Category Archives: Alumni

Inaugural Golf Classic connects MBA students and alumni

Guest post by Matt Eliseo, UW Foster School of Business MBA student

2011 marked the beginning of a new tradition at Foster. The MBA Association, in conjunction with the Sports Business Club and Women in Business, was proud to present the Inaugural Hogan Brothers UW Foster MBAA Golf Classic. On April 30, after months of preparation, the event brought together alumni, friends of Foster and current MBA students for a day of networking and golf at the Golf Club at Newcastle.

Last year, student leadership of the Full-time MBA Program decided to strengthen ties between current MBA students, alumni and friends of Foster. After looking at all the options for engagement, the MBA Association decided on a couple of key events, one of which was a golf tournament. The Foster School of Business has a successful history with golf tournaments—the Evening MBA Program hosts an informal event and the Technology Management MBA Program holds an annual Bettin Cup. Therefore, the planning committee, composed of myself and other MBA students, were hopeful that the Full-time MBA Program could start and maintain a new tradition.

Very early in the process the planning committee understood that collaboration with various stakeholders at the Foster School and the business community was key to the success of the Golf Classic. We started by networking with our fellow students to build support and excitement about this new tradition. Then Foster’s alumni and advancement staff guided us through the process of engaging alumni and securing sponsors. Dean Jim Jiambalvo also graciously agreed to play in the tournament and host those sponsors.

UW Foster School of Business Dean Jiambalvo (left) and alumnus and tournament sponsor Charlie Hogan (BA 1959)

After warming up on the driving range and breakfast, the tournament began with a shot-gun start at 8 AM on the par-71 China Creek Course at the Golf Club at Newcastle. 72 golfers—41 MBA students and 31 alumni and friends of Foster—competed in a scramble for foursome with the lowest score and prizes at three contest holes (one longest drive and two closest to the pin). The pace of play allowed for plenty of time to socialize without any delays caused by a congested course. After golfing, we all enjoyed a full bar and appetizers before sitting down to a steak and salmon lunch. We had a brief ceremony with a few words from Dean Jiambalvo and Charlie Hogan, recognition of our sponsors and a presentation of awards to the tournament and contest champions.

While socializing, everyone agreed they had a wonderful time and look forward to next year’s Golf Classic.

Matt Eliseo is the VP for alumni affairs of the Foster MBA Association. Next year, he will begin his PhD in organizational behavior at the Foster School of Business.

Sponsors were vital to creating a successful tournament, and we thank Carl and Charlie Hogan, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Dunham Cellars, Esterline, Fresh Consulting and Logic 20/20 for their support.

13 cultural characteristics of great companies

Greg Gottesman, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, spoke to UW Foster School of Business alumni and students about his tips for finding (or leading) a great company or organization.

He blogged about 13 characteristics of a great start-up culture on TechFlash recently and expanded those concepts in a lecture with anecdotes and examples, recommending people consider corporate or start-up culture before taking a job or launching a new venture.

Here are his 13 cultural characteristics of great culture:

  1. No politics – Give credit where credit is due. Be genuine about it.
  2. It’s not a job, it’s a mission – People can work for competitors or jump ship anytime, but companies that foster a culture of a strong mission do best to attract and retain great employees.
  3. Intolerance for mediocrity – Everyone pulls their weight well at all levels; there is excellence in each role and companies repel or naturally weed out those who aren’t comfortable succeeding or excelling.
  4. Watching pennies – Leaders and senior managers treat company assets as carefully and thoughtfully as they would their own personal assets; waste is not tolerated.
  5. Equity driven – Stock options or other non-cash value helps grow businesses for the long term.
  6. Alignment – Everyone is on the same page. Strategy is clear. Like a well-tuned sports team, people all work toward the same goal vs. individual heroism.
  7. Good communication – Even in bad times, communication remains strong; over-communication is even more critical in times of difficulty (i.e., an executive leaves, a key client departs, company is hacked)
  8. Strong leadership – Lead by example and maintain a positive attitude. Leaders boost their own morale and those around them as they set the tone for the whole company.
  9. Mutual respect – Hierarchy may exist, but everyone is respected for their contributions. “Wins” are celebrated together, regardless of title or department.
  10. Customer obsessed – The customer is always the most important asset. Gottesman emphasized this may be the most important characteristic of an organization.
  11. Energy – Good energy permeates across the company and is almost tangible.
  12. Fun – Never underestimate the power of a good start-up that knows how to have fun. Particularly when first in start-up mode, he’s often seen companies that thrive on early-stage activity where employees work hard and play hard.
  13. Integrity – Great companies have an internal sense of doing things the right way. They spend the extra effort to create value that will outlast their own job or time at the company (i.e., documenting code).

Watch video excerpts from Greg Gottesman’s talk on culture.

This lecture is part of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship‘s alumni network events.

Poker and business similarities

Should poker be mandatory in every business school? While the UW Foster School of Business may not subscribe to this philosophy, poker world champion Barry Shulman (Foster BA 1968) recently talked about poker and business connections to Foster alumni. He believes practical skills translate to business and poker alike: balancing risk and reward, reading people and enhancing personal and financial discipline. According to Shulman, poker is not gambling and business should not be either.

Racking up wins in real estate, the stock market and publishing, Shulman also owns Card Player Media, a poker media company. He is a repeat champion in the World Series of Poker tournaments.

Watch the video below of his presentation on business and poker – and Q&A session that followed:

Video: Clean energy trends and challenges

Wind power. Natural gas. Hydro power. Solar power. When Puget Sound Energy President Kimberly Harris spoke with University of Washington Foster School of Business alumni, students and faculty about clean energy recently, she was also speaking with her customers.

Puget Sound Energy is the 2nd largest owner and operator of wind power in the United States and the utility’s Green Power Program was named one of the US Department of Energy’s “top 10” renewable energy programs in the nation. The Washington-based company continues to look for new ways to address energy efficiency, smart grids and power Washington residents and businesses with heat and electricity. While offering a public service and being heavily regulated, Puget Sound Energy also operates like a business, focusing on customers, return on investment, return on energy, operations management and technology innovation.

What challenges and opportunities face our energy suppliers? How can we as consumers, communities and businesses contribute to clean energy and energy efficiency? What is the future of energy? Watch this 7-minute video of excerpts from Harris’ clean energy lecture.

Click on the image below to watch video.

Kimberly Harris 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.

Creating a company one t-shirt at a time

Jeff BeckerLook around any college campus today and you’ll find something arguably even more prolific than cell phones and iPods. Greek system T-shirts. And if you’re on the University of Washington campus, chances are those T-shirts are from a UW start-up, Kotis Design, a company that has recently made the Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of 100 Fastest Growing Washington Companies for the third year in a row.

As a freshman, Jeff Becker (BA 2003) started making T-shirts for his fraternity’s dances. “One day a light bulb went off,” he said. “No one was making T-shirts that anyone really liked. So my goal became to sell a T-shirt to every Greek student here.” During his junior year, Becker took a pivotal class—Creating a Company. “My advice for any student is to take this class. You learn from doing. You actually run a company and do what a real business does: work with other people, have disagreements, experience the exciting times together. That was the most positive experience for me.”

Becker competed in the Business Plan Competition three times while at the UW, making it to the semi-final Sweet 16 all three times. He first entered the competition with HuSKIbus, a collaboration with Stevens Pass, The Ram, and Helly Hansen, which he developed in the Creating a Company class. His second and third entries were Kotis Design. While he didn’t win, he did see tremendous value in competing. “It really pushes you to think about the process behind starting a company. You might have a great idea but don’t know where to begin, so [the competition] is good practice.”

Today, Kotis provides customers with everything from design services and online storefronts, to packaging and fulfillment services. Becker emphasizes that in addition to the quality of the products, it’s the overall customer experience that keeps campus organizations and businesses around the country coming back again and again. The strong focus on customers has lead to a growth rate of roughly 50% every year. As Becker explains it, “We’ve experienced solid, steady growth because we have great people who are hard working, efficient and forward-thinking.”

Bacon…in a glass?

Stefan Schachtell, Sven Liden, and Chris Marshall, founders of Black Rock Spirits.
Stefan Schachtell, Sven Liden, and Chris Marshall, founders of Black Rock Spirits.

In the food industry, bacon is the “it” food of the moment. And if industry awards and late night talk shows are any indication, Bakon Vodka may just be the “it” beverage of the year. Sven Liden (MBA 2004), co-founder of the parent company, Black Rock Spirits, says it all began on a camping trip in 2007 when a friend brought along 20 pounds of bacon. As the campfire conversation turned to infused liquors, they began to wonder if all that bacon could make a good drink. “The next weekend we bought 12 types of bacon and a bunch of different types of vodka and did all of these infusions in Mason jars in my kitchen,” he said.

The best infusion came from a mix of peppered bacon and potato vodka. After getting a positive response from friends who sampled the winning concoction, Liden and his business partners decided to test the product to the commercial market. In May 2009, after a year and a half of working through all of the liquor industry’s requirements and regulations, they produced 1,500 bottles of Bakon Vodka—enough, they figured, to last three or four months.

Posts about Bakon Vodka on Facebook and Twitter soon had the blogosphere buzzing. Within two weeks of its initial release, Conan O’Brien was sampling Bakon Vodka on his late night talk show. And those first 1,500 bottles were gone in no time. While many other small liquor companies struggle to get their products distributed in one or two states, distribution of Bakon Vodka has expanded from two states to 20 in just one year. Black Rock Spirits expects sales of the beverage to top $1 million in 2010 and was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the Beverage Testing Institute’s 2010 International Review of Spirits—a very prestigious award in the liquor industry.

Before entering the full-time MBA program at the University of Washington, Liden already had one start-up under his belt. “My background was in engineering and software development, but I felt that something was missing from my tool box. I wanted that knowledge of business,” he said. While at the UW, Liden participated in the 2004 Business Plan Competition with TeachTown, a company that provides educational software for children with autism. “I’ve been part of three start-ups now and that’s been really interesting because they are all so different,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think all entrepreneurs should try that, but the broad foundation I developed at the UW has allowed me to do that and succeed.”

Entrepreneur Rich Barton on consumer-driven start-ups

Expedia founder and serial entrepreneur Rich Barton spoke candidly to University of Washington Foster School of Business entrepreneurial alumni about his philosophy, lessons learned, venture capitalist experience, owning consumer-driven dot coms and social networking.

Rich Barton is executive chairman of Zillow, chairman of Glassdoor, chairman of new venture Travelpost, board member of Realself (started by CEO Tom Seery, Foster MBA 2000) and involved with numerous other start-ups.

Watch a condensed 12-minute version of his guest lecture:

 Click on image above to play video

Boomzap’s “Awakening” is a casual gaming hit

Christopher Natsuume, BoomZapChristopher Natsuume has skin in the game. Literally. To raise cash for his nascent casual game company, a semi-finalist team in the 2007 Business Plan Competition, he once sacrificed several swatches on the back of his neck to a trial for an experimental cancer treatment.

Today Boomzap generates sufficient revenue to keep Natsuume (MBA 2007)—and his 29 employees—living comfortably without forfeiting so much as an ounce of flesh. It’s the largest casual game developer in Southeast Asia, influential enough to draw top talent and the attention of major game distributors but just small and funky enough to call itself an independent.

After a string of solid downloadable games fueling slow, but steady growth, Boomzap created a blockbuster this past February in Awakening: The Dreamless Castle. “That changed everything,” Natsuume says. “Publishers suddenly wanted to do business with us, our asking price went up, our catalog of existing games spiked.”

A bona fide industry player, Boomzap leaves the distribution and marketing to the big game publishers such as Seattle’s Big Fish Games. And Natsuume’s team focuses on game development—which is important, since success in the industry is ephemeral. Boomzap has already launched the sequel to Awakening, plus a promising new adventure called Pirates Plundarrr for the Nintendo Wii.

But Natsuume’s most innovative contribution may be Boomzap itself, a cohesive but completely virtual operation. With nowhere to call headquarters, Natsuume splits time between Seattle and Yokohama, employing developers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Siberia who collaborate via Skype, MSN and Basecamp. He pays well (a “Singapore wage”—best in the region), offers advancement, and builds deep loyalty.

“We make some good products,” Natsuume says. “But what I’m really proud of is that we’ve created this enormous opportunity for people in Southeast Asia that just didn’t exist before.”

Check it out: www.boomzap.com

Giant Campus is virtually everywhere

Pete Findley saw the writing on the wall. Or rather, the pixels on the screen. After spending a decade building Giant Campus from a scrappy start-up into a nationwide network of technology summer camps for kids, the inaugural Business Plan Competition champ floated the company’s first online course in 2005. Findley (BA 1998) envisioned a giant campus for the Internet age, a virtual school majoring in technology, science, engineering, and innovation courses that are all too often unavailable to teens attending thinly populated rural schools, cash-strapped urban districts, or who are home-schooled.

It took a few years for technology to catch up. But today broadband is pervasive, Web-based education delivery is rapidly becoming mainstream, and Giant Campus is virtually everywhere. “We’ve been waiting for this time,” Findley says. “Education has evolved, and we believe that we can transform the way specialized education is delivered, particularly to high school students.”

The company offers an accredited program with an array of online elective courses in computer science, digital arts, and business innovation—plus a core curriculum of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Through Giant Campus Academy, the curriculum is available on a tuition basis to high school students around the world (and is free for students in Washington, thanks to a partnership with the state Board of Education).

By shedding the constraints of camps and classrooms, Giant Campus offers students both accessibility and affordability. And the company is rapidly becoming the essential framework for such education providers such as Kaplan, K12 and Insight, as well as other state public school districts.

“We’re basically the ‘Intel Inside’ for every online school operating today. We provide them the curriculum and, many times, the teachers,” Findley says. “In five years, I expect to see us in a lot of school districts in a lot of state systems.”