I attend Chapman University in Southern California. Disneyland is nine minutes away (I’m a fast driver). When class ends for the day, students head to the beach and lay in the sun. They take weekend trips up to Big Bear to go skiing. They hike to the Hollywood sign.
You know what isn’t causal? Sitting across from a number of the greatest Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs that Silicon Valley has to offer and getting course credit for it.
Throw 14 students with backgrounds in startups, manufacturing, and even bitcoin into a room with three professors who hold experience in starting companies, fundraising for their startup, and acquisitions. What do you get? Results below.
Enter: the Roadmap to Silicon Valley interterm travel course.
Day 1, Stop 1: Axcient
See those white bags on the table? Yes, those bags. The ones filled with Axcient notebooks and water bottles that are blocking your view of the platters of delicious cookies. And do you see how the walls outside of the conference room are lined with straw that give you the sense you’re actually at a luau? (You can check it out here, too). And what you can’t see is that the team actually gets around the office via scooter.
Can you solve this equation?
Gift bags + food + fun environment + scooters = ?
Answer: company culture.
That was the primary topic of our discussion. Justin Moore, CEO and Founder of Axcient, explained that the culture of his company is guided by their five values. The company culture was definitely evident at Axcient. Their team was filled with passionate and fun individuals who were glad to take time out of their day to talk with us.
Day 1, Stop 2: Meritech Capital
On the other end of the spectrum is Meritech Capital, a late stage Venture Capital firm. Of the 86 companies in their portfolio, 28 of them merged with another firm or were acquired. Another 38 IPO’ed. We had an entire hour with Rob Ward, one of six partners at Meritech and #40 of Forbes Midas List of top tech investors.
Day 1, Stop 3: Plug and Play
Last stop of the day was Plug and Play, an accelerator with a variety of focuses. They have invested in companies like PayPal and Zoosk and are currently investing in everything from bitcoin focused startups to EdTech. We walked through their huge campus. The walls are adorned with tiles of successful companies that went through their accelerator. We were given a tour by an investment associate, Neda Amidi. She brought us by coworking space filled with startups working on their current projects.
Day 2, Stop 1: Bullpen Capital
Located right next to Khosla Ventures on Sand Hill Road sits Bullpen Capital. Have you ever had that feeling of “Wow. I have so much more to learn.” That was one of those moments. Duncan Davidson, Managing Director at Bullpen sat down at the conference room table with his flat white and shared his insight into all things entrepreneurship from venture capital to accelerators to the valuation bubble. He broke down the three major components of being in venture capital. Ready for another equation?
HR + Legal Work + Networking = Venture Capital
There it is: 14 of us students sitting in a conference room with Duncan Davidson listening to him break down VC for us. It doesn’t get more real than that.
Day 2, Stop 2: Bill Draper & Nancy Huang
We reached the offices of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. This meeting showed us a different side to VC: investing in social entrepreneurship. DRK has a different model than the typical VC firm because they fund early stage social entrepreneurship startups.
Bill Draper left us with a very important piece of advice for learning:
Say “yes” more than you say “no.”
When you say yes to opportunities, we have the chance to learn about an entirely new space and meet new people.
Day 2, Stop 3: Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
We had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Reinstra of WSGR. Wilson Sonsini represents a large number of tech companies and VC firms including YouTube, SalesForce, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Andreesen Horowitz. Mark offered insight into the overview of Silicon Valley and noted:
If I went into a Starbucks off Sand Hill one morning at 7AM and shut the doors, I could start a company.
Day 2, Stop 4: The Hive
Big data. Yeah, most of us didn’t know what that entailed when we walked into The Hive, the big data accelerator of Silicon Valley. Then we spoke with T.M. Ravi, CoFounder and Managing Director. He explained the opportunities with big data and healthcare especially. T.M. Ravi also mentioned how we are going to experience the rise of augmented reality and big data!
Day 3, Stop 1: Boost
Cryptocurrencies. That’s not something your average Chapman student studies in a classroom. Boost is an accelerator that focuses solely on Bitcoin centric startups. We sat down with Adam Draper, Founder and CEO of Boost the same day Bitcoin dropped more than $40. After talking with Adam, I think half of the class was ready to invest in Bitcoin.
Day 3, Stop 2: Lynk
We had seen VC firms, established companies and even an accelerator or two. But we were in Silicon Valley. Where are the bootstrapped entrepreneurs eating ramen while they code away? We stopped by Luke Orthwein’s home where he was working on his startup, Lynk, a messaging app that shows you who is nearby. We had actually been using the app over the course of the trip to communicate!
Day 3, Stop 3: Bill.com
We showed up to Bill.com’s HQ and walked into a conference room marked “Sicily.” I looked around and noticed that all the conference rooms are marked by different countries. René Lacerte, CEO and Founder explained that each room is named after an island. The offices are generally geographically relative to the islands in real life.
Day 3, Stop 4: Kleiner Perkins Cauffield & Byers
The best of the best entrepreneurs fight for the chance to step into a Kleiner Perkins conference room with one of the partners. We had 90 minutes of Randy Komisar’s time. Randy is a partner at Kleiner Perkins and invested in companies like Nest and FindTheBest. He asked us a question.
When you leave, what are you going to steal?
I’m going to clarify now. He was not referring to physical objects, but knowledge. What will we learn and take away from Kleiner Perkins, from the class, from college that will help us in the future?
Day 4, Stop 1: Pivotal
Last day of the trip. We make our way into Pivotal Labs. They have a full breakfast set up in their kitchen for their employees. This seems like a great place to work already. We met with Leo Spiegel who talked about the cloud, the culture and the constant work it takes to make a deal come through.
Day 4, Stop 2: VMware
The VMware campus is bigger than we thought it was — to say in the least. We talked to Shekkar Ayyar and Alex Wang who focus on mergers and acquisitions. We better understood the culture of VMware after speaking with the two. They spoke to the relationship between VMware, Pivotal and EMC which gave us insight into how the three operate together effectively.
We took our last photo in front of VMware and that was it. The action packed trip was over in four days.
As Brandon Higginbotham, a student from my class put it:
It was an outstanding insight into the world of startups and venture capital that allowed me to discover future career paths that I want to pursue in the future.
The purpose of this blog post is not to show you what you’re missing. It’s not to give you insight into one of Chapman’s best kept secrets. And it’s definitely not to get you to take this class next semester. No, it’s to show you that you missed out. That’s right. You missed a gigantic life-changing, eye-opening, major opportunity.
So, how are you going to make up for that? Here are 2 ways.
- Sign up for this class next interterm, take the class and participate.
- Get involved in the incubator NOW. Yes, Launch Labs, the greatest place in the entire campus. And yes, NOW. Just come by and see what’s going on. You may not be visiting those particular startups, accelerators or VC firms directly, but Launch Labs will be the catalyst for you in learning about this space.
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