Each week, experienced entrepreneurs and innovators come to Stanford University to candidly share lessons they’ve learned while developing, launching and scaling disruptive ideas. The Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series is produced by Stanford eCorner during fall, winter and spring quarters.
From developing a brand identity to cultivating the right conditions for musical exploration, successful recording artists are masters of the creative process. Hosted by Stanford professor Bob Sutton, Sickamore, a hip-hop artist, photographer and the creative director at Interscope Records, joins Sam Seidel, director of K-12 strategy and research at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, for an intimate conversation about what entrepreneurs can learn from the music industry, how to navigate ambiguity, and why it's important to strike the right balance between open-ended creativity and project completion.
Honeycomb co-founder and CEO Christine Yen spent a decade as a software engineer before creating her own company. She describes how her deep domain knowledge and relationships with like-minded software developers propelled her startup’s launch, and shares how she built an energetic human architecture around a highly technical B2B product.
The podcast market was growing rapidly when Luminary Media was founded at the beginning of 2018, and it was even bigger by the time the company launched its podcasting service on April 23, 2019. Just a month after that launch, CEO Matthew Sacks and co-founder/head of talent Lauren Perkins step back to assess how they identified an opportunity in the podcasting space, built a team and launched a product with a library of exclusive content in a little over a year. They also address the negative headlines and Twitter backlash they received during launch week, and share strategies for responding to the kinds of mistakes that fast-moving startups often make.
At age 26, Chip Conley founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality and grew the company into the second largest boutique hotel brand in the United States. After he sold the business, he accepted a strategy role at Airbnb, and his interactions with a predominantly millennial workforce led him to found the Modern Elder Academy, a “midlife wisdom school” in Baja that encourages individuals with a lifetime of experience to carve a purposeful path through the modern workplace. Here, he shares the insights that have allowed him to flourish while shifting roles and accommodating to cultural change.
In the 1990s, Toby Corey co-founded the world’s largest web development company. Since then, he’s started other companies; held senior management positions at SolarCity, Tesla and most recently PlanGrid; and lectured in Stanford's Department of Management Science & Engineering. Now, he finds himself as concerned by social and environmental problems as with building companies. In response to global crises of climate change and inequality, he advises an approach that he calls “zentrepreneurship,” and articulates principles aimed at helping entrepreneurs integrate creativity and ambition with social and environmental consciousness.
When Capella Space’s first prototype satellite launched in December 2018, it was the culmination of over three years of nonstop effort. Capella Space founder and CEO Payam Banazadeh explains how he fused experienced gained at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Stanford’s Management Science and Engineering masters program to build the satellite imaging company. As an early-stage CEO, he provides insights into the many risks and strategic decisions that precede product roll-out.
Nicole Hu and her two co-founders created One Concern to help communities prepare for and mitigate natural disasters by harnessing the power of AI. She explains how they use machine intelligence as a predictive tool, and shares strategies for identifying a central problem, securing investment and growing a mission-driven team.
Ritu Narayan founded Zūm in 2014 to solve a problem that working parents (herself included) face every day: transporting and caring for children before and after school. She describes her journey from the Delhi Institute of Technology to Silicon Valley and unpacks three factors that catalyze sustained growth: passion, perseverance and people.
From high school computer science classes all the way up to VC partner meetings, women and people of color remain underrepresented in the technology ecosystem. Even so, diversity-focused social scientist and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein is hopeful about the future of technology and entrepreneurship. As a partner at Kapor Capital, she provides seed-stage funding to technology startups that make a positive social impact on low-income communities and communities of color. Drawing on her work both as an investor and a diversity researcher, she offers strategies that founders and funders alike can pursue to make the tech world more diverse and inclusive.
As Google’s first engineering director, Alberto Savoia led the team that launched Google’s revolutionary AdWords project. After founding two startups, he returned to Google in 2008 and he assumed the role of “Innovation Agitator,” developing trainings and workshops to catalyze smart, impactful creation within the company. Drawing on his book "The Right It," he begins with the premise that at least 80 percent of innovations fail, even if competently executed. He discusses how to reframe the central challenge of innovation as a question not of skill or technology, but of market demand: Will anyone actually care? Savoia shares strategies for winning the fight against failure, by using a rapid-prototyping technique he calls “pretotyping.”
Navin Chaddha, managing director at the venture capital firm Mayfield, describes the firm’s core values and examines the drivers behind several of the firm’s most successful investments. Mayfield’s investment strategy, he explains, is to focus on the founder rather than the company. He describes how impactful founders identify their mission early and pivot when necessary, all while maintaining a firmly people-centered mindset.
Midway through a M.D./Ph.D program at UCLA, Alice Zhang made a discovery that she felt could reverberate far beyond the halls of academia. So she shifted directions, leaving her Ph.D program to found Verge Genomics, a biomedical firm that aims to unite genetic research and artificial intelligence in service of drug discovery. She describes how AI can revolutionize the drug discovery process, and reframes risk-taking as a simple series of optimistic next steps.
Cars can be much more than just boxes that get their owners around. John Viera, a former director and sustainability lead at Ford Motor Company, and Raj Kapoor, chief strategy officer at Lyft, join Stanford adjunct professor Pedram Mokrian to discuss opportunities for innovation in the field of transportation, particularly in the context of sustainability concerns and accelerating urbanization. Innovators, they suggest, need to think of transportation as a converging ecosystem, rather than as a collection of disparate technologies and business models. As shifting energy sources and big data come into play, car sharing companies and automotive manufacturers will find themselves both competing and collaborating in new ways.
Opportunities in the cryptocurrency sector extend well beyond simply investing in Bitcoin or Ethereum, says Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan. He compares the digital currency landscape to the early days of mobile—a space poised to create an entirely new set of innovations and business models. For entrepreneurs looking to make a play in everything from social networking and banking to collectibles markets and real estate, he suggests, crypto’s underlying blockchain technology is worth investigating.
Roles expand and shift at a breakneck pace in a high-growth startup, says Meebo co-founder Elaine Wherry. Interns find themselves in charge of massive, mission-critical projects. Engineers are suddenly tasked with hiring and managing multiple teams. Wherry shares her insights on how to thrive in a rapidly expanding technology venture, drawing on the heady years between developing Meebo’s initial instant messaging platform in 2005 and landing the company at Google seven years later.
Dan Widmaier, co-founder and CEO at Bolt Threads, is on a mission to disrupt the garment industry through technology and science. He shares his perspective on sustainability, the future of the environment and how to focus on the task at hand instead of distractions.
Brad Bao, co-founder and executive chairman of Lime, shares his mission to create close-knit neighborhoods through mobility. Highlighting Lime’s achievements, he challenges the notion that companies cannot succeed if they are socially responsible.
Emily Melton, partner at the venture capital firm Threshold (formerly DFJ), shares her experience growing from a humanities student to tech investor. Melton shares advice for how to sustain startup momentum, navigate uncertainty and forge the honest, supportive relationships that lead to success.
Adam Pisoni, founder and CEO of Abl Schools, shares how he tackles complex challenges, like modernizing the education system. Pisoni describes how he listens first, addresses today’s known issues and builds pathways to new possibilities. He breaks down how to identify scalable solutions, validate ideas and prioritize needs.
Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig sits down with Steve Garrity, founder of Hearsay Systems and Juliet Rothenberg, product manager at DeepMind for a new podcast called LEAP!. This series will take a deep dive into how to grow your career by unpacking some of the often overlooked and under-taught soft skills critical to the success of every entrepreneur. Each episode invites alumni at different stages in their career to discuss real-life scenarios, focused around a particular skill. In this episode, Steve and Juliet talk with Tina about identifying, shaping and developing your superpower at work.
Puneet Agarwal, partner at True Ventures, describes the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) within venture capital and its implications on the business functions of companies. He shares scenarios where EQ sets the tone for open communication, helping to build a community of safety for their founders and investors.
Throughout his career, Manish Chandra, founder and CEO at Poshmark, learned to evolve, grow and adapt to the economical and career changes he faced. His vision for a mobile shopping platform was ahead of its time. Chandra shares his thoughts on how to persevere in the face of doubt, how to partner with founders that share a common goal and why focusing on engagement and community is critical for scaling successfully.
Maureen Fan, co-founder and CEO at Baobab Studios, shares how she blended her creativity and technical savvy in founding her virtual reality animation company. Undeterred by naysayers and an unforged path ahead, she encourages those with big imaginations to buck traditional career paths and to be persistent in asking for what you want.
Get a taste of season 2 of the FRICTION podcast. The best leaders cultivate empathy, patience and an awareness of their own vulnerabilities, says Nancy F. Koehn, a historian at the Harvard Business School. She’s the author of Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, about the zigzagging paths of five historical figures, from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to environmentalist Rachel Carson. In this episode, Koehn speaks with Stanford Professor Bob Sutton about how transformational leaders slow down and harness their humanity to overcome significant challenges.
Throughout life, Steve Vassallo has advanced his career through design thinking, from the slick flyer he created on his parents' computer to get him more work as a boy, to his five years at IDEO, and now as a startup investor at Foundation Capital. Vassallo explains how strategies like user observation and asking the right questions will get you to the heart of any problem that needs solving.
Serial entrepreneur Lisa Alderson, co-founder and CEO of Genome Medical, shares her vision for the future of medicine, along with real-world advice for those seeking to start their own company: Discover and follow your passion to ensure you stay driven through the highs and lows. Above all, venture into unfamiliar territory in order to build the confidence to embrace change.
Gabriel Parisi-Amon, co-founder, CTO and COO of environmentally conscious shower startup, Nebia, bravely challenges the myth of “the perfect startup founder.” Parisi-Amon takes us on a journey through the seven stages of burnout he experienced in the early years of his startup, sharing how he’s emerged a more conscious and balanced leader. He offers tips and exercises for identifying the symptoms of burnout, urging us to prevent the fire before we’re consumed.
Joshua Hoffman, co-founder and CEO of industrial-chemicals maker Zymergen, details how his intellectual dabbling in college and the courage to work on his weaknesses prepared him to be a broadminded business leader. He urges aspiring entrepreneurs to become good storytellers and build strong teams of divergent thinkers, even if they drive you nuts. Hoffman explains why it's all worth the pain.
Stanford business Professor Chip Heath discusses how certain moments we all experience — the first day at a new job, finishing a difficult project —don’t feel as special as they should, and how we can make them much more memorable with a few simple touches. In conversation with Stanford Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig, Heath shares insights from his new book, “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.”
As tech companies come under fire for mishandling our data, with one blog post, a young software engineer forced these firms to share some of the most damning information they keep: the demographics of their workforce. Tracy Chou turned concepts familiar to her profession — like open sourcing, metrics reporting and benchmarking — to push for more diversity and inclusion throughout her industry. She discusses how the uphill battle continues through Project Include and why, in this case, a top-down approach from tech leaders is needed now.
Julayne Virgil, CEO of Girls Inc. of Alameda County, describes how her organization provides youth with the confidence to overcome systemic gender bias, and hopefully, realize their full potential. Girls in the program are given the types of experiences that help them break through their fears and build strength for the challenges ahead. Virgil also talks about how innovation means improving what exists, not just creating something new.
Tech entrepreneur David Baszucki explains how Roblox is essentially the YouTube for online games, a platform that derives immense value entirely from the millions of content creators and players who come together to build and be immersed in virtual worlds for fun. He discusses how the company dictates strategy and product roadmap, while depending on its users for growth.
Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne tells students that life is long and lived in chapters. Some of his include being a pioneering neuroscientist, head of research at Genentech, a co-founder of two startups, and president of two leading research universities. He shares what he's learned about how to lead organizations that turn discovery into real-world impact.
How do you know when it’s time to start a company? Or when to begin fundraising, and how much? And, as you grow, how do you recruit the best executives and build a culture centered on employees? Venture capitalist Josh McFarland of the firm Greylock Partners answers these questions and more through his experiences as founder and CEO of tech startup TellApart, which Twitter acquired for nearly half a billion dollars.
Actor Harrison Ford shares his longstanding commitment to preserving nature through Conservation International, joined by the organization’s CEO, M. Sanjayan. In conversation with Stanford Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig, the environmental leaders urge entrepreneurs and engineers to build disruptive innovations, while describing how strategic thinking is at the heart of the self-sustaining solutions they launch around the world.
The key is understanding your own tolerance for risk in what you do for work, and how you pay the bills at home. At the firm Forerunner Ventures, founders must have three traits in spades to get funding: magnetism, discipline and vision. Eurie Kim, general partner at the firm, explains what it’s like to work at companies of different sizes, and what skills and strengths make you best suited for each.
The tale of 3D Robotics starts in the garage of a teenager in Tijuana, Mexico, who launched a drone-making factory with a $500 check from entrepreneur Chris Anderson, who then flooded the American market with their unmanned aerial vehicles and disrupted the aerospace industry through grassroots, open innovation. Then, China caught on and drove U.S. drone makers into the ground. Anderson, 3DR's CEO, shares his hard-won insights.
Choose co-founders based on their core values. Pick investors who will be there in your darkest hour. Make hiring the best people your top priority, and treat them like owners — not employees. Sameer Dholakia, CEO of business email service SendGrid, discusses the most important strategies for a startup's success, including the concept of "servant leadership."
Entrepreneur Leila Janah describes how her social enterprise Samasource allows people in Africa and elsewhere to lift themselves out of poverty through dignified, fair-wage digital work like photo tagging for companies in Silicon Valley. She celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit in those who survive on next to nothing and explains how giving work is more effective than charity.
On the racetrack, the checkered flag goes to the car that’s driven to its limits and maneuvered decisively in the moment. On a two-lane road, the split-second act of passing a vehicle stopped in front of you becomes a way more complicated call when algorithms are in control. Autonomous-vehicle maker and Stanford Professor Chris Gerdes applies these findings and more to business and life.
Make beef out of plants instead of cows and you can begin to save the planet. That's what inspired award-winning scientist Patrick Brown to leave his professorship at Stanford University and found Impossible Foods. In conversation with Stanford Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig, Brown describes how his singular passion for impact prompted him to leave academia and become a food-tech entrepreneur.
Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of the popular DNA-testing company 23andMe, discusses how providing people with their own genetic data empowers consumers to make better health decisions and advances science. In conversation with Stanford Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig, Wojcicki explains how the intense scrutiny that the DNA-testing company has received is a sign that it is disrupting the status quo.
Amy Chang had accomplished a lot in her eight years at Google, helping launch and then lead Google Analytics to 70 percent market share. But then she left to launch her own tech startup, a relationship-intelligence platform called Accompany. In conversation with Matt Harvey of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Chang talks about getting out of one's comfort zone and laying the groundwork for a successful career.
How good are you at limiting your screen time? Because of the way humans evolved, our brains are no match for the engineers, designers and companies that collectively create the devices and apps that demand our attention all day long, according to technology ethicist Tristan Harris. A former tech entrepreneur himself, Harris is now co-founder of Time Well Spent, a nonprofit movement to create an ecosystem that aligns technology with our humanity.
Industry disruptors, it stands to reason, tend to be outsiders. But how comfortable are you not being an outlier? Serial entrepreneur Catherine Berman shares her story of coming to terms with the traits and experiences that set her apart from friends and colleagues throughout adolescence and early in her career. Embracing her uniqueness emboldened Berman to launch several social ventures, the latest being a social-impact startup in fintech called CNote.
There was a time, not long ago, when information we desperately wanted wasn’t at our fingertips. What’s the best deal on flights to New York? How much does that home down the street cost? Serial entrepreneur Rich Barton has made a career out of providing all those juicy details by launching platforms such as Expedia, Zillow and the company-review site Glassdoor. He shares his journey and advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Even as adults, we still have to deal with bullies, at work and otherwise. Stanford Professor Bob Sutton has devoted his career to studying organizational behavior and dysfunction, and of late, figuring out how we all can avoid or deal with people who demean, disrespect and drain their peers. The professor of management science and engineering draws on academic research and anecdotal evidence included in his new book, "The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt."