Tag Archives: stanford entrepreneurship

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

A Look Inside TreeHacks: Free Redbull & 124 Projects from Hack-Warriors

Written by Kameron Riley Butler

On the evening of February 28th, the opening ceremony of TreeHacks kicked off as hackers from more than 80 high schools and universities across the nation piled into CEMEX auditorium. The crows gave a warm welcome to keynote speaker Jeff Dean, and after describing his notably impressive work at Google, he left the eager hackers with a valuable inspiration: “Have fun, build something cool, and don’t stop learning, this weekend and beyond.” As the opening ceremony concluded, the hacker herd made its way back to the Arrillaga Alumni Center to embark upon the thirty-six hour endeavor that lay ahead. As the doors closed behind the last few stragglers, day one was upon us.

Day One:

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Photo Caption: The Treehacks community spares no time,diving straight into the hacking

Hackers and tinkerers from Stanford and beyond had claimed their thrones for the next three days and quickly set out to begin their masterpieces. If it was not the massive amounts of computers and hardware that was impressive, it was most definitely the plethora of food available to the 600+ coding crusaders (Seriously, unlimited free RedBull? Kind bars? Donuts? Yes please). Additionally, whether it was a cohort of students straight from The Farm or a last minute coalition of Harvard, Brown, and high school students, every group was seeping with energy and excitement. However, hacking was not the only highlight of this inaugural event. Nearly every hour, one of the 85 sponsors hosted a tech talk or workshop teaching some unmistakably valuable knowledge and tools to propel their ideas forward. It was dangerously easy to get caught up in the awe of the event with everything that the sponsors were offering (API’s, hardware for hacking, swag upon swag), however many teams were making headway by the midnight of the first night.

Day Two:

As the early morning light permeated the windows, it glistened upon the weary and worn. Those who managed to catch an inkling of rest slowly rose from their cocoons and wiped the drool from their cheeks. For the ambitious that sought rejuvenation departed to hike the Dish while the rest returned to their computers to join those most dedicated who had powered straight on through the night. Empty RedBulls rolled across the floor as the hackers climbed back into their seats, pushed away the scraps and wrappers that once contained the essentials of hacker-fuel, and dove back into their brilliant projects. The excitement and energy had sustained itself throughout the night; websites, apps, hardware hacks, and robotic devices were deep in development. As the tinkering continued, endless amounts of food came and went (The hackers were unbelievably well fed and nourished thanks to the amazing Treehacks team). Yoga and mobile workshops throughout the day gave Hackers room to stretch their limbs. As day two came to a close, the anticipation began to build as the remaining hours were ticking away.

Day 3

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Photo caption: The creators of DisTrac display their real-time disease epidemic tracker

The last morning of Treehacks brought a bittersweet feeling. It was a promise of long awaited sleep combined with the bleak disappointment that the event would all be over soon.It was the most important moment of the event as teams frantically made the finishing touches to their creations as the deadline grew nearer. As the clock reached 11:00 am, a synchronized sigh was released throughout the building, and 124 different projects were successfully submitted to be judged. At 12:00 pm, the 124 competing hacks displayed their creations to be seen by hackers and sponsors alike. The variety of projects was overwhelming and frankly, very humbling.

Projects ranged from the artistic to the ambitious: drones controlled by human gestures, 3D holographic visualizers using Microsoft’s Kinect, mood-driven music players, and so many more innovative ideas leveraging cutting edge technology. One team (MetricD) was in the process of creating an app that allowed for “an efficient way for doctors to monitor patient symptoms and recovery after surgery.” With a sleek and easy to use design, MetricD seemed to be a promising advancement in doctor-patient communication. Turn the corner and another team was engineering an interactive game that utilized the Oculus Rift to place the user in an animated world. To sum it up from its creators, it is essentially “Mazerunner meets Minecraft in the world of Oculus.”

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Photo caption: MAKKMat creators demo their smart workout mat that relays workout data directly to the user’s phone

Hacker Perspectives

Participants ranged from first-time hackers to the weekend hack-warriors, both male and female. Experienced hacker Chen Ye of Brown University (and coincidentally the Director of Design for HackatBrown) was very impressed, stating that the event was  “well run, fairly polished, and full of nice and friendly volunteers.” Chen was particularly impressed by the mentorship program offered during the event, regularly referred to as “the Uber of mentorship”. The effective mentor dispatch program made it easy for participants to receive rapid assistance on any topic, and majority of participants felt very well-supported.

Offering another perspective, Angela Kong and her team of female hackers admitted that they now “feel spoiled for future hackathons”. When asked for their opinion regarding the common gender imbalance of hackathon events, Angela and her team responded, “Being a female hacker is not a big deal. We feel very much a part of the TreeHacks community.” The TreeHacks team made a very clear initiative to shift this imbalance, and the diverse inclusivity of TreeHacks was a major step forward.

From the sponsor side, Tim Robinson and Barbara Castro of IBM were equally impressed with how interactive the students were. They were also especially excited to bring their technology to the students of all experience levels. “The event was very positive, and the students had a great energy level. We loved seeing all the sponsors come out, and we could not help notice the great cross section of students represented,” said Robinson.

First time hacker Patrick O’Grady found himself inspired by all of the innovative technology and expressed his desire to return next year. His most useful advice? “The potential of what you can create depends heavily on how sleepy you are.” So if you see someone walking around campus this week seeming a little low on energy, give them a hug to show that you understand.

TreeHacks Last Thoughts 

As the demo exo began to wind down and the top eight hacks were chosen for final judging  (Click here to read more about the top hacks of the event), it was safe to say that TreeHacks had delivered far more than promised. The record breaking event presented an endless variety of experiences for every make and model of hackers, but these experiences cannot be fully expressed in this blog. In order to truly understand the powerful environment of a hackathon, be sure to dive in next year!

The Winner’s Circle (Part 1): Switchmate

SwitchMate (Product Showcase Winner 2014)

“Every time we went to Home Depot, we got kicked out. But, every time we were there, we learnt a ton.”

When Daniel Peng, Co-Founder of SwitchMate, spoke to users about their perceptions of home automation, they responded with very similar answers. “Most people don’t know what it is, and if they did, they didn’t want to call an electrician. Or they were at an apartment, so they couldn’t rewire,” Peng said. The adjectives they chose to describe home automation were often “cumbersome,” “complicated,” and “expensive.”

Born in the Stanford Mechatronics lab, SwitchMate was inspired when Co-Founder Robert Romana “wanted to turn his lights off from bed.”

Along with co-founder and electrical engineer Ashish Dua, the team learned about an industry that could be worth $52 billion by 2020. “We all met in college 6 years ago in the Bay Area,” Daniel said. “At the time, we were working on different projects.”

Throughout their user research stage, they more clearly realized that most people were deterred from home automation because it was not simple enough. With continued feedback, Daniel revealed, “We were able to use a 3D printer and iteratively make prototypes to ship out to our beta testers.”

Before long, the team entered the BASES Challenge with SwitchMate. Their focus: “How are we going to make a demo stand such that when people come by and play around with it, they’ll get it immediately?” Ultimately, Daniel used very few words to to showcase their product: “Hey, are you interested in simplifying your home lighting system?” Afterwards, users who tried it “set the prototype, smack it on, and they understood it immediately.”

The BASES Challenge helped SwitchMate “validate their idea” because “people really liked where it was going.” After the competition, Ashish and Daniel quit their jobs to commit themselves to the team full-time.

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When asked about the culture of their company, Daniel was quick to respond: “Team dynamic was extremely important. The biggest thing is believing in the mission of the company, such as loving the product and caring a lot about our customers. There are a couple of things that we all definitely agree on.”

With the 1st Place winnings, the team bought a 3D printer to more flexibly iterate over their prototypes. A priority on customers has allowed Switchmate to make great strides towards a common mission. As an entrepreneur, Daniel explained, “We all went through the education system, and while we learned a lot from classes, there’s nothing like just going out there and trying it ourselves. Learning by doing is one of the biggest things for me, and entrepreneurship is an awesome way to do that.”

On the future of SwitchMate, Daniel was quick to answer: “Our vision is to make home automation extremely simple, so people can use it without even having to pick up a screwdriver.”

To learn more about Switchmate, visit their website http://www.myswitchmate.com/

By Vincent Chen

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

BASES Challenge KickOff…And We’re Live!

The BASES Challenge season has officially sprung into action.

BASES Challenge is Stanford’s oldest and largest student startup competition. As an annual startup competition, Challenge awards funding to aspiring Stanford entrepreneurs. Students and alumni enter their business or social venture ideas to compete for $100,000 in prize money and developmental opportunities. The application process begins with an electronic written application and culminates in two rounds of live judging.

Naturally some might find this process intimidating, perhaps even unattainable. As sophomore Simar Mangat spoke at the event on Monday, he described being a Freshman last year with little formal knowledge of entrepreneurship, but simply found some friends, united over a fiery passion, and just went for it. His novice team actually went on to win Challenge.

And, it’s true. BASES hopes this opportunity is a learning process in itself—one that anybody and everybody can get immersed in with innumerable chances along the way to make industry connections, get your name out there, develop closer bonds with fellow student entrepreneurs, become inspired, and, of course, strive for that ultimate gold at the end of the rainbow that could truly kickstart your venture.

In parallel with BASES’ goal to lengthen the reach of the competition to a wider audience, a couple new initiatives have been launched this year. Perhaps the most exciting is the initiative, BASES Funds. In the words of BASES Co-President, Brandon Garcia,”BASES Fund is a new initiative we’re piloting with the objective of eliminating financial constraints from students’ endeavors to work on their own projects. The fund seeks to distribute grants to students doing legitimate work. All we ask for in exchange is regular updates to our blog to keep the wider community in the loop about the technologies being developed.” There is also a greater chance for social ventures to take home money with this year’s altered Challenge prize structure.

As the evening concluded, those at the Kickoff last night got to hear some frank advice from Michael Baum, CEO of Founder.org and entrepreneurial enthusiast who left the audience with 8 thought-provoking tips for any entrepreneur to keep in mind while starting a startup. He described the lifestyle of an entrepreneur as something like no other than a lifestyle that “ is so worth it in the end.” He encouraged everyone in the audience to leverage the innumerable resources Stanford University has to offer while we are still students here—from the Maker’s Lab to opportunities like BASES Challenge to meet industry professionals to, of course, the rich diversity of minds we have the opportunity to be surrounded by everyday. So, why not take a chance?

Garcia and Michael Longoria, Director of Challenge agree that “Kickoff brought together future participants, past winners, and industry professionals to share their excitement for the BASES Challenge competition. A great keynote by Michael Baum, awesome demos from incredible Challenge alumni, and a great audience contributed to a successful 2015 launch of Stanford’s largest and oldest venture competition.” And with that, here’s to another season of BASES Challenge pitches, creativity, uncertainty, memories, and passion.

As Mangat encourages, “you won’t get the chance to go through something like BASES Challenge again. The timing is never “perfect” so even if you’re on the fence…just go for it!”

Apply to BASES Challenge!

Want more specifics about the prize structure? Find it here

Curious about BASES Fund. Apply here!

BASES Challenge Timeline

Jan 19: Applications go live

Mar 07: Applications due at 11:59pm

Apr 09 – Apr 10: Initial Judging Round

Apr 12 – May 1: Workshops + Office Hours

May 08: Finale Event

By Divya Saini

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