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.
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