DSV 2015 Final Thoughts

By Grant Kelly

For the Duke in Silicon Valley Program, five weeks went by far too quickly. In our brief time here, we have read 28 case studies (we studied Kevlar, low fat butter alternatives, Netflix, Dollar General, Ford, and a bunch of other cool topics), visited 11 companies, listened to and received advice from over a dozen guest speakers, explored San Francisco, took many unreasonably priced Cal Trains (where no one checked for our tickets), meticulously searched for study spaces (including rooms in the music building) at Stanford’s vast, beautiful, and well organized campus, cooked an absurd number of cheap pasta dinners with the help of large vats of low cost tomato sauce, went on hikes to some humongous satellite dishes, got a back stage tour at a Giant’s game in San Francisco, and applied Clayton Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to contemporary companies in our final papers. Overall, DSV has been an unbelievable experience filled with many exciting adventures and opportunities to learn.

The last week of our program was dominated by our final papers. Our assignment was to apply the theories of disruptive innovation that we had learned in class to a company of our choosing. Unlike many of the other weeks, which had been filled with site visits and guest speakers, the program coordinates had toned down our after class activities in order to give us more time to work on our papers. Having been thoroughly warned by both our professor and by previous alumni from the program, many of whom had spent all-nighters writing their papers in past years, almost all of us took special care to start our papers well before the deadline. However, while this meant fewer of us spent the final night in Silicon Valley awake, the paper occupied much of our time during our final week. Conveniently, our program had been scheduled so that there were almost no site visits in our final week, giving us plenty of time to work. One of the upsides to having papers to write and few site visits was that there was more time to explore Stanford’s campus. Stanford, like Duke, has a wonderful campus with many great study spots. It was a great opportunity to better know the campus, and see what life was like for students at Stanford beyond our own classroom.

On the last evening of the program, the entire group met at a restaurant in Castro Street for our farewell dinner. Being near Castro Street, a street about a mile long filled with wonderful restaurants with out door seating, bookstores, and shopping, was one of the biggest perks of living in Mountain View. At the dinner, we reflected on what we hard learned during the program, and chatted excitedly about our remaining summer plans we had scheduled for the time before we headed back to Duke. Many of my classmates, who were rising juniors, were planning to head off to foreign countries for their study abroad programs. Other classmates were preparing for brief internships at the end of the summer. Finally, many of us were planning on heading home for a few weeks in order to prepare for our busy semesters back at Duke. During the dinner, we got to hear many fun stories from Professor Christensen. He told us about his days in consulting, his life as an investor, impactful stories about how disruptive can apply to the way you live your life, and even funny stories about how much food basketball players have to eat during basketball season. As we sat around the table, desperately trying to figure out how the tapas ordering situation was going to work for 20+ people, we were struck by how lucky we were to be surrounded by such wonderful people.

Now, at the end of the program, I can say with confidence that I have learned far more in five weeks than I ever would have thought possible. The combination of having such a great curriculum (the case studies), amazing teaching, a group of passionate and self motivated students/friends, tons of expert advice (guest speakers), and an unbelievable itinerary (site visits) made for a remarkable environment for learning. I feel lucky just to have participated, and I know that I will be coming back to Duke with more knowledge, and, more importantly, with a better ability to differentiate between what is busy work and what is important in the grand scheme of my life and career.

Final Week of DSV

By Jonathan Stern

The final week of the program was no gradual ease into the finish.

On Monday, we had class in the morning, visited Pamela Hawley at the ImpactHub in the afternoon, and attended the Giants’ baseball game that evening. The view from our seats was tremendous—we sat a few stories up from home plate, high enough to see over the outfield walls and onto the Bay, where the liners were in no apparent rush and were cruising by at a snail’s pace, a speed perhaps the result of their navigators’ being—like me—totally absorbed by the colors of the sunset. It was also the case that the weather was a tad chilly. And further the case that it didn’t seem to matter, for a number of people went anyway to the Dreyer’s ice cream stand and brought back to their seats some of the heartiest bowls of ice cream I have seen in a while.

After the first inning of the game, Bill Schlough, the team’s CIO, appeared a couple rows below us hoisting a large Duke ‘D’! He led us down into one of the stadium’s conference rooms, where we visited with him for the next five innings of the ballgame. I remember thinking the whole time—what an energetic and passionate fellow! I spoke to a number of students about his presentation afterwards, and we all found it one of our favorites. The first thing he did was pass around his most recent World Series ring for us to try on. It was dazzling and beautiful, but it really was a quite heavy thing to try to have on one’s finger. Then he spoke on his experiences at the Olympics, on how the MLB is working to remain relevant, and on the prospects of new statistics in baseball. Soon, he claimed, we will be able to track outfielders’ routes to pop-flies, and with such numbers, will be able to know which outfielders most consistently take the most efficient path to the ball.

After the meeting, we returned to our seats to watch another inning but unfortunately had to leave soon after. It was a busy week, as I remarked above, and it was important to get back to Mountain View as soon as possible because we had a huge case study on Apple to read for Tuesday—and most of us hadn’t even started.

Tuesday and Wednesday found us writing our final papers, combining and pulling from everything we had been taught that month. On Wednesday night, I stayed awake working to finish it until well after my ordinary bedtime. But I was not up all alone. Matt and Joe, on realizing that only two days remained to finish off all of their uneaten pancake batter, decided to throw a make-shift midnight pancake breakfast. I ate my share, as the pancakes were very good, but there was such a quantity of batter to start with that we hardly even made a dent in the supply!

Thursday was the last day of the program. One of my favorite moments of the month occurred at the end of our final class, when Professor Christensen offered his closing remarks—advice and personal stories. It was honest, surpassingly wise, thoughtful and deliberate, and powerful. We gave him as a gift at our final dinner a few pairs of elaborately patterned socks. Asked whether they would go with any of his suits, Christensen replied: “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it doesn’t really matter.”

Duke in Silicon Valley Week 2 Blog July 2015

By Mary Ziemba

We have recently wrapped up our second week here in the Valley. As we continue our progress in the program, my classmates and I are settling into the morning routine—the 8:15 bus pickup, Professor Christensen’s ‘cold call’ at the beginning of class—that is punctuated by more varied activities each afternoon.
After Monday’s class and a quick grocery run, we attended a workshop at the apartment complex: Understanding Yourself and Your Story. Kevin Hoch, managing director of education for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, directed the afternoon’s program. He guided our understanding of our individual results of the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI). Kevin talked me through my results—ENFP—and what kinds of jobs are best-suited to my personality: ones in which I design and create, rather than execute routine tasks. Kevin’s vast knowledge of the MBTI helped many of my classmates and me understand ourselves more clearly and translate our newfound understanding to our academic, professional, and personal lives.

We visited companies on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week—PayPal, Google, and Dropbox, respectively. The campus was stunning—the modern mirrored glass building was bathed in California sunshine and bordered with greenery and fresh flowers.


Our host was Mr. Steve Fusco (Trinity ’98), who serves as PayPal’s Vice president and general manager of North American Distribution. He spoke about his need to develop innovative strategies for PayPal, given their various services and their role in the growing online and mobile payment market. He also spent a good portion of our time imparting the wisdom one can only get with years of life and career experience. Mr. Fusco participated in ROTC at Duke and had a subsequent career in the Marines, and the lesson he learned in this experience was simple yet profound: “Hold yourself accountable to creating value. Don’t find comfort behind a barrier between action and result.” His professional life had been driven by a desire to account for his actions, to see that his actions have well-informed, tangible results. To me, his advice was meaningful on both professional and personal levels, not only feeding an entrepreneurial spirit but also providing direction in college, an exciting yet uncertain time in students’ lives.

The following afternoon, the group visited Google’s campus in Mountain View. The famously nontraditional and secretive company lived up to expectations: we saw colleagues holding meetings on walks outdoors rather than in conference rooms, employees riding colorful bicycles, provided “nap pods” for tired workers, gadget-y games like virtual air hockey, and a mural of Google doodles.



Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing, hosted our group in the early afternoon, sharing Google’s innovation philosophy with us—a real treat, considering Google is among the world’s most innovative companies. The tenets were simple and powerful. We saw them manifest in various Google products; to name a few, “Launch and iterate” illustrated by Google’s practice of implementing user feedback to a beta product, and “Innovation comes from anywhere” illustrated by a doctor who made a suicide prevention hotline the top result for the search term “suicide”.


Following Mr. Kallayil’s presentation, we were taken on tours by Duke alums working at Google. Although company regulations prohibited the group from seeing some of the campus, I felt the tour was a valuable insight into life and work at the tech giant. Google’s very nontraditional environment provided an interesting contrast to those of other tech companies we had visited.

We visited Dropbox headquarters in San Francisco for our final visit of the week on Thursday. The modern, industrial, urban building set it apart from the more suburban campuses we visited.

We started our visit with lunch in the company cafeteria. It truly rivaled a meal that might be served at a high-end restaurant:


Our host, Adam Cue, was both welcoming and informative. Only about four years older than us students, Adam related to us very well. Adam recounted his story to us: he founded the successful email mobile application Mailbox as an undergraduate, sold his company to Dropbox, worked on the application within the company, and progressed to a management position.

I enjoyed our conversation with Adam for his fearless, thoughtful, and confident view of entrepreneurship. For me, seeing a Duke graduate find success so soon after graduation helped me realize the achievability of an entrepreneurial venture. I find that I am sometimes intimidated by entrepreneurship because of outside pressures to take a more traditional job, but Adam’s confidence helped me become more comfortable with the idea of myself as a startup founder or early-stage employee.

After our rewarding and exhausting week, we were glad to have the weekend to relax and spend time in the Mountain View area. On Saturday, I went hiking with a smaller group of students within the program and another Dukie interning in the Bay Area. On a nearly perfect California afternoon, we enjoyed the views from Stanford Dish recreation area in Palo Alto.


As the week went on, the value of the Duke in Silicon Valley program became more and more clear to me. Kevin Hoch, Professor Christensen, Dr. Kim, our TA Botir, and each of our site hosts have showed us how much they care that we benefit from the program. I’m graciously looking forward to gaining even more insight as I continue through the program.

Duke in Silicon Valley 3.0: Week 1 Recap

By Grant Kelly

Hello! Greetings from Silicon Valley!
The first five days of our thirty-two day program have been extremely exciting. Between all of the class sessions, team building exercises, and site visits, we have been kept very busy, to say the least. In the last five days we’ve zip-lined through some scraggly trees and walked across some tightropes as part of a team building exercise, commuted across the valley in several exhilarating buses, visited and explored the campus at Stanford University in Palo Alto, attended our first three classes, where our preparation skills where challenged by our professor, Matt Christensen, listened to two wonderful guest speakers, Varish Goyal, and Shea Tate-Di Donna, and traveled to Apple’s famous campus, where we met with Apple senior vice president, Eddy Cue. We have done far too much in the last four days to fit in a single blog post, so I will focus on the highlights of the trip so far.

The program started out strong with a team building exercise on Tuesday, organized around a ropes course, which was apparently in viewing distance of the Golden Gate Bridge (everything was obscured by the fog), due to the fact that the course was located in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. With the goal of initiating team bonding, the day was filled with lots of problem solving activities, with an emphasis on climbing, balancing, and holding onto ropes for dear life. One notable activity was titled “double trouble”, where pairs of students would gracefully wobble across a wire that was suspended almost 20 feet in the air, to the general amazement of their audience of peers, who would stand mesmerized, waiting in anticipation as the pair would attempt to climb over and/or around one another, often with minimal success. Luckily for us, fashionable harnesses were a required part of this challenge. The activities forced us to quickly become comfortable with each other, and set the tone for the level of teamwork and collaboration we were to be expected of for the duration of the program.

While feet, legs, shoes, and trains are sometimes utilized, the primary transportation tool employed by the Duke in Silicon Valley program is the humble bus, which arrives at every morning at a time no later than 8:15 am, taking us from our Mountain View apartment complex to Stanford’s Palo Alto campus, a riveting 45 minute journey where we race the Cal Train, which runs parallel to our route. Students often use this time to review the assigned case studies in order to be extra prepared before class.

Unexpectedly, one of my favorite things we do on the program is go to class. Our professor, Matt Christensen, has adapted a Harvard Business School course, created by his father, for our program. He begins each class by randomly selecting one lucky student, who is tasked with summarizing one of the case studies assigned for reading the night before. The cases, which are selected to emphasize overarching concepts taught in the course, cover a remarkably wide variety of topics, with ultrasound equipment, steel production, electronic parts distribution, low fat butter alternatives, and plastic molding serving as just a few examples. As class progresses, more and more of us participate, with class usually ending in an electrifying debate.

Sometimes, we get to augment the usual class experience with a guest speaker. Our first guest speaker was Duke alumni Shea Tate-Di Donna, Founder and CEO of Zana, a virtual incubator for aspiring entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. In the same way Levis provided the tools early California miners needed to do their jobs during the original gold rush, Zana aspires to provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need in order to learn how to effectively build a new business. The company provides video lectures from successful professionals from various parts of the technology industry, creating a valuable level of insight unique to the service. It was tremendously inspiring to hear the story of her career path, and recognize the concepts of growth and management in her company that we have been learning about in class.

Our second speaker was Varish Goyal, president of Vintners Distributors Inc., a company which owns over 100 California gas stations and convenient stores. One of the most exciting projects at Vinters Distributors is their LOOP store. With slick designs, improved store layouts, and enough fresh food to rival a miniature Whole Foods, this was not your average gas station convenient store. After his talk, we actually were able to hop on one of our trusty busses and visit two of his LOOP stores. I was struck by the level of detail behind every element in the store. For example, long shelves were eliminated in favor of smaller kiosks in order to increase the number of end caps (the part of the shelf a consumer sees before entering an isle) in the stores in order to increase potential sales. It was also encouraging to see how connected Varish was with each and every one of his stores. When we arrived at our first LOOP location of the day, the cashier at the store recognized Varish right away, and he did not need to present any form of identification before showing us around his store. It was unbelievably cool to have such an interactive learning experience with an industry expert.

Our first sight visit was our trip to Apple. Despite some last minute cancellations, we arrived at a lesser known portion of the Apple campus and were quickly ushered into a large conference room, whose stylish chairs and table looked like they would have been right at home one of the nearby Apple stores. To our surprise, we were greeted by the administrative assistant of Eddy Cue, who informed us that Eddy would be in right away. Mr. Cue, who is SVP of Apple’s internet software and services, was incredibly generous with his time, allowing us to ask him questions for almost two hours. Overall, it was a sensational experience, and provided a lot of insight into how a such a large and iconic company like Apple is run.

To finish up the week, a smaller subset of the Duke in Silicon Valley group visited the city of San Francisco for the Fourth of July holiday, an outing generously planned at a moment’s notice by our fearless program leader, Professor Grace Kim. The day was filled with lots of fun and sightseeing, where the group traveled by foot from the Cal train station up and down monstrous hills, through China town, past Lombard Street, all the way to famous piers to watch the fireworks. Along the way, we stopped to take plenty of pictures, and grab lots of food, including some apple fritters and bubble tea. It was a great chance to take a break from all of our school work and explore one of America’s great cities as tourists. And despite the fact that San Francisco might not be the best location for fireworks (all of the fireworks exploded into the fog over the bay), spending the holiday in the city was a terrific experience.

Overall, the first week has been jam packed with a ridiculous number of events and activities, and while it has all been a lot of fun, we have been kept busy with all the work, learning a lot along the way. It is very uplifting to see how generous everyone has been with their time and mentorship, and has only made us more excited for the weeks to come.

Apple Site Visit

By Jonathan Stern
Our visit to Apple on Thursday afternoon was wonderful, and I’ll get to that shortly, but the drive over is worth recounting too. We took Interstate 280 to get there, a highway flanked on both sides by spectacular foothills, some imposing and totally covered by California firs, others tamer with sparser tree cover, instead clothed in shaggy brown grass. I’m glad I wasn’t at the wheel, for the beauty was arresting, and it doubtlessly would have had me swerving madly and dangerously about. The drive took about twenty minutes.

Upon entering Apple’s lobby, I grew instantly curious about the cardboard cutout of the Beatles that stood against the front wall. Was it there as a political innuendo promoting the ideals of 1960s counterculture, or less suggestively, was it merely a symbol of delight that after nearly a decade, Apple had finally succeeded in bringing the Beatles to iTunes? The former intrigues me. But if I’m being honest, it’s probably a case of undue suspicion.

We were then led from the lobby into a rather spacious conference room. The wooden table at its center was alive with cookies and SmartWater. I was informed afterwards that SmartWater is actually a variant of traditional H2O. I don’t know why we need variants of water—I don’t have a clue in the world. Even more perplexing, the next day while at a convenience store called Loop, a few kids on the program spied, and decided to drink, a type of “water” that due to one ingredient or another was black. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Now, back to Apple. Shortly after we took our seats, Eddy Cue entered and took his at the head of the table. His position: Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services—essentially, he runs Apple Music, iTunes Store, App Store, Apple Pay, and more. He has worked at the company for twenty-seven years, purportedly “bleeds Apple,” and when asked about Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, downright lambasted it.

He left open to questions most of the two hours that he was so generous to afford.

I remarked near the end—perhaps impertinently, though I hope it wasn’t construed as such—that I am not convinced that advancements in technology always bring about “progress.” Jolted by developments in modern evolutionism (which paints nature as indifferent and directionless rather than as progressive) and the bloody wars of the twentieth century, most theorists retreated long ago from the belief that the nature of the world is progressive and that humanity—along with, and on account of this progressive nature of the world—is also moving in an inevitable direction of “progress.” As C. S. Lewis observed in his essay “Our English Syllabus,” “civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism.”

Apple’s position as one of the largest companies in the world implies the unique ability to influence the trajectory of humanity. Hence my question to Mr. Cue: in light of the directionless nature of the world, is Apple mindfully taking steps to ensure that this trajectory is not one that ends up being injurious to civilization? His response was a bit meandering, but ultimately I liked it very much. He got to the point of things when he mentioned their environmental initiative aimed at protecting the habitability of the earth from any threats that could be posed, directly or indirectly, by improvements in technology.

A wonderful experience at one of the finest companies in the world.