced and placed.

Looking back upon her journey thus far Gould reflected upon her investment philosophy. Proudly, she recounts that rather than investing with the idea that maybe one out of every ten companies would be successful, she genuinely believed that every one of her investments was going to be a winner, and many have. It was not an easy task to found a new investment firm and required determination and hard work. Gould firmly believes, “it’s not the calls you take, it’s the calls you make.” It is this attitude that has enabled Gould to carve out an illustrious entrepreneurial career as one of the most respected and prominent women in Silicon Valley.

By Chad Kamisugi

For more information on ETL, visit our website here

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Knowing How and When to Adapt: John Collison, Co-Founder of Stripe

“If you’re interested in starting a company, you don’t quite get the full picture” cautioned John Collison, a self-proclaimed start-up history geek. The problem with start-up histories is that the founders tend to “whitewash things a little bit.” With this as a starting point, Collison gave the class a candid history of the founding of Stripe.

Stripe wasn’t Collison’s first company. So how do you pick the right idea to pursue? “To spot opportunities requires you to question to how things work,” said Collison. But even the right idea can seem slow at first. Two years into Stripe’s history, they had just 50 customers. Going out of their way to take care of these early customers, Stripe began to spread by word of mouth.

As feedback flooded in from these new users, Stripe had to decide how to change to accommodate their requests and complaints. Collison explained the importance of knowing how and when to adapt. It isn’t about reaching the final form of your product as quickly as possible. Instead, it’s about following the right path all the way through.

When it came time for questions, there was an obvious one: what is it like to found a company with your brother? Collison described the benefits of working with a team that you already know how to work with. It solves the “meta issues” to collaboration and lets you focus on the task at hand. Clearly, it was a strategy that paid off for Patrick and John.

By Thomas Teisberg

For more info on ETL, please visit our website here

Alon Cohen, Co-Founder of Houzz: Realizing the American Dream

Alon Cohen, an immigrant who came to the U.S. in his thirties, first asked the room, “How many of you were born outside of the United States?” To everyone’s surprise, half of the students in NVIDIA raised their hands. In a room filled with people who identify as immigrants, entrepreneurs, or in some cases, both, Alon’s story was particularly inspiring – a vivid example of the American Dream.

Alon worked at eBay before taking a risk and starting his own company with his wife, Adi Tatarko. It didn’t make much sense to leave a stable job while raising a family, but Alon identified a problem that he wanted to solve. When discussing this transition, he smirked and said, “Of course I had trouble explaining it to my mom.”

Sometimes the most rational decision isn’t the best one.

A few years back, Alon and Adi wanted to remodel their traditional ranch house and were surprised to find that there was no efficient way of doing so. They spent hours at Borders shuffling through dozens of books and magazines to combine ideas and come up with a vision for their home. In the 21stcentury, when everything is streamlined, from online grocery shopping to connecting with someone who lives 10,000 miles away, this was an anomaly. Alon wanted to make the process of home remodeling easier. His motto is to try and “make complicated things simple.”

6 years later, his company Houzz, is disrupting the interior design industry and is one of the hottest startups in the Bay Area. Alon explains that there were many instances when he hit a wall along the way, but he had to keep moving forward. He bootstrapped through every hiccup. Although he knew that raising money and monetizing where important parts of the process, he couldn’t stress the value of the team enough. Alon and Adi personally interview every potential employee who walks through the door in order to decide whether they are the right fit for the company’s culture. His two key pieces of advice: 1) pick the people you work with carefully and 2) no matter how talented you are, work incredibly hard.

Alon’s story shows that there is no secret sauce to starting your own company. Sometimes, you just have to pinpoint a problem, take a leap of faith, and be persistent in trying to solve it. Whether you are oozing with Silicon Valley ideals, or feel like an outsider in this little bubble, you have the ability to make something complicated in this world just a little simpler.

For the full lineup of ETL, visit the website

By Zabreen Khan

Architecture as Vehicle for Expression: Jeanne Gang at ETL

If Jeanne Gang were a bird, she would live in this kind of nest.

She flips to an image of suspended, teardrop shaped forms hanging from the branches of a tree. The design of these nests is perfect: they push the boundaries of their material, and they create community.

Though unorthodox, this was probably a clear window into her thought process and a great way to begin the talk. How do we experience the spaces around us? How do we elevate space and craft it to achieve an ideal? She is a slim woman with dark hair, simple clothes, and an even voice. She is also a MacArthur Fellow and the founder and driving force behind Studio Gang Architects. Studio Gang has reimagined skyscrapers, boathouses, schools, and lakefronts. The Folsom tower rises and ripples on the San Francisco skyline, and the Arcus Center for Justice and Leadership is a tangible representation of the configurations that break down social barriers. Each work is the physical manifestation of an idea, and showcases remarkable intelligence, sensitivity, and creativity.

We don’t often think of bird nests as the greatest achievement in user-centered design, nor can most of us wrap our minds around manipulating physical space to evoke an idea. But as potential creators there is something delicate and definite that we can take away from Jeanne Gang’s architecture.

Both a bird’s nest and a building can be sublime.

By Vivian Hare
Photo: Zabreen Khan.

Exploring Beyond the Norms of Engineering and Tech With Shah Shelbe, National Geographic Society

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Shah Shelbe walked into the auditorium sporting jeans cuffed at the bottoms, a slim blue button down, and a light brown sports jacket. Although his long beard suggests that he is indeed the type of man that has spent some time in the wilderness, at first sight he did not come across as being a National Geographic Explorer. But who is to say that all explorers must wear rubber boots, hiking shorts, and carry a walking stick? Definitely not me. Just as I was quick to conjure up an image of an explorer based on my own preconceived notions, Shah urged us to think beyond the “norms” with regard to engineering and tech.

Engineers have classically been portrayed as nerdy and socially awkward specimens. But Shah, a chemical and propulsion engineer, reminded us that there is not a sole cookie-cutter mold for all engineers. He is relieved that engineering has increased its “coolness,” and stands by the belief that engineers give us the tools necessary to uncover humanity’s mysteries and save its treasures.

Currently in society, as Shah explained, companies that were invented in the 1950s and 60s are being rebuilt with the emergence of the tech industry. He says, “We are living in an amazing and remarkable time.” And as is commonly the case at Stanford it is particularly easy to fall into the trap of trying to create the next big thing – be it a new social network or an addictive app. But Shah encouraged us to think beyond the Silicon Valley bubble, promising that there are a myriad of problems beyond it that long for innovative solutions.

The Boeing employee, turned Engineer Without Borders volunteer, turned Stanford grad, turned fish savior, turned National Geographic emerging explorer (in a nutshell), is a testament to his own idea that “opportunity exists everywhere, especially in the least expected places.” Shah, the enthusiastic conservationist and Explorer, a title that most Stanford grads don’t have in their job description, inspired us to find our own inspiration because as he says, “the world needs you.”

Next Wednesday, Jeanne Gang, Founder and Principal of Studio Gang Architects, will be speaking at NVIDIA Auditorium @ 4:30 PM. To see the full lineup of speakers for this quarter, go to our website etl.stanford.edu

By Alejandro Rosenkranz

Government for the People, by the People

We are fairly wrapped in Silicon Valley culture–striving to be the best and solve the hardest, most interesting problems. Jen Pahlka’s talk is a startling reminder that simple clarity of thought is all that is really required to enact widespread change. Pahlka’s experience with government agencies gives her a clear picture of the problems that were produced when their complex, archaic philosophies were applied to technical solutions. In many cases, resources aren’t lacking, but rather the fault lies in the structure that is meant to distribute them to those in need.

Whether those resources are answers to simple questions about getting your Driver’s License in Hawaii, or actual physical food that is being held from you because of a problem with your CalFresh account, the resources exist. What Pahlka and her team of Code for America programmers do seems like something close to heroism. In what would be considered a blink of an eye in government time, Hawaii’s practically unusable government site became a place where simple questions could be simply and reliably answered. Similarly, CalFresh’s interface was cleaned and beautified until it was beyond recognition, and thousands of hungry citizens gained access to a consistent source of food. But Pahlka reminds us that the work that Code for America is involved in does not require superhuman talent, but rather simple design, clean code, and common sense.  Streamlined, intelligently designed technical solutions allocate resources were they should be allocated. With that in mind, heroism has never seemed so attainable.

By Vivian Hare

ETL with Leah Busque, CEO of TaskRabbit

“A great idea is not an invention, it’s a discovery. Creativity is the commitment we make to the process of asking questions, finding patterns, and testing concepts.” -Leah Busque

Our ETL speaker this week was Leah Busque, founder and CEO of Taskrabbit.  She began her talk with a story of an idea, and how that idea transformed into a company that has found work for over 30,000 people.

Busque loved her job as a software engineer at IBM, but felt as though she was missing out on something. She knew that she had other skills she needed to explore, and especially recognized this need each year when she participated in a conference called Lotusphere. The conference is unique because engineers actually talk to the customers in something called “meet the developers lab.” She loved being able to meet a customer in real world, fix a problem for them, and then send them on their way. One night, she was going to dinner with her husband, Kevin (her high school sweetheart and fellow engineer—they would spend Fridaynights building computers together!), and realized that they were out of dog food. It then occurred to Leah that there should be someway to connect people who want to find work with people who need errands done: the couple then discussed the idea over dinner. Leah knew the product should exist and that she had the skills to build it, but she wanted to figure out how to make it happen. She first looked up names that hadn’t already been taken by other websites, and settled for “runmyerrand.com” (customers later chose the name Taskrabbit through a vote). In June of that year, she quit her job at IBM. She cashed out her pension and worked for 10 weeks straight, trying to code and develop a prototype.

Busque then gave us three lessons that proved most useful to her through her journey with Taskrabbit. The first lesson was to tell everyone you meet about your idea. The fear that people will steal your idea should not get in the way of you sharing it—after all, said Busque, you usually are not the first person to have an idea, and the success of your product all comes down to execution. She spoke to the incredible value that can be gained in sharing an idea with many people, early on in the process. For example, Busque casually mentioned runmyerrand.com to some strangers that she was having dinner with. A woman replyed, saying “my buddy Scott would find this really interesting.” Busque then emailed this “scott,” to discover that he was Scott Griffith, CEO of zipcar. Scott became an early mentor of hers, introduced her to investors, and even offered her desk space at the zipcar office.

The second piece of advice that Busque shared with us was to cultivate an atmosphere of mentorship and collaboration. She participated in “Facebook Fund,” and the mentorship that came out of it accelerated both the growth of herself as an entrepreneur and the growth of her company. She discussed her determination to have Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour WorkWeek as an advisor. After plane flights, pitching, and hassling his assistant, she finally was able to have him as a mentor. He gave helpful advice and contacted his investor friends, who led a million dollar seed round.

The final thought she left us with was to love what you do. She gave some examples of why her company was significant to her, which included a story about a mother in San Francisco who’s son was going through chemotherapy in Boston. She did not have the money to fly and see him, so she found someone through Taskrabbit who could visit her son every day for a week to talk to him, bring him whatever he needed, and then call her afterwards to tell her how her son was. The person who did these tasks was actually another mom, and these two mothers built a relationship together. This story reminded Busque that her company had the ability to help people redefine who your neighbors are, and provide them with others who they can rely on.

Busque’s success attests to the value of being open—definitely something that fellow entrepreneurs can learn from. She spoke to the importance of being open to feedback, new ideas, new plans, or new people. Busque is a beautiful example of someone who was passionate about an idea and worked to make it happen. Her success story is one that growing entrepreneurs can learn from and use to make their own tiny ideas into products that are consequential and life-changing.