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.

Congratulations 2014 Rotary Club of Seattle scholarship recipients

For the last 17 years, members from the Rotary Club of Seattle have mentored students from the UW Foster School of Business in their work to grow companies in underserved communities or those owned by people of color and women.  Nearly 2,000 UW business students have benefited from the mentoring they’ve received.

RotaryScholarship2014
2014 Rotary Club of Seattle Scholarship recipients (left to right) Jonathan Matson, Kelly Butler and Simran Singh.

This Program, provided by the UW Consulting & Business Development Center, also awards scholarships to participating students, which is funded by the Rotary Club.  The UW Consulting Center congratulates the recipients of the 2014 Rotary Club of Seattle Scholarship.

Kelly Butler, Senior
Studying Business Administration

Ellen Chang, Senior
Studying Philosophy 

Jonathan Matson, Senior
Studying Operations & Supply Chain Management

Simran Singh, Junior
Studying Information Systems

This year, more than 25 Rotarians volunteered nearly 900 hours of mentorship to students and their business clients.  This resource is vital to the success of our students’ work as they provide consulting services to their clients.

“The program offers a unique opportunity to work through ambiguous problems and develop creative solutions.  The stakes are significantly higher when your work has a real impact on real business,” states Jonathan Matson, whose student team consulted a local acupuncture company.

Jonathan’s Rotary mentors helped his team create a marketing plan for their client.  “The added dimension of managing a client relationship is another aspect that doesn’t exist in most of the work we normally do as students. This made the program much more rewarding from a student perspective”

“This is what makes this program a great learning opportunity!” explains Ellen Chang.  “You never know what to expect. Yet with the help from our mentors and advisors, we came out feeling comfortable to deal with uncertainty and a versatile working environment.”

Scholarship recipients were selected by their ability to demonstrated exemplary performance in the areas of team leadership, multicultural/cross-cultural communication, and application of business strategies for their client.

“This program can be thought of as a quarter-long internship,” says Simran Singh.  “When I go into job interviews today, I use this experience to showcase my skills in leadership, critical thinking, and ability to work within a team.”

Kelly Butler’s team helped develop a branding strategy for a local grocery store. “The UW Consulting Center offers an experience unlike any other offered at the Foster School. Students are given the opportunity to witness the struggles of business in the real world and are taught to think on their feet, dealing with day-to-day uncertainty beyond any case study or homework assignment. This program takes the material that other courses have taught in a vacuum, and applies it to reality; real people, real money, real risk.”

Sustainable Big Macs: The plan for a leaner, greener McDonald’s

McDs_Langert1Imagine going into a McDonald’s and learning that all of the beef used in their hamburgers was sustainably sourced. Not only that, but the restaurants were using less energy, recycling more and adding more fruits and vegetables to their menu. Seem far-fetched? Not when you learn that the company, famous for its fast, low-cost food items, has been developing sustainability initiatives for the past three years. Enter Bob Langert, McDonald’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and keynote speaker at Foster’s Fourth Annual Idea Lab. Speaking to an audience full of MBA students and Puget-sound area business leaders, Langert talked about supply chain, consumer buy-in, and championing sustainable beef at the home of the Big Mac.

Having labeled McDonald’s as a company in transition, Langert hopes that their involvement in the sustainability movement– which he thinks is “too small [and] too niche”– will jumpstart supplier and consumer buy-in. McDonald’s has developed a plan, dubbed “Our Journey Together. For Good”, to make their menu both healthier and sustainable. The plan’s goals include:

  • To begin serving sustainably sourced beef by 2016
  • Add more fruits and vegetables by 2020
  • Reduce fat, sugar and overall calories in their food
  • Provide 100 percent sustainably sourced coffee
  • Reduce restaurant energy consumption by 20 percent
  • Increase in-restaurant recycling by 50 percent.

To achieve these goals, McDonald’s first priority is to address the supply chain—which Langer believes accounts for 80 percent of the corporation’s environmental impact. While aggressive, this certainly isn’t the first time the Golden Arches has addressed food sourcing.McDs_audienceClose

Dressed in chicken suits, Greenpeace activists staged protests in European McDonald’s restaurants with the hopes of raising awareness of deforestation in Brazil due to soya production in the Amazon. As it turned out, Amazonian soya was a major source of soy for McDonald’s food products. Surprising cynics (and probably a few Greenpeace protestors), Langert met with the activists, even traveling to the Amazon with them to get a first-hand picture of the devastation. Within three months, Langert says, McDonald’s was able to negotiate a moratorium on Amazon soya. Reflecting on the experience, Langert said, “[I’m] proud of the work, not proud that it came through a crisis.” The soya-based deforestation problem was a watershed moment for McDonald’s, driving the company’s other environmental initiatives like responsibly sourcing their coffee and their fish—100 percent of which comes from sustainable fisheries. With a focus now placed squarely on their beef suppliers, McDonald’s hopes to do the same for the millions of hamburgers they sell each day.

From enlisting the consulting expertise of famed animal science doctor and autistic activist Dr. Temple Grandin to honing in on their message, McDonald’s approach to the beef industry has been multi-pronged. Recalling his keynote speech at the first annual Ranch Sustainability Forum earlier this year, Langert reiterated the importance of coming together as a community to be more environmentally responsible and forward-thinking. “I kept saying we’re on the same page. We want sustainable beef to sell more beef.” However, Langert knows that sustainability isn’t limited to suppliers. Pointing to the trouble their European restaurants are having convincing their customers to recycle (crew members are manually separating garbage from recycling), Langert acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. When asked if it’s possible that customers are fatigued by sustainability messaging, Langert half agreed, stating that while McDonald’s Chief Brand Officer is coming up with “disruptive ways to reach consumers” he knows that what they’re doing right now is not enough. He added, “The plan right now is not consumer-centric. Our time now is being spent within the supply chain.” That’s not for nothing. Langert said that he continues to be astounded by the progress made on the supply side, stating that “suppliers discussing sustainability is a big deal.”

McDs_qaThere’s no doubt for Langert that McDonald’s has a challenging road ahead to achieve total supplier and consumer buy-in, stating, “When you try to develop something bold, there’s a lot of resistance.” However, Langert maintains that the folks at the Golden Arches are committed to taking sustainability beyond the “small and niche.” Within a few short years, McDonald’s may evolve in to paragon of environmental stewardship in the business world and possibly beyond. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

This event was co-sponsored by Foster’s Net Impact MBA club. Net Impact is a new generation of leaders who use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest problems. They put their business skills to work for good throughout every sector. By doing so, they show the world that it’s possible to make a net impact that benefits not just the bottom line, but people and planet too. Learn more about the club here.

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.”

Checking in on YEOC: The March and April Sessions

March: International Experiences
In an ever-connected world, with the lines that divide nations, ethnicities and philosophies becoming blurrier with each passing year, cultural competency will be (if it is not already) key when it comes to professional success. With the theme “International Experiences,” YEOC students are once again proving themselves to be ahead of the curve. The day began with college prep workshops in cultural awareness and leadership, preparing them for the month’s activity. In an event dubbed Global Student Experiences and Around the World Lunch, students rotated between three themed rooms (China, India and Brazil) where they ate lunch (also themed) and listened to a panel of students who had visited that particular country. Afterward, parents joined the students to watch the highly anticipated annual YEOC Cultural Showcase. Performers included UW’s African Student Association, Perlas Mestiza, Jamela Mohammed, Myanmar Student Association, Khmer Student Association and Seattle Karen Don Dance group. Be sure to watch the video for snippets of the showcase and to see the YEOC Flash Mob!

April: Accounting
Just in time for tax season, this month’s theme was “Accounting.” Students kicked things off with a mentor lecture on accounting and a workshop on dining etiquette. Led by Pamela Lacson (Foster’s Associate Director of Diversity & Recruitment), the workshop included the 3 “D’s” of etiquette: Demeanor, Dining and Don’ts. Students also learned the importance of first impressions, voice, eye contact, appropriate attire, handshakes and elevator pitches. Afterward, Beth Lambert, senior manager of EY Fraud Investigative Dispute Services, joined students for this month’s YEOC Talk on Forensic Accounting. Fans of the popular Crime TV genre may be familiar with the term “forensic” as a scientific means to solving grisly crimes. As it turns out, those same skills (gathering and analyzing evidence) can be used to solve white-collar financial crimes like embezzlement, bankruptcy or fraud. Not many high school students can say they spent the day learning the ins and outs of a crucial specialty practice area of accounting. Near the end of the session, students were introduced to their last YEOC activity of the 2013-2014 school year—the case competition. Students will present their findings to a panel of Seattle-area professionals during the May session.

This blog post is a part of a series focusing on monthly YEOC student activities. Visit the YEOC page to learn more about the program.

Fashion changes, values do not

It’s not every day that the president of a billion-dollar company hands out his email address to a group of undergrads. But not every company president is like Blake Nordstrom.

Nordstrom
Blake Nordstrom discusses the importance of company culture in an undergrad retailing class.

On April 30, Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom, gave a brief presentation and answered student questions in an undergraduate retailing course. He began his presentation with a wide smile and disarming honesty. “We have a motive here; we’re hoping some of you will come work for us,” he said.

After a little backstory on the humble beginnings of both the man (who started in the stockroom of the shoe department) and the company (which started as a Seattle shoe store), Nordstrom launched into a discussion on the impact of company culture. “Fashion changes, values do not,” he said. Over the course of the presentation Nordstrom emphasized his company’s commitment to both their customers and employees. He attributed much of their success to an inverted pyramid model where customers are at the top, followed by the employees who work most closely with customers, and management is at the bottom. “Our business works when we live that pyramid,” he said.

Nordstrom elaborated on his company’s commitment to customer service and customer experience. “It’s all about making the customer feel good,” he said. He underscored the importance of making the customer feel empowered, as if it were their name, not his, on the door. Online shopping is one part of that customer empowerment strategy. “Ecommerce helps customers shop on their terms,” he said. On the subject of the retailer’s liberal returns policy, he stated believing in the customer creates trust, which in turn creates sales volume.

Next, Nordstrom talked about the importance of employee growth. “We really believe leadership development is grounded in experience,” he said. He emphasized the company’s practice of promoting from within and how they strive to give managers hands-on training, citing that most managers cut their teeth on Nordstrom Rack stores before moving to full-line stores. He then discussed the company’s commitment to social responsibility—embodied by the Nordstrom Cares project and its motto, “leave it better than we found it.” Nordstrom emphasized importance of having workers who want to be associated with the company and its values. He stated job seekers should make sure a company’s principals align with their personal principals.

Nordstrom ended the presentation by discussing the company’s internship program—and its 80% retention rate—before opening up the floor for questions. Students asked questions ranging from potential international expansion to the impact of social media. On the subject of social media, Nordstrom discussed their success in creating excitement and energy. “We’ve got to try new things. If it doesn’t work, we learn from it quickly and move on,” he said.

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.

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