All posts by Sarah Massey

Lessons for student entrepreneurs

Dan Price
Dan Price speaking at the Business Plan Competition Dinner and Awards Ceremony

As a student at Seattle Pacific University, Dan Price won second place in the 2007 UW Business Plan Competition for Gravity Payments. This year he was the keynote speaker at the UW Business Plan Competition Awards Dinner on May 22. Price shared his personal story and the lessons he learned while building Gravity Payments into one the fastest growing credit card processing companies. His advice for student entrepreneurs:

Dive in. One important lesson for all entrepreneurs is to learn how to dive in and get things done—even when you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Price shared what happened to him in 2008 when the financial collapse hit. First, 20% of his revenue evaporated overnight. Next, two of his major clients filed for bankruptcy leaving him with the prospect of losing $1.3 million, which would have left him with just $200K in the bank. But instead of panicking, he started learning everything he could about bankruptcy law and was appointed to the official committee for unsecured creditors for both bankruptcy cases. In the end, Gravity Payments didn’t lose the entire $1.3 million.

Make incremental progress. He also made the point that building a company is about making incremental progress each day. Instead of focusing on everything that needs to be done, do what you can see today.

Be open to change. You’re not going to follow your business plan exactly like you think you are. He said, “You’re going to shred it. You’re going to redo it.” It’s important to be flexible and open to change to meet demands. He said, “We’re doing things in our business I never imagined we would do.”

Support successful people traits. He concluded with a challenge to the audience. He showed an image depicting successful people versus unsuccessful people. Successful people share information, keep a journal, want others to be successful, while unsuccessful people fear change, secretly hope others fail and criticize others. Price challenged everyone to create a world where the successful people traits thrive.

He also shared his life philosophy that we should enjoy our time on earth as much as possible and be as happy as possible, and have that, not money, represent true happiness. You can also read GeekWire’s coverage of Price’s talk here.

Foster student receives Bonderman Travel Fellowship

Wilson Carletti in Hong Kong while on the China Exploration Seminar
Wilson Carletti in Hong Kong while on the China Exploration Seminar

Foster undergraduate student Wilson Carletti was recently awarded a Bonderman Travel Fellowship which will enable him to travel solo for eight months and visit at least two regions and six countries around the world. Carletti was one of fourteen UW students to receive the fellowship worth $20,000.

Carletti grew up in Seattle and is preparing to graduate in June with an undergraduate degree in finance from the Foster School. He plans to leave for his eight-month adventure sometime in September or early October and will travel to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Antarctica, Argentina and South Africa. He first heard about the fellowship as a freshman through the Honors Program. After studying abroad in Italy and Spain for a summer and participating in an Exploration Seminar to China, he knew he wanted to travel more.

His travel objectives are to appreciate the natural beauty of these places, engage in dialogue with local communities, and participate in sports to learn to understand their role in the lives of other peoples and cultures of South America and South Africa. He is also interested in improving his Spanish while he’s in South America. And he’s visiting Antarctica because he has always wanted to visit all seven continents. He said, “I also want to use the opportunity to focus on one of my passions: writing. I want to write about my experiences, as a mode of self-reflection and documentation for others, and to hone my art of storytelling.” He said he started his blog before his first study abroad trip and found it helped him view his experiences differently, especially as he documented them for others.

He expects the most challenging aspect of this trip to be the long periods of solitude. Venturing out of the Puget Sound for eight months will also be an adjustment, but it’s one he’s looking forward to.

When Carletti returns, he’ll pursue a master’s degree in human centered design at UW. His ultimate goal is to combine his business education with startups and writing. His advice to current students, “Study abroad if you can. Seek out those opportunities that expose you to other parts of the world.”

The Bonderman Travel Fellows were established in 1995. The aim is to expose students to the intrinsic, often life-changing benefits of international travel. While traveling, students may not pursue academic study, projects or research. UW graduate students, professional students and undergraduate students are eligible to apply. In total, 207 UW students—127 undergraduate and 80 graduate and professional students—have been named Bonderman Fellows, including the 2014 fellows. Look for future blog posts from Carletti next year as he shares his journey with us on the Foster Blog.

Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum opens

Fred Canady and John F. Robinson
Fred Canady and John F. Robinson

On May 13 the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum was unveiled at the UW Foster School of Business Center for Consulting and Business Development. The Hall of Fame, founded in 2004 by the National Minority Business Council and the Minority Business News USA, recognizes trailblazers who have built minority-owned businesses across the U.S. Since its inception, more than 50 people have been inducted.

In 2013 the Hall of Fame board approached the Foster School and Professor and Dean Emeritus William Bradford, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, with a request to collaborate on the exhibit. Fast forward to almost a year later, a partnership between the Hall of Fame and the Foster School has been established. The exhibit is housed on campus in Mackenzie Hall and was developed in partnership with the Center for Consulting and Business Development, which has been helping minority-owned businesses succeed for the past 19 years.

Provost Ana Mari Cauce
Provost Ana Mari Cauce

At the grand opening of the Hall of Fame, Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo said he was very pleased the Foster School and the Center for Consulting and Business Development were able to form this partnership with the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum. UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce said the Hall of Fame, along with the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, the UW Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center and the Intellectual House, scheduled to open in March 2015, represents the UW is committed to building a diverse community open to everyone. Washington State Representative and Foster alumna Cindy Ryu (MBA 1983) said the Hall of Fame signaled there are opportunities for everyone. She also cited the Washington State Dream Act (REAL Hope Act) as one of the most important pieces of legislation to pass because it makes college possible for people who are not legal citizens and creates a more diverse learning environment at higher education institutions in Washington.

John F. Robinson, founding board chair of the Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum, said that for the past nine years they have always wanted to find a home for the Hall of Fame and he was pleased it was able to be here at the Foster School. Then Fred Canady, chair of the Hall of Fame, introduced the newest inductees. Two of the five 2014 inductees are from the Seattle area: Firoz Lalji, co-founder of Zones, an IT company, and the founders of Liberty Bank, which was started in the Central District of Seattle in 1967 by business leaders who wanted to make more banking services available to minorities. The other inductees are Charles Timothy Haffey, former VP of corporate purchasing for Pfizer; Don McKneely, founder, chairman and CEO for MBN USA and Business News Group and co-founder of Billion Dollar Roundtable; and Margaret Z. Richardson-Wiley, former executive director of National Minority Supplier Development Council.

Yonas Seifu
Yonas Seifu

The grand opening concluded with Foster MBA student Yonas Seifu. He shared how mentoring and seeing African Americans in the engineering field, the career path he pursued as a high school and college student, shaped his career. He ended the talk by referencing the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And he said, “The Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum is now part of the Foster School of Business village.”

A design framework for innovation

On April 2, the Foster School held its 2nd annual Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium, hosted by Neal Dempsey, this year’s Fritzky Chair. Julia Link, principal of the Link Group which offers product and go-to-market strategies for various companies, spoke about the creative process and provided a design framework.

A design framework for innovation:
Julia LinkStep 1: Empathize – In this phase, you’re trying to understand your target customers’ needs, motives, feelings and goals. Your job is to get the story. Don’t go to your potential customer with the solution; instead let them tell you what they want.

Step 2: Define – Take the information and insights you’ve gathered in step one and start to define the user and decide what problem you’re trying to solve. You should ask yourself “so what.” We’ve created this product that solves this problem. So what? Why is it so important to solve that problem? Who needs that problem solved?

Be sure to design your product for individuals, not the industry. Link also made a very important point about designing for the extreme users. Extreme users are not power users, but they are people who have more requirements than the average product user. If you can design for the extreme users, chances are high the regular users will also like what you designed. An example she cited was wheels on suitcases. Now ubiquitous, wheels on suitcases were originally for people who traveled a lot.

Step 3: Ideate – Come up with a lot of ideas for your product. This works best when you can brainstorm with a group which has varying backgrounds. Have everyone suggest ideas. Don’t judge the ideas, just write them down.

Steps 4 and 5: Prototype and Test – Take the ideas generated in step three and go make something. Don’t spend a lot of time or money on the prototype. It’s not sacred. You’re simply trying to create something people can give you feedback on. Don’t take the feedback personally. Repeat this process as often as needed: Prototype > Fail > Learn often.

Learn more about all the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium sessions.

Consider the inevitable

On April 2, the Foster School held its 2nd annual Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium, hosted by Neal Dempsey, this year’s Fritzky Chair. Three people spoke about design and innovation trends in business: Ken Denman, president and CEO of Emotient; Bob Paulsen co-founder and CEO of PlayerLync; and Julia Link, principal of the Link Group. Below are highlights from Denman’s and Paulsen’s sessions.

Ken DenmanDenman focused on innovation and relayed his experiences with Emotient, a facial expression recognition and analysis company. Main points included:

  • When established companies are trying to innovate, they tend to make existing products only incrementally better. This works for awhile, but then smaller companies start to catch up and offer more innovative products that grab more and more market share. The example Denman cited was the iPhone. When it came out, it was a product category maker or re-maker. It started taking market share away from existing markets such as GPS and personal cameras.
  • Study up on the industry you’re in so you know who the competitors are and where the market is heading. Knowing this information allows you get beyond the basics in conversations.
  • As an entrepreneur, you’re always raising money while you’re doing everything else. It’s exhausting, but it’s part of the job.
  • As an entrepreneur you have to be able to overcome your fears. You must have the confidence to say, “I can do this.” And you have to be able to project that confidence.
  • Uncertainty is a given in entrepreneurship. You don’t know what you don’t know, but you’ll learn it when you need to know it.
  • Product philosophy: Before you start, think about the inevitable. What’s inevitable given the technology available, customer needs and status of the market? Use the answers to these questions to decide whether or not to pursue an idea. If you can identify those areas in the market where something big is going to happen, you’re positioning yourself for success.
  • One of the most challenging aspects of innovation is to take big complex ideas and make them stupid simple—so simple anyone can understand them.
  • To innovate, be disciplined and methodical in your thinking. Try something, measure it and iterate. Repeat that process over and over.

Learn more about Ken Denman and his company Emotient, formerly Machine Perception Technologies.

Bob Paulsen, co-founder and CEO of PlayerLync, shared his innovation best practices. PlayerLync creates an enterprise platform that provides a secure and easy way to control content and offers tablet-based collaboration. Their clients include large restaurant chains and NFL football teams.

Bob PaulsenPaulsen shared several keys to success:

  • PlayerLync takes a very user-focused approach to their product, and Paulsen reinforced that mentality throughout his presentation. He said you have to make it easy for someone to use your product. If their first experience with it isn’t positive, they’ll look for something else.
  • When developing PlayerLync, they considered what their customer would want in their product by anticipating their needs. The customer gave them a few initial requirements, and they took those requirements and ran with them. The result was a product that exceeded the customers’ expectations.
  • Ideas are great, but businesses are based on who will pay for your product, service or software. Don’t overlook this when starting a new venture.
  • He also recommended three business books: The E Myth by Michael E. Gerber, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore and The Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema.

Learn more about all the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium sessions.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium

InnovEntreSymposiumOn Wednesday, April 2, the Foster School of Business held its 2nd annual Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium. Neal Dempsey, the visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership, hosted an interactive day where students and business representatives came together to discuss the latest challenges in design and innovation.

The symposium started with Christian Chabot, founder CEO of Tableau Software. Next, Salman Ullah of Merus Capital and Neal Dempsey gave an insightful talk and provided advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. Highlights included:

  • It’s hard to be an entrepreneur. You have to fail to succeed. And after you fail, you have to get up and do it again.
  •  To be successful today, you have to work really, really hard—harder than those in previous generations. Why? Because the world is full of people who are also working really, really hard, and you’re competing against them.
  • Raising money.
    • There are many sources from which to raise money. Ullah made the point, however, that it’s good to raise money from traditional sources (venture capitalists) because they have a high bar, which is good for you and your business.
    • The real work of an entrepreneur starts after you’ve raised money. Ullah said, “Have enough psychic energy to get past the initial euphoria of raising money.”
  • Take responsibility for your own career path. Regularly evaluate your career to ensure it’s what you want. If it isn’t, make a change.
  • In every job you have figure out who will give you air cover. In this context air cover refers to a person who will back you and your ideas up when you need it. This person could be someone you’ve done a favor for, your mentor or a colleague.

Learn more about all the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium sessions.

The journey of Tableau

Christian Chabot, CEO and co-founder of Tableau, spoke at the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series on April 2. He outlined how Tableau, a business intelligence* software company, went from a small start-up in his Capitol Hill apartment to a publicly traded company (NYSE: DATA).

Chabot drew parallels between the rise of Tableau and the pattern that all disruptive companies follow as outlined in the book Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen. That pattern is outlined below.

1. Disruptive technology comes along that is written off as low-end.
Initially, industry experts dismissed Tableau’s software even though it made it much easier for people to analyze data. Its software democratized people’s ability to work with and analyze data.

2. Market share captains write off the disruptive technology.
Gartner, an industry research firm, wouldn’t give Tableau the time of day from 2004-2006, and from 2007-2009, Gartner referred to Tableau as an interesting little data visualization start-up that is part of a niche market.

3. Massive numbers of people start to adapt the new technology.
The company’s revenue has roughly doubled every year since 2005, except for in 2009, the year of the financial collapse. Today, Tableau is the fastest growing software company in the world.

4. Technology moves up market and replaces the high-end technology.
Gartner visited Tableau in 2013 and said traditional business intelligence is dying and the world is moving toward the way Tableau operates.

5. Traditional providers start to struggle financially.
While Tableau is experiencing rapid growth, companies such as SAP and IBM, former leaders in the business intelligence industry, are reducing the size of their business intelligence divisions.

To learn more about Tableau and hear Chabot’s two pieces of advice for entrepreneurs and why he thinks Seattle is a better place for start-ups than Silicon Valley, watch the video below.

* Business intelligence (BI) refers to software applications that are used to analyze an organization’s raw data. BI includes data mining, processing, querying and reporting.

Christian Chabot was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Is your marketing vision 20/20?

Guest post by Marissa Freeman, UW undergraduate and VP of public relations, UW American Marketing Association

UW American Marketing Association Regional Marketing ConferenceOver 150 students and professionals gathered in PACCAR Hall in February for a full day of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, a case competition and a career fair as part of the first annual UW American Marketing Association Regional Marketing Conference. The conference’s theme was “Vision 20/20: A Clear Vision into Marketing in the New Millennium,” and it was sponsored by Eddie Bauer. Foster’s EY Center for Undergraduate Career Advancement and the UW American Marketing Association co-facilitated the event.

Professionals from 4th Avenue Media, KeyBank, Razorfish, Eddie Bauer and Edelman participated in the conference and students from UW, Seattle University, Pacific Lutheran, University of Montana and Western Washington University attended the conference. During the breakout sessions, marketing professionals led students in discussions about how to stand out in the marketing industry. The breakout sessions covered how marketing in a digital world means understanding the language of a digital market. Mel Carlson, founder of Delightful Communications, shared his take on how social media is more than a way to flood people with information, but rather a way to begin discussions with customers. He made the point that conversations online have shared the B2C dynamic for the better.

Keynote speakers included Lucas Mack, founder of 4th Avenue Media, and William Boucher, senior vice president of marketing at KeyBank. Mack opened up the conference with encouraging our attendees to understand “the why” behind their actions and how it fits into their larger story. Standing out in the marketing industry means finding creative ways to tell a story. Story telling is at the core of the marketing world, as suggested by Mack, and helps marketers connect with their audiences like never before. Adding the story telling element to any marketing campaign allows for the target audience to understand why they should look more into a product or idea. Mack also shared his personal mantra: “Discover truth through story, discover story through truth.” This helped attendees see how crucial it is to be open and excited about advertising and marketing so the truth behind the product or idea’s story comes to life.

Students shared that the conference as a whole was worth the early wake-up call. While marketing classes teach the core ideals of the industry, nothing can compare to hearing from professionals in a more casual, intimate setting. The UW AMA’s Regional Marketing Conference created an environment for students to raise their hand and open up a discussion between marketers in Fortune 500 companies and aspiring marketers.

The buzz throughout PACCAR Hall was one of excitement, intellect and passion. There was an excitement for conversations, the intellect of those professionals in attendance and students’ passion to learn. The UW AMA and EY Center for Undergraduate Career Advancement are proud to have hosted the first annual Regional Marketing Conference and look forward to organizing this event again next year.

PhD alumnus wins Poets&Quants teaching award

Greg FisherGreg Fisher (PhD 2012) recently made Poets&Quants “Top 40 Under 40” list. The list recognizes the rising stars in academia who represent elite schools from around the world. To determine who should receive this award, Poets&Quants asked business school officials, faculty, students and alumni for their top picks.

Fisher, who received a PhD in entrepreneurship and strategy from the Foster School in 2012, is now an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Suresh Kotha, professor of management at the Foster School and Fisher’s PhD advisor, said, “In addition to being a great teacher and researcher, he was one of those really focused PhD students who knew what he wanted. Rarely do you see a PhD student who is so focused and knows what he wants from his PhD program in such a short period of time.” Fisher was also one of the few PhD students at the Foster School to receive an invitation to teach in the Executive MBA Program—positions typically reserved for senior faculty.

In response to winning the award, Fisher said, “It was nice to receive recognition for teaching because you often don’t know if you’re having an impact.” He also said he was honored to be part of the cohort of professionals who also received the award.

When teaching, Fisher brings the content to life. For example, at Foster he taught the business case about HomeGrocer, one of the first online grocery delivery services. In addition to analyzing the case, Fisher invited Terry Drayton, co-founder of HomeGrocer, to his class to talk about the rise and fall of the company. At the Kelley School, he teaches a business case about a bowling alley that goes through a turnaround. To make the case more memorable, Fisher teaches the class at a bowling alley. It’s experiences such as these that Fisher hopes provide a deeper, more impactful learning experience for his students.

Fisher also made the point that becoming a teacher who has impact doesn’t happen overnight. He said, “I’ve been teaching since 2005 and am always looking for ways to improve.” According to Fisher, the five years he spent at Foster as a PhD student served as an apprenticeship. He had the opportunity to see many excellent teachers in action, and would spend time figuring out what they were great at and how to emulate that in his classroom. He also said his time at Foster gave him the confidence and insights necessary to be able to experiment in the classroom.

According to Poets&Quants, “A few common characteristics cut through the whole group: Most, if not all, of the top profs leverage their youthful energy and Generation Y knowledge to create an engaging classroom environment. They naturally build genuine and meaningful relationships with their students, and they pursue another profession or serious hobby on the side.” Fisher’s serious hobby is running. He has run 45 marathons, 16 ultra-marathons and completed three Ironman Triathlons. As for upcoming races, he’s running a marathon in May and doing a triathlon this summer.

Learn more about Greg Fisher and the other “Top 40 Under 40” professors.

Building the business case for applied learning: Strategic Management Case Competition

Alaska Airlines presentation team
Alaska Airlines presentation team: Kenny Thompson, Tyler Waterer, Mackenzie Meier and Jordan Barr

An Alaska Airlines jet soared overhead as a group of four Foster School seniors emerged from the Customer Services and Innovation team headquarters last Friday. Spirits were soaring too as Jordan Barr, Mackenzie Meier, Kenny Thompson and Tyler Waterer had just presented their recommendations on how to make Alaska Airlines the “easiest airline to fly” to a senior leadership team. The students landed the opportunity to present their ideas to the Customer Innovation team because they outperformed 33 teams of their peers (161 participants) in the fall 2013 Foster Strategy Development case competition.

The competition has been described as the capstone experience to a capstone course. All graduating seniors are required to take strategic management, a course designed to assimilate and apply academic theory to real business issues. The goal is to provide students with practical experience prior to launching into their careers. Offered in the fall, winter and spring and summer, the course draws between 150-300 students per quarter.

Beginning in the fall of 2012, undergraduate program faculty, staff and administrators had the vision of bringing valuable case competition experiences to all Foster School of Business students. Initially, the case competition was optional, done in lieu of a final exam. During the first fall quarter, about 100 students in 25 teams (80% of total class population) participated. Quickly, the value of this experience was recognized by all stakeholders.

According to Clay Schwenn, case competition coordinator and assistant director of student leadership and development, a key learning for students is to be “able to take the theoretical knowledge they have acquired over the years and create something concrete. They generate a set of recommendations to people who could actually implement them.” This is powerful for the students and for the client companies.

Course coordinator Rick McPherson, a veteran of the telecom business for over 25 years, knows the importance of how to “sell” ideas to executives. He sees incredible benefit not only to the students in terms of richness of learning, but also for the companies. McPherson noted “particularly with the presentation to Alaska Airlines you saw how a well thought-out analysis and recommendations were really attractive to a company. Our students demonstrated that they can come up to speed to understand an industry and a business opportunity and create realistic ideas that a business can pursue.”

At Alaska Airlines Customer Innovation headquarters, the moment the students began their pitch, the dozen company leaders in attendance began taking notes, and then asking questions and soliciting the student’s perspective on wide raging issues from the usability of their web interface to competitive market analysis. Student team members Mackenzie, Kenny, Jordan and Tyler’s polished presentation skills left a strong impression on the leadership team. Their confidence, depth of knowledge and ability to respond quickly and thoughtfully to challenging questions will translate well to job interviews and future executive level presentations. From Jordan Barr’s perspective, “the most rewarding aspect of making our pitch to the Customer Innovations team at Alaska Airlines is the thought that our solution could be implemented in the company. It clearly shows that Alaska Airlines didn’t just do this to say they were involved—they did this because they truly want to innovate and do something different. It is an incredible feeling to know that they will be using our advice moving forward in their solutions—and it doesn’t hurt that they want to hire us.” Tyler Waterer commented, “Without Foster’s partnership with Alaska Airlines, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have this kind of learning experience (while) still in college.”

The success of the case competitions has focused on sourcing local businesses (past case companies have included: Microsoft, Amazon and Seattle City Light) and creating forward-looking cases on current issues the company is tackling. This approach of what should a company DO, not what they should have done creates urgency for the issue and maximizing the impact the students can make. Stay tuned to see student ideas take flight in other businesses.