A few months after her failed bid for California governor in 2010, veteran Silicon Valley CEO Meg Whitman found herself on the couch, completely deflated. The team she built for her campaign, the crowds who cheered her on, the 5 million California votes — not to mention the personal fortune she invested — all for naught.

There she was, the graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School who went on to head eBay during its most explosive decade of growth, from 30 employees and $4 million in annual revenue to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenue in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, just her and Ellen DeGeneres on the TV in the family room of her home.

Her husband said this would not do and urged her to figure out what’s next. It didn’t take long.

Later that day, another tech-industry leader, Marc Andreessen, called to ask Whitman to serve on the board of directors for Hewlett-Packard. Less than a year later, the board invited her to be the company’s next president and CEO.

Once word of that got out, though, Whitman’s return to industry hit some turbulence. At the time, she was widely criticized in the press as being unfit to head a company as big as HP. On the day of her appointment, members of HP’s board apologized for once again subjecting her to intense public scrutiny.

But her time in the cutthroat arena of politics prepared her well. “It was a remarkable experience. And frankly, it made me a better CEO,” she said during a recent talk at Stanford as part of the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series. “I have a much tougher skin than I did before I ran for governor.”

At HP, she stabilized a company that saw the departure of two CEOs in just two years and headed the restructuring of a legacy high-tech giant into two Fortune 100 companies.

She did that by following several tactics that leaders should hone, regardless of context. In turning around the storied HP, Whitman first returned to the company’s foundational values and existing strengths. She also let actions speak louder than words:

During her talk, Whitman described how government and business require different leadership approaches and skills. And yet, her immersion in politics endowed her with more than just thicker skin when she returned to industry. Engagement with social and economic issues led to a deeper understanding of how business and commerce shape global affairs.

As Whitman describes below, leadership in innovation is still very much up for grabs. It will depend on which country can identify the industries with the most potential, and then realign its economy and education system so that it can foster, keep and sustain innovation in those sectors going forward.

Business classes are not a prerequisite for entrepreneurship, and yes, some of the most storied startup founders were college dropouts. But many others say they benefited from academic courses and experiential learning opportunities that focused on the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

Joshua Reeves, the soft-spoken CEO of a payroll and benefits startup called Gusto, began one talk on entrepreneurship by saying he attended the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar at Stanford University 14 quarters in a row while majoring in electrical engineering.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the founders of Instagram, met as students in an entrepreneurship work/study program that combines classes, mentoring and other immersive experiences. They and other entrepreneurs who went through the nine-month Mayfield Fellows Program, also at Stanford, say it was the most insightful experience they had as students.

Other alumni of the program include startup founders like Kit Rodgers of Cryptography Research, Avid Larizadeh of Bottica and Google Ventures, David Merrill of Sifteo and Bobby Lee of BTCC. Each one of them possesses innate talents and drive, that along with insights they gained as students, propelled them to entrepreneurial success.

Elon Musk may embody the notion of a naturally gifted entrepreneur, but the aforementioned founders are proof that the necessary skills and mindset can be learned. The thought-leaders seminar and fellowship program are both offered through the entrepreneurship center in Stanford’s Department of Management Science & Engineering.

The late Peter Drucker, one of the leading management thinkers of the 20th century, said it best: “The entrepreneurial mystique? It’s not magic, it’s not mysterious, and it has nothing to do with the genes. It’s a discipline. And, like any discipline, it can be learned.”

Yes, some will argue that entrepreneurship is still more art than science, at times requiring improvisation in the face of unique and uncertain situations. But there are obvious characteristics that successful entrepreneurs tend to share. Among them are:

Emergence of entrepreneurship education

Donald Kuratko, a professor of entrepreneurship at Indiana University, Bloomington, traces the history of the academic field back to 1971, when the University of Southern California first launched a concentration in entrepreneurship for MBA students. By the early 1980s, more than 300 universities offered courses in entrepreneurship and small business, and over the next decade, that number grew to 1,050 schools, Kuratko states in his article, “The Emergence of Entrepreneurship Education: Development, Trends, and Challenges.”

When it was published in 2005, entrepreneurship education had exploded to more than 2,200 courses at over 1,600 schools around the country. Kuratko also counted more than 100 established and funded entrepreneurship centers at the time, noting emerging trends in “experiential learning” such as class projects, startup competitions and field trips exposing students to industry.

“Today, the words used to describe the new innovation regime of the 21st century are: dream, create, explore, invent, pioneer, and imagine!” Kuratko wrote. “Entrepreneurship educators must have the same innovative drive that is expected from entrepreneurship students.”

However, Kuratko notes — as do others — that more progressive universities are offering entrepreneurship courses across a wide range of schools and departments. In particular, “it is critical to expand entrepreneurship education to engineering and science departments where most of these technologies originate,” entrepreneurship professors Tom Byers (Stanford) and Andrew Nelson (University of Oregon) state in the Chicago Handbook of University Technology Transfer and Academic Entrepreneurship.

Byers and Nelson, along with Richard Dorf, an engineering professor at the University of California, Davis, wrote the textbook Technology Ventures: From Idea to Enterprise. And in it, they explain why they focus on the tech sector, and on educating science and engineering students as well as those studying business:

“The technology sector represents a significant portion of the economy of every industrialized nation. In the United States, more than one-third of the gross national product and about half of private-sector spending on capital goods are related to technology. It is clear that national and global economic growth depends on the health and contributions of technology businesses.”

At the university that spawned Silicon Valley, Stanford’s engineering school offers courses, fellowships and other learning opportunities to help students develop the knowledge, skills and behaviors to be entrepreneurial in life. And through Stanford’s involvement with the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation – known simply as the Epicenter – students and faculty far beyond the valley have brought entrepreneurship and innovation to their campuses and curriculum.

Funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the Epicenter led initiatives that turned thousands of college students and faculty around the country into inspired advocates for bringing a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation to engineering education — touching about 300 U.S. institutions over the past five years.

The Epicenter’s leaders recently sat down and discussed how far entrepreneurship education has come in the last 20 years, and what the future holds for integrating more of it into engineering curriculum.

Creating innovators, not experts

In one instance, an entire engineering college is devoted to graduating innovators by tearing down the academic silos that have historically kept students narrowly focused on their major. Olin College of Engineering, in Needham, Mass., does this in recognition that the next Steve Jobs won’t be an expert in just one discipline — and that the late CEO of Apple didn’t even major in engineering.

At a recent Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk at Stanford, the president of Olin College described how the traditional model of higher learning separates the disciplines and forces like-minded students to stick together. When instead, Richard Miller said, what aspiring innovators need is to be exposed to a diversity of perspectives.

Citing research out of Stanford, Miller explained that innovation happens where three objectives overlap: feasibility, viability and desirability. But at a typical university, most of the students who focus on feasibility (can it be done?) are in the engineering school, while the students concerned with viability (is it financially possible?) are working on MBAs. Meanwhile, the students who care most about desirability (people’s emotions) are usually found in the humanities and social sciences.

“If we’re going to create innovators, we need to do a better job of integrating these in the same head, so that one person can see the whole picture,” said Miller, a leader in the movement to revolutionize and reshape engineering education. “The big message for engineering schools: No amount of doubling down on math and science courses is going to improve the output of innovators.”

The point is that the most important traits in entrepreneurship aren’t necessarily inherited or the result of total luck. While charisma and happenstance certainly play a role, prominent educators agree that people can learn to be entrepreneurs.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of programs, organizations and universities that want to prepare the next generation of innovators – and the need for them has never been greater.

In the era of the entrepreneur, clever ideas can seem like a dime a dozen. But it’s the committed willingness to act on an idea that turns an epiphany into something much more than an ephemeral intention. To illustrate this, we present insights from the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) Seminar, featuring recent speakers sharing different but equally poignant perspectives on the value and mechanics of taking action.

One of the most notable hotbeds for technological leaps is Alphabet, and in particular, X, its well-known “moonshot factory.” From balloon-enabled Internet to self-driving cars, the division has earned a reputation for conceiving some of the most audacious ideas for improving our lives through technology and seeing them through – at least to the prototype phase.

Astro Teller, “captain of moonshots” at X, spoke a little of the lab’s secret sauce at his ETL talk, saying that its success starts with a culture that sounds contrary to its mission: While crazy ideas are encouraged and celebrated, they are immediately scrutinized for flaws in feasibility. Calling himself a “culture engineer,” Teller emphasizes the importance of fostering workplace norms that encourage the sharing of big ideas, and of creating a space where people feel safe knowing no limits will be imposed on the imagination. Teller notes that adults often feel they have lost their sense of creativity and miss out because of it. The rate-limiting step to innovation, as he sees it, is that we don’t put all our ideas out on the table because of our self-defeating doubts.

Now, once you’ve gotten all those great ideas out in the open and have identified the one with the most potential, it’s time to execute. And while there are many ways to move forward, there’s a tried-and-true formula that works for most teams – whether they are in large corporations or small startups. It’s called product management, and below, entrepreneur Minnie Ingersoll describes its three phases from her time at Google, where she led efforts to create Google Fiber, deploy a citywide WiFi network and improve Google AdWords – all non-trivial tasks for sure. Now the co-founder and chief operating officer of the online used-car marketplace Shift, Ingersoll describes the three phases as 1) defining the vision, 2) deciding what product to build, and 3) execution.

The first phase involves getting to know who you’re building for and what problem you’re solving. After all, what good is a solution if you haven’t taken the time to put yourself in the shoes of the user? The latter two phases are setting up a product roadmap and, perhaps most importantly, holding yourself and your team accountable to the product milestones you established. This is where relentless execution on the vision you crafted in the first step of the process separates the ideas that come to fruition from those that don’t.

But imagine a circumstance where, after much debate and deliberation, your team decides to move forward with an idea you vehemently disagree with. What then? After all, we’re proud of our ideas and often find it difficult to set them aside. According to Bob Sutton, organizational-behavior expert and professor in Stanford’s Department of Management Science & Engineering, that’s precisely when we should forego ego and give 100 percent. Citing the wisdom of late Intel co-founder Andy Grove, Sutton says that by fully committing to the project you initially resisted, you’ll know that, if it fails, the flaw was in the idea itself and not in the execution.

To have a good idea without the ability or drive to bring it to life is like having a dinner table without sturdy legs: It’s nothing more than an illusion of having something valuable. This is not to diminish the value of a good idea, which is half the battle in and of itself. But to discover an opportunity worth pursuing and follow through with committed and thoughtful execution, bolstered by strong team alignment, is the very essence of entrepreneurship.

Stanford Engineering Professor Bernard Roth, a founding faculty member of the university’s renowned design institute, told audience members attending one of his recent talks at Stanford University how to “stop wishing, start doing and take command of your life.”

That’s the subtitle of Roth’s new book, The Achievement Habit, and he summed it up in terms verging on blasphemous to the science-loving attendees of the April 13 talk. He disputed the wrinkled, green Jedi’s famous line in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

To that, Roth stated flatly, “Yoda was wrong.”

Risking the wrath of sci-fi fans everywhere, Roth explained that there is indeed a “try” and a “do.” “There’s really nothing wrong with trying to do something, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing it,” he said. “The problem is when you think they’re the same thing.”

That assertion is at the heart of Roth’s teaching over the past 40 years, at Stanford and in workshops around the world. Initially offered as classes in creativity, Roth’s teaching has grown to encompass all that goes into “design thinking,” which is rooted in engineering’s focus on building solutions to problems and involves human-centered need finding, prototyping and iterating.

More commonly known on campus as “Bernie,” Roth is a Jedi in his own right. He is the Rodney H. Adams Professor of Engineering at Stanford and is a longtime veteran of the university’s design scene, first joining the faculty in 1962. He has a worldwide reputation as a researcher in kinematics and robotics, and his most recent activities have moved him more strongly into experiences that enhance peoples’ creative potential through the educational process.

Roth currently serves as the academic director of the d.school, known formally as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. It has become a hub for innovators throughout campus, where students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, law, education and the humanities converge “to take on the world’s messy problems together.”

At his talk for the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar (MS&E 472), Roth acknowledged that his current thinking seems to run contrary to the ethos of design thinking, which focuses on the problems of others, not the ones doing the thinking. But let’s face it, we all have problems — and Roth was intent on proving that the tools for unlocking solutions that he has developed would work for everyone in the audience.

In keeping with his emphasis on “doing,” rather than simply talking, Roth showed attendees how to reframe problems in a way that increases what he called the “solution space.” He told audience members to:

  1. Think of a problem in your life.
  2. Ask yourself what solving that problem would do for you.
  3. Turn the solution into the question you need to answer.

For instance, one person told Roth that he is slow to get out of bed in the morning. And when Roth asked him what getting out of bed would do for him, the man said it would allow him to get more work done during the day.

“So the question is how to get more work done. It has nothing to do with getting out of bed,” Roth replied. “I can figure out a way to stay in bed and get more work done, as an example.”

In his book, he calls this “moving to a higher level,” and he applies it to profound problems that everyone faces. He starts with the question “How might I find a spouse?” and then turns it into a declarative sentence that sounds more like a challenge: “Find a spouse.”

He then asks, “What question is ‘Find a spouse’ the answer to?” This unlocks a long list of possibilities, including:

“Each of these questions, regarded as a problem, has many possible solutions,” Roth writes in The Achievement Habit. “Finding a spouse is just one solution to each of these. In actuality, it may not be a very good solution to any of these problems.”

However, Roth also cautions that doing isn’t always a virtue, and in his book, specifically calls out Silicon Valley’s obsession with change. In this high-speed, hyper-competitive business environment, companies are always doing something new out of fear that they will stagnate and fold without constant innovation.

The problem, Roth writes, is when we let that notion rule our personal lives.

“Often the things we strive for only represent more of something we already have: money, fame, appreciation, love,” he explains. “It’s an endless chase; as the saying goes, you can’t get enough from more.”

One way to find out what makes a good entrepreneur is to, well, ask a successful entrepreneur. And if that person has done well in your chosen field, then it’s highly likely what she says will be relevant to you.

But if you want a more basic understanding, in terms of the right mindset and skills needed to succeed, it might make more sense to ask people who observe and invest in entrepreneurs on a regular basis. Through repetition and experience, these people can see patterns emerge in the traits of those who excel and those who don’t.

When you ask these experts, as we do every week in the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) speaker series, they don’t call an entrepreneur good or bad based solely on their net worth. Rather, they talk about the individual’s work ethic, enthusiasm and intelligence.

Pattern recognition is one sign of intelligence. But beyond the ability to see when something occurs again and again, the flip side of pattern recognition is noticing where things aren’t happening. The business-strategy term “blue ocean” refers to just that: a wide-open market that no one else has yet noticed, and so abounds with opportunities.

And in his recent ETL talk, venture capitalist Mike Rothenberg — whose seed-stage fund identifies, invests in and cultivates tech entrepreneurs — has just two words for those with serious startup aspirations: Start swimming.

As the longtime host of this seminar series, Stanford Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig has spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years and learned what traits the best ones have in common. She shares these lessons in her new book, Insight Out: How to Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World, and in the classes she teaches in Stanford’s Department of Management Science and Engineering.

She also spoke about it at ETL last fall, presenting a model that lays out the knowledge, attitudes and skills that are crucial for any would-be entrepreneur. In a framework she now calls the “Invention Cycle,” Seelig says the journey from imagination to implementation begins with engagement — noticing opportunities in your everyday environment.

As co-founder and partner of one of the most prominent venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Ben Horowitz, also knows a thing or two about what makes a good entrepreneur. He, too, wrote a book that sums up his insights, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. As the title implies, it aims to be a no-nonsense guide for entrepreneurs, explaining brutal truths and dispelling common myths.

It all starts with being able to build a great product, Horowitz said when he spoke at ETL last fall. If you can’t build something that consumers want, Horowitz explained, you’re not going to be able to build a great company. The co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz spent a lot of his talk describing how many of the non-technical skills that entrepreneurs need — people skills, management skills — are not intuitive. But they are absolutely essential to succeed and scale up.

The concept of “entrepreneurship education” still has its skeptics, perhaps because what immediately comes to mind are iconic entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey. How could anyone possibly teach an individual to be remotely as influential or visionary as either of those two?

Educators, however, know that “entrepreneurship” is an umbrella term that embodies many teachable skills — such as creativity, design thinking, leadership and the basics of business and management.

Although entrepreneurship may not be as exact a science as, say, bioengineering, the associated knowledge, skills and mindsets can be taught. Just like a child can be nurtured over time to be a great writer or athlete, a person can learn to be entrepreneurial if given the right guidance and opportunities to internalize important lessons through hands-on, experiential exercises that gradually develop the required tools.

One of the latest entrepreneurship educators to demystify her field is our own Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, the entrepreneurship center in the university’s engineering school. In her new book, Insight Out: How to Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World, Seelig presents a series of steps that anyone can follow to do exactly what the title states.

The “Invention Cycle” Seelig describes in her book is based on 16 years of teaching as well as hundreds of interviews with entrepreneurs and innovators, including those she hosts as part of the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series.

Time and again, Seelig says the path these entrepreneurs took followed the steps of her Invention Cycle: imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. And she recently took to the seminar stage herself to explain how those concepts constitute the cycle, beginning with imagination.

After imagination, the next two steps in the cycle are creativity and innovation. Creativity, as Seelig defines it, is applying imagination to address a challenge or opportunity. Innovation, then, is applying creativity to generate unique solutions. That is, creative ideas are new to you, and innovative ideas are new to the world.

These two concepts are illustrated perfectly in the story shared by entrepreneur Alon Cohen, who, along with his wife, Adi Tatarko, founded the home design and remodeling website Houzz. After several frustrating rounds of trying to remodel their own home — failing at first by going with a friend’s referral, and then later taking the inefficient route of leafing through piles of books and magazines — they decided to build a website that showcases and aggregates the work of architects for the countless others in their situation.

And because it was one of the only websites of its kind at the time, word spread quickly and Houzz started offering content for homeowners in Chicago, New York and other major markets across the country. The site also grew rapidly in scope, attracting interior designers, landscapers and other professionals.

Clearly, Houzz wasn’t just a creation. It was an innovation.

The last step in the Invention Cycle, entrepreneurship, isn’t so much about starting a company, as it is about influencing others to support your innovation in order to magnify its impact and truly get your idea out “into the world.” Hence, Seelig explains, entrepreneurship requires encouraging and empowering others — whether that means they join your team, fund your work, use your products or even just spread the word.

“Great founders are amazing at getting support. They are amazing at getting support from people who can really help them,” says Mike Rothenberg, founder and CEO of Rothenberg Ventures. “That is what entrepreneurship is, is getting support outside of what you can currently control.”

Rothenberg Ventures identifies, invests in, and cultivates technology value and talent at scale, having provided early funding for such startups as Planet Labs, SpaceX and ZenPayroll. Rothenberg himself founded and bootstrapped three companies. So not only can he recognize the traits of a good entrepreneur, he is one, harnessing all the parts of the Invention Cycle — imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

As clashes between political parties, socioeconomic classes and ethnic factions dominate current events, it’s clear that we could all use a lesson in empathy. Taking the time to put oneself in the shoes of another and experience the problems they encounter everyday reveals unique opportunities to use our own energy and talents to help others and better connect with them.

In our personal lives, it seems intuitive that exercising empathy allows us to better bond with friends, family and acquaintances. It is, in fact, not so different in our professional lives: Approaching negotiations with the goal of helping the other person get what he or she wants, you both will be better off, according to Stanford lecturer Heidi Roizen, a recent speaker at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) Seminar Series.

“The art of negotiation is finding the maximal intersection of mutual need,” said Roizen, operating partner at the venture capital firm DFJ, quoting her favorite lesson from her days as a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Often, the opportunities to practice empathy in a meaningful way exist outside of our own networks and communities. In those instances, that may mean venturing way beyond our comfort zone to truly know the pains others feel.

In her ETL talk last month, Code for America Founder Jennifer Pahlka shared the example of how her program’s fellows enrolled in California’s food-stamps program to find out why so many recipients failed to renew their claim and kept falling off the rolls.

By interacting with the time-intensive and non-intuitive online enrollment system themselves, the coders experienced the full frustration of those actually signed up for the “CalFresh” program. It inspired them to simplify the online process, and build an elegant smartphone app for the many recipients without access to broadband.

But most importantly, the coders kept low-income families from going hungry, and in the process they gained a healthy dose of personal fulfillment.

Sometimes, an entrepreneur’s challenge is recognizing what problem to address. In a world so rich in opportunities, the choice isn’t always quite as clear as we’d like.

But consider this for a moment: Might we be asking the wrong question altogether? Perhaps it’s not a matter of recognizing what problem we’re best suited to work on, but rather, just taking the plunge to help out, experience the journey and see if anything in it speaks to us.

In his ETL talk, Shah Selbe reflects on his own volunteering experiences, underscoring the profound effect they had on what he does now as a bona fide “National Geographic Explorer.” By taking the time to volunteer for what he considers worthy causes, Shah said he gained a deeper understanding of the challenges out in the world, while gaining credibility for working on problems for completely altruistic reasons.

Having empathy is, of course, critical for entrepreneurs seeking to understand and solve people’s pain points. But on a more human level, it helps form meaningful relationships with those in our network — and possibly, compels us to volunteer our time and talents in order to serve those beyond who could really use our help.

If you’re leading an entrepreneurial venture, the new year can be an ideal time for redefining and rejuvenating. In a startup’s early days, founders can code all night, talk to customers all day, while keeping a small and devoted team on track the rest of the time. But once a business grows and becomes more complex, those sleep-deprived entrepreneurs will have to let go of some of those responsibilities to focus full time on leading the company and charting its path forward.

In other words, it becomes a matter of redefining the leadership role. For the final DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk of 2014, Ben Horowitz, of the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, pointed to Google Co-Founder Larry Page as a poignant example of someone who simply cannot take on everyday technical tasks anymore.

“He cannot work on production products. It’s a full-time job – even for somebody who can do as many things as Larry,” said Horowitz, author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. “If Larry can’t do it, you can’t, either. I guarantee you.”

A new year can also be a great time to start seeing things with fresh eyes. As she discovered while researching for her book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, leadership educator and author Liz Wiseman found that experience had the ironic effect of limiting people’s ability to see things clearly – because they often made assumptions based on previous experiences instead of being open to new data points, perspectives and possibilities.

The solution, Wiseman says, is to maintain a “rookie” mindset. But what if you’re a grizzled veteran in your field who has seen and done it all before? Here, Wiseman shares how a surfer-turned-CEO, French filmmaker and accomplished scholar all found ways to return to their rookie roots and reinvigorate themselves.

Once rejuvenated, however, it’s also important to maintain perspective. A new year and a new outlook may inspire you to begin the next chapter in your venture. The challenge of building on success, whether it’s refining a product or reinventing a business altogether, is one that few in the tech sector have pulled off at scale:

In the clip above, Lewis Cirne, founder and CEO of New Relic, shows cautious optimism that his software-analytics company will be able to pull it off. And yet, entrepreneurs have always been known to fixate on that next big thing. So, if the only alternative is complacency, is there really any other choice?

It can be tempting around the holidays to tune out all the consumerism. But entrepreneurs would do well to heed customer sentiment. Whether the product being built is a free app or fresh apparel, the bottom line is that, if consumers don’t want it, you’re out of business.

Usually, a successful venture begins with identifying an unseen opportunity or a widely shared pain point that no one else has addressed yet. But once you figure out your solution to that problem, or your unique product, building it out before seeing what potential customers think of your idea would be folly.

The financial loss from a flop is the most obvious risk. But nowadays, with the average consumer wielding the megaphone of the Internet, if a company gets it wrong, that individual can — and will — let the business and the rest of the world know about it in an instant.

Especially in retail, brands no longer have the one-way advantage of dictating tastes to customers. As Tina Wells of Buzz Marketing Group says in this video clip, today, consumers dictate their desires to brands:

At the same time, it’s wise to look closely at cases where others got it wrong – because they can guide you toward success. This was how Method Products, the maker of hip and healthy household cleaners, managed to compete against established giants in the industry: by studying their missteps.

Given Method’s niche of making only non-toxic cleaning products, the company asking customers to bring their empty containers to the store for refills would be in line with its Earth-friendly stance. But Method Co-Founder and “Chief Greenskeeper” Adam Lowry saw how others failed with that approach, and in fact, inconvenienced customers more.

“You can create the most beautiful, the most sustainable product in the world,” Lowry explains. “But if nobody wants to buy it, if you don’t get a lot of people to buy it, then I would argue that it’s actually not innovative.”

And by the way, if you can’t build a great product, how can you expect to build a great company. That had a lot to do with the tremendous bust that followed the dot-com boom of the 1990s, according to Silicon Valley luminary Ben Horowitz. Investors turned to “professional CEOs” who knew nothing about building a product that customers would want and relied on these leaders to rapidly grow a company — except that it would fold just as fast because no revenue came in.

Again, it all comes back to the consumer — empowered by the digital age, and as ever, holding the power of the purse strings. So take heed:

November is National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States. But if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, opportunities present themselves every day – whether for a new business, or even just learning something new.

The first step is noticing these opportunities. And while it may seem obvious that this requires paying attention to what’s going on around you, it is worth noting because we can all be blinded at times by our own beliefs. Inexperienced entrepreneurs can be especially prone to thinking that a personal epiphany is an opportunity, and unfortunately, pursue it without first verifying whether what they perceive is the reality.

Stanford Engineering Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig, a thought leader in the area of creativity and innovation, presented a new model that maps out the process for how ideas are brought to life and what is required at each stage. Called the “Inventure Cycle,” Seelig explains here how one must observe their surroundings before envisioning an opportunity:

Opportunities can also be found in places that others overlook or simply don’t care about. This doesn’t mean pursuing things that aren’t important, though. If you can bring passion and optimism to the table, you really can make an impact and even address one of the world’s great problems.

Take home heating and cooling. In the United States, the amount of energy needed to keep every house comfy and cozy is greater than the total amount of electricity generated by all the solar or nuclear plants in the nation. The letters H-V-A-C don’t signal sexiness, but clearly, attention is needed here.

That’s where Matt Rogers, co-founder and vice president of engineering of the smart-thermostat maker Nest, saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. And before that, when he was a new employee at Apple in 2005, he enthusiastically took on what was then considered just a side project: prototyping the iPhone.

Sticking with it at Apple showed how “intrapreneurial” he could be, and this video clip shows how well that experience prepared him to be an entrepreneur in the next chapter of his career. “I think I’ve built my entire career – actually, probably my entire life’s work – on things that no one cares about,” Rogers says. “And I’ve actually done really well doing it.”

Even for the entrepreneur who has already launched a startup, day-to-day activities can lead to new opportunities if you’re observant and take action. That was certainly the case for the founders of the ticketing service Eventbrite.

When they spoke last month at the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar Series, the wife-and-husband team Julia and Kevin Hartz recounted how their business goal evolved. Initially set on taking down market leader Ticketmaster, they soon realized the opportunity lying just beneath the tip of the iceberg: all the everyday events that need ticketing.

“It’s everything you do in your everyday life where you gain access … cooking classes, yoga seminars, obstacle races,” Julia Hartz says in the clip below. “Capturing this opportunity that wasn’t from the get-go very attractive is why Eventbrite is here today, and why we’re seeing the growth that we’re seeing.”

What’s bad about mentorship? Nothing really. But exploring the nuances can actually reveal some less-than-obvious benefits — especially for entrepreneurs. Isolation is a reality for startup founders passionate about their venture, who commonly find themselves working day and night in the pursuit of perfection.

That sort of dedication can morph over time into an obsession that possesses a founder to hold onto control of every aspect of the business, even when help from others could take it to the next level. In his recent DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk, Hemant Shah of Risk Management Solutions (RMS) provided a real-life example of just this scenario.

Having successfully launched a software company in the unique space of earthquake-risk modeling, and securing about $3 million in venture funding based on early evidence of worth to customers, around that time, Shah said he was introduced to someone being considered as the company’s next CEO.

In this video clip, Shah first refers to the person as a “colleague.” But Shah said, over the years, this colleague became a mentor who showed him how to grow the company out of its “experimentation phase” into a truly strategic and scalable business.

Another wrinkle in the mentorship dynamic is that the relationship need not always take the form of a fatherly figure passing on pearls of wisdom to a wide-eyed newbie. During her Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk last May, Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners said she had mentors who were peers, as well as those more senior and junior.

Additionally, Mitchell talked about having mentors who worked in the same field as her, and some outside of it. Hearing all those perspectives, Mitchell said, gave her a well-rounded picture of what she was doing well, and what she wasn’t.

In this video clip, Mitchell also makes a point that often goes unsaid but that is a vital element in ensuring effective chemistry between a mentor and mentee: the latter must make it easy for the mentor to share brutally honest feedback. Check out her excellent advice on how to do that:

One last distinction about mentorship is that the rewards aren’t just reaped by the one receiving advice. The benefits — emotional and physical — of helping others out of the goodness of your own heart are well known by now. And it’s no different in the particular instance of an entrepreneur helping out another.

That’s one of the main strengths of StartX, the 5-year-old nonprofit that runs an accelerator program for Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs. In the video clip below, alumni of the program talk about its “code” — that if you can assist a fellow founder, “you stop what you’re doing and help them.”

And back to the benefits of being a mentor: For those who listen as keenly as they speak, they may just glean something that helps them with a problem they’re working through. Otherwise, simply by interacting with someone who reminds you of your younger, hope-filled self, being a mentor could very well rekindle your own passion.

Over the past academic year, the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar has brought some of the sharpest innovators to Stanford for weekly talks. And even though school is now out, viewers around the world can still soak up all the great insights online, archived on Stanford’s eCorner, and on YouTube.

Summer is also a time to be entertained, of course. And while we can’t compete with blade-knuckled mutants or celebrities in futuristic exoskeletons, we can promise some deep perspectives from the people behind the box-office blockbusters, top-rated TV shows and chart-topping songs we just can’t get enough of.

A rat with a gourmet streak that sneaks around in a restaurant kitchen. A nonverbal, trash-picking robot roaming a junkyard planet. Neither of these sound very promising as a premise for a movie. However, Ratatouille and WALL-E both went on to achieve critical and commercial success for Pixar Animation Studios. The secret, as described by Pixar President Ed Catmull, lies in the studio’s “braintrust” of expert storytellers, along with a deep understanding of the creative process.

An important part of that process at Pixar, and in other organizations, involves protecting the “ugly baby” from the “hungry beast,” according to Catmull. This clip from his April 30 Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) talk explains the concept:

Yes, Catmull runs a studio that consistently cranks out Oscar-winning films. But that doesn’t mean a less-proven filmmaker can’t break into the business as well. Gale Anne Hurd, one of Hollywood’s most respected film and television producers, gave an ETL talk the year before, saying that the entertainment industry today is ripe with opportunities in the age of YouTube.

It wasn’t so easy for Hurd, who rose through the ranks more traditionally: starting as an executive assistant to acclaimed film producer Roger Corman, ascending to head of marketing, and eventually going on to launch The Terminator saga and produce many of today’s comic-book blockbusters and sci-fi thrillers. Currently, she is among the executive producers of the AMC series The Walking Dead.

“There are at least 16 directors,” Hurd said, “who made films for under $15,000 — some of them for $400 — uploaded them on YouTube and are working in the business today, after one film.”

But before you dismiss the insights of pop-culture captains such as Catmull and Hurd, listen to pop-music singer and songwriter Nate Ruess, founder of the band fun. It is his distinctive voice that carries the pop anthems “We Are Young,” “Some Nights” and “Carry On.”

With a name like “fun,” you might expect the band to run with whatever sound is trending with tweens. But when Ruess came to Stanford in February, he spoke maturely about the influence of trends on his work, and how ignoring them can lead to irrelevance.

“I’ve become better — a better songwriter, just a better person — by acknowledging what’s happening right now,” Ruess said. “It’s been one of the biggest reasons for my success, is to acknowledge that there’s something in front of me and it’s happening.”

Wise words, whether you yearn to be a hit maker or an entrepreneur.

In a tech-driven society that often fixates on the “next big thing,” it’s comforting to know that truth can trump trend. Rather than launching a venture that seeks to profit off whatever is popular at the moment, the message from those who have succeeded in Silicon Valley — who also speak of true fulfillment in their lives — are innovators who honor authenticity.

Below are three recent video clips from our DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series on how authenticity keeps an immensely popular startup focused on its mission, how it remains vital even within large corporations, and most importantly, how it is the single-best guide in your own entrepreneurial pursuits.

As many already know, the free, online education platform Khan Academy began as one man’s hobby of making a math video for his 12-year-old cousin after she bombed a placement test. Ten years later, Khan Academy boasts 5,500 instructional videos, with 4 million exercises solved daily over approximately 200 countries. 

That well-meaning man, Sal Khan, spoke at Stanford on April 16 and ended his talk by acknowledging the pressure to measure progress by the metrics those around him use. In Silicon Valley, that’s often data points like “unique users,” “click-through rates” and “sales conversions.”

Khan Academy’s stated mission is “to provide a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” And Khan, the academy’s founder and executive director, concluded his talk by saying that his not-for-profit organization’s biggest challenge is “staying true to our mission.”

Authenticity also has its place in the largest of enterprises. Corporate guideposts such as mission and identity can get complicated and evolve over time as a company grows and shifts focus, which puts the onus on its people to preserve authenticity.

In her Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk last October, Cisco’s chief technology and strategy officer, Padmasree Warrior, talked about how authenticity makes a “huge difference,” whether you’re trying to attract talented people, or create a work environment where people feel empowered to contribute.

But if you do plan to launch your own venture, whether tech-related or not, authenticity is critical to ingrain at the start. Entrepreneur Tristan Walker, who spoke in April, found his calling in the “ethnic aisle” at the local drugstore.

Walker is African American, and so truly knows the frustration that black men feel throughout their lives when it comes to shaving. So when it came time to launch his own product, he decided on the first end-to-end shaving system specifically designed for men of color.

“If I was going to dedicate the next 10-plus years of my life to anything,” Walker said, “I wanted to fundamentally feel like I was the best person in the world to solve that problem.”

With Superbowl XLVIII just around the corner, expect plenty of talk in the days ahead about what makes a great team. And if our Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) seminar series is any indication, the topic of team building is at top of mind in the high-tech field as well.

Many of our recent ETL speakers emphasized that, above all else, a business’s success begins with a great team. Cyriac Roeding, co-founder and CEO of the retail-rewards app shopkick, actually identified four distinct characteristics that lead to a great team: each member possessing “individual brilliance,” shared and inflexible values, extreme diversity and a vision that they all believe in.

Roeding, who spoke at Stanford in October 2013, explains why these are the essential ingredients for a great team, and how they fit together.

Of course, discussion around a given topic wouldn’t be very robust without some difference of opinion. In her ETL talk on Nov. 20, 2013, Sharon Vosmek cited research by Thomas Malone — a renowned professor of management at MIT — who found that the I.Q. of individual members of a group had no correlation to the group’s collective intelligence.

“So it didn’t matter how smart the people you put together, it did not then result in a smarter team,” said Vosmek, CEO of Astia, an organization that supports entrepreneurs through a global network of investors, innovators and industry leaders.

Instead, the research that Vosmek praised concluded that the factors that really increase group intelligence on teams were 1) the social perceptiveness of the team members, 2) the evenness of conversation among them and 3) the proportion of women on the team.

In his ETL talk, also last November, Mike Olson mentioned diversity and intelligence as traits that he looks for when hiring new employees at Cloudera — a powerful and integrated “big data” platform that allows customers to store, process and analyze various types and formats of data.

Olson co-founded and serves as chief strategy officer for Cloudera. And as bluntly as he could, he said all that really matters is the quality of the people in the organization. “Everything that we can claim as a success ties to the fact that we have recruited the world’s best team,” he said.

It’s also vital for companies to bring on the best and the brightest right at the start, according to Olson, because it perpetuates excellence. “If you don’t do that early, it’s impossible to change it,” he said. “The reason is, really great people gravitationally attract really great people.”

The arrival of a new year gives us a chance to think about what we want to accomplish in the months ahead. But where to start? When a student at a recent Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) seminar asked this very question — “When is the right time to start a company?” — it sounded so basic and blunt that it made the guest speaker chuckle at first.

But the speaker then paused, collected himself and responded, “It’s a good question, and I’ll give it a serious answer.” Serial entrepreneur Steve Teig, co-founder of venture-backed semiconductor firm Tabula (and co-founder of two successful biotech companies before that) came to Stanford to talk about embracing the mysteries of entrepreneurship.

Teig, the holder of more than 260 patents, also urged students to identify opportunities by taking action, rather than be paralyzed by indecision. And here was his rather decisive answer to the student’s simple question:

In her February 2012 ETL talk, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder and chair of Joyus — the Web’s first video-shopping platform — also put it simply: The act of getting started is “taking the first step.” To her, that involves telling someone and getting that person to take that first step with you, whether it’s sketching out a logo or just sitting down and to brainstorm some ideas.

“The simple act of involving someone else in something that’s inside your head is the point at which you start being an entrepreneur,” Cassidy said. “And what is such a mysterious art will become known to you very quickly.”

And if you’re afraid to start because you haven’t yet perfected every single detail in your head, Warren Packard, who spoke at ETL the week before Cassidy, believes that shouldn’t stop you. In fact, he says, “Imperfection is a great tool to have.”

Packard, CEO of the sports-programming app Thuuz, likened it to the classroom concept of getting partial credit for solving part of a test question — even if you didn’t get it 100 percent right.

“The god of partial credit works for you in spades as an entrepreneur,” Packard said. “And you have to use that as a tool to get out, get your product launched, get customer feedback, learn from your mistakes, pivot and do it again.”

With that, we hope you launch into 2014 by taking that first step.

With the holidays underway and our thoughts attuned to peace and goodwill, now is the perfect time to explore how entrepreneurship can fuel humanitarian efforts. For our weekly Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) seminars, we of course focus on topics central to technology startups. But throughout the academic year, we also invite speakers who bring the entrepreneurial mindset to the nonprofit sector.

During a season when there’s no shortage of soirees, and charitable instincts are at front of mind, ETL speaker Scott Harrison offers up a strategy for turning a personal celebration into a splashy charity event that can send ripples around the world.

Founder of charity: water, a New York City-based nonprofit that brings clean water to poor villages in Africa and other parts of the world, Harrison describes in this video clip how he tapped his social network from his days as a hotshot nightclub promoter in the Big Apple to bring in big money for the cause closest to his heart.

Ashoka, another entrepreneurial nonprofit in New York City, places its social mission front and center. “Ashoka believes that there is nothing more powerful than a new idea in the hands of a social entrepreneur,” the organization’s webpage states about its approach. “Ashoka finds and fosters the most powerful emergent ideas being led by the most effective social entrepreneurs.”

Founder and CEO Bill Drayton also spoke recently at ETL, and described how Ashoka maximizes impact by selecting highly potential “changemakers” and building networks of social innovators. But in order for any solution to spread, Drayton said it must first be seen as simple, safe and easy to understand.

In terms of private entities, the humanitarian organization bringing the most resources to bear is none other than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its massive assets, now at about $40 billion, support initiatives in education, world health and population. That the co-founder of Microsoft has dedicated his fortune to philanthropy has, in the minds of some, vaulted him past even Steve Jobs as the technology leader they’d most like to emulate.

But for all the grandness of the foundation’s aims, it is comforting to hear from Melinda Gates that she wants us to start locally, supporting causes in our own community that we’re passionate about. Most importantly, she wants us to get involved now:

Happy holidays and all the best for your entrepreneurial endeavors in 2014.

In some sense, the concept of “open innovation” has been with us all along. Yes, this Forbes article claims the term originated just a few years ago with a professor from the University of California, at Berkeley, who once worked as a computer-industry manager in Silicon Valley. And according to Wikipedia, the word “crowdsourcing” was coined in 2006.

But before all the business speak, the basic concept existed as the “wisdom of the masses.” Nonetheless, it is insightful to hear from those currently at the forefront of innovation how this creative process has evolved over the years, how it will look in the years ahead, and how it can deepen customer engagement in real time.

How It Used to Be

In her Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) talk at Stanford last year, Deborah Hopkins, chief innovation officer at Citi Ventures, talked about transparency, openness and idea sharing as the pillars of her operation. But she also acknowledged that, traditionally, it was quite the opposite in the business world.

Those with the bright ideas felt like they should keep it to themselves, Hopkins explained, because business professionals back then were taught that “knowledge is power” — and that their secret insights would secure them that corner office with the view.

Where We’re Headed

Another ETL speaker deeply immersed in innovation, Padmasree Warrior, talked about how, over the past few centuries, we have gone from “the era of the solitary genius” (think Thomas Edison) through the rise of corporate labs such as Bell Labs and Xerox Parc, to more open models of innovation such as, yes, crowdsourcing.

But as she sees it, Warrior — the chief technology and strategy officer for Cisco Systems — says the next stage in innovation will deliver products that improve experience across multiple domains: hardware, software, user interface and design.

How Else It Helps

Besides allowing companies to harvest the best ideas from a broad pool of minds, allowing others to participate in the innovation process can also help a business by deepening customer engagement — especially in the startup phase.

As serial entrepreneur Matthew Rabinowitz said in another recent ETL talk, “If your customers feel they are part of that process, and they take a certain ownership, that can really lock them in emotionally.”

A Ph.D. candidate in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program recently published a new study related to open innovation — on how organizations elicit suggestions from the public. Read about it here.

Skill building should be a lifelong pursuit, as there is something revitalizing about the process of learning and striving to master an endeavor or practice. Within business organizations, professional development opportunities are clearly valued by rank-and-file employees, who often pursue skill building or training as a stepping-stone toward career advancement.

But what about the leaders of startups, mid-size companies, and enterprise organizations; what types of skills should they focus on building? For some leaders, it may mean learning new ways to understand the business, right down to the proverbial nuts and bolts of the operation. This is of particular value to those who “fancy themselves as grand strategists and visionaries.”

While leaders often act as if they have all the right answers, perhaps a more authentic approach is admitting when you could use the advice of others.

Another valuable skill is the ability to communicate authentically with colleagues and employees. While leaders often act as if they have all the right answers, perhaps a more authentic approach is admitting when you could use the advice of others, and by doing so, encourage employees to openly bring their best ideas and efforts to bear on the products and culture of a business.

Here are three videos exploring ways entrepreneurially-minded leaders can cultivate these types of skills in themselves — and then reap the benefits of doing so.

See Your Business at Each Level

Entrepreneur Sukhinder Singh Cassidy argues that the judgment to know at what level to examine your business at any given moment is a vital leadership quality. Using a short anecdote from her time at Google, Singh Cassidy explains successful founders and executives must understand the tactical drivers of a business to effectively manage from the top of an organization.

Listen Carefully to Tough Advice

“You must decide how you receive advice,” says Mårten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems. Mickos believes this simple, but important, concept is critical for leaders and entrepreneurs who are bombarded by input and challenges from all sides.

Using a story from his experience at MySQL AB, Mickos illuminates the need to re-evaluate positions based on new information and adversities.

The Value of Being Vulnerable

“Leaders who are vulnerable are far more trusted by their employees,” says Ori Brafman, bestselling author of Click: The Magic of Instant Connections. Brafman explains that vulnerability, while often seen as a weakness in business, is a valuable skill that can play a critical role in binding deep, immediate relationships in the workplace.

To illustrate this point, Brafman shares the unique story of a hostage negotiator’s willingness to reveal vulnerability to help form an intense, but unorthodox, business relationship.

Each quarter STVP offers a number of courses to help students build the vital entrepreneurship and innovation skills and experiences needed to start new ventures or to become innovative employees and citizens. Our course lineup for spring quarter 2012 is below, featuring courses in marketing, innovation, entrepreneurial management and more.

Plus, all students interested in entrepreneurship should register for the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar, a one-unit class that offers the unique opportunity to hear the first-hand insights and experiences of an incredible collection of entrepreneurial leaders. Watch and listen to previous DFJ ETL lectures on ECorner.

2011 Mayfield Fellows graduation with Tina SeeligENGR 140: Mayfield Fellows Program – Leadership of Technology Ventures
Instructors: Tom Byers and Tina Seelig
View the ENGR 140 course website.

Only available to students selected for the Mayfield Fellows Program, this first section of the three-part MFP course sequence focuses on understanding management and leadership within high technology startups. Students work with engineering faculty, founders, and venture capitalists, as they explore issues of organizational development, financing, recruitment and market strategy.
Learn about the 2012 Mayfield Fellows.

Kristina Johnson speaking in the spirit of entrepreneurship courseMS&E 178: The Spirit of Entrepreneurship
Instructor: Toby Corey
Limited enrollment.

This course teaches students to think like a successful entrepreneur by learning how to analyze key parts of various startup business models. The course uses the speakers at the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminar (MS&E 472) as the source of the companies to be explored.

Students meet before and after each DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar to prepare and debrief, respectively.

MS&E 180: Organizations: Theory and Management
Instructors: Thomas Haymore and Issac Waisberg
Limited enrollment.

This course examines classical and contemporary organization theory. Students will explore the behaviors of individuals, groups, and organizations, and come to understand why certain behaviors impact the management of organizations.
Enrollment preference is given to MS&E majors.

MS&E 271: Global Entrepreneurship Marketing
Instructors: Tom KosnikDonna Novitsky, and Lynda Kate Smith
Limited enrollment.

How do you market technology-based products to a global audience of customers? Learn how in this course that examines cases of startups and other technology firms that are doing this work.

Students will not only learn how to target markets and build partnerships, but will also tackle issues of sales, negotiations, outbound marketing based on real-world examples.

Picture of Stanford Professor Tom Byers

Prof. Tom Byers

MS&E 276: Entrepreneurial Management and Finance
Instructor: Tom Byers
Limited enrollment. Prerequisites: MS&E 140 and ENGR 60, or equivalents.

This course places an emphasis on managing high-growth ventures, especially those based on technology products and services. Students will develop a set of skills and approaches to becoming effective entrepreneurial managers. Topics covered in the course will include opportunity recognition and selection, raising capital, financial management, operations and organizational administration.

MS&E 277: Creativity and Innovation
Instructors: Tina Seelig and Leticia Britos Cavagnaro
Limited enrollment. View the MS&E 277 website.

This popular and highly experiential course explores the variables that stimulate and inhibit creativity and innovation in individuals, teams and organizations.  Through classroom activities, design challenges and interactions with visiting experts, students will learn that every problem is an opportunity for a creative solution.

MBill Gross speaking at DFJ ETLS&E 472: DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar
Instructors: Tom ByersTina Seelig, and Tom Kosnik
Course may be repeated for credit.
View the MS&E 472 course website.

The DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar is a weekly speaker series that presents innovators from across the business, finance, technology, and philanthropy sectors, to share their insights with aspiring entrepreneurs. Through MS&E 472, students have the opportunity to learn real world knowledge from prominent leaders and entrepreneurs.

DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar Speakers – Spring 2012

From now through March 7, member organizations of the Stanford Entrepreneurship Network are presenting events as part of Entrepreneurship Week (E-Week) 2012. Members of the Stanford community, as well as the general public, can enjoy lectures, workshops, networking events and conferences, all celebrating entrepreneurship-related activity.

The entrepreneurial spirit runs strong at Stanford, and the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) is offering a number of opportunities for students and others interested in developing their entrepreneurial mindset.

See the full Stanford E-Week 2012 event calendar.

The Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminars

There are two ETL seminars taking place during E-Week. The lectures are open to the general public, and will take place on Wednesday, February 29 and March 7, respectively. DFJ ETL seminars run from 4:30 – 5:30 pm in NVIDIA Auditorium at Huang Engineering Center. This series is generously sponsored by DFJ.

Kristina Johnson


On February 29, Kristina M. Johnson, former undersecretary for Energy at the United States Department of Energy will speak at ETL. At the DOE Johnson focused on bringing greater cohesion to energy and environmental programs at the federal level. Prior to that role, she served as provost at Johns Hopkins University, and as dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. A Stanford alumna, Johnson will be sharing insights on leadership from her time in the public, higher education and private sectors.

On March 7, E-Week 2012 will wrap-up with a special ETL presentation from a mother and son tandem of entrepreneurs. Join us as Sandra and Andy Kurtzig speak to discuss their own entrepreneurial journeys as founders. Sandra Kurtzig transformed the manufacturing software industry when she founded ASK Computer Systems in 1972. Over the next two decades, she would go on to grow the company into one of the largest software companies in the world. She is now the current CEO and chairman at Kenandy.

Andy Kurtzig founded the expert answer website, JustAnswer, in 2003, and previously served as CEO and co-founder of eBenefits, which was acquired by an Inc. 500 company. As well as being a serial entrepreneur, Kurtzig is an active and successful angel investor and philanthropist.

Watch videos of previous lectures on Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner.

Coaches-on-Call Mentoring for Stanford Students

Coaches on Call SessionStanford students are invited to sign-up for E-Week Coaches-on-Call mentoring sessions to be held at STVP. During these “office hours,” students can gather advice from industry professionals representing different fields and areas of expertise. Please note that availability is limited.

Here are coaches available for E-Week 2012:

Learn more about the Coaches-on-Call program.

Design Thinking Workshop for the Epicenter

Take part in a design thinking workshop on Friday, March 2, aimed at discovering ways to help the Epicenter achieve its mission to create a nation of entrepreneurial engineers. The Epicenter, the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, is an exciting new initiative dedicated to infusing entrepreneurship and innovation into undergraduate engineering education across the United States. The Epicenter is based at Stanford, and is directed the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.

Epicenter LogoIn this hands-on, fast-paced workshop, participants will apply the design thinking process to tackle the challenge of sparking enthusiasm and engagement from engineering faculty and students to embrace and implement the Epicenter’s mission. Students and faculty of all disciplines, as well as entrepreneurs, engineers and designers are welcome, however, availability is limited for the event and registration is required.

Not able to attend? Sign-up for future email updates on the Epicenter website.

During my first year as a teaching assistant for the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) seminar, I was as a green as could be. I wanted to go in every direction at once (and I still do). One night, the lead teaching assistant at the time, George Tang, took me aside. “You need to focus,” he said. “You should meet Phil. Phil Libin at Evernote. Phil is a really good guy.” A year later, I found myself in front of that very man.

Phil Libin

During his fall quarter ETL lecture, Libin joked, “I was so nerdy the high school chess team wouldn’t hang out with me!” While this may be a joke, you can see he really means it. Along with his enjoyment in entertaining an audience, two other things immediately standout when meeting Phil Libin.

Passionate Geekdom

First, Libin excludes an interminable passion about everything he does. You can see his eyes light up when he talks about his early obsession with “transcending the end of the world,” as a youth growing up in Soviet Russia. And a smile always creeps across his face when he mentions an interesting technology he played a part in building.

To Libin, Evernote is a company for the long term, with no exit strategy.

Most of all, Libin is unabashedly in love with his own product, Evernote, an idea and inspiration capturing application. He began his talk by taking a picture of the audience and uploading it to his Evernote account. To Libin, Evernote is a company for the long term, with no exit strategy. Libin is one to choose his passions and go all in. The feeling is infectious.

Advancing Goodness

Second, as George Tang told me a year ago, Libin is a really good guy. He is driven by goals of having a positive impact that are larger than him. His childhood desire of helping humanity preclude the end of the word is just one example.

Evernote Logo

When merging his startup with another to form Evernote, Libin talked of focusing on the best interests of all the individuals involved. He also applies this principle when Evernote acquires other startups. He stresses working with the cofounders of companies that Evernote acquires to take their product further than they could without it.

This focus on a better product exemplifies Libin’s vision of Evernote as an extension of humanity’s collective mind being used to combat what he sees as a plague of commonplace “stupidity” that threatens apocalypse. He is always thinking about creating products that support the goodness of the world.

Libin’s intense geek-passion for his product and his genuine mindfulness for the common good are qualities that I feel are sometimes overlooked in Silicon Valley. At Stanford, it often feels like startups are popping up everywhere. It is easy to believe that they also happened over night. Listening to the story of an entrepreneur like Libin puts things back in perspective.

Many of the greatest and longest lasting companies were decades in the making. Libin’s experience reminds me of something that a venture capitalist once told me — the best founders are those whose motivations for their company lie in their childhoods. The 100-year companies come from the ideas that inspire founders from their earliest ages. It is a matter of finding what those noble passions are and latching onto them with geek-like intensity.

Enjoy Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s DFJ ETL seminar.

How will you live a more entrepreneurial life in the new year? If you’re planning a new venture or working hard to develop a new technology, a little extra inspiration couldn’t hurt.

The 2011 DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminar offered a dynamic group of leaders with different views on the meaning and value of entrepreneurship. However, the impact entrepreneurship plays in changing lives was a similar thread for many of speakers. Here are a few of the most inspirational videos clips from 2011 to help you start the new year off right. And don’t forget to check out the Winter 2012 DFJ ETL line-up.

Entrepreneurship is a Belief System

“You have to believe in something bigger than the business you are trying to address.”

“You have to believe in something bigger than the business you are trying to address,” says Eucalyptus CEO Mårten Mickos.

In this video, Mickos explains why the foundation of an entrepreneurial mindset is a belief system that not only requires a belief in big ideas, but includes believing in oneself and working with others that believe in you.

Phil Libin
Phil Libin

The Best Time to Start is Right Now

Serial entrepreneur Phil Libin believes now is ‘the best time in the history of the universe” to start a new company. The CEO of Evernote, Inc. magazine’s 2011 Company of the Year, argues that today we live in a geek meritocracy where great products are king.

He encourages entrepreneurs to take advantage of modern distribution tools such as app stores, social conversations, free-mium economics, and smart phone technology.

Why are You Doing This?

“The essence of what you’re trying to do… is to create amazing things that impact all of us.”

Investor Brad Feld challenges entrepreneurs to question why they are pursuing this path. According to Feld, “The essence of what you’re trying to do… is to create amazing things that impact all of us.”

The tactics around entrepreneurial success probably don’t matter very much, says Feld, if you are not working on something you are passionate about.

Visit Stanford eCorner for additional entrepreneurship insights and inspiration.

The winter 2012 edition of the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar (ETL) kicks off Wednesday, January 18. Join us at ETL on Wednesdays from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm, at NVIDIA Auditorium in the Huang Engineering Center at Stanford, to enjoy this quarter’s engaging mix of innovators and entrepreneurs.

Stanford students can sign-up for MS&E 472 to earn one unit of credit for the course.  Members of the public interested in earning credit for this quarter’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar should contact the Stanford Center for Professional Development. Visit their online catalog.

We invite you to take advantage of this opportunity to hear first hand from entrepreneurial leaders and pioneering trailblazers from different industries. And for those of you not able to attend in person, you can still enjoy the lecture podcasts and videos available for free on the Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner) website. You can also enjoy ECorner on-the-go with our free iPhone app.

Deborah Hopkins – Chief Innovation Office, Citi


Twice named by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in American business, Deborah Hopkins visits ETL to discuss Citi’s approach to delivering client-focused innovations and building partnerships with venture capitalists, startups and universities to support emerging technologies and disruptive business models. Hopkins will also share insights gained from holding previous senior positions at The Boeing Company, Lucent Technologies and General Motors Europe.

Alexander Osterwalder  – Entrepreneur & Author

Alexander Osterwalder


Alexander Osterwalder is an entrepreneur, business model innovator, and the co-author of the global bestselling book, Business Model Generation. Join us as Osterwalder discusses his dynamic tools for visualizing, challenging and re-inventing business models. Osterwalder is also the founder of The Business Model Foundry, which offers strategic tools for entrepreneurs and innovators, and he has served as a guest lecturer at Stanford, UC Berkeley and IESE in Madrid.

Ted Zoller – Senior Fellow, Kauffman Foundation

Ted Zoller


Ted Zoller has engaged in all aspects of the entrepreneurial experience, including time as an entrepreneur, an investor and as a leading entrepreneurship educator. In his current role at the Kauffman Foundation, Zoller performs research and advises the organization’s leaders on creating impactful entrepreneurship strategies and programs. Prior to Kauffman, Zoller oversaw teaching and outreach programs as the director of the entrepreneurship center at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Warren Packard – Founder & CEO, Thuuz

Warren Packard


Warren Packard is the founder and CEO of Thuuz, a consumer platform for real-time sports discovery, tune-in and sharing. Packard is also a venture partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. He currently serves on the Boards of EoPlex, Microfabrica and SeaMicro and leads DFJ’s investments in BinOptica, Hola!, Primet Precision Materials, and YeePay.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy – Founder & Chairman, Joyus

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

Singh Cassidy

As the founder and chairman of Joyus, the web’s first premium video shopping network, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy continues to build on her dynamic career as a leading consumer Internet and media executive. Cassidy previously served as CEO of social commerce site, Polyvore, and as CEO-in-Residence with Accel Partners. Join us as Cassidy illuminates her entrepreneurial journey and shares wisdom gained from her roles with global and early-stage companies including Google, Amazon, Yodlee and News Corp.

Reid Hoffman – Co-Founder, LinkedIn; Partner, Greylock

Reid Hoffman


Over the past decade, Reid Hoffman has become a leading voice in entrepreneurship, with successes in the consumer Internet and online payment spaces. Hoffman is the co-founder and executive chairman at professional networking company LinkedIn, and led the company through its first four years into profitability. Hoffman served as executive vice president at PayPal, where he was a founding board member. He is also an angel investor and a partner at Greylock Ventures.

Kristina Johnson – Former US Undersecretary of Energy

Kristina Johnson


Kristina Johnson was the undersecretary for Energy at the United States Department of Energy, where she successfully brought greater cohesion to energy and environmental programs. Prior to that role, she served as provost at Johns Hopkins University, and as dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. Dr. Johnson holds dozens of U.S. patents and received the prestigious John Fritz Medal, the highest award in engineering. She earned her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

Sandra Kurtzig – Founder, ASK Group; Founder & CEO, Kenandy

Andy Kurtzig – Founder, CEO & President, JustAnswer

In a special event, technology pioneer and entrepreneur Sandra Kurtzig will speak at ETL, along with her son and fellow serial entrepreneur, Andy Kurtzig.

Sandra and Andy Kurtzig

Sandra and Andy Kurtzig

Sandra Kurtzig transformed the manufacturing software industry when she founded ASK Computer Systems in 1972. Over the next two decades, Kurtzig would go on to grow the company into one of the largest software companies in the world. As the current CEO and chairman at Kenandy, Kurtzig aims to drive innovation and collaboration for manufacturing management in the cloud. Kurtzig is also the managing partner of SLK Investment Partners, a private equity investment partnership.

Andy Kurtzig founded the expert answer website, JustAnswer, in 2003, in response to his need for accurate online medical information. Prior to his current venture, Kurtzig served as CEO and co-founder of eBenefits, which was acquired by an Inc. 500 company. As well as being a serial entrepreneur, Kurtzig is an active and successful angel investor and philanthropist.

Stanford students have exciting opportunities to build their entrepreneurial mindset in winter quarter 2012. As the entrepreneurship center in Stanford’s School of Engineering, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) is proud to offer courses, programs and resources that help unlock the Stanford entrepreneurial spirit.

Our offerings cater to students of all majors with different levels of exposure to entrepreneurship, from those interested in catching the entrepreneurship bug by hearing from luminaries at the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar (MS&E 472), to students looking for an intense startup experience by applying to be part of the Mayfield Fellow Program.

Below you will find course descriptions for the winter quarter, with links to course websites and instructor bios. For course information covering the entire academic year, you can also view the STVP Courses webpage.

ENGR 145 Technology Entrepreneurship — 4 units (2 sections)
Instructor: Chuck Eesley
Limited enrollment.

[quote_right]”With all of the problems that need solving, the world needs more graduates trained to develop an entrepreneurial mindset of turning problems into real opportunities.”        —Assistant Prof. Chuck Eesley[/quote_right]How do you create a successful startup?  How does an entrepreneur form a team and gather the resources necessary to create a great enterprise? This class mixes mentor-guided team projects, in-depth case studies, research on the entrepreneurial process, and the opportunity to network and ask questions of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

This course is for undergraduates of all majors who seek to understand the formation and growth of high-impact start-ups in areas such as information, green/clean, medical, and consumer technologies. Watch a quick video profile on the Technology Entrepreneurship course from Forbes.com.

MS&E 175 Innovation, Creativity and Change – 3 – 4 units
Instructor: Riitta Katila
Limited enrollment. View the MS&E 175 course website.

Stanford Engineering Associate Professor Riitta Katila
Prof. Riitta Katila

How do companies and organizations of all sizes maintain creativity and innovation? In MS&E 175, students explore avenues for problem solving in organizations, and develop creativity and innovation skills.

Learn the thinking tools used by creative organizations, teams and individuals to create communities with a lasting culture of innovation.

MS&E 178 The Spirit of Entrepreneurship
— 3 units
Instructor: Heidi Roizen

Heidi Roizen

Heidi Roizen

This course teaches students to think like a successful entrepreneur by learning how to analyze key parts of various startup business models. The course uses the speakers at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminar (MS&E 472) as the source of the companies to be explored.

Students meet before and after each Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar to prepare and debrief, respectively.

ENGR 245 Technology Entrepreneurship & Lean Startups (The Lean LaunchPad) — 4 units
Instructors: Steve BlankAnn Miura-Ko and Jon Feiber
Limited enrollment. View the ENGR 245 course website.

ENGR 245 offers students the chance to apply emerging entrepreneurship principles, including the “lean startup” and “customer development” frameworks, to prototype, test, and iterate a product. Students will also discover if a profitable business model exists for the product.

Students will work and study in teams or, in rare cases, alone. A proposal is required during first week of the quarter, and can be for software, a physical good, or a service of any kind. Projects are treated as real startups, so students are encouraged to prepare for intense work.

Watch Steve Blank and Ann Miura-Ko discuss lean startups, financing and the product development process.

MS&E 271 Global Entrepreneurial Marketing — 4 units
Instructors: Thomas Kosnik, Donna Novitsky, and Lynda Kate Smith
Limited enrollment. View the MS&E 271 course website.

Students will learn skills needed to market new technology-based products to customers around the world. The course includes case method discussions on examples from startups and global high-technology firms.

The coursework covers targeting markets and customers, product marketing and management, partners and distribution, sales and negotiation, and outbound marketing.

MS&E 280 Organizational Behavior: Evidence in Action — 3-4 units
Instructor: Robert Sutton
Limited enrollment; priority to MS&E students.

This course examines organization theory and explores concepts and functions of management. Additional topics to be covered include behavior of the individual, work group, and organization. Work within the course will emphasize case studies and related discussion.

Watch Professor Sutton discuss why organizational structures can often inhibit a manager’s ability to hear the truth.


MS&E 472 DFJ – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar — 1 unit

Instructors: Tom Byers, Thomas Kosnik, and Tina Seelig
Required web discussion. Course may be repeated for credit.

The DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar is a weekly speaker series that presents innovators from across the business, finance, technology, and philanthropy sectors, to share their insights with aspiring entrepreneurs. Through MS&E 472, students have the opportunity to learn real world knowledge from prominent leaders and entrepreneurs.

DFJ-ETL Speaker Lineup for Winter 2012

Jan 18:    Deborah Hopkins – Chief Innovation Office, Citi

Jan 25:    Alexander Osterwalder – Entrepreneur & Author

Feb 1:      Ted Zoller – Senior Fellow, Kauffman Foundation

Feb 8:      Gale Anne Hurd – Film Producer & Screenwriter

Feb 15:    Sukhinder Singh Cassidy – Founder & Chairman, Joyus

Feb 22:    Reid Hoffman – Co-Founder, LinkedIn; Partner at Greylock

Feb 29:    Kristina Johnson – Former US Secretary of Energy

Mar 7:      Sandra Kurtzig, AskGroup & Andy Kurtzig, JustAnswer

Enjoy these popular clips from Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminars in 2011.

Application Period: December 9, 2011 — February 1, 2011

[quote_right]”Entrepreneurship courses at Stanford have a great reputation for having an appropriate mix of theory and hands-on learning. The Mayfield Fellows Program is legendary on campus, and after several friends recommended MFP, it was too hard to resist applying.”
– John Melas-Kyriazi ’11, MFP[/quote_right]The Mayfield Fellows Program (MFP) is our nine-month work/study program designed to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of the techniques for growing technology companies. Starting in the spring quarter, the program combines an intense sequence of courses on the management of technology ventures, a paid summer internship at a startup company, and ongoing mentoring and networking activities.

Attend one of our Mayfield Fellows Program information sessions in January.

It is raining on the first day of Stanford’s DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series, and it couldn’t be more fitting for today’s speaker.  David Friedberg is the CEO of The Climate Corporation (formerly WeatherBill), a weather insurance company. In fact, David came up with his original idea for WeatherBill on a rainy day in San Francisco.

“Founder isn’t really a role.  It’s really not a role that I like.”

On his daily commute through San Francisco, Friedberg noticed that rain regularly closed down a bicycle shop that caters to tourists.  Soon after, Friedberg would go on to found The Climate Corporation on the observation that so many businesses are affected by the weather. But David Friedberg hates being called a founder. In fact, he says that when his venture capitalists introduce him as the “founder” of The Climate Corporation, he tells people, “Founder isn’t really a role. It’s really not a role that I like.”

David Friedberg
David Friedberg

Friedberg is a person focused on solving problems. He describes this as “revealing truth and fact,” and he doesn’t hang on to the founder title like others do. Instead, he is practical. He takes the executive position bluntly stating that “I’m the CEO of the company today, and I might not be the best CEO tomorrow.” He is blissfully truthful about his no nonsense role in the company.

He has built a multimillion dollar funded company in a short while, pulled everything together, and readily admits he would be ready to remove himself if/when he is no longer the right person for the job. That is a really intimidating statement to hear, especially coming from someone as obviously talented as Friedberg.

Listening to Friedberg, I sheepishly think of my own LinkedIn profile, where the title of  “Founder” is plastered in at least one or two places in connection with some of my previous side projects. I am tempted to skirt over to my profile for some quick resume tidying, but then a question comes to mind:  What is a founder?

Continuing with his lecture, Friedberg projects two pictures on screen for the audience. One of the pictures is of a “rock star” founder, just having made his exit — an image commonly featured by Fast Company and Forbes. The other picture is of the archetypal “real” founder, sleep deprived, running on caffeine, and near the end of his rope.

Seasoned entrepreneurs, CEOs, professors and founders alike tell us that the “rock star” picture is a fantasy.

The former image is a Silicon Valley dream boy, a ubiquitous legend not only in the Valley, but also in pop culture. It is simultaneously the joke of Silicon Valley, while inadvertently being a false representation of the Valley and the entrepreneurial community at Stanford. Seasoned entrepreneurs, CEOs, professors and founders alike tell us that the “rock star” picture is a fantasy.

The second of David Friedberg’s pictures looks more like a Stanford computer science student scraping away at the last bugs in a systems assignment, or in Friedberg’s case, a startup. In fact the difference between the two might be minuscule.  Students straining on Redbull aren’t much different than those founders pulling late nights on Starbucks. This latter image is a dose of reality, and Friedberg has some statistics to further the point.

According to Friedberg, the odds of starting a company and having it be worth $1 billion dollars in 49 months after founding are about 0.0006%.  After accounting for average dilution, this is the equivalent of earning a $73,000 annual salary. But you also have a 67% chance of making absolutely nothing at all. The audience laughs at this, but are we convinced?

It seems there are more people in my Stanford class who are going to be “founders” than employees.  I have more Silicon Valley business cards with “founder” on them than anything else.  And how often do you hear the phrase “YC Founder” from Y-Combinator, Paul Graham’s premier accelerator? Sometimes I wonder how we have anything but single person LLCs in Silicon Valley. Stanford and Silicon Valley rightly lionize the act of taking initiative, but where is the line between taking initiative to solve real problems and taking initiative for initiative’s sake?

A trend of some of the friends/entrepreneurs I look up to most is to label themselves “janitor at Stealth Startup” on their LinkedIn profiles. It’s a humorous, self- deprecating poke at their predicament. Janitors clean up messes. It isn’t a frilly job, but a janitor’s role is indispensable. To put it simply, janitors solve problems.

“I don’t want to say be entrepreneurial,” says David Friedberg. “I want everyone in this room to walk away from this discussion today, reflective about what it is you want out of life and then make a choice that is based on some of the things that I am trying to tell you about today.”

As the lecture ends, the rain gives the crowd a break as they trickle from NVIDIA Auditorium on the Stanford campus. The crisp California evening air brings clarity, and I am reflecting on Friedberg’s advice.

And weighing a career in janitorial work.

“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets good planning.” This is how entrepreneur Thomas Edison viewed the role of luck in one’s life and work. But no two people see luck in quite the same way. Each person’s life experiences, beliefs and expectations mingle together to create a willingness, or refusal, to place much stock in the idea of luck. For example, it’s hard to image ol’ Thomas Alva religiously playing the lottery each week — he was probably too busy getting things done.

In a recent essay for the New York Times, Jim Collins and Morten T. Hanson discuss what luck is really about in successful entrepreneurial enterprises. Having completed a nine-year research study on such organizations, Collins and Hanson do not see luck as abstract occurrences, but as identifiable events. Give the article a read to see how companies like Microsoft and Progressive Insurance handled these luck events, and eventually leveraged them to create ROL — return on luck.

Here are some technology business leaders, who recently visited the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar at Stanford, sharing their opinions on the role they hold for luck and the unknown in startups and product development.

Getting Rid of Luck

“Your pursuit should always be to remove the unknown from the equation,” says The Climate Corporation CEO David Friedberg. In this clip, Friedberg shares why this is a fundamental premise in building a successful venture. He also teases apart the different roles that risk and uncertainty play in fully understanding a business.

Luck is Committing to Big Bets

Evernote CEO Phil Libin explains how Evernote creates a great deal of luck by making big bets on which platforms to support. In this amusing and insightful anecdote, Libin tells how Evernote developed their application to work on Apple’s iPad by using cardboard cutouts of the device.

Doing What’s Right Creates Luck

According to Trip Adler, the founder of Scribd, luck is not what made the launch of his company successful. “It wasn’t luck, we were just doing things right,” says Adler. Rather than waiting for good fortune, Adler definitely aligns with the Edison approach to creating your own good fortune. Enjoy this video on eCorner to watch Adler explain how luck comes to any entrepreneur who works hard and remains persistent in trying to reach his or her goal.

America has fallen hard for entrepreneurs.

The aesthetic appeal is easy to understand. Compare the Fortune 500 CEOs interviewed on the HBR IdeaCast talking about Campbell’s Soup or Coca-Cola (podcast here) with the entrepreneurs at the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Seminar Series discussing Pandora and Instagram (podcast here).

The big company CEOs sound just like you’d expect. They are competent, factual,  and in control. But while most of them presumably have strong interpersonal skills and a high EQ, they come across as dry, unemotional and focused on the “core business.” In contrast, the entrepreneurs presenting at Stanford wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are vividly passionate. They exude emotion. They are selling themselves, with a kind of animated desperation. They tell student to “do what you love.” It’s an appealing message, and you can see why it catches on.

In contrast, the entrepreneurs presenting at Stanford wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are vividly passionate. They exude emotion. They are selling themselves, with a kind of animated desperation. They tell student to “do what you love.” It’s an appealing message, and you can see why it catches on.

These two personalities generally reside at opposite ends of the business spectrum, presumably reflecting two very different business needs. It’s essential to be brash and irrationally exuberant to start a business. But to sustain a large multinational corporation, you’ve got to be calculating and rational. It’s also a well-described phenomenon that as startups evolve into progressively larger companies, their character changes, and their needs evolve, or “mature.”

Mature organizations are supposed to act predictably, responsibly, unemotionally. The qualities embraced (or at least tolerated) at the startup level can become liabilities. Many startup CEOs hand over the reins at this stage, or at least share them (as Google did for years when Brin and Page hired Eric Schmidt), explicitly acknowledging the need for an “adult in the room.”

While many large organizations might similarly benefit from having a kid in the room — someone who is energetic, passionate, emotional, excitable — it’s hard to envision a corporate phenotype that would be more doomed: the environment just doesn’t support it.  Sure, companies trot out bromides about “cultivating entrepreneurship,” while HR departments sponsor group training sessions on innovative thinking.

But the reality is that the culture of most big companies is geared to performing established activities in increasingly efficient ways. Simply stated: doing the old things better takes precedence over doing new things well enough. Most employees (and certainly the ones who last) figure out extremely quickly how you’re supposed to act at work (Sir Joseph wasn’t far off). You could say most large organizations have elected to trade the passion of young love for the predictability of adult relationships.

And perhaps this is why we look so wistfully at entrepreneurs. They seem to exude the raw passion that experience has taught us to modulate, the vivid emotion that we’ve learned to suppress, the intense energy that we learn must be channeled, the unreasonable audacity that has been replaced by sensible objectives. We cheer for them because they represent our youthful hopes, our idealism, our ambitions and our dreams. And when these entrepreneurs defy the extraordinary odds, and succeed, we rejoice, for at the moment we can sense, if only fleetingly, the exceptional untapped potential within each of us. We rejoice, and wonder: what if?

It would be easy to dismiss our infatuation with entrepreneurs as misty-eyed revisionism, the way we might selectively recall and invoke treasured childhood memories while forgetting the many painful challenges of youth and adolescence. The day-to-day reality of getting a new company off the ground is generally far less glorious than the inspirational experiences trotted out by the small minority of ultra-successful entrepreneurs who are routinely invited to share their stories. There’s a significant selection bias here, to say nothing of the urge to write oneself into a heroic cultural narrative.

But I’d argue that if we had to find a group of people to admire and admittedly idealize — and you know we’re going to — we could do a lot worse than taking our inspiration from impassioned, dedicated individuals seeking against all odds “to make a dent in the world.”

This post originally appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program is ready for another fantastic year of delivering entrepreneurship education to students in the School of Engineering and other entrepreneurially-minded students from across the Stanford campus.

Even if you’re not ready to found a company, there’s no time like the beginning of the academic year to start exploring entrepreneurship. Not sure where to start? We’d suggest registering for the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar, MS&E 472 — the gateway into entrepreneurship.

Below you will find course information for Autumn 2011, along with links to available course websites and instructor bios. For course information covering the entire academic year, you can also view the STVP Courses page.

MS&E 140: Accounting for Managers and Entrepreneurs (3 – 4 units)
Instructor: Vic Stanton
Limited enrollment

MS&E 140 provides an introduction to accounting concepts and the operating characteristics of accounting systems. The principles of financial and cost accounting, design of accounting systems, techniques of analysis, and cost control are explored throughout the quarter, as is the interpretation and use of accounting information for decision making.

This couse is specifically designed for the user of accounting information and not as an introduction to a professional accounting career. Non-majors and minors who are taking elementary accounting are not advised to enroll.

Young woman gesturing among a crowd of students in an STVP entrepreneurship courseMS&E 178: The Spirit of Entrepreneurship (3 units)
Instructors: Heidi Roizen

This course teaches students to think like a successful entrepreneur by learning how to analyze key parts of various startup business models. The course uses the speakers at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leader seminar (MS&E 472) as the source of the companies to be explored.

Students meet before and after each Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar to prepare and debrief, respectively.

MS&E 180: Organizations: Theory and Management (4 units)
Instructors: Kathleen Eisenhardt
Limited enrollment; Preference to MS&E majors

MS&E 180 offers an examination of classical and contemporary organizational theory. The course will explore the behavior of individuals, groups, and organizations. Students must attend the first class session.

Jeffrey Schox

Jeffrey Schox

ME 208: Patent Law and Strategy for Innovators and Entrepreneurs (2 – 3 units)
Instructor: Jeffrey Schox

The course will provide a foundation to understand the patent system, and strategies to build a patent portfolio and avoid patent infringement. Students will learn how to conduct their own patent search and how to file their own provisional patent application on an invention of their choice. Although listed as a ME course, the course is not specific to any discipline or technology.

MS&E 270: Strategy in Technology-Based Companies (4 units)
Instructor: Kathleen Eisenhardt
Limited enrollment.

This course provides an introduction to the basic concepts of strategy used within high-technology firms. MS&E 270 examines decisions and actions that shape the long-term future of these organizations by establishing, sustaining, and enhancing the basis for their competitive advantage.

Topics covered within the course include competitive positioning, resource-based perspectives, “co-opetition” and standards setting, and complexity/evolutionary perspectives.

In this video clip, Professor Eisenhardt discusses opportunity creation.


MS&E 273 Technology Venture Formation (3 – 4 units)
Instructors: Mike Lyons and Audrey MacLean
Limited enrollment; Recommended prerequisite: MS&E 270, 271, or equivalent.
View the MS&E 273 course website.

This course forms integrated teams from graduate engineering, computer science and business students to experience the immersive and “no-holds-barred” process of creating a Silicon Valley startup, including presentations to business experts and venture capitalists.

Learn to build venture-scale technology firms where engineers and business personnel can clearly articulate the market opportunities and value proposition of leading-edge technologies to investors. MS&E 273 teams are treated as real startups, as they explore concepts of opportunity assessment, marketing and distribution strategies, R&D and operational planning, legal considerations, and more.

MS&E 472 DFJ – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar  (1 unit)
Instructors: Tom ByersTina Seelig and Thomas Kosnik
Required web discussion. Course may be repeated for credit.

The DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar is a weekly speaker series that presents innovators from across business, finance, technology, and philanthropy sectors, to share their insights with aspiring entrepreneurs. Through MS&E 472, students have the opportunity to learn real world knowledge from prominent leaders and entrepreneurs.

Learn more about this quarter’s line-up of engaging speakers.

DFJ ETL Speaker Lineup for Fall 2011:

Here are video highlights from 2011 DFJ ETL speakers.

Additional STVP-Affiliated Course News

Mayfield Fellows working on a glass board at StanfordMayfield Fellows Program: ENGR 140 C
Our class of 2011 Mayfield Fellows will be completing this intense, nine-month work/study program designed to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of the techniques for growing technology companies.

The program combines an intense sequence of courses on the management of technology ventures, a paid summer internship at a startup company, and ongoing mentoring and networking activities. Learn more about MFP and see where the 2011 Fellows interned over the summer.

Picture of Stanford Professor Tom Byers

Prof. Byers Teaches in Bing Overseas Study Program
During the fall quarter, MS&E Professor and STVP Co-Director Tom Byers will be teaching entrepreneurship courses in Florence as part of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Study Program.

The autumn 2011 edition of the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar (ETL) kicks off Wednesday, October 5. Join us at ETL on Wednesdays, from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm, in the NVIDIA Auditorium at the Huang Engineering Center at Stanford, to enjoy this quarter’s engaging mix of innovators and entrepreneurs.

Stanford students can sign-up for MS&E 472 to earn one unit of credit for the course, and those who enroll should attend an information session on Wednesday, September 28.  Members of the public interested in earning credit for this quarter’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar should contact the Stanford Center for Professional Development. Visit their online catalog.

A new quarter of ETL means more opportunities to hear first hand from entrepreneurial leaders and pioneers in different industry and technology sectors. And for those of you not able to attend in person, this also means new lecture podcasts and videos available for free on the Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner) website. You can also enjoy ECorner on-the-go with our free iPhone app.

Oct. 5: David Friedberg — CEO of WeatherBill

In 2006, David Friedberg founded WeatherBill, which offers customers the ability to purchase customizable weather insurance, based on global weather simulation modeling and information from local weather monitoring systems. Prior to founding WeatherBill, Friedberg worked as a founding member of Google’s corporate development team and a business product manager for Google AdWords. He has also invested in dozens of technology companies, and previously worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Oct. 12: Phil Libin – CEO of Evernote

As the CEO of Evernote, Libin leads the company’s effort to offer customers the ability to easily collect and search ideas, notes, or moments of inspirations, captured on the user’s device of choice. Libin’s background includes leading multiple Internet companies from startup to rapid growth and commercial success. Prior to joining Evernote, Libin founded and served as president of CoreStreet, which provides credential and identity management technologies to governments and large corporations. Libin was also the founder and CEO of Engine 5, a software development company acquired by Vignette Corporation.

Oct. 19: Brad Feld – Managing Director of Foundry Group; Co-Founder of TechStars

Brad Feld has more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and early stage investor. Prior to the Foundry Group, Feld co-founded Mobius Venture Capital, and Intensity Ventures, which launched and operated several software companies. Feld currently serves on the board of directors of numerous companies, including Gist and Zynga. He is also a co-founder of TechStars, a mentorship-driven seed stage investment program, and he is the author of Do More Faster and the widely read blogs at feld.com and askthevc.com.

Oct. 26: Scott Summit – Co-Founder and CTO of Bespoke Innovations

Over his 20-year career designing consumer products, Summit’s work has included innovations for Apple, Nike, Palm, and other major brands. Summit has held faculty positions teaching design and process at Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon, and Singularity University. Additionally, Summit writes for Time Compression Magazine on the art and technology enabled by additive fabrication.

Nov. 2: Mårten Mickos – CEO of Eucalyptus; Former CEO of MySQL AB

Mickos leads Eucalyptus Systems’ efforts to deliver on-premise infrastructure-as-a-service clouds to IT departments within enterprise organizations. During Mickos’ seven year tenure as CEO of MySQL AB, he grew that company from a small startup to the second largest open source company in the world. After Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL AB, Mickos served as Senior Vice President of Sun’s database group. Mickos has previously held other CEO and senior executive positions in his native Finland.

Here are video highlights from 2011 ETL speakers.

Nov. 9: Adam Lowry – Co-Founder and Chief Greenskeeper of Method Products

In his role at Method, Lowry focuses on sustainable innovations for Method’s line of home care products. He also directs the sustainability aspects of product design, sourcing, production and marketing. Lowry previously worked as a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institiution, developing software products related to climate change modeling. He has been honored as one of Vanity Fair’s Global Citizens and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Man of the Year for his pioneering work on sustainable business and product design.

Nov. 16: Dana Mead – Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Since joining KPCB in 2005, Mead has focused his work in the life sciences sector, building on his career success in identifying new medical technologies, developing new markets and therapies and building world-class management teams. Previously, Mead was president of Guidant Vascular Intervention, a billion dollar division of Guidant with over 4500 employees. Mead also serves on the boards of Apnicure, Corventis, Inspire Medical Systems, intersect ENT, Invuity, Navigenics, Pulmonx, Spiracur, Spinal Modulation and Voyage Medical.

Nov. 30: Jessica Mah – Co-Founder, Architect and CEO of inDinero

As the co-founder and CEO of inDinero, Mah drives the development of the company’s product strategy, software development, and design efforts. inDinero’s online software product offers business customers an easier way to see and manage their money. Since Mah and her partners orginal build of the core product in 2009, inDinero has raised seed funding from numerous sources, including Y Combinator. Mah has been programming since the age of nine and starting businesses since the age of 12.

When launching a new venture, you want to get off to a good start. And racking up over five million users in the first eight months certainly counts.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger launched Instagram, the wildly popular photo-sharing service for iPhone, in late 2010.  Since that time, the young company has attracted users who enjoy their simple-to-use application that allows classic camera filters to be applied to mobile photos before they are shared through social media.

While Instagram’s elegant product took hard work and many long hours to create, discovering solutions is not the hard part when designing a product, according to the co-founders. “The hard part is actually finding the problem to solve,” says Systrom. “Solutions come rather easily for most problems, not all, but most.”

“The hard part is actually finding the problem to solve.”

Kevin Systrom, Instagram Co-Founder

Rather than just designing a slick web application that was all sizzle and no substance, Systrom and Kreiger always saw Instagram as a solution to the top problems with sharing photos taken on mobile devices: 1) Mobile photos don’t always look great, 2) Uploads of mobile photos take too long, and 3) It’s hard to share these photos with multiple services at the same time.

While Systrom and Krieger personally experienced these issues with other photo services, the co-founders needed to verify that other users struggled in the same way. They got their gut-check by getting their product in front of early users and learning from these interactions. This process of testing your hypotheses is also a fundamental principle of the customer development/lean startup methodology.

Systrom and Krieger are Stanford graduates who also share a desire to tackle problems. While many people in tech claim only to be interested in taking on huge problems, smaller problems present unique challenges, according to the co-founders, as simple solutions are often harder to scale.

“You should not be afraid to have simple solutions to simple problems,” says Systrom. “If you delight people with even a simple solution, it turns out it will go really far.”

While at Stanford, both men also participated in the Mayfield Fellows Program (MFP), an intense nine-month work/study program that provides students with a life-changing entrepreneurship experience. During their DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar in May, Systrom and Krieger encouraged Stanford students to not only apply for MFP, but to also take full advantage of many of the available entrepreneurship courses offered at Stanford.

Enjoy more videos of the Instagram Co-Founders on ECorner.

From engineering teams of just a few members, to global companies with tens of thousands of employees, organizations must constantly search for new ways to reinvigorate stressed-out workforces. You may be familiar with corporate initiatives that pop up every few years announcing new (often expensive) employee programs or software purchases intended to make working life easier. However, a lack of tools may not be the root of the problem. Maybe it’s a lack of trust in human relationships.

If trust seems too touch-feely a concept, you may be surprised to learn that it has caught the attention of the US Army. After a decade of continuous engagement around the world, military commanders are faced with “employees” who have been asked to maintain a near-constant state of fighting readiness. In this state, soldiers are often called upon to exert hard power over other human beings. According to author Ori Brafman, this means a workforce overwhelmed by exposure to the stress hormone cortisol. If you can’t avoid exposing workers to stress, how do you create an organization better prepared to deal with this exposure?

Brafman’s suggestion to the Army was to develop the capacity to create more soft power and trust-based networks. In the video below, Brafman describes his experiences working with military personnel to help them relate their feelings and experiences in a more humane way. Between the participants, these interactions actually developed a greater level of intimacy, says Brafman, a concept that doesn’t often come to mind in business or the military.

If you’re dealing with stressed-out workers, perhaps you should hold off on purchasing that new collaboration tool with all the bells and whistles, and instead, invest your energy into improving the relationships between the human beings that make up your company’s human capital.

View Ori Brafman’s entire DFJ ETL lecture on ECorner.

Entrepreneurship activities continue to blossom at Stanford, even as spring quarter is coming to an end. Here is a round-up of campus entrepreneurship opportunities, information and events for you to explore.

Courses & Research

Info Session for “Creating a Startup” Courses
Wednesday, May 18, 4:00 – 4:30 pm, Huang Engineering Center Room 10
Professor Haim Mendelson will host an information session before the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar on May 18 to discuss Creating a Startup I and II (STRAMGT 356/366). Offered through the Graduate School of Business in Autumn 2011 and Winter 2012, respectively, the courses will bring together business, engineering and science graduate students to focus on startup fundamentals from a business point of view. Admission is by application only.  For non-GSB students, the deadline for early admission is Friday, June 3.

Stanford Innovation Survey
STVP faculty member Charles Eesley is conducting the Stanford Innovation Survey as part of an academic research study of innovation and entrepreneurship. If you are an alumni of Stanford, your participation will help to improve departmental and university educational programs. To participate and to learn more, visit the Stanford Innovation Survey website.

ENGR 145: Technology Entrepreneurship
This summer, Consulting Professor Tom Kosnik teaches our popular Technology Entrepreneurship course. The course blends mentor-guided team projects, in-depth case studies, research on the entrepreneurial process, and the opportunity to network and ask questions of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Check out a video profile of the course on Forbes.com.


Dates Announced for Upcoming REE Conferences
New Roundtable on Entrepreneurship Education conferences will be held in 2011-12, including REE Latin America in Puerto Rico, October 19 – 21, 2011. REE brings together business, engineering and design faculty from around the world, interested in building leading-edge entrepreneurship programs. Registration information will be made available in the coming months, so save the date to take part in REE-inventing entrepreneurship education for the 21st century.

STVP Hosts Partners from Universidad del Desarrollo
This week our program is honored to host faculty from UDD in Chile. Our partnership with UDD aims to foster the acceleration of high-technology entrepreneurship in Chile by sharing curriculum and strategies successfully used at Stanford to teach entrepreneurship and innovation. UDD is currently developing a cross-discipline center to promote innovation thinking, and Stanford faculty will also be traveling to Chile to support the development of their effort.


Bling Nation Co-Founders at DFJ ETL
Wednesday, May 18, 4:30 pm, NVIDIA Auditorium – Huang Engineering Center
Join us for this week’s DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar, featuring the co-founders of Bling Nation, Wences Casares and Meyer Malka. Bling Nation is an innovative mobile payment technology platform that allows businesses to build loyalty programs, while helping customers to integrate their checkout experience with social media profiles. A reception, generously sponsored by Endeavor, will follow this seminar.

Aneesh Chopra – CTO of the United States at DFJ ETL
Wednesday, May 25, 4:30 pm, NVIDIA Auditorium – Huang Engineering Center
Harnessing technology to transform the national economy and the lives of all Americans is no small task. As the United States Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra works to address this important challenge. Join us as he discusses current national technology policies and initiatives aimed at reducing public costs and driving job creation.

Building Innovative Brands with Lynda Smith
Thursday, May 19, 7:00 pm, Sequoia Room, Tressider
Students and entrepreneurs can learn to take their businesses to the next level from Lynda Smith. At this engaging talk, Smith will discuss how to build innovative brands – specifically focusing on what entrepreneurs need to know about marketing. Light refreshments will be served.

Over the past few weeks, many companies have scrambled to address component and part shortages due to the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While large scale natural disasters cause immediate havoc for buyers and supply chain managers, companies that depend on raw materials are beginning to take notice of other environmental hazards looming on the horizon.

In light of the effects of global development and climate change, the safety of supply chains is a growing concern for corporations. Conservation International Executive Vice President Jennifer Morris sees this “enlightened self interest” from companies as a tremendous opportunity to advance her organization’s mission.

As head of Conservational International’s Ecosystem Finance and Markets unit, Morris works to develop corporate partnerships that support sustainable economic development. While these programs provide Conservation International with important resources, they also help to assuage economic fears of supply chain disruption.

In past years, Morris’ team has worked with major corporations, such as Starbucks, Walmart and Marriott International, to customize programs that successfully protect long-term resource needs, while successfully supporting the livelihoods of local citizens in regions around the globe. According to Morris, by analyzing the environmental risks to supply chains, Conservation International can suggest viable solutions that successfully meet the long-term needs of corporations and the planet.

In the video below, Jennifer Morris discusses how Conservation International helps to ensure supply chain sustainability.

Watch the entire Jennifer Morris DFJ ETL lecture on ECorner.

You’re the CEO/Founder of an early-stage startup and it’s your favorite time of the month. Are you ready for the board meeting?

How much time (or days) have you spent preparing for it? Do you look forward to sitting down with your board or do feel like you’re headed for another round at the Inquisition? These get-togethers should be useful and productive for CEOs, but they can also result in animosity between management and directors. So here’s a new method for avoiding board fights. Have you ever considered being your own board?

“There was only one person on the board, and that was me, and we always got along.”

Brent Constantz, entrepreneur

Brent Constantz, founder of cleantech firm Calera, came to this idea from direct experience. As the founder of numerous companies, Constantz regrets the time he lost preparing for board meetings, claiming this work can devour up to 20 percent of a management team’s time. Rather than preparing a defense for every operational decision he made, this time would have been better utilized focusing on innovation and operations. “It’s a sad thing, but board[s] of directors debilitate companies,” says Constantz. “It’s not intended, but it’s the reality of the situation.”

A few companies back, Constantz decided to be his own board of one. No longer would he deal with directors who don’t review the board packet and then fire off “shoot from the hip” decisions. Nor would he have to deal with these same directors questioning the intelligence of their own decisions in the following month’s meeting. While Constantz sees value in putting together advisory boards and quarterly operating plans, he admits being a board of one has real benefits. “There was only one person on the board, and that was me, and we always got along.”

Watch Brent Constantz’ entire DFJ ETL seminar at ECorner.

As the Stanford campus receives a healthy dose of spring showers, our students are finalizing their schedules for the upcoming quarter. And coming off the bounty of events at Entrepreneurship Week 2011, many students are looking to add entrepreneurship-related courses. STVP offers a number of choices for students interested in entrepreneurship, or those whose next great idea has been hibernating through the winter. It’s time to push those slumbering ideas into start-up action.

Check out our spring offerings below, including courses on organization theory and management, global marketing, creativity, and financial knowledge for entrepreneurs. Plus, in our humble opinion, all students should register for the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar. If you’re not sure entrepreneurship is for you, attend this one-unit class to hear amazing stories and insights from the brightest entrepreneurial minds. Check out the DFJ ETL speaker list for Spring 2011.

ENGR 140: Mayfield Fellows Program – Leadership of Technology Ventures
Instructor: Tom Byers
View the ENGR 140 course website.

Only available to students selected for the Mayfield Fellows Program, this first section of the three-part MFP course sequence focuses on understanding management and leadership within high technology startups. Students work with engineering faculty, founders, and venture capitalists, as they explore issues of organizational development, financing, recruitment, and market strategy. Learn how the MFP experience changes lives.

Financial figuresMS&E 140/240: Accounting for Managers and Entrepreneurs
Instructor: Francis Stanton

Open to graduate and undergraduate students, Accounting for Managers and Entrepreneurs introduces concepts related to accounting and the operating characteristics of accounting systems. Designed for students who will need to work with accounting information for operational uses, the course identifies how to interpret and use accounting information to make decisions.

MS&E 271: Global Entrepreneurship Marketing
Instructors: Tom KosnikDonna Novitsky, and Lynda Kate Smith
Limited enrollment. View the MS&E 271 course website.

How do you market technology-based products to a global audience of customers? Learn how in this course that examines cases of startups and other technology firms that are doing this work. Students will not only learn how to target markets and build partnerships, but will also tackle issues of sales and negotiations and outbound marketing.

Organization Chart

MS&E 180: Organizations: Theory and Management
Instructor: Pamela Hinds
Limited enrollment.

This course examines classical and contemporary organization theory. Students will explore the behaviors of individuals, groups, and organizations, and come to understand why certain behaviors impact the management of organizations.
Enrollment preference is given to MS&E majors.

MS&E 277: Creativity and Innovation
Instructor: Tina Seelig
Limited enrollment. View the MS&E 277 website.

This popular and highly experiential course explores the variables that stimulate and inhibit creativity and innovation in individuals, teams, and organizations.  Through classroom activities, design challenges, and interactions with visiting experts, students will learn that every problem is an opportunity for a creative solution.

Bill Gross at DFJ ETLMS&E 472: DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar
Instructors: Tom Byers, Tina Seelig, and Tom Kosnik
Course may be repeated for credit.
View the MS&E 472 course website.

The DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar is a weekly speaker series that presents innovators from across the business, finance, technology, and philanthropy sectors, to share their insights with aspiring entrepreneurs. Through MS&E 472, students have the opportunity to learn real world knowledge from prominent leaders and entrepreneurs.

View the terrific DFJ ETL speaker lineup for Spring 2011.

We’re a big believer in the idea that entrepreneurial skills can be taught. It may take a tremendous amount of effort for an individual to develop their entrepreneurial mindset, but it can be achieved. However, what about inherent personal qualities of entrepreneurs? Are there common character traits or behaviors found in these risk takers? Based on experiences throughout her career, UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann can identify two such traits.

Tenacious “Like a Dog on a Bone”

The first trait she acknowledges is a relentless tenacity mixed with optimism. Desmond-Hellmann says that a successful entrepreneur will refuse to quit in the face of setbacks, and stays locked on their goal, “like a dog on a bone.” Great entrepreneurs never accept that a problem is unsolvable. Moreover, this never-say-die tenacity is often mixed with optimism, according to Desmond-Hellmann. Entrepreneurs constantly face criticism from naysayers and non-believers, so the ability to persevere with your chin up is a critical ability. Of course this is a valuable life skill for everyone, not just entrepreneurs.

No Fear of Embarrassment

“Don’t think of what others think of you, think about the purpose or the outcomes you want.”

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, UCSF Chancellor

Entrepreneurs must also be willing to overcome the fear of embarrassment. During Desmond-Hellmann’s tenure as president of product development for Genentech, she recalls colleagues literally rolling their eyes at her suggestion of an innovative new treatment for cancer. It’s hard to think you might be making a fool of yourself in front of peers, but entrepreneurs must remain so committed to the value of their idea that they can withstand such attitudes. According to Desmond-Hellmann, if you’re the type that has the courage to take risks “don’t think of what others think of you, think about the purpose or the outcomes you want.”

Watch Susan Desmond-Hellmann’s full DFJ ETL lecture on ECorner.

It’s easy for entrepreneurs to become discouraged when looking at the competitive landscape for a new product idea. However, as a small startup, or as an individual entrepreneur working on the next great idea, how can you possibly “out effort” a major corporation? Rather than becoming frustrated that you don’t have the financial and human capital of an Apple, Cisco, or Facebook, embrace the fact that constraints can be your friends.

In the video clip below, David Heinemeier Hansson, partner at 37signals, explains how constraints help you examine the reality of what you can achieve, and also allow you to focus on bringing the best possible product to life. An individual or small team only has so many hours to put towards developing a new product, so it might be wise to consider building a simple, innovative product that allows you to avoid getting into head-to-head competition against 800-pound corporate gorillas. David Heinemeier Hansson also articulates why this approach can pay major dividends when it comes to winning over customers.

Aaron Levie is a young man with some very big ideas on improving how enterprises share and work with information. Levie started Box.net out of his college dorm room, upon realizing fellow students shared his need for cheap and accessible online storage. Along with identifying this pain point, he also recognized major changes occurring in business and computing. With data storage efficiency continuing to improve at a rapid pace, and greater calls to enhance data access for remote workforces, Levie saw a serious opportunity he needed to jump on before someone else did. In this video from Levie’s visit to the DFJ ETL speaker series, he discusses the decision to make the leap.

Constantly Changing Business Models

According to Levie, Box’s business model would go through nearly constant changes in the early days. The young company examined numerous ways to build revenue and grow their customer base. At the company’s inception, users were charged for online space, a model that had some initial success. Box also considered sponsorship agreements with media companies, an idea that was met with little interest. The company even considered licensing the technology, allowing partners to rebrand the service as a white-label product. But Levie and his team were also focused on finding ways to reduce friction and increase product adoption. The successful answer, as Levie explains in the following video, was the introduction of a “freemium” model.

Deciding to Focus on the Enterprise

Once Box saw huge increases in their customer base, the company needed to drill down on where they could best compete in the burgeoning “cloud” computing space. Looking at the major companies that were entering the space, or would have the resources to do so at any moment, caused a question to arise. Would Box have better chances of success staying as a consumer offering, or becoming a targeted service for the enterprise market? Box settled on enterprise, based on a number of factors that Levie shares in the video below. The most interesting of these was Box discovering they could out innovate much larger competitors by releasing product iterations at a much faster rate than industry-standard three-year product cycles.

Compete Through Product Iteration

Levie believes the success of a startup is directly tied to an organization’s ability to try many things on the market, and to quickly shut down the ones that don’t work. Beyond this concept of “failing fast,” Levie believes startups need to find ways to compete that are impossible for bigger competitors to accomplish. In this space, for a company such as Microsoft, they would need to cannibalize multiple revenue streams to better compete, according to Levie. Of course, this option may not be possible for a large firm, so Box can take advantage of this situation by maintaining focus on their product, and staying agile to respond to future threats. While the use of cloud computing continues to blossom across many industries, this agility may be Box’s most competitive advantage. In this video, Levie explains this competitive position.

Watch Box.net CEO Aaron Levie’s entire DFJ ETL seminar at eCorner.

The desire for change is an easy concept to capitalize on in America. A society that embraces consumerism-based “retail therapy” and has an endless appetite for self-help products indicates a robust market. However, how hungry are people and organizations for actual change on a transformative level? The desire for change, the taking of action to create change, and the lasting commitment to achieve change are three entirely different things.

In 1989, when Wendy Kopp came up with an idea to try and end inequities she saw in America’s education system, she was only at the first stage. Kopp would come to learn hard lessons about creating change as CEO of Teach For America, the social entrepreneurship organization she built to tackle these major issues. Whether you’re a fan or foe Teach For America’s efforts to change education in some of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities, Kopp’s experience still provides solid lessons on staying committed to change.

Not Everyone Wants Your Brand of Change

When an organization tries to make change, a plan is developed and put into action. However, even with the most thorough planning, new information and unexpected situations will present themselves upon the plan’s execution. When Teach For America released its first 500 teachers into schools, according to Kopp, many of these bright and passionate agents for change ran straight into walls. These new teachers found themselves in the midst of rigid, traditional school districts throughout America, populated with teachers and administrators that took offense at the idea that a person with just a summer’s worth of pre-service training would know how to better teach students than more experienced educators. Kopp quickly realized that affecting change in such entrenched systems was going to be an even harder task than originally thought.

Learning Curves Never End

Teach For America learned that having a plan for change is not enough. In the video below, Kopp describes the various learning curves that she and the organization would come to face. An organization must be willing to constantly iterate their approach and processes to address new insights gained along the way. Teach For America continues to learn new things about recruitment, professional development, financing models, and working to affect change through classroom instruction and public policy initiatives. The great lesson is to accept that learning curves never end.

Leaders Must Commit to Change

Over her organization’s 20-year history, Kopp has come to identify certain factors that make environments more conducive to achieving transformational change. When asked for the most common factor, Kopp explains that within an environment the leaders must be absolutely committed to making change happen. This may seem an obvious point on the surface, but think of how often we see leaders walk back from early proclamations of change, such as department heads who pull funding from product teams when a project begins to stall, or politicians who back down when faced with political interference.

For Kopp, the leaders who bring about the most transformational change retain their tenacity for seeing the change happen, and also bring high-levels of energy and discipline to the effort. While Teach For America builds leaders in education, Kopp also sees these traits as similar to those observed in transformational leaders from other industry sectors. In the following video, Kopp elaborates on these traits, and identifies other important leadership qualities, including an obsession with building strong teams and systems, and the willingness to create cultures committed to continuous improvement — qualities all entrepreneurs should seek to build.

Watch Teach For America CEO Wendy Kopp’s entire DFJ ETL seminar at eCorner.

You’ve had a “great” idea for a long time. Maybe it’s for a game-changing hardware product, or an iPhone app, or a web service, and you “know” it’s a great idea because it’s been bouncing around your head for months. So you’re at a party, or a family gathering, and you can’t take it any longer — you start telling everyone your idea. How’d it go Mr./Ms. Soon-to-be Entrepreneur? How many people liked your idea?

“No good idea that changes the world is universally regarded as one at the outset.”

Steve Jurvetson

In the following video, Steve Jurvetson, managing partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, explains that ideas from some of today’s biggest companies (Google, Skype, eBay) were laughed at by investors when they tried to secure early funding. If everyone likes your idea, according to Jurvetson, maybe it’s just not that “big” of an idea. In fact, if most people don’t like your idea, that can be a great thing as long as you find one person who truly loves it. Jurvetson also touches on ever-shortening forecast horizons, trying to identify “black swan” events, and the impact of society’s perpetual future shock. There’s tons of entrepreneurial takeaways in this short video. Watch, reflect, repeat.

By the way, this clip comes from a DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar. Check out the upcoming speakers.

The relationship between boss and employee can be filled with respect and integrity. It can also be filled with tension and conflict.  And for some, the relationship is filled with dread, acrimony, and dysfunction. Stanford Management Science and Engineering Professor Robert Sutton studies the dynamics and behaviors at work in these unique relationships. Sutton is a bestselling author whose latest book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, examines the actions and behaviors of bosses that become capable and respected leaders and the actions of those that, well… don’t. During Sutton’s recent lecture at the DFJ ETL seminar series, he discussed a number of issues relating to boss and employee interaction.

Beware of Power Poisoning

“When you become successful is when you should be especially wary you’re going to turn into an idiot.”

Prof. Robert Sutton

According to Sutton, the most reliable way to turn a human being into a jerk is to put them into a position of power over another human being. Invariably, three things begin to happen in this situation, which Sutton describes collectively as “power poisoning”: 1) The person in power focuses more on their own needs and concerns, 2) The person in power focuses less on the needs and concerns of others, and 3) The person in power begins to act like the rules don’t apply to them. Sutton warns that when a boss or manager (or CEO, for that matter) reaches a great moment of achievement or success, this is the same moment when the boss is at greatest risk of succumbing to power poisoning. In this video clip, Sutton describes these points in greater detail.

Hallmarks of a Good Boss

Sutton explains that good bosses diligently strive to remain in tune with their employees. Beyond building a stronger bond with employees, staying in tune makes addressing problem issues easier to do. Another hallmark of a great boss is being able to modulate one’s assertiveness. If a manager has the ability to turn up, or turn down, their assertiveness level in a given situation, the behavior is looked upon from employees as being a positive attribute. Knowing when to push and when to back off on employees is a necessary tool for a good boss.

In this area, there are particular dangers when managing employees who do creative work. According to Sutton, current research indicates that managers who relentlessly ping employees with questions in a constant state of evaluation, inhibit a creative employee’s willingness to try out or suggest new ideas. In a positive example of a great boss, Sutton cites IDEO founder David Kelley as “the master of management by walking out of the room.” When a meeting begins to go well, Kelley will step out of the room to avoid being a distracting authority figure. While traditional management theory may call for a boss to stay in the face of employees, Sutton suggests this method may not always create the best results. Sutton discuss these points in this video clip.

Listening for the Truth

Employees have many reasons and incentives to not tell bosses the truth. This can be true in all types of interactions, on all types of subjects. One issue of concern is a concept that Sutton describes as the “mum effect.” Sutton explains this effect as, “when people deliver us bad news, we like them less.” Somewhat conversely, Sutton also says that flattery affects how we interact with and feel about others. He explains that the research on flattery shows that not only does it work, but false flattery works too. In the clip below, Sutton shares how these issues come together to keep the truth from reaching bosses.

Watch the entire Bob Sutton seminar at eCorner.