Tag Archives: stvp

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

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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.

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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.


Geoff Donaker, COO of Yelp and one of our very own Stanford graduates, was the perfect speaker for the final, launch-themed week of our campaign. Donaker actually offered us an inside look into the steps that his company took to become public—a view that speakers rarely share to such an extent with their audiences.

He first began by discussing the fact that Yelp was close to selling twice, but did not for several reasons. One reason was that although selling Yelp would have been beneficial to the founders and early investors, it may not have been better for the rest of the employee base and product itself. The founding team, investors, and board of directors had a vision that the company would be worth more in the future, and they wanted to keep Yelp alive; acquisition is often the end of a company, whereas IPO is the beginning. Needless to say, they thought that the company was best served by maintaining it’s independence and keeping some room to grow.

He then elaborated on what influenced the company to go public. Donaker said that the founders had always thought that when the company was at 100 million dollars in revenue and had positive cash flow, it would likely be ready to go public. In the spring of 2011, the CFO resigned for family reasons. This change led the founders to question the possibility of going public. Thus, when hiring a new CFO, they looked for someone who had previously worked for a public Internet company as CFO and preferably taken that company public themselves.

Donaker went into generous detail about the six months between their decision to go public and actually ringing the bell at the stock exchange. The founders began by announcing to a number of large banks that they were going public. After giving everyone an hour to pitch one Friday, they ultimately chose Goldman Sachs to lead the process. The company then spent the next two months writing the S1—the filing document that a company makes available on a website for every investor to read. After filing the S1, they began the “road show, “ a two to three week marketing period where the management team flew around the country. They met with groups of investors, saying the exact same things in every meeting.

He then focused on the night before they went to the stock exchange. The management team was stuck on one essential question: Did they have enough demand? Luckily, it seemed that their investors wanted to buy 180 million shares, as opposed to the seven that Yelp had offered. Now that they knew they had a high enough demand, they had to figure out what price to sell the shares at. They needed to find a sweet spot for the price—their investors needed the chance to make money and feel good, but the management team also wanted to raise a significant amount of money for the company. They were worried that if their price was too high, it would collapse the next day and result in a broken deal. After some consideration and advice from their bankers, picked a price of 15 dollars. The next morning, they were able to “ring the bell,” which was actually a button, at exactly nine thirty.  They walked down to the floor, and watched market open.

After sharing the story, Donaker spoke about his work. He said that there is not too much of a difference between a private and public company, and that Yelp’s move to become public allowed it to continue to thrive.  Donaker even discussed a typical day at work, using today as an example—we walked in his shoes and experienced everything from his meetings with investors to the sandwich he ate during a fire drill this afternoon.

Donaker’s extensive descriptions and genuine enthusiasm offered us an exclusive look into processes and challenges that tech companies go through today. Everyone left the seminar with new knowledge and vocabulary regarding entrepreneurship, and hopefully some information that will prompt them to start some launches of their own.