Gaining the Skills for Global Entrepreneurial Marketing

By mvpena | July 28, 2014

The course “Global Entrepreneurial Marketing” is designed to give students the skills needed to entice customers around the world to buy a product or service through hands-on exercises, mainly via mobile and social platforms. Taught at Stanford since 1998, the course focuses on targeting markets and customers, product marketing and management, partners and distribution, as well as sales and negotiation.

Students earn their grade through a mix of a project, case-study work done in small teams, individual writing assignments and contributing to discussions in class and online. The course is taught by Consulting Prof. Tom Kosnik, in the Department of Management Science & Engineering (MS&E), who describes entrepreneurial marketing as both an “art and science.”

The course (MS&E 271) begins with students forming small teams and coming up with a product or service that they market over the course of the quarter. Some students, such as Sophia Salim, have actual startups or business ideas that serve as their team project.

Salim, a graduate student in MS&E, has a social commerce website for moms and was drawn to the course because it answers one of the key questions entrepreneurs in engineering often overlook when starting a new venture: What is the right balance between product and marketing?

An engineer by profession, Salim knows all too well how easy it is to become obsessed with perfecting a product and getting it launched. “It’s funny. You spend so much time on developing the product. But it can be that the product is completely what the customers don’t want,” said Salim, who took MS&E 271 in Spring 2014. “It can take you months, or even years, to realize that.”

Much of the course focuses on teaching students how to market the exact kind of product or service that customers want – and the most current and proven methods for reaching precisely those customers in the mobile-social era. Throughout the quarter, students run a series of experiments, using an integrated-marketing toolkit developed in part by Kosnik, to try and drive traffic to a website of their choice.

In Salim’s case, that website was the one for her startup, Ropazi. She implemented what was presented in class, and assignments quickly became more than academic exercises. “I keep going back to those slides,” Salim said. “The things that he is teaching us have a direct impact on what we’re doing.”

Indeed, students expecting the class to consist of abstract discussions about marketing strategies will be disappointed. “I like to tell my students, ‘Eliminate strategy from your vocabulary,’ because marketers need to focus on execution,” said Kosnik, a longtime faculty member of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, the entrepreneurship center in Stanford’s School of Engineering.

In keeping with the practical nature of the STVP-affiliated course, Kosnik invites startup founders, veteran marketers and other guests from industry to discuss recent business challenges they’ve faced and compare the decisions they made in real time against the solutions proposed by the students.

There is obviously no one solution for messy and immediate real-world problems, and that’s where the “art” comes into play in Kosnik’s summation. “Marketing is the art and science of turning total strangers into hardcore, loyal advocates for your product, your service, your company and you,” said Kosnik, who previously taught at the Harvard Business School.

Former students of MS&E 271 can attest to its power to awaken even the most diehard engineer to the prospect of entrepreneurship. Guido Appenzeller, who took the course in 1998, said it changed his perspective on what was possible professionally. Once seeing himself as a “pure technologist,” Appenzeller said the course inspired him to consider a more entrepreneurial path.

Five years after earning a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford, Appenzeller co-founded Big Switch Networks, a company funded by Khosla Ventures and Index Ventures. He previously served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Morgenthaler Ventures, and before that, co-founded Voltage Security, a market leader in encryption technology at the time.

“Looking back at Stanford, that was probably my number one or number two class that I took at the university,” said Appenzeller, who has taught at Stanford as a consulting assistant professor and headed its Clean Slate Lab from 2008 to 2010. “Understanding the business side of things is very, very important.”

For Ernestine Fu, who took the course in 2012, one of her fondest memories was being able to work with classmates who brought stellar credentials to the table. “Our team had experience working at Twitter, LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs and other companies,” said Fu, currently a senior associate at the venture capital firm Alsop Louie Partners. “We were debating case studies late at night. But we also tried to incorporate a little bit of fun into it.”

The course also has an emphasis on social responsibility: Students analyze whether their project will adversely impact the environment or raise any ethical issues, and then present ways to proactively address those problems. This speaks to Kosnik’s broader belief that global entrepreneurship can build trust across cultural chasms and, just maybe, bring about a more peaceful world.

Actually, Kosnik admits that’s highly unlikely. But through frequent teaching and coaching engagements around the world, he has seen entrepreneurship take root in remote parts of Asia and other corners of the globe. He envisions companies founded by entrepreneurs hailing from nations around the world and a growing appreciation for international commerce and our interconnectedness.

“He’s such a kind and awesome person,” Salim said. “Learning from him has been an honor, honestly.”