Category: 2012 (page 1 of 6)

Where are they now? Cathy, Kait, and Keila (TEC 2012)

It’s been a year since the TEC class of 2012 was admitted. In the months since, we had an awesome summer in San Francisco, returned to our universities, and have been balancing assignments, side projects and job applications. In this series of posts, we’ll be checking in with TEC alumni to see what they’ve done since.

311171_3978566977866_1549249715_nCathy Lee
NYU ’13, Marketing & Information Systems

What have you been up to post-TEC? What are your plans for the future?

Not sure what I’m doing full-time yet! Searching for a product/design related job. Right now I’m working part time for STELLAService – my experience with product at my TEC internship with Brightroll helped me attain skills needed for that. I’m also working on two side projects in which I play the role of designer; TEC helped me realize my passion for design, as I was able to talk to designers and be exposed to all types of roles within tech.

How did you decide to do TEC?

Last summer, I wanted to get a design-related job – the one I’d be hoping to get didn’t come through, and I was slightly bummed. Looking back, I’m in a much better place having been a part of TEC :) I’ve always been interested in tech and startups, and I really wanted to see what the valley was like and gain experience at another startup. I was so surprised and delighted by the supportive, collaborative, and open culture. This is really an internship where you can go beyond doing work and learn about yourself and your own passions. I was able to do that, but most of all, I enjoyed getting to know my fellow TEC interns, who are some of the most ambitious and quirky people I’ve met. Also, True Ventures is very supportive of their interns!

Protips for future TEClings

  • Never leave your camera at home!
  • Always bring a light jacket (at the least).
  • Don’t be afraid to approach people and ask them questions :)


KaitlinGaissKait Gaiss
Duke ’13, Public Policy Studies

What have you been up to post-TEC? What are your plans for the future?

This summer I’ll be working as a Marketing Program Manager with Nest Labs in Palo Alto. Basically, upon coming out to San Francisco for TEC, I fell head over heels in love with the Bay Area and knew I wanted to be out here after graduation. I came back out in January (with fellow TEC interns Dan Rozycki and Tyler Wilson) to meet with people I was connected with through True and through Duke, just to get more of an idea of what I was looking for. Since I was primarily looking at startups, my prior experience with TEC and Directly made a huge difference…it demonstrated that I understood the environment and could ultimately take initiative to get things going.

So much of what I’ve done this year has been influenced by my summer with True. Regardless of the fact that True plugged me in to the Bay Area network and gave me an amazing work experience, the most influential part of the program are the other interns you meet. When I take a step back and look at my fellow TEC class, I’m awestruck. Thankfully most of us will be in SF (Rachel and Cathy, wish we could persuade you), but I can’t wait to see what everyone goes on to do.

How did you decide to do TEC?

Last summer, all I knew was that I wanted to be in San Francisco. I’d never been to the West Coast, yet everyone told me the minute I got to the Bay Area, I’d never want to leave. It kind of seemed way too good to be true, so I figured I needed to go. I wanted to be in program where I got valuable work experience, yes, but also where I had the opportunity to meet brilliant people and exposure to what it takes to successfully build a company.

Of course, as the story goes, I then stumbled upon TEC. And it offered everything I was looking for – startup experience, a chance to see the VC side of things, an opportunity to live in SF, and 10 other students who would be in the program with me. I was lucky enough to get in, and TEC more than delivered on its program description. I learned a TON, met great people, and all in all, had a fantastic time.

Protips for future TEClings

  • Take advantage of your student card. Email anyone you’ve ever wanted to talk to, and ask if they want to meet over coffee. Send written thank you’s, people tend not to do that anymore but it is polite and very much so appreciated.
  • Three words: Airbnb and Getaround. They’re your ticket out of the city for a weekend adventure.
  • Finally, look to the interns around you for inspiration. Learn from them. Live with them. Talk about ideas. Debate. Go on that Airbnb/Getaround trip with them. The chances are pretty high that you will be building things with these people long after the summer is over.


formal_squareKeila Fong
Yale ’13, Computer Science

What’ve you been up to post-TEC? What are your plans for the future?

After graduation, I’ll be working full-time at True Ventures as an analyst. It’s a dream job I didn’t even know was possible, and TEC made it all happen. My job at Nodeable allowed me to try a number of different roles, which helped me decide to pursue something non-technical. Every Thursday spent in the True office meant unparalleled interaction with founders and a broad exposure to the ins and outs of the industry. It also meant getting to know (and be known by) the awesome team at True, which I can’t wait to join!

In the meantime, to tide me over until I’m back in the Bay Area, I’ve been attending hackathons, attempting to blog, and working with various organizations on campus to develop our tech resources and curriculum.

How did you decide to do TEC?

Junior spring, all of my friends were either interviewing for finance/consulting internships or applying to big tech companies. With internships like those, the lure of the brand and the potential return offer is strong. While I saw the appeal of security, I wanted to try something new and to experience working at a “real” startup before having to decide which path to pursue full-time. I also wanted something more T-shaped — something that could offer the depth of a traditional internship but that also emphasized the breadth of the bigger picture. In short, TEC delivered.

The thing about TEC is that it doesn’t close doors; it holds the existing doors open while opening others you probably never considered. If you want to eventually end up at Google or McKinsey or on Wall Street, you can, as TEC alumni have shown. If you want to work at a startup or start your own or try out VC, you can, as TEC alumni have shown. The circumstances are different for everyone, but I really believe TEC is an opportunity worth taking advantage of.

Protips for future TEClings

  • Even after TEC, the other interns have been been invaluable — as good friends, travel buddies, sources of advice, even future roommates. Living together really helped make us objectively the most cohesive TEC class yet.
  • Blogging is a good habit that can pay off. I dragged my feet when it came to writing the assigned blog posts, but in the time since, I’ve kept up the habit. Getting your thoughts out there is a valuable exercise regardless, but it’s also a great opportunity to connect with other people. I’ve made a number of connections with people just because they’ve read something I posted.
  • Having a network matters. What you know isn’t irrelevant, but like it or not, it often really is about whom you know and who knows you. TEC makes it really easy to start forming that network (and this is coming from someone who claims to hate networking).


One more week left to apply! Do it now! & Closing Thoughts

First, a huge belated thank you to the other TEC interns, the True team (Christiaan!), and Brightroll.

If you’re reading this and still haven’t applied for TEC ’13, do it! There are many worthwhile summer programs and internships, but TEC will help you meet lifelong friends, examine entrepreneurship from every perspective, and let you imagine (and realize – through your internship) where you can fit in and thrive. This is a video I showed on our final day together, recapping glimpses of some moments of the summer (warning: we’re passionate and peculiar people).

I’m not sure where my journey will take me, but I do hope to eventually use design to solve important (read: not first world) problems. Feel free to follow my thoughts on The Design Nerds, a design blog Keila and I (roommate love) started.


I’ll leave you with a list of big takeaways from last summer:

1. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and from all backgrounds. Know yourself and what kind of environment you thrive in. Personally, I realized that I don’t have to be a founder per se; I just need to be a part of an inspiring team of people who have the same values and goals as I do.

2. Ideas and vision come from knowledge about problems you either understand and/or experience. Rarely do they come (*poof*) in the shower. So if you’re interested in a problem, try and learn as much as you can about it over time. Chances are, while you’re doing that, you’ll find potential ideas for solutions.

3. Entrepreneurship is really hard – everything from time management to programming to design. Entrepreneurship and/or being part of a startup can also be one of the most rewarding experiences if you persevere. Please don’t drink 8 cups of coffee a day.

4. Marketing something is more fun if you had a part in making it.

5. It’s all about people and their passions. Solve a problem for people, with people you enjoy being around, with a passion that you have.


A Final Roadmap

Learning on the job and through experience itself is where I, and most others, learn best. Still though, as amazing as this summer has been I almost wish someone had given me a tip sheet beforehand, a map I could use to navigate through all the quirkiness and excitement that is the Bay Area. So, without further adou, here is a seemingly jumbled list of random things…things I’ve seen, things I’ve loved, and things I wish I’d known sooner…that is designed for anyone exploring the Bay Area. Especially those TEC interns coming out next summer.

1) Live in San Francisco. I got incredibly lucky on this one. To give you fair warning, finding housing in San Francisco is a nearly impossible process. It got to the point where I was in the middle of finals week procrastinating and emailing Craigslisters the very minute they posted their apartment for sublet. Stalkerish? Yes. But it was also successful, as I got one (yes…only one) reply from a woman with regards to her place in the Mission. Trust me when I say you must do whatever it is you need to do to live in this city. From what you’ve heard, it sounds pretty weird, right? I’m here to tell you it’s even weird. But leave your preconceptions on the flight out because after a summer in SF you will have fallen in love with the sheer bizareness of it all. For neighborhood stereotypes, check out this post from The Bold Italic. Which leads nicely into my next tip…

2) Read The Bold Italic. They’ve got a listing of fun and odd events that are going on every day in San Francisco. I’ve done everything from a graffiti art show opening to a microbrew beer tasting for charity (cactus lime chili pepper beer, anyone?). As a profound lover of food, The Bold Italic is a mecca of food entrepreneur meetups. One of Pete’s coworkers from Message Bus runs a fried chicken and waffle operation that you need to check out, if you should be so lucky.

3) Bike. Rent one for the day or buy one on Craiglist for the summer and re-sell it afterward. The biking community here is incredibly cool, and it’s a fantastic way to see the city and make it your own for however short you may be staying. Spinlister has some great options for renting bikes and getting to know other people in SF.

4) Get out of SF. I love the city, I really do, but you need to rent a Zipcar (or even better yet, use Getaround) and get out of the fog. Ten of us went up to Lake Tahoe for one weekend and rented an amazing cabin on Airbnb. I’d highly recommend Tahoe (Side note: Rent rafts and spend a lazy day on the Truckee River. The secret is to flip your raft over, pour water on it, and transform it into a slip-and-slide). Other cool places I’d recommend are Half Moon Bay, Monterrey Bay (super cool aquarium), Yosemite, Sonoma (a cheaper version of Napa Valley), and Big Sur.

5) Play your student card. Email whoever you’d like to sit down and grab coffee with. Entrepreneurs are serious about paying it forward, and want to help the next generation (aka, us) navigate our way forward. Don’t be timid, even if all you’d like to do is pick their brain and hear past war stories from the startup trenches. And always, always ask how you can help them in return.

6) Spend time getting to know everyone at True. They’re truly amazing people that care about others. Now that I’ve had sufficient time to reflect upon my summer experience, I seriously cannot even begin to thank True enough.

7) Finally, step out of your comfort zone and get to know your fellow TEC interns (and other interns living in SF). As soon as I left the office, everyday, I was with the other interns. Whether we were exploring Golden Gate Park or simply making the most out of South Park’s free wifi and tasty treats, it was amazing to get to know everyone in the TEC 2012 class. It has only been 4 months since our program ended, yet I’ve traveled to Montreal with Keila, Dan, and Tyler, have taken a bus up to DC to visit Kevin, and have grabbed coffee with Pete at Boston College. I am not kidding when I say that the people in this program have changed my life. You just have to be open to it and never be cautious of being yourself. Sounds cliche, but each and every one of us in our TEC class was remarkably different, but that only meant we added something unique to the group’s overall dynamic. The only downside to the relationships I’ve built through the program is that returning to college for senior year has been somewhat, anti-climatic.

Now, I couldn’t call this a blog post without talking about food, so here is my list of personal favorite coffeeshops and restaurants in the city: Ritual Coffee, Cafe La Boulange (open until 10 PM!), Philz Coffee on 24th in Mission, La Taqueria (25th St and Mission), Humphrey Slocombe, Palada II (Upper Haight), Little Star, Iron Sides, and The Stinking Rose for its garlic bread. If you have any questions (any questions at all!) about San Francisco, True, my summer experience, or where to go eat, don’t hesitate to get in touch at kgaiss [at] gmail [dot] com.


TEC 2012 Reflections

If you are anything like me then you are considering applying to TEC with the attitude that you probably won’t get into the program. You might be thinking or even hoping in the back of your mind that you don’t get in because you are a little afraid to be thrown into a startup and into a new city right after you get out of school in the spring. I recognized this feeling in myself and in fact justified the application by convincing myself there was no way I would get in, and I could go back to my same job doing technical support at SolidWorks in Waltham MA, 20 minutes from my house. While I really appreciate what working at SolidWorks has done for me as a mechanical engineer you need to understand that this degree of comfort is in fact your biggest enemy as you look for an internship as a college student.

Even once I got into the program I had myself thinking that San Francisco would be a decent city and that the program would be pretty good, but I also thought that all of the other interns would be people I wouldn’t really want to associate with. I remember sitting in my room at my house in Upper Haight on the first couple of nights out of 10 weeks thinking this is going to be a pretty long summer, although I was already having a pretty good time at my startup. I was starting to get a little more comfortable with the city, having walked 30 minutes to work a couple of times and explored various parts of the city with two of my roommates, one of whom was in TEC. Still, at this point I had absolutely no idea what the summer would do for me. Then TEC started on my third week in SF and everything changed pretty quickly. We started getting exposed to some really cool speakers who were interested in us and what we were doing as much as we were interested in them. Everybody at True was incredibly welcoming to us and we were all enjoying the free drinks and office space at South Park. We were building incredibly good connections not only within our company but with other people in the Bay Area who seemed to be willing to talk to us simply because we were motivated people who were validated by being accepted into TEC. The network of existing professional people in San Francisco that you will take away is invaluable and is essentially handed to you – you’d have to try not to get to know a lot of people.

But the thing that was in all honesty ten times more interesting for me and helpful for my personal growth was interacting with the other interns at True. In all of my life I do not think I have been around a group of people that were as intelligent, interesting, and cool as TEC class of 2012. This caught me completely off guard and actually took some adjusting to. As time went on it became really clear that we were all really different people, but everyone had their place in the group and I think everyone meshed incredibly well together. We also all seemed to gravitate towards each other, and I think more than other TEC classes of the past we hung out as much as humanly possible outside of the program. We had boundless optimists in the group along with brutally honest skeptics, jokers, quiet and outspoken people, and everything in between and when we actually discussed things seriously I was always impressed by the fact that I was able to actually take a nugget of wisdom out of it.

What I’m realizing now is that I need to surround myself with passionate, interesting people who want to do real things in the world. This has truly influenced the way that I’m looking for jobs this upcoming year, and I doubt I would have made this leap without TEC in general. So if you’re sitting out there thinking that you won’t get in, or you won’t have fun, or you won’t be able to live up to what your startup wants out of an intern, just put in the application, because if you are selected for TEC I can tell you right now you’re gonna have a great time.

A talk with Ann McCormick, the queen of children’s educational software

Educational software is an on-again-off-again space that is difficult to get right. A little while ago I talked with Ann McCormick, co-founder and CEO of Learning Circle Kids, LLC. If anyone has the ability to disrupt the children’s educational software market, she does.
In 1979, Ann co-founded and was CEO of the Learning Company, a children’s software company that most famously created Rocky’s Boots, and Reader Rabbit. She did so with a $1,000 grant and computer from the Apple Education Foundation. The company went public in 1992, and was eventually acquired for $660 million. Since then, she has emerged as a thought leader in education technology, serving in many executive roles including director of Nueva Media at the Nueva School, and at her most recent venture, Learning Circle Kids, LLC. She is a wonderful woman who has dedicated her life to preparing kids for their futures, and is an unbelievable visionary, teacher, thought-leader, and executive.

What is your background?

Ann told me about how she has a masters and Ph.D in Education from UC Berkeley. She has also spent 10 years out of college in successful projects as a teacher in low-income urban schools, and 8 years around private schools, including the prestigious Nueva School in Hillsborough, California.

In 1979, Ann founded the Learning Company with a grant of $1,000 and a computer that she won from the Apple Education Foundation. Then, in 1982, she won more grants from both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Education. She used that money to launch her first three products. In 1983, proceeded to raise venture capital and launch six more products. As said above, by the time the Learning Company was acquired, it was a public company purchased for $660 million.

How did you come up with the idea for the Learning Company?

Ann told me about a computer scientist friend from Stanford who had come to her with an idea for a company. It was an idea for software. Ann figured her expertise in education could really help. The idea sparked something for her. Instead of working through the system, this idea presented an opportunity to reach kids directly. The rest is history.

What was it like as the early stage CEO of the Learning Company?

Overall, Ann said, it was wonderful. She was pioneering at a time with no quality educational software options in the home. Her favorite project was Rocky’s Boots, “a commercial educational software product, published in 1982 by the Learning Company.  It won Software of the Year awards from Learning magazine (1983), Parent’s Choice magazine (1983), and Infoworld magazine (1982, runner-up), and received the Gold Award (for selling 100,000 copies) from the Software Publishers Association.  It was one of the first educational software products for personal computers to successfully use an interactive graphical simulation as a learning environment.  It was a precursor to later simulation products such as SimCity and The Incredible Machine.”[1] In other words, the game was revolutionary for the industry.

What are you up to now?

Ann has just started a new venture called Learning Circle Kids, LLC. She is co-founding it with a dear friend of hers that she has known for years. It is based around unique text input into a computer. She described this as her, “20 year dream”. I’m positive it will be getting some high acclaim very soon.

What is the main lesson from the past that you will apply this go-around?

Ann imparted three major lessons:

1) She learned to be part of a team by communicating more effectively.

2) She said to make sure to take the time to fundraise correctly (don’t take impatient money). Her point is that raising venture capital is not always a good fit for a nascent company.

3) Do a profit and anon-profit as a bridge. This way will yield return, but over a longer time period.

Ann is a formidable force as a visionary, and leader in the educational software space. I would keep an eye out for her, and Learning Circle Kids, LLC in the coming months.

Until next time,



Stories to Glory

Continuing my theme of talking to as many cool entrepreneurs as possible I was able to sit down a few weeks ago with Margo Redfern, founder of Flattenme and cofounder of the Tahoe Expedition Academy. Last week I also spoke to Steve Papa regarding his experience as the Founder/CEO of Endeca, which just sold to Oracle for $1.075 billion. For this post, I will explain the timeline and process that Margo has gone through in creating her businesses and then I will delve into the interesting bits of knowledge I pulled from talking to Steve about his experiences.

Two Very Different Ventures, One Very Determined Entrepreneur


Flattenme is a website that allows for you to insert pictures of you or your children into books, essentially casting yourselves as the main characters to a number of pre written stories. I have never heard of a book like this, and thinking back to my childhood I think it could have been awesome to see either myself or my siblings or parents as the protagonists of a story. Margo told me that there were similar companies in existence when she started Flattenme, but nobody had done an aesthetically pleasing or convincing job of using the technology. Margo’s Husband Joff originally created a book for his daughter, casting her as the main character in the book. She took the book around and showed it to everyone she saw, to the point that people were asking Margo where her daughter had gotten the book and were looking for one for themselves. This was the moment where Margo realized she had a potentially huge business on her hands – if she was able to create a little bit of buzz around this idea, and her daughter was so absorbed an interested in it, all she had to do was get it out to the masses.


I was interested in the marketing channels that Margo first chose in order to get the Flattenme name out there, and she explained that they used print ads targeted to moms as well as affiliate programs and social media. But the biggest thing for promotion of the product came from hiring a very skilled PR person, who was able to get the books featured on the Today Show, the View, and Oprah. This was accomplished mostly through connections, again making it obvious how powerful networking can be in getting your company off the ground. I also asked Margo about any growing pains the company might have experienced, and she recounted one particular experience with a Groupon promotion that sold 10,000 units in 48 hours – crashing their server for a significant period of time. However, this was probably a good problem to be having all things considered and by hiring a few more people and instituting new procedures Flattenme was able to make sure that type of thing didn’t happen in the future.

Expeditionary Learning

Margo and her family soon moved to the beautiful Lake Tahoe area, but discovered that the schools in the area were well below her standards. Being an entrepreneur, Margo saw a problem and decided it was an opportunity for a business. Although she had no background in education Margo felt she could handle the operations/business side of the school if she could find good people to help her with the education side. The prospect of a school – something that could have a positive impact on hundreds of children and their families – made this venture particularly interesting for her, and after its first year of operation it is fair to say that the Tahoe Expedition Academy is a great success. I talked to her about the school environment and couldn’t help but think of how awesome it must be to attend this school. The kids spend 1/3 of each day in the field actively studying nature and mankind’s interaction with it. In addition to this constant learning through experience the kids are exposed from a young age to self-confidence and character development classes which help prepare them for a world where you must be socially competent and confident to reach your full potential. One of the aspects that I thought was the coolest was class mobility, meaning if you are reading at a 3rd grade level in 1st grade, you can take class with the 3rd graders! Doesn’t sound so complicated, but I remember asking for extra, harder math homework in early grade school, hoping that I could find some material that was harder than what we were being taught, and I can only imagine how happy I would have been at the chance to actually move up to the next grade for that class. The most telling thing Margo said was that in a survey sent out to parents at the end of the year, the most commonly checked box under “things we should change” was “nothing.”

Experience and Luck

My interview with Steve Papa was very different from the one I had with Margo – instead of talking about specifics of the company Steve seemed to be more interested in talking about his general experience as an entrepreneur and what he had learned from it. He is a guy that really goes by the stats and we immediately got into a discussion about distribution of opportunity. Steve is of the opinion that one of the biggest factors in the success of a business is being in the right place at the right time, and while you can maximize your chances of success it comes down to luck in the end. This is the reason that someone with no experience can succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Where industry knowledge and experience comes in to play is during the shifts that a company experiences. An inexperienced CEO has a high chance to either overreact or under react to the shifts that occur during a company’s life. Someone who knows the industry has an intuitive feeling as to whether a new idea will be a fad or is actually an emerging trend, and this is an invaluable skill for a leader. Of course, someone just blindly leading a company in random directions will succeed sometimes, and there are many people out there doing just that. When Steve started Endeca he already had experience in the software industry and the IT and Services industry, having worked for Inktomi, a company that provided software solutions to ISPs and eventually sold to Yahoo. He also worked at Teradata, a company that provides data services across the board for big companies like eBay. The experience in these companies helped Steve come to the conclusion that he could run a company comfortably in this sector and help it achieve success. By founding the company in Boston, Steve hoped that Endeca would be a marathon company – something more calculated and steady over a long period of time – as compared with most of the companies that are started by younger people in the valley which can be considered sprints. It is clear that this marathon mentality has worked, as Steve just sold his company but will still remain on as the CEO.

One thing that Steve mentioned really struck me as an important insight. When I asked him for the one piece of advice he would give a young entrepreneur like myself he responded by asking me if I was actually an entrepreneur. When I said I had started a couple of things to make myself money he cut me off and said that that doesn’t necessarily make you an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur requires the undying desire to bring an idea to fruition through any means necessary, and requires that you have actually created something not just had an idea. Anyone can have an idea, and a good entrepreneur might even steal an idea from someone else and make a better version of it than the first person ever could have.

All good things must come to an end…

Unbelievable that I am home right now, sitting in my living room reflecting on my 8 week experience in the 2012 TEC program that seemed as though it just began. Our last week certainly didn’t disappoint with speeches from Tony Conrad, Om Malik and Adil Wali, how could it? The final presentations were a great insight into exactly what all of my fellow interns have been up to this summer. It was great for me to give my presentation in front of my boss, Josh and show him exactly what I’ve learned in two short months.

Beyond all of the entrepreneurial lessons I’ve learned and the incredibly successful and kind people I have met this summer through the TEC program, nothing beats the friends I made in my TEC class. We did nearly everything together and having 6 guys live together was the best decision we ever made this summer. Constantly being surrounded by highly intelligent people from all parts of the US inevitably made me smarter, made me more motivated and made me more aware of the great things others were doing. I explored the entire city with these people, took a trip to Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz and Pescadero among other places.

This summer has solidified my belief that I will be out in Silicon Valley next year either working for a startup or starting my own company. I absolutely fell in love with the People, the Culture and the Lifestyle I found in San Francisco. I highly recommend this program to ANY rising junior or senior in the US for the TEC class of 2013…you really don’t know how great of a LIFE opportunity this is and I couldn’t be more grateful to have had a chance to be a part of something so great.





Ideas are Cheap, People Aren’t

As I reflect on my time interning in California with True Ventures and Message Bus, there are a few consistent themes that have left an impact on my outlook on entrepreneurship.

Embrace Reality

Be prepared for some highs, but more lows. Never try to trick yourself into believing something (an idea, a company, etc) when you are not passionate about it. Be optimistic and pessimistic.

The most important thing you can do is find a balance; you can do this by embracing reality and understanding what you are getting yourself into.

Experience Trumps All

You can have the most talented team, but what happens when there is a major issue with the code base, your servers go down, or your code in production has an issue the team has never seen before?

One thing I love about Message Bus is the experience of each employee. In any discussion, if someone has a question or is attempting to fix a bug, there is an engineer who already experienced the same or similar issue and knows a solution(s).

Experience also helps in recruiting a strong team. If you are approached by a company and you know the founders include previous founders of Twitter and Webshots (in the case of Message Bus), why wouldn’t you work there? This leads me to my last point…

Ideas are Cheap, People Aren’t

Everyone has an idea. Many people have the same idea. If you are working on an idea right now, there are probably several other people working on the same idea. But the idea won’t make it; the team will.

It makes sense why venture capitalists invest in the team and not the idea. A lot of the reasoning comes back to the two previous points I made: good teams will have a realistic outlook and more experience than most people.

The idea you start with is not always the idea that works. Embracing reality becomes important and needs to be the backbone of an entrepreneur. When you need to “pivot” or change an aspect of the idea, the original idea becomes somewhat irrelevant. It becomes even more important to have the right team because they will be willing to grow and adapt with the idea.

There are intangibles in a great team that prove to be more valuable than an idea. When issues arise, the idea doesn’t solve them… the people do. Solving these issues is easier with an experienced team rather than an inexperienced team. Great teams will recruit a great team. They will create a place where people look forward to working at every morning, and where passion is evident in every corner. Ideas don’t create these environments.

Thank You!

Lastly, I want to thank True Ventures and Message Bus for having me this summer. I have met great people, learned more than I thought was possible, and was able to live where entrepreneurship is flourishing. I am going to miss every Thursday at True and spending every day at Message Bus.

This summer experience confirmed two things- entrepreneurship is definitely for me, and California is the place to be for entrepreneurship. Thank you to everyone who made this possible!

A Culinary Tour of San Francisco

With all the serious talk about startup responsibilities and locational advantages, you might have thought that there was no time for fun in TEC. Though the summer is jam-packed, all of the TEC interns have found time to get out and go exploring. One of the best ways to get to know a city is through its food: it gets you out of your neighborhood, it’s an excuse to meet up with other people, and (usually) the eats aren’t half bad either. As a vegetarian, I’ve found San Francisco very amenable to my dietary needs. Below is a photo post that gives you a taste of where all I’ve been the last two months.


Philz Coffee was 2 blocks from our apartment in the Mission, and we went there 3 times in as many days our first week. They do single-cup brews and give you about 30 different choices for blends. Lucky for me, my work made coffee in the morning using Philz beans too.


Kan Zaman was a Middle Eastern restaurant we all went to on our first Friday. Apart from the comfy floor seating, the restaurant featured belly dancers.


Gelateria Naia is a cute gelato place in North Beach with a huge selection of delicious flavors, including whiskey and sweet corn (I passed on that last one; I get plenty of that in Illinois).


I love pizza, and I love Chicago, and I love Chicago pizza. So of course I had to try out a place purporting to sling Chicago pizza…in California…at least once. That place was Patxi’s, which we ate at in Palo Alto before heading up to Tahoe. They have locations all around San Francisco as well. The verdict? It was passable (nice and full-bodied), but the sauce was too sweet. PS-this picture was taken by my uber-talented co-TEC intern Cathy Lee.


There were a bevy of Mexican places in the Mission, but La Taqueria is one of the ones we liked best. Small menu, great food.


Darwin’s was a small cafe by my work that was positioned to me as one of the best lunch places in the city. This kale salad was worth every single one of the 11 dollars (!) it cost.


I started with coffee, so it’s only appropriate to end with it. Another thing the Mission had in spades besides Mexican restaurants was coffee shops. This was from Ritual Coffee. Unfortunately this picture is indistingusishable from every single other latte foam heart photo (at least it’s not Instagrammed), but it was A+.

Silicon Valley and Locational Advantages

With the whirlwind of work and excitement of being a TEC intern, I haven’t blogged much about a topic that had interested me earlier on: entrepreneurial ecosystems and the special sauce that persists in making Silicon Valley a prime example of those ecosystems. Being here, and getting to talk to so many entrepreneurs who chose to base their companies out of this area, has clarified my understanding some, though it’s raised even more questions. The paper that I wrote about entrepreneurial ecosystems feels like it’s far off in the past now, but I distinctly feel that I have a better comprehension, even if it’s hand-wavey, of just what makes this place so special.

A huge thing is the network effect, which one of the TEC speakers helpfully put a name to. This is a concept that suggests that the more participants there are in a system, the more benefits accrue to everyone. We can think of various ways this might be true in an ecosystem: it creates enough demand for specialized services like legal, marketing, PR; it fosters a large group of people whose interests may be aligned, which is helpful for brokering deals with one another and with higher-ups; and it cultivates a network of personal relations that are essential for finding funding or new employment.

This last point, this dense and closely-knit personal network, is a large part of Silicon Valley’s essence. Silicon Valley is the epicenter it is because everyone’s here, and people continue to flock here. It kind of got first-mover advantage. No, it wasn’t always the tech center it is now, but it’s been on that game much longer than the places that try to copycat SV to no avail have been. This personal network is enormously helpful in funneling qualified candidates through to jobs. I’ve seen it firsthand: hiring is a huge drain on human resources, and the personal network helps mitigate some of that strain. It’s not just for finding new jobs though: this is the place to be if you want to connect with insanely smart, talented, driven people. I can’t find any exact figures right now, but I’d be willing to bet that founder density in San Francisco–heck, in SoMa alone–is one of the highest of any locale.

Another thing is serendipity. The dense social network leads to chance meetings that makes good things happen, according to Paul Graham. I’ve sort of seen this in action, just with people in the True network I’ve run into around the city. Closeness breeds familiarity, and familiarity leads to amazing things happening down the road, to smart people collaborating and creating together. San Francisco itself is just 7 x 7 miles–though Silicon Valley encompasses a broad region–making these serendipitous interactions more likely to happen.

People love to attribute the core of Silicon Valley to the laid-back-yet-hard-working California culture. This is patently false–culture is a reflection just as much as it’s a driver–but I’ve definitely picked up on this region’s distinct culture. It’s less of a “9-to-5” and more of a “come whenever, wear whatever, just work hard,” type of deal, work-life balance be damned. This culture does help products ship and companies get built, but if I had to identify a single key feature of Silicon Valley’s locational advantage, it’d be the personal network more than the culture. The sheer density of smart, talented people, an advantage that builds on itself, is what sets the region up for success.

Older posts