Stanford Conference on Entrepreneurship Notes

I spent the day at Stanford b-school for the annual entrepreneurship conference, which, as always, was awesome. I expected to have to drag my tired ass out of bed after a late basketball game the night before, but instead I bounded right up ready to head down to Palo Alto. Before long I sat back and watched Jeff Bezos talk about innovation and entrepreneurship. He is just on a whole other intellectual planet (in a good way). My notes from him include:

  • reject “learned helplessness” – true innovators see problems with everyday things
  • reject either/or thinking
  • more technology innovations are being made by finding a cool technology or a solution and then finding the problem
  • 4th most popular reason customers contact Amazon is to say thank you
  • When thinking about the future, don’t think about what’s going to change, think about what’s not going to change!
  • You can’t teach natural, born gifts. Some people are naturally gifted in certain things. The one thing you can teach is high standards.
  • “I was reading a blog the other day…” (he reads blogs)

Next was a panel on “Bouncing Back” – even though I’ve been pretty lucky so far, I know somewhere along the way I’m going to hit rock bottom (and believe me, there HAVE been low points so far). The panelists were extraordinary and a lot of it comes down to self-knowledge and awareness. What really matters to you in life? Why are you really trying to start a company? For recognition? Money? Once you fall off the bike, how do you get back on? All important questions.

Next up was the second keynote from Donna Dubinsky, co-founder of Handspring, who was entertaining, witty, and quite funny. Her anecdotes resonated. A few points that stick out from her talk include a Drucker quote: “Strategies don’t move mountains, bulldozers do.” Next – anything that costs more than $500 becomes a two-spouse decision, which is the kiss of death. I can back this up too – a few years ago we asked a really respected guy in the industry to be our interim CEO for a few months for only stock. Given that there was basically nothing, and that I was a 13 year old kid, you’d have to be nuts to do it. Shockingly he seemed enthusiastic and into it. But, the next morning, after talking to his wife, he didn’t want to do it. Moral of the story: stop people from talking to their spouse before a decision is made!

One audience member asked Donna – who was coming across as a workaholic – if she was married. She said “Oh yes, I got married around the time of the Handspring IPO. How could any sane human do both a roadshow AND a wedding? I did what any CEO would do – outsource the wedding.”

I bailed from the Outsourcing & Offshoring session because it was weak and checked out the last 30 minutes from Pat House‘s presentation on What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur. Pat is the co-founder of Siebel. Among other things she said: “I may not always be the smartest or most technical person in the room, but I very often make the most insightful or observant comments in meetings…I just get shit done…Having a big ego is usually good…I believe in philanthropy at a personal level but believe that business has nothing to do with philanthropy.” (I disagree).

The last good panel I went to was on “Building an Early Stage Sales Force.”

  • Hiring a sales team too soon is an attempt to impose a transaction mode when you should be in a learning mode.
  • Take hypotheses about what customers want and then leave the bldg. Usually is a big discrepancy
    between customer facts and assumptions.
  • In early stage company, revel in what goes wrong after a lost deal. If you hire a world class executor, they will say “oh, well, on to the next call.” Great sales people can get up and make the next call. But startups need to learn from each lost deal. This is the problem with a world class salesperson as one of the first hires.
  • You’re in a new market when you get create the TLA. What’s TLA? Three letter acronym.

4 Responses to Stanford Conference on Entrepreneurship Notes

  1. Ron Graham says:

    Your text:

    more technology innovations are being made by finding a cool technology or a solution and then finding the problem

    My comment:

    Even if this is true, I don’t recommend generalizing it. I once worked for a start-up, GreyPilgrim Inc., that made robotic manipulators. Very cool devices. But we spent almost all our time (a) finding the problem for the solution and (b) trying to convince people we were the solution for their problem. Given that a manipulator costs about a quarter-of-a-million dollars, and given that GreyPilgrim did not survive, it looks to me in hindsight like solution-first is no guarantee.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    Ron – totally agree. That’s just what Jeff said and I’m not quite sure what he meant. He was just saying that’s what’s happening more and more.

  3. Sean Murphy says:

    I also attended the Steve Blank session and had some suggestions
    for further reading.

    Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” it’s available from
    it’s used in courses he teaches at Haas, e.g.
    he gave a talk on “customer development process” at
    a copy of his slides from that is here:

    page 20 of
    also provides a good overview.

    Mark Leslie covers many of the same ideas in his “Sales Learning Curve”
    see his article at Always-On:
    and related comment:

    I have the PDF’s from several of Blank’s presentations if you are interested but
    this may already be “too much information” as my daughter tells me.

    From my background reading on Comcate it seems to me that you are
    already “in the bowling alley” and would be better served by reading
    Geoffrey Moore’s “Inside the Tornado” if you haven’t already.

    To me, this is a better exposition of the crossing the chasm
    challenge that startups face than in “Crossing the Chasm” by
    the same author. The user types of technologist, visionary,
    pragmatist, main street, and laggard and the product stages of
    early market, chasm, bowling alley, tornado, main street, and
    end of life are part of the standard high tech business vocabulary.

    also “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen

    The Innovator’s Dilemma offers important insights into the kinds of
    innovations that create market discontinuities which small firms can
    exploit and what arenas it makes sense for a startup to avoid.

  4. Dave Chase says:

    Mark Leslie’s Sales Learning Curve framework was mentioned above. My firm, Altus Alliance, hosted an event that Mark Leslie spoke at focused on the Sales Learning Curve. We posted his presentation and whitepaper for those interested. Here it is —


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *