Tag Archives: venture capital

Disruption, power and weak ties: All in a Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipThe Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which took place on April 26, 2013, offered an impressive array of speakers. The all-day conference was led by Ken Denman, president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies. He also holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Michael G. Foster School of Business. Below are a few highlights of the knowledge shared throughout the day.

The new power: innovation and shared purpose
Nilofer Merchant, the noted innovation author, spoke about the future of social media or the “social era” as she coined it. As part of this discussion, she mentioned a shift in how we think about power. Power used to be related to how many people work for you or how much more knowledge you have than others. Now, power is your ability to get people to do amazing things. And to be powerful, you need to have a shared purpose that extends beyond yourself or your company.

She used REI as an example. Their shared purpose, the one they share with their employees, customers and the community, is getting people outdoors. “We used to think innovation is what we make,” Merchant said. “If you’re in the knowledge economy, who you are is what you make. And your ability to pull in people based on purpose is going to allow people to show up not just with the mind, but with the heart.”

She added that this makes them more committed to the cause and, therefore, willing to work tirelessly to ensure it succeeds. In turn, you’re able to engage a variety of people and have them create value, regardless of whether they work for you.

Weak ties can be strongest
Zaw Thet, co-founder and chairman of plyfe.me and HaulerDeals, was part of the Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse Teams panel. When discussing how to diversify your team, he referenced the paper, “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark S. Granovetter. As you hire employees, Thet said, you should look for people who can find diversity outside of their current network via a weak tie to another group. The motivation for this is to expand your network and therefore, diversify your staff.

Innovation versus disruption
During the discussion of the Next Big Themes, Ken Denman asked the panel to comment on the difference between innovation and disruption.

Seth Neiman of Crosspoint Venture Partners provided interesting insight on the difference between the two. He referred to innovation as “something that is of such significant value that people will change how they buy,” adding that people won’t change their behavior if there’s not an incentive. “Innovation turns into a business when the time pressure means the big company will get there too slowly, regardless of how intelligent they are,” he continued.

Disruption, according to Neiman, occurs when innovation is so powerful, it catches all the big companies off guard.

Tim Porter of Madrona Ventures made the point there are different kinds of disruption: a new technology or business model can disrupt an existing market or the creation of a whole new market can cause disruption. The latter type often provides the biggest opportunity, but is also the most difficult to anticipate. The most challenging aspect of disruption is time. Porter explained that when trying to time disruption, the biggest risk is that you’ll be too early, not too late.

Learn more about the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and watch videos from all the sessions.

Being contrarian and right

Guest post by Sean Murphy, Foster MBA 2014
He attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship promised to be an engaging and informative event that I thought might be a good use of a Friday. What it turned out to be was most likely the best day of my MBA experience. Ken Denman brought in an incredible line-up that focused on topics ranging from funding to team creation to the next big themes in business. The day started with a heavy hitter and just kept getting better. Charles Songhurst, Microsoft’s General Manager of Corporate Strategy, spoke about adjacencies and outlined several observations that could be acted upon. There were some common points such as surrounding oneself with those more intelligent/hardworking/ethical than you and the Gladwellian 10k hour metric, but there were also some great insights new to me. One such point was that diplomacy is virtually unknown in the tech industry. Songhurst recommended that practicing empathy, predicting how others will act/react, and adapting to cultural norms of your target will put you at a significant advantage in the tech space. He also drew several observations about founder-led companies and professional management-led companies, arguing that self-cannibalization requires the confidence and vision of a founder. Songhurst spoke of comparing the earnings of founder-led and non-founder-led tech companies and claimed a 15% difference favoring the founders. He suggested a simple investment strategy would be going long on founders and shorting all others. Very interesting way to kick off the day.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipA series of panels followed. We heard from Ghia Griarte (Saints Capital), Michelle Goldberg (Ignition Partners), and Andrew Tweed (Thomvest Ventures) about how their VCs assess potential opportunities. A common theme from the panel was the delineation of feature, product, and company and how the market appetite is shifting to smaller, simpler bites. On figuring out what a product or service is or offers, Goldberg said, “Don’t make me think.” Another point repeatedly addressed was the growing demand of the enterprise experience to mimic the consumer experience in UX and hardware. Tweed mentioned using consumer trends to predict what might be happening in the enterprise space soon and investing in back-end mechanics that would enable this shift.

We then switched gears to the non-profit world and heard from Kushal Chakrabarti, Doug Plank, and James Gutierrez about changing the non-profit landscape creating sustainable, long-term success. As expected, they were very passionate about their work and got me seriously considering a non-profit path.

Nilofer Merchant spoke next about the evolution of social media and the importance of co-creation in the future. She emphasized the framework of openness of ideas as one of the key drivers of growth, citing TEDx and Google’s Android as examples.

After a lunch break we returned to a panel of Marc Barros, Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells on assembling nimble and functionally diverse teams. They all emphasized the importance of your network and their reliance on them for the vetting of potential employees. Curiously, it was mentioned that no matter how many interviews you’ve done or people you’ve hired, it’s still difficult to weed out people that end up not meshing. The fit and attitude of hires was especially highlighted when working with a small team, as one bad apple can wreck the atmosphere pretty quickly.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipKen Denman moderated the next panel which focused on the next big themes and featured Seth Neiman (Crosspoint Venture Partners), Tim Porter (Madrona Ventures), and Jason Stoffer (Maveron). They got pretty philosophical and were dropping gems left and right. They approached VCs as incubators to test strategic theories about the market. Getting the market direction is difficult enough, but timing was a big theme of this talk as well. The key to making money is being contrarian, and being right. The key to identifying these investments is in looking at adjacencies when the future isn’t immediately accessible. What must happen if the things that are in motion today were to take the next step? There are many supporting steps that must first happen, and these can be very lucrative investments. Neiman mentioned investing in supporting infrastructure during the internet ramp up in the last millennium and saw a $100M fund return $13B. Jaw-dropping, even by VC standards.

Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Start-Up of You, brought the day to a close with a riveting personal story and the idea of applying entrepreneurial business thinking to your life. Setting aside time to read and think, increasing your knowledge every day, earmarking funds for meeting with interesting people; these were all suggestions of how to approach your personal development as you would a business. He encouraged students to consider youth and the opinion of our cohort as our value-add in connecting with senior, experienced leaders. It was a great, inspirational capstone to the day.

The amount of knowledge that came out of this event was mind-blowing. I filled more pages in my notebook in eight hours than I do in an entire quarter of class. An amazing array of brilliant, successful, and humble people took the time to share their thoughts and experience with an eager audience and I couldn’t be more pleased to be in attendance. I don’t know how this could be topped next year, but I will certainly be there to find out. And you should too…

Watch videos of all the sessions.

Great insight and thoughtful honesty at Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014
She attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

Foster alumni never cease to amaze me, and Ken Denman (MBA 1986) is no exception. Ken has held numerous executive roles across established corporations and new ventures, and he is currently the president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies as well as an angel investor. In addition, he holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership and has spent this year bringing exciting and inspiring events to Foster. The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship that Ken organized was no exception. For this conference, Ken assembled a fantastic group of leaders in the technology, start-up, and venture capital space from both Seattle and Silicon Valley.

Charles SonghurstThe day kicked off with Charles Songhurst, General Manager of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft. The first part of Charles’ remarks was about the five common reasons that companies succeed: geography, an ability to generate positive serendipity, expertise, getting the right mix of skills on a team, and being empathetic. The second part of his speech wasn’t what I expected from someone at a huge company like Microsoft—Charles discussed why big companies have such a hard time innovating. That mix of great insight and thoughtful honesty is something that comes out at all Foster events, and Charles’ attitude as well as his fresh perspective were echoed throughout the day.

After the incredible discussion with Charles, the day’s panels covered a range of topics relevant to innovation and entrepreneurship. Below are highlights from each panel discussion.

Chasing the Inevitable: How VCs identify and assess potential opportunities
The session was moderated by Foster’s own Professor Emily Cox Pahnke and featured three venture capitalists who work across a range of industries: Michelle Goldberg of Ignition Partners, Ghia Griarte of Saints Capital and Andrew Tweed of Thomvest Ventures. Although each VC specializes in different kinds of deals and has expertise in different areas, they all emphasized that their firms have internal theses they work from. When looking at truly innovative opportunities that don’t have a market yet, they look for products and features that can be easily explained and understood by a customer. All the panelists also agreed that investing is about relationships and the strength of the founder. They want to invest in someone who is wedded to success more than a specific idea, is open to feedback, knows the industry well, and has proven success in previous positions.

Changing the Non-Profit Landscape: What does it take for social entrepreneurs to achieve leading innovation and long term success
While a discussion about non-profits seems odd for a business school, Foster has a history of developing leaders who want to give back. Moderator Zaw Thet, co-founder and chairman of plyfe.me and HaulerDeals, engaged Kushal Chakrabarti (founder of Vittana), James Gutierrez (co-founder and partner of Insikt Ventures), and Doug Plank (founder and CEO of Mobilecause) in a conversation about social entrepreneurship. Despite the non-profit focus, the panelists all came back to the same themes discussed in the for-profit panels. In particular, you should practice “intellectual honesty” and admit to your strengths and weaknesses—then get brilliant people to fill in your gaps. They also reminded anyone going into philanthropy that some non-profits fail because they are 99% heart and 1% business, but being 99% business won’t lead to better results. You must have a mix of business and heart to succeed as a social venture.

Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse Teams: Where and how to spot the top talent to booster your team
Panel on Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse TeamsWith so many students looking for jobs and internships, everyone was excited to hear what start-ups and established innovation-focused companies look for when hiring. Interim CEO of Vittana, Rebecca Lovell moderated this discussion with Marc Barros (co-founder of Contour), Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells (president and CEO of Mindflash Technologies). It’s no surprise the panelists all advocated hiring people who are able to embrace flexibility, have emotional intelligence, and work well in a team. But it’s most important that you hire people who love and use your product. And when you’re thinking about hiring for your company, remember you should design a position around what needs to be done, not around a title.

The Next Big Themes: What’s next, why it matters, and how you can spot big ideas before anybody else
Ken Denman talked with Seth Neiman from Crosspoint Venture Partners, Tim Porter from Madrona Ventures, and Jason Stoffer from Maveron about the next big ideas. The panelists saw some major trends driving innovation, particularly around cloud computing, big data analytics, mobile, consumerization of IT, biotech, embedding internet capabilities in everyday objects, and perceptual computing. When it comes to predicting the next big thing, these investors look for simple value propositions, pay attention to what the kids are doing, and consider if a new idea fits in with their existing theses and view of the world. But they pointed out that innovation isn’t just about change—it’s about benefiting from change.

Learn more about the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and watch videos from all the sessions.

Zulily and Maveron: Building a successful company

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014

Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily
Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily

Foster students were recently treated to a discussion of “What Makes a Successful Company” with Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily.com, and Dan Levitan, co-founder of venture capital firm Maveron. Maveron led the initial funding for Zulily, and this was a rare opportunity to see a founder and investor speak candidly about their partnership. Cavens and Levitan, along with moderator Emer Dooley of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship discussed start-ups, venture capital, and building high-performing teams.

The recent $1 billion valuation of Zulily prompted several questions about how a billion dollar company gets started. The answer, from both Cavens and Levitan, was hard work. Zulily was started by Cavens and former Blue Nile CEO Mark Vadon with little more than a spreadsheet and whiteboard. Although they didn’t have much of a business plan, Maveron believed in the team. The people, Levitan pointed out, are what a company is all about. With the Zulily team, Maveron saw leaders with the ability and vision to bring others along for the ride and a staunch dedication to constant improvement. Cavens and Levitan agreed that Zulily never thought of itself as a billion dollar company, but as a company focused on doing and growing. And fast.

By creating a culture with an “iterate and grow” mindset, they could run on Zulily Time: twice as fast as anyone would think is doable. To illustrate Zulily Time, Cavens told the story of getting the first fulfillment center up and running in 10 weeks—instead of the 7-12 months that was originally estimated. That lesson of maintaining focus and going after what everyone thinks is impossible certainly resonates with many students. And Levitan had more advice for those just starting out and lacking Cavens’ pedigree: be comfortable thinking on your feet, surround yourself with entrepreneurial people, and take time in school to figure out who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you excel at.

Dan Levitan
Dan Levitan, Co-founder of Maveron

Cavens emphasized that part of developing yourself is developing a team that compliments your skills. When he was building the initial Zulily team, he looked for people that would not only add value, but also take risks and thrive in ambiguous situations. Cavens advised taking time to find investors with whom you really click, because they are also part of the team. Funders can add networks and resources as well as validation of your idea. Because Maveron knew Cavens and his capabilities, they were even willing to let Zulily write their own term sheet tied to a specific set of milestones. And unlike many start-ups, Cavens knew that if this idea didn’t work out he wasn’t going to pivot, he would just give the investment back and go do something else.

Ultimately, Levitan noted, it’s great entrepreneurs and their teams that build an amazing company—not venture capital firms. But no one, Zulily in particular, can deny the importance of money and resources to get a company off the ground. Zulily is proof that incredible things can happen when driven founders and the right investors come together.

This event was organized by Foster’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club.

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