The Last Day of DSV

by Caleb Ellis

While formal schooling inevitably has an end, an education does not. Learning, practicing, and growing are all parts of our intellectual socialization. Gaining knowledge allows us to be better at our day jobs, more interesting at dinner parties, and, in many ways, better people.

Duke in Silicon Valley certainly did that. I can confidently say that I know more than I did a month ago, and that that knowledge will help me when I join the workforce, and perhaps more quickly, when I next attend a dinner party. Yet, our final class with Professor Christensen had much more to do with the kind of people we’re capable of being, rather than the capability of the people we’ll become.

Before speaking more broadly, Professor Christensen asked us to identify how some of the models we studied in class could be applied to our personal lives. Tools such as emergent and deliberate strategies or modularity and interdependence were designed for the business world, yet asking us to apply them to our own lives was hardly a mandate to “treat yourself like a business.”

Rather, it represented one of those rare moments in which you could see your education enabling you to become a better person. Every day, people wake up wishing they were healthier, happier, or more passionate about what they’re doing, and answering those questions is tough. What Professor Christensen was able to articulate so clearly was that the process of asking and struggling with those questions themselves is what ultimately culminates in an answer.

Professor Christensen wasn’t the first person to tell me that the little things matter, or that life only gets more complicated over time. However, his lecture was the first time I recognized someone who not only grappled those considerations, but identified and altered the processes they could control to reach the outcome they wanted.

Making an acquisition or launching a new product requires you to call on the skills and knowledge you possess to make an informed decision. The same thing goes for life, and in more ways than I think any of the participants could have expected, Duke in Silicon Valley brought that to the forefront.

For the past month, we’ve had a unique opportunity to enhance our education through study and experience. We’ve chewed over case studies, launched inquisitions at corporate panels, and worked tirelessly to wrap our heads around disruptive innovation.  It’s been an incredible opportunity to grow as students and, almost unbelievably, soon-to be employees. More surprisingly, however, has been the incredible opportunity to grow as people. The program offered us no shortage of role models, from our Professor Matt Christensen, to our advisors Kimberly Jenkins and Amy Unell, to the speakers and companies who graciously shared their time with us. Ultimately, this program testifies to their success in partnering education with life, and, more specifically, their success in passing it on to nineteen aspiring students.


Netflix Site Visit

by Kitt Rosenfield

We arrived at Netflix’s Los Gatos campus, a series of beautiful Spanish-style buildings topped with red clay tiles that blend into the picturesque California backdrop, early in the afternoon on Monday. This was to be our final site visit, capping off a whirlwind tour of some of the country’s most innovative companies that call Silicon Valley home.

We entered the lobby and were invited to help ourselves to some fresh movie theater popcorn while we browsed books detailing the greatest movies of the past century and admired posters of the company’s greatest successes: Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and the latest season of Arrested Development, to name a few.

We were greeted by Netflix’s Brand Manager, Duke’s very own Blair Josephs. Ms. Josephs, who develops the company’s marketing strategies for both the Netflix brand and individual content, was joined by North American Director of Marketing Megan Imbres. Ms. Josephs and Ms. Imbres explained the transformation of Netflix’s marketing strategies from basic “Buy Now!” ads that built subscriber base to more lifestyle-focused ads. They also introduced us to some of Netflix’s most successful campaigns, including a series of TV ads produced for the Canadian market that were later brought to American television (see below for Netflix “Pep Talk” commercial) in addition to a series of minimal movie poster print ads that ran in Canadian publications.

Ms. Josephs was then joined by Cynthia Chang, a member of the company’s marketing team, who answered questions about how Netflix comes up with their ad campaigns and how those campaigns come to fruition. We were able to really get a sense of how Netflix and companies in general market and advertise themselves and how those decisions significantly affect a company’s success.

At the crossroads of entertainment and technology, Netflix has transformed the aging entertainment industry. It was incredibly interesting to see the passion and innovation that goes on behind the scenes at such a company, and it will be just as interesting to see where that passion and innovation leads the company in the future. Now when does season 3 of House of Cards premiere?

eBay Site Visit

by Dhrumil Patel

After arriving at the wrong eBay campus (South campus – which seemed really cool as well), my group arrived at the North campus to meet the rest of the DSV kids. Initially, this campus looked incredibly high-tech and modern.

2014-07-25 13.13.24

Upon entering we were all given name badges and we were greeted by Sadey Kindt, the University Recruiting Coordinator, and Beth Axelrod, the SVP of Human Resources. They debriefed us on the afternoon eBay Inc planned for us. The events were going to be a Q&A by Ms. Axelrod, a presentation by Peter Wade, and a tour of the PayPal showcase (incredibly cool!).

2014-07-25 13.34.08

Once the group was ready to go, we were lead to this presentation room which contained three large screens and a flat screen. Ms. Axelrod explained her role at eBay inc and her path to her current position. She also discussed eBay’s hiring process for senior roles and what she looks for in eBay’s candidates.  After a Q&A learning more about her and the company’s structure, she handed us over to the next speaker.

2014-07-25 14.04.17

Peter Wade, originally from England, serves as the Director of Finance. Before he began, he expressed his sincere interest our program and how he was up-to-date with our blog (his prior research into our program was amazing). The way he spoke to us and allowed us to ask questions attested to his engagement with us and his humility. He initially worked as a consultant, but decided he wanted a different path. After considering his options, he decided to work for eBay (which was much smaller then). He made the decision because he loved the service (he is avid user of eBay – find him!) and he loved the company’s mission. Thereafter, he explained how eBay was born and the changes ever since. He asked us what came to mind when we thought about eBay. Almost all of us claimed: a site where people auction off goods and buy used goods. However, those two actions are actually a minority of its business today. eBay is actually comparable to an online mall. You can shop for goods of all kinds, provided by name-brand retailers and private retailers who use eBay’s platform.  He discussed eBay inc. through the lens of disruption and highlighted how eBay scaled its service and moments where it incorrectly executed plans to expand. He also discussed eBay’s acquisitions, such as PayPal and Braintree, and why eBay acquired those companies. His presentation provided a wonderful insight into the company and their plans to move forward (very thorough and awesome!)


Finally, Michael and Eric, our showcase tour guides, escorted us from our seats to the entrance of their showcase. Not only did they explain that the products and service we would see were already live in select locations, but also we could take pictures and ask questions (they were ready to pose for pictures as well). After giving us a slight intro on PayPal’s work with a local mall with interactive window shopping, they opened the massive door leading into the showcase.

(Drum roll please!)

The showcase was beautifully designed and separated into stations. Each station mimicked a real life scenario and they integrated a corresponding PayPal service to show the interaction. The first station was highlighted by Eric (he is hilarious and loves to joke on himself). The scenario involved both the business and customer side. Acting as both, Eric explained how PayPal can allow a customer to check-in, update their check, and eventually pay with the PayPal seamlessly. The business can see that Eric has checked in, it can view his part purchasing history, offer specials, and enhance the experience for Eric.

2014-07-25 15.10.31

Michael (equally as hilarious) who discussed the original eBay platform and the upgrades they made. He used the scenario of browsing the service, discovering recommendations from friends, and viewing product through the lens of an online-store. The experience focused the user with the seller so they user could also browse the sellers other products (analogous to shopping at a specific storefront).

2014-07-25 15.34.36

The next two stations focused in on grocery checkouts and explaining how PayPal worked in terms of returns. Mike and Eric bounced off of one another as they explained how PayPal can essentially build your receipt as you select and scan barcodes at grocery stores. Once you finish you can pay your groceries with one swipe and display the online receipt on your way out. Moreover, let’s say Michael bought a bag of banana chips (they actually had them on display!) but decided he didn’t want them. He can return them without worry on his or the vendor’s behalf. PayPal, if linked directly to your bank account or card, actually serves as a wall. Your information never leaves them into the hands of the vendor. Instead, PayPal temporarily pays for you until the transaction is approved on both ends. If it is not, you receive your money back (as in the case of a refund).


Overall, eBay inc (not eBay!) was one of the best site visits of our program. The team was very open about their roles and the company (and hilarious). We were all thankful for the opportunity to learn so much about eBay inc and have the privilege to see the showcase and meet upper-level employees.

eBay inc. is doing some great things so be on the look out!

Google Site Visit

by Peter Kann

As an avid fan of all things Google, this site visit was by far my most anticipated, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we saw upon entering the Googleplex, the core of Google’s massive headquarters in Mountain View.  Giant steel shark fins came out of the sidewalks, flowers and trees covered the lawns between buildings, and the buildings themselves varied from standard brick offices to works of modern art.  Every space was different due to Google’s strategy of buying existing building complexes rather than building more of their own, which reflected the diversity of groups within the company.  Despite this, every area maintained the quirky, geeky vibe that we associate with Google.  A T-rex skeleton adorned with lawn flamingos stands in the center of the main quad, and models of spacecraft and superheroes fill the lobbies of the offices.  Even the classic Google colors (blue, green, yellow, and red) are present everywhere, from the umbrella over the outdoor tables to the Google bikes, which had become famous within our class.

google pic 4

google pic 1

A few of us were lucky enough to come early to the Googleplex and have lunch with a Brown student who was working there.  Bryan had met him through utter coincidence on the CalTrain, and he was kind enough to host us in the afternoon.  Lunch was especially busy, as every Thursday Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin put on the TGIF event which catalogues the week’s achievements and sets the course for the following week.  This event is unfortunately very exclusive, and it brought in a lot of Googlers who lengthened the lines in the cafeteria, but it was worth the wait.  The food was incredible and from every corner of the globe, and we all were encouraged to sit outside and enjoy the California weather while we ate.

After we left lunch, we joined the group at the registration desk to get our visitor badges and meet our tour guide.  We all gathered inside beneath a collection of lights hanging on strings that worked together to create moving 3D patterns, which was a little too entertaining for some of us.  We also noticed that in addition to the elevator, there was a slide that connected the second floor to the first, just one example of the fantastical environment that employees live in every day.  After getting situated we were introduced to our guide Mackenzie Thomas, a graduate from UNC (for which she was quickly forgiven) who works in Product Marketing at Google.

google pic 8

She took us farther into the building into an auditorium where we met with a panel of Duke alums working in various divisions within Google, even one currently in Texas who spoke with us via Google Hangouts.  Their experiences in their journeys to their currents positions were all very different, which made our conversation a very helpful one for a lot of us.  For those of us in the program without a technical or engineering background, it could be discouraging to go on site visits and hear about all of the programming or design skills that the employees need to have, and as a Biology major there were definitely many times when I felt out of place.  But as the Googlers began to tell us about their lives leading up to their careers with the tech giant, it became clear that no matter what your background is, there are opportunities everywhere.  If there were Psychology majors working at Google, anything was possible.  This came as a huge relief to a lot of us, myself included.

google pic 3

google pic 6

We then began our formal tour of campus, with Mackenzie showing us the grounds and taking us inside the main building at the center of the campus.  The headquarters was equipped with swimming pools, volleyball courts, and fitness centers, making it seem more like a college campus than a corporate complex.  Furthering the college vibe, there were bulletin boards covered with flyers advertising Google events, such as employee a cappella concerts.  Inside the buildings the quirkiness of the campus intensified, with doors hanging from hinges in the walls and a full scale replica of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne hanging from the ceiling.  We even got to see the first server that the Google search engine ever ran on, which sat at the top of a staircase behind an unassuming plaque.  Downstairs there was a series of connected screens that gave a 270 degree view into Google Earth, and after learning the surprisingly difficult controls we naturally we used them to fly down to Duke’s campus for a 3D rendered view of the Chapel.  It was a technological wonderland at Google, one that seemed to emphasize fun and creativity just as much as it valued hard work and perseverance.

google pic 2

Our visit ended with an obligatory trip to the company store, where I bought more shirts than I should have, and a series of photo shoots on the colorful Google bikes.  We had met a lot of great alums working with the company, many of whom I hope to keep in contact with, and we came away with a sense that Google was a much more well-rounded company than we had expected it to be in terms of the positions that it offered.  This visit also taught me that any career path is open to you, no matter what your background is, it just may look a little different depending on your passions and skills.  Google was certainly an excellent host to us and I feel that we all came away with a better understanding of what it meant to work at one of the most influential companies in the world.

google pic 5

Apple Site Visit

by Ethan Levine

We finally made it: the Mecca of the tech world. Even if you had no one told you beforehand what company was headquartered at 1 Infinity Loop, I’m sure you could guess which company it was just by the look of the smooth, sleek, and imposing building and the atmosphere it created. While not our only major visit during DSV, our time at Apple did feel like a consummation of sorts.

Apple pic 1

Our visit started, oddly enough, at the Apple company store. Anything and everything Apple could be found there. iPods, iPads, and iAccessories were only the tip of the iceberg. Beats headphones, Jawbones watches, and Mophie batteries were among the myriad electronic goodies that Apple stocked, while Apple shirts, hats, beanies, mugs, pens, and various other paraphernalia could be found there as well. It was a nice first stop on our Apple visit.

apple pic 3

However, the real meat of the site visit was still yet to come. When we left the store, we were led through the main entrance of the headquarters and towards a nicely sized conference and presentation room. The room was adorned with nothing other than a few pictures of Apple products on the wall, a true testament to Apple’s commitment to minimalism and its products. We filed in, picked up a water bottle and a cookie, and took our seats around the u-shaped table, waiting for Duke alum and Apple SVP Eddy Cue, the true purpose of our visit, to arrive.

apple pic 2

Soon enough, the door opened and in entered, not Mr. Cue, but his assistant who informed us that, “He’ll be a little late. He’s in a meeting with Tim.” That got a laugh from most of us, realizing that, if you checked Eddy’s meeting schedule, it would have had Duke in Silicon Valley following Apple CEO Tim Cook. Not bad company to be in.

Not long after that though, Eddy came in. He was friendly, open, and a good speaker. He also just came back from a trip to New York and had a few complaints about the hotel he stayed at. While telling us about his trip, though, he snuck in his first lesson: notice the little, everyday things that annoy you. From those mild inconveniences come the greatest innovations. I guess if necessity is the mother of invention, mild infuriation is the mother of innovation.

apple pic 5

He went on to tell us about his career path, starting at a tech firm in North Carolina and later moving to the Valley to work for Apple. While at Apple, he remembered being asked to manage the call center, something he had no experience doing. He could have taken the easy road and passed on the offer. Instead, he seized the opportunity and took the job. From this experience, he taught us accept opportunities to learn new things. While his first meeting as the call center manager was overwhelming, he soon learned all the workings of the call center and, later, was able to apply what he learned there to other sections of Apple.

Above all, he told us to not be afraid of taking risks, a common sentiment in the Valley. While at times it can be simpler and less stressful to take the easy road, it is really only through taking risks that you can accomplish anything. This is perhaps the most important lesson we could have learned.

While talking with Eddy Cue was amazing, our time, unfortunately, had to come to an end. We thanked him and we followed him as he made his way out. Though our visit had come to an end, our visit to the tech cathedral was one that would not be soon forgotten.

apple pic 4

DSV Video Filming

by Sid Gopinath

We have a pretty cool video in the works for all of you blog viewers. On the afternoon of Monday, July 21, after an incredible life coaching session with Patty Leeper, all of the DSV students packed into cars and drove over to LinkedIn headquarters.

Filming 2LinkedIn had graciously allowed us to use a space in one of their buildings to film a series of interviews with DSV students, faculty members, and alumni. When we arrived, we realized how lucky we truly were. The company had opened up the entire cafeteria and lounge area to us, as well as a dedicated space to film everything. So, for the students who weren’t filming or being filmed, there were plenty of ping pong and foosball games to be played, in addition to plenty of food to be eaten and work to be done.filming 7

The students working on the video were guided away from the noise of the lounge area and to our dedicated filming space. Amy Unell had also brought in her friend, documentary filmmaker Rebekah Fergusson, to help with the shoot. Within moments of setting our bags down, we realized we were in the hands of a true professional. Rebekah guided us through the shoot in the calmest and most efficient manner. She had brought along lights and professional microphones, which helped us really nail the interviews. Whether it was suggestions for questions or patient guidance through the filming process, Rebekah was always there to help us. Without her, this video would look very different and not nearly as professional and crisp!

filming 3After rearranging the furniture, Rebekah and Matt Chambers set up their cameras for the interviews. Over the next four hours, Shannon Beckham interviewed twenty-two people involved with the program. Occasionally, I would toss in a follow-up question or two. We had several people who rotated in and out typing out “soundbites” from each interview. These soundbites would be used later in the editing process to choose the best segments of each interview.

Filming 1We had been allotted three hours to complete the filming. But, because we are all enamored with this program, everyone had a lot to say about it. Some comments overlapped (everyone seems to think Matt Christensen is “intimidating and tall” when they first met him), while others were fantastically unique (Ben Peters shared with us his hope that George Bush Sr. and Matt Christensen meet one day to compare their unique sock collections).

filming 4Overall, thanks to the enthusiasm and flexibility of everybody involved, we captured a great series of interviews. Once again, a special thanks to Rebekah Ferguson for taking time out of her busy day to help with this student video. Over the next few weeks, we will be editing and polishing it. And it will be awesome.

LinkedIn Site Visit

by Regan Fiascone

If there’s one way a company can win us over, it’s with free food. LinkedIn got off on the right foot when they opened up their headquarters to us on Monday night to film a video documentary about DSV. We were able to hangout in their lounge area and eat dinner at their cafeteria while taking turns getting interviewed and filmed. The lounge was filled with snacks, game tables, and seating areas, and we easily made ourselves comfortable. It felt like we were getting a true “day in the life” type of view of the company. The environment was casual and friendly, and lots of people stuck around after work to mingle and enjoy dinner together.

LinkedIn 2On Wednesday afternoon, we made our return for an official visit and were again greeted with free food. Their cafeteria is set up similarly to a college dining hall with many options for employees. Once we’d explored and gathered our lunch of choice, we headed to a separate building in the LinkedIn complex for our presentation. We heard from two Duke alums and one past DSV participant, Courtney Sanford, who all worked for the nonprofit segment of the company, LinkedIn for Good. They told us about their career journeys so far and how they ended up where they are now.

LinkedInPerhaps the most valuable part of the visit was when Courtney walked us through the so-called “LinkedIn Etiquette.” All of us are relatively new users, so we were in desperate need of some guidance as far as do’s and don’t’s. This wasn’t like deciding whether to friend someone on Facebook; LinkedIn is a professional platform and learning how to navigate it appropriately can be a challenge. Besides tips about who to connect with and how, we were shown some of the search features to find people in specific companies or narrow by other fields, such as Duke alumni.

One fact that really stuck out was that 70% of all jobs are found through networking. After spending this month in the valley, I truly believe that. Almost every company we’ve visited has emphasized the value of making and maintaining connections so that you can stand out when applying for a job. LinkedIn is an amazing tool for doing just that. Immediately following the visit, we all rushed home to update our profiles, make new connections, and for some, create accounts for the first time.

Want to know more? Connect with the DSVer’s on LinkedIn!

Shea Di Donna and Nicholas Zaldastani

by Sierra Smith and Brian Bolze

It’s one thing to tour a company’s headquarters, but it’s quite another to talk openly with someone who has many years of first hand experience in the industry.  This past Thursday morning, we took a break from class and had the opportunity to listen to two Duke alumni share experiences from their careers and give us some valuable advice about how to make the most of ours.  One of those speakers was Shea Di Donna.  Shea graduated from Dickinson College with a duel degree in English and psychology, and worked as an analyst at Barclays before entering the world of venture capital.  In 2004, Shea started a company called The Art of Organization which offers organization services to both other businesses and personal clients.  She went on to work at True Ventures, where she started True University, an annual two-day conference in which entrepreneurs from various backgrounds come together and learn from each other’s experiences.  Most recently, Shea founded Zana, “a free platform for peer-led knowledge exchange on every aspect of furthering an idea, creating a startup, building a team, and scaling for growth.”

Through telling personal stories, Shea taught us seven lessons for us to keep in mind as we pursue our education, careers, and personal lives:


Lesson 1: Pursue your passion

Some of us are rising sophomores deciding what to major in, some are juniors looking at internship opportunities for next year, and some are seniors deciding where to apply for a job after graduation, or whether or not to go to graduate school.  What we all have in common is a big decision to make about our futures.  As we weigh our interests, input from friends and family, and social pressure, Shea encouraged us to stay true to what we’re passionate about and trust that we’ll end up where we need to be.  Shea pursued her interests of English and psychology, which, through an unexpected path, actually led her to work in venture capital, demonstrating to us that our passions don’t limit us but can actually lead us to new opportunities.


Lesson 2: Seek out opportunities

After getting a job in venture capital, Shea realized that it was not what she had expected it to be like.  She hadn’t had any previous experience in that field and had only formed impressions through what she’d heard by word of mouth, and, although she didn’t regret her decision at all, she would have liked to have a better idea of what she was getting in to.  She encouraged all of us to take as many opportunities as we can to learn about the fields we’re interested in and to accumulate experiences that we can draw on in the future.  This was one of my favorite lessons, and I’ve already started to see the benefits of it during our program.  As a computer science major, I’d unintentionally narrowed my career options to developing software at a large computer software firm such as Apple or Microsoft or HP.  However, after many site visits to places like Tesla and Survey Monkey, I’ve realized that there are so many possible opportunities for me in the future, and I look forward to finding unexpected places where I could intern in the following summers.


Lesson 3: Take worthwhile risks

One day Shea got an unexpected call from the CEO at Barclays, a man she’d never heard of from a company she was also unfamiliar with.  The CEO had read about an intensive honors research project Shea had completed not long ago as an undergraduate at Dickinson and admired her passion, dedication, and hard work.  He was calling her on this particular day to offer her a job.  Shea was very surprised, and even more so as she learned that the firm was in an industry that she had no training for.  She was reluctant at first to take the offer, but decided after some consideration that she should take the job, and the risk, and try something new.  It can be hard to take risks when you put something as major as your career or job in jeopardy, but as Shea demonstrated to us, sometimes they really pay off. Shea learned a lot at Barclays, and went on to work in venture capital for 12 years.


Lesson 4: Self Care & Personal Branding

Shea noted that, at the beginning of our careers, we might have a tendency to dedicate all of our time to our work, not knowing when enough is enough.  However, this often comes at the sacrifice of self-care.  Although it may sound cliché, it cannot be truer that you can’t take care of anything or anyone if you can’t take care of yourself.

In addition, Shea pointed out a key change that’s occurred in the job model: previously, people would enter a company at a low level position and slowly work their way towards the top of that company, and industry, over time.  People would used to stay put in their field, and dedicate time to gaining a better title.  Today, however, this “escalator model” is broken; people switch career paths much more often, sometimes completely switching fields, and thus resetting their position in the hierarchy of that industry.  This is something we’ve observed already from our guest speakers, many of whom have career paths that include experience in a variety of different industries.  With this change in mind, it is important as every to build up the brand that is you.  Educate yourself to the best of your ability, and network at every opportunity – both things we’ve all been dedicated to as we spend our time here in Silicon Valley, and that we’ll continue to do even after we leave.


Lesson 5: Create something of lasting value

One of my career aspirations has been to make a lasting impact on whatever industry I end up in, so this lesson hit home for me.  In one of our assignments for class, we read that one difference between a good leader and a great leader is that a great leader will make a large effort to ensure that his company or group continues to do well even after he or she is gone, and Shea echoed the value in creating something that lasts.  One lasting impact that Shea is especially proud of is her development of True University, a two-day conference in which entrepreneurs from various backgrounds come together and learn from each other’s experiences.  True University, which Shea developed while she worked at True Ventures, has now become an annual tradition.


Lesson 6: Leave things better than you found them

Lesson 7: Pay it forward

The last two lessons are tied together through the theme of giving back, something that can sometimes be easily forgotten.  We’ve all be fortunate to have many things in our lives, including a great college education and professor and mentors who are dedicated to our success, and these things have given us the ability to do something meaningful that can impact many others.


Shea left us with the recommendation that, if we’re going to spend a lot of time working on something, we should always start by asking ourselves, “Is this something the world needs?”  She also added two books to our summer reading list: The Startup of You and Hooked.


Following a truly inspiring talk by Shea Di Donna, we were introduced, on Thursday, to Nicholas Zaldastani, Managing Director of Zaldastani Ventures. Mr. Zaldastani grew up right outside Boston, MA and also attended Duke studying Civil Engineering and Economics, just like our professor, Matt Christensen. He later got a French Diploma from the University of Paris, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked over six years with Oracle and later went on to co-found Open Horizon in 1994. After that he started Zaldastani Ventures, where he uses his venture capital and entrepreneurial experiences to help early to mid stage start-ups build successful enterprises.

Mr. Zaldastani’s presentation consisted of a series of simple but profound phrases and concepts that really tied together the spirit of entrepreneurship. One of the strongest concepts he illustrated to us was the difference between passion and drive. He began by asking us which of the two were more essential to success, if we had to choose one. There was a fairly even split among the class, with a slight skew towards drive. However, he then described to us how passion is, in fact, the strongest component of a successful business or career. One of the interesting pieces to this was how passion pulls people in and inspires others to work hard, whereas drive is more like a bulldozer having to push yourself and others to achieve, which is far more exhausting. He then used this as a basis for why finding your passion is so indispensably important in choosing your career.

Another interesting notion Nicholas described to us was the difference between a starter and a finisher. He explained how almost all of the extremely successful startups in the past few years were all founded by two people, one being the starter and the other being the finisher. For example Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Co-Founders of Google, were not exactly best friends from the beginning. They bickered constantly and debated about everything, but shared a similar vision about the future and on innovation. Most importantly however, these differences kept them both in check, and allowed them to be extremely effective as a pair because they offset each other’s weaknesses.

Mr. Zaldastani’s advice was refreshing, creative, and ultimately inspiring. His experiences as an entrepreneur and the way he told his story was fascinating, and throughout the presentation none of us could look away. With all of the strategies and theories he illustrated to us, I feel all of us are much more prepared for the exciting and ever-changing entrepreneurial world going ahead.

Tesla Site Visit

by Jack Heller

Tesla has a Willy Wonka-esque appeal to our generation.  Elon Musk is one of the most interesting entrepreneurs in the modern world, and the success of Tesla has been unique.  As our professor said, Tesla is an extremely rare example of a company that enters a market and almost immediately rises to a sustaining, rather than a disruptive position in the market it is associated with.  The Tesla name screams luxury and perfection.  It seems futuristic, and mysterious.  How does Tesla do it?  Our group was lucky enough to find out.

tesla pic 2

Toby Kraus, a Duke alum, greeted us outside the massive warehouse/factory tucked away in Fremont, CA.  We started by walking in to the lobby area, which seemed normal. As we entered the work space, the layout of the desks was similar to some of the other places we have seen thus far.  There seems to be a trend of having multiple desks all within a large open space, rather than individual offices or cubicles, allowing for conglomeration and teamwork to assemble.  We then arrived at the open warehouse where the materials were stored, and the prototypes were on display.  Toby noted how the first Tesla prototype cost well over $1 million to make.  I guess when one is designing a car trying to accomplish what Tesla set out to do, it makes sense that some pretty immense overhead costs would go into the first attempt.  As Toby said, you have to start somewhere.

tesla pic 1 The most fascinating part of the visit was when we got into the production portion of the factory, where we got to see the different steps in which the Tesla cars are made.  It is truly impressive that they make their entire product in house.  There are massive mechanical claw machines, presses, welders, and factory workers constantly rushing around with materials.  While there were no Oompa Loompas, it certainly seemed productive. To an outsider, it also had a sense of chaos, purely because it was so new to us. We were trying to take in as much as we could, in awe of the robotically programmed claws lifting parts of the car and putting them together, of the hot press that turned a sheet of aluminum into a perfectly crafted part of the car in seconds, and the constantly active network of workers driving around parts to other processes.  Toby mentioned that when he was hired, he actually worked in the production process for a couple of days; the company really wants its employees to truly understand the ins and outs of the entire company.

We finished the tour outside by inspecting a real Model S Tesla.  We all got to sit inside, check it out, and dream about the idea of owning one.  We got really lucky with the surprise appearance of one of the engineers on the team that designed the car, Huibert Mees.  A Duke alum, he also shed some light on the differences between working on the design team for a big motor company like Ford, and a smaller one like Tesla.  He said the beauty of the Tesla process was that they looked for things theycould do, rather than what they couldn’t.  He and Toby both emphasized how Elon Musk will not take no for an answer.  Unless there is a law of physics preventing them from adding something to their vehicle, Musk will find a way to make it happen.  He is truly a dreamer, and a sensational business leader who has taken both Tesla and SpaceX to front page news.  It was also helpful to hear some career advice from these two.  Toby started in finance for two years on Wall Street before turning down another offer.  He decided he had been pursuing what other people had laid out as a typical route to success.  Instead, he wanted to switch to a job that he was truly interested in and passionate about.  Huibert said he dreamed from day one of designing cars, and he has never wavered from pursuing that dream.  Both emphasized that we should find something we are passionate about, and not to do something purely for the money.  Overall, the Tesla site visit was one of the most fascinating ones yet, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity to see Elon Musk’s Chocolate Factory.

SurveyMonkey Site Visit

by Matthew Chambers

After a busy morning of class and working diligently on our respective research papers, the group reconvened in the lobby of a sleek, glass building across from the Palo Alto train station. Upon entering through the large double doors, we were all immediately struck by the high vaulted ceilings, which rose above an assortment of tables and chairs, scattered throughout the space. After the last few students trickled in behind us, two figures stepped out from around a corner and walked toward the group. Hanna, who graduated from Duke this past spring and Dwight, a current rising junior at UNC, introduced themselves and split our class into two smaller groups, leading us into two different elevators at one end of the lobby. As the doors closed, my group comically waved goodbye to the other class members and up we went to the fourth floor.

sm pic 6sm pic 5The thick metal doors slid open and we stepped out into a truly extraordinary space. It looked like someone had taken a standard office layout and converted it into a modern art gallery. Countless surfaces sported large flat screens, displaying a variety of schedules and schematics, floor-to-ceiling panes of glass divided the expansive area into different conference rooms, and the brightly painted walls jumped out at us as we walked by. Dwight led our group past what looked like an in-house Whole Foods: shelves upon shelves of iced drinks and snacks lined the walls. Only after several prompts, we sheepishly helped ourselves to something small and continued to follow Dwight through the maze of rooms and hallways, all the while listening to a commentary on the world of strategic customer analytics.

sm pic 4Many of us knew of Survey Monkey only through encountering their random assortment of short questionnaires, often utilized by fellow classmates at Duke. However, Dwight was quick to explain that Survey Monkey was much more than that. Their new initiative, referred to as the Audience team, was dedicated to gathering customer feedback and lead qualification through extensive research and assembling it into a report, which would then be used by clients as a way to gauge potential customer interest in their new products. By using the analytics that the audience team had collected, companies would have the ability to pick one promising idea out of the many they’d brainstormed, versus picking several and spending much more money on having all of them developed for fear that they’d picked the wrong idea.

survey monkey

After we’d exhausted our questions and listened to Dwight’s explanation of how he’d landed his internship, we were brought down to the second floor for a brief glimpse of the Survey Monkey recreation room. If the ultra-high tech office space wasn’t enough to get me hooked, the full size drum kit, as well as foosball, Ping-Pong, and billiard tables definitely did the job. I couldn’t help but laugh as Dwight’s boss walked by, on his way to a “business meeting.” I don’t know if it was the Ping-Pong paddle in his hand or the fact that he was followed by three others holding paddles, but I was highly dubious that a PowerPoint was the subject of their discussion.

sm pic 3

We were then whisked back to the elevators, where Dwight pressed the “R” button and up we went, to the best floor of them all. When the doors opened, we were hit by the direct glare of the afternoon sun, bathing the entire level in a yellow glow. As we all filed out, we realized that we had stepped out onto the roof of the building, which had been equipped with patio chairs, umbrellas and a full-size stone bar. There, we found the other group sitting with Hanna, who was busy fielding questions regarding her own career path, in addition to her general experience working for Survey Monkey.

sm pic 2For the last 15 minutes of the visit, we listened to Dwight and Hanna speak of the importance of networking while in the valley. As Hanna put it, “It’s extremely difficult to land a job in Silicon Valley if you don’t know anyone at the business; network as much as you can. Knowing at least one person will go a long way.” I definitely took those words to heart when we walked out of the office and back to the train station a few minutes later. Our time in California, although short, has already helped us make many invaluable connections with a variety of different people. Only a week and a half left until we go our separate ways but we’ll make the most of it. You stay classy, Survey Monkey.

sm pic 1