Tag Archives: stanford technology ventures program

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

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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.

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By Zabreen Khan