Wrapping it up: Seven lessons from the DSV program

I cannot write this blog post without first expressing my deep gratitude towards those that made it possible. This program was transformative for me. I know it was transformative for other students in the program as well. Thank you to Kevin (Program Director), Megan (Assistant), Emilie (Assistant), Professor Azhar, all the guest speakers, the host companies, and the generous donors who make this program accessible to students of every background. This program is what Duke is all about.

Here’s a short blurb about the program itself: Around two dozen students are selected, and then participate in a month-long study away program to study the art of a business enterprise and to visit various companies in the Silicon Valley area.


Not only did we visit various tech ventures, but we also explored companies focused in the food, clothing, and sports industries. As it turns out, Silicon Valley is not just about tech. Despite tech permeating nearly everything here, one of the biggest takeaways was recognizing the abundance of opportunities for innovation outside of consumer tech. One of the most iconic speakers during our trip, Alex Garden of Zume Pizza, told us that there is no reason why the same innovation occurring in the tech industry shouldn’t be happening everywhere else. Alex sees no excuse for why fast-food can’t be both quick and healthy at the same time. And we shouldn’t either… for fast-food, or any other stagnant industry.

In our last week, we finished up our final projects, listened to several guest lecturers, and visited companies across the Valley. Additionally, the last week included visits to LinkedIn, BlackRock, Google, and Canaan Partners for a company overview, presentation, Q&A session, and networking session.


However, the purpose of my blog post here isn’t to be a testimonial of the program. Here are seven take-away lessons I gained from the experience that you might find valuable:

The Importance of Timing 

Timing is one reason why Apple hasn’t been able to reproduce the level of success it had with the iPod, iPhone, or iPad, in their recent products. Despite this, Apple places immense attention on timing product releases during impactful windows of opportunity. Eddy Cue, who is Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, believes Apple’s ability to time product releases appropriately is one of its key differentiators from the competition. Cue graduated from Duke in 1986, and played a key role in the development of the iTunes Store and App Store. He emphasized how much timing mattered in Apple’s success with consumer technology. For me, meeting Eddy Cue and listening to him was a lesson on the value of patience when assessing technological maturity.

Beware the hype

Machine learning. Artificial Intelligence. Algorithms. The Cloud. The list goes on and on. Everyone’s disrupting something in Silicon Valley. Sure. Here’s a secret about the best Venture Capitalists: they have mechanisms in place for filtering through the fakes. And fakes exist. There’s a limited supply of the talent actually capable of implementing such systems, let alone making them practically beneficial to a company’s bottom line. Still, the words AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) haven’t quite lost their edge. In fact, riding the AI and ML wave properly and backing it up with substance will prompt a room full of hundreds of people to give you their undivided attention.

Going beyond the job description

With a few exceptions, every accomplished individual we met went far beyond the expectations demanded of them. These individuals proposed improvements and fostered new relationships outside of work.

Never lose the culture

Startup culture is scrappy, innovative, and slightly rebellious. As companies get bigger, this innovative culture can be threatened. When I asked the team at ThirdLove about this, co-founder Heidi Zak made it clear that hiring people aligned with their culture is crucial to their success. For a bigger (unnamed) company in the Fortune 10, maintaining their culture means making serious commitments to documenting exactly what their culture actually is, so that they might be able to align employees for generations to come.

Capitalize on momentum

Instead of raising money for a startup when desperate, it’s better to raise funding for your company when momentum is on your side.

The value of a purposeful product

Does it relieve a user from pain? Does it make someone happy, even for a second of their day? Does it actually solve a real problem? Or is it just a solution in search of a problem? These details might be avoided in the short-term, but judgement day is inevitable for every startup out there. While most people think that most successful startups come from college-age teams, the venture capitalists we visited were more likely to favor older aged teams. This might be attributed to older folks finding real problems before committing to a startup with their solution.

There is no single “correct” recipe to success

Despite some common themes across successful startups, there were very often conflicting interpretations on what a sound strategy should look like. The take-away here is that there is no single “correct” way of achieving greatness in Silicon Valley. And that’s a good thing. It means that there are parameters in innovation that cannot necessarily be quantified. In the midst of an AI and ML age that intends on cracking the secret to success, uncertainty nevertheless remains.  In other words, I’m happy to report that nothing in Silicon Valley has replaced the human gut instinct. At least not yet.

This realization is at the heart of what the Duke in Silicon Valley program taught us. It was not in the syllabus, or in the class lectures. However, it was in the discussions we had with industry experts and with one another in class. Navigating through that uncertainty, finding fulfillment, and generating insights were the most impactful components of this program.

That’s it for this blog post. I hope it was helpful to you. If you’d like to get a more robust version of this post with more examples, I encourage you to look me up and follow me on LinkedIn.


Ismail Iberkak is a Duke University engineering student who’s passions lie in designing effortless user experiences. Born in Morocco, he also values the expansion of transformative technologies to emerging markets around the globe.  In his spare time, his hobbies include reading the latest technology trends, sketching, traveling, and playing soccer.

One day I’ll go to Heaven… I’ll look around and say, “It ain’t bad but it ain’t San Francisco” – Herb Caen

Our last week felt like a whirlwind as last-weeks often do. Monday was a bit shortened, which allowed us all to catch up on our work and enjoy the divine California sun. We also heard from a former Duke engineer-now entrepreneur- whose first words were “Don’t record anything I’m about to tell you!”. Despite his warning, he did not divulge government confidential or the secret ingredient in Coca-Cola; Rather, he spoke on the importance of choosing to do the right thing over what might make you the most money. “You will always have chances to make more money in your life. Rebuilding your reputation is much, much more difficult.”, are some of his words that stuck with me. This type of thought has been a theme throughout this program. Time and time again we’ve heard about the importance of honesty, transparency, and fairness. We’ve had speakers who have made fortunes, who have worked at all the biggest companies with all the biggest names, and who continue to be extremely successful, and yet nearly everybody maintained that they only got to where they were by being earnest and sincere. It’s an amazing thing to see, and certainly the rest of the world could benefit from this kind of thinking. The rest of Monday was spent sitting poolside, playing basketball, and belatedly calling fathers to wish them a happy Father’s Day.

On Tuesday, we ventured into San Francisco to visit LinkedIn and Blackrock Financial, an investment company. I personally was unimpressed with LinkedIn; The speakers were uninspiring, and as one of my colleagues pointed out, they really don’t have much competition in the professional social network realm, which has limited their innovation. With a beautiful view of the financial district in their 18th story office though, it’s tough not to be slightly allured by their attractive design and mission statement to “Connect the World’s professionals and make them more productive and successful.”

Blackrock, too, was interesting. Their office offered a stylistic change to the open office and ping pong tables we had come to expect of the companies we visited. Blackrock was much more of a traditional corporate office building, with cubicles, large boardrooms, and lots of genuine leather desk chairs. After a traditional Q&A session, one of the panelists mentioned that her work day is “7:30-6, Monday through Friday.” Wow!


This highlights a point I feel is necessary to mention: innovation does not come without a cost. It can be easy to overlook just how hard these people are working when all we see are smiling faces gushing about the free lunches and awesome amenities their companies offer. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. However, I am constantly questioning to what extent people actually love San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and how many people love it because they believe they have to love it. During our whole trip, not once did I hear someone say anything incriminating about the Bay, which I found peculiar. From the outside, the bay has it all: a bounty of stimulating work opportunities, beautiful panoramic views, all the food you could ever want, along with an extremely diverse community of intelligent individuals. But this doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone. For a lot of young professionals, the goal is to simply make it here; Once they get to San Francisco, they believe they will be happy, because here is the place they have been working towards their whole life; San Francisco represents a professional zenith. And because who wouldn’t be happy here?

When the reality is a bit different- work is demanding and the paradoxical loneliness of a big city creeps its way into the self-conscious- it can be hard to admit that this isn’t the right place for you, especially when everyone else seems happy. The bay has a hypnotic attraction to it, and even I feel myself giving in to the mesmerizing appeal of California.

Wednesday, we visited the infamous Google. Their campus is enormous and amazing. With a huge ecosystem of interlocking buildings for business and leisure, it feels like you’re walking through a college campus. Each panelist had a palpable acuity and a refreshing curiosity that poured through as they answered our questions. This place is truly the heart of innovation, although one must question whether it’s really possible to “Do no evil” (A core value of google) when you have a company that controls more than 40% of the internet.

Thursday we heard from a self-proclaimed socialist who is currently dissatisfied with the present model of wealth distribution. Particular quotes included “People will receive universal income” and “There will be 12.5 hour work weeks.” At one point I would have scoffed at these kinds of fantastic claims, but with four weeks of training practicing analytical thinking, I digested these claims and considered why our speaker believed this and what made her come to these conclusions in the first place. It was a fantastic conversation, and one fitting for the last day of a great program.

As our week comes to a close, and we say our goodbyes with stomachs full of Neapolitan pizza and brains filled with new knowledge, I can’t help but feel another overwhelming sensation envelope me: love. Love for all the new friends with whom I’ve shared an amazing experience, love for the area and the “culture of innovation” that has challenged me and forced me to think in unique and special ways, and above all, love for the amazing opportunity this program was and the wealth of new experiences I have gained from it. Only by communicating, empathizing, and understanding with one another, will we find success in what we do.

I want to thank, too, our amazing professor, Salman Azhar. This program simply would not have been the same without his boundless energy and Cheshire-cat smile. Thanks too, to Kevin Hoch, the program director and trip “dad,” as well as Emilie and Megan, without whom the program would not have been possible. Long live DSV and go Blue Devils!

Lee is a rising sophomore studying Public Policy at Duke. He came to the valley to interact with interesting people and learn their favorite kind of bubble tea flavor. In his free time, Lee enjoys watching watching T.V., eating gelato, and scouring the internet for pictures of golden retrievers. 

Silicon Valley – A Mindset, Not a Location

…..Don’t be afraid to fail…..

….There are 2 steps to success: 1. write it down 2. go do it….

….100% intention, only then will you have execution…..

….I wanted to love what I do, and so I followed my passion….

 Sounds inspirational? Motivating? Well, safe to say this is what has been ringing in every student’s ear at DSV this week as we meet and speak with visionaries who have transformed challenging ideas into reality.

The week started with a visit to an uncommon company, not one that is usually associated with ‘startups.’ ThirdLove is a startup founded by a Duke Alum, Heidi Zak, and aims to transform the way bras and underwear our bought and perceived. Being a girl myself, the mission of ThirdLove resonated with me – lingerie’s sole purpose is not to make others happy or to make a woman look appealing, it’s to offer comfort. The minute we stepped into the beautiful office, I could sense I was part of a busy and bustling startup – exposed brick walls, clear windows all around you, a kitchen stocked with brew fountains and numerous snacks to a team that screamed innovation, hard work and a love for their brand. I found this visit helpful for we not only heard how the founder spotted a problem, thought of a novel solution and began to execute it, but we got to speak to professionals in her company from different sectors, understanding what kind of roles do each sphere have to offer.

On the following day, we kicked off our morning with a truly inspirational and refreshing talk given by Sanyin Siang, Executive Director of Coach K Leadership and Ethics Center. She had a lot of advice and insights to offer to help us be our own super heroes, and what reverberated inside me most was her rule of “failing.” “Don’t be afraid to fail,” I remember her saying. It’s easier said than done, I thought, and considering us Duke students are known to possess this “effortless perfection” attribute, how does one deal with failure? In a world of innovation, entrepreneurs all around are trying to be the next Snapchat or Facebook, how do they deal with constant failure? Sayin, being a Duke alum herself, clearly stated that no one is effortlessly perfect, simply, no one is perfect. And success doesn’t only mean making a lot of money, getting an A+ or landing that coveted job at Google. It means knowing why you failed, and learning from your mistake, and starting again. If you didn’t learn, then it is a failure. Other than that, everything is a success in life for it allows you to constantly improve and be the best version of yourself. These are important lessons to keep in mind when stepping into the professional, especially entrepreneurial world, and understanding that things go wrong for a reason.


Following this inspiring talk, we drove up to PayPal, attempted to take a creatively funny Boomerang in front of the logo, realized we looked ridiculous, and continued to take more. PayPal blew my mind and continued to constantly surprise me with the services they had to offer and planned to offer. With beautiful and interactive displays that helped showcase their products (a burger restaurant setup, an ice-cream parlor set up and a mini boutique with an interactive mirror in the trial room was only the tip of the iceberg at PayPal). Steve Fusco, a duke alum working at PayPal, gave us a powerful talk on the realities of life post college, with some funny and some eye-opening anecdotes from his personal. PayPal, on the surface is another fin-tech company, but as you go deeper, creativity, innovation and novelty seem to be their core components. They have implanted QR code scanning to pay for your burger order, sharing the bill for online purchases with peers to touch screen mirrors in some of their partner clothing brands. The list is long, and from the looks of it, never ending!

While a lot of moments during this trip have been mind-opening, mouth gaping, and eye catching, our visit to Zume Pizza has made it to my top favorites.


Not only did we get to see ROBOTS make PIZZA (a culmination of the two great things in life) that are healthy for you, half the calories than a Dominos’ pizza and have no chemicals, we got to speak to the CEO who moved every student to realize that even “impossible” spells out “i m possible.” Even though he dropped out of high school at 14, nothing stopped his learning curve. He has had multiple successful startups and successful jobs in every sphere imaginable. Why? He wants to experience new things. He does not want to stop. He gave us one very important advice as future innovators – people will tell you something cannot be done, they are wrong. You are wrong. Think about that problem in a different way, for if there is a problem, there is a solution. And there are no hard or easy problems, a problem is simply a problem and needs a solution.

Overall, this week had showers of inspiration while we DSV students happily got drenched in it. In class, we began design thinking to create a game for our final project. This was highly fruitful because it allowed to use everything we learned in class and finally apply it to a tangible project, in a very similar fashion to how entrepreneurs use design thinking for their startups. The week was a massive success and I cannot wait to soak every bit of the last week!


Adiva Shah is a rising junior at Duke University pursuing a major in Physics, minor in Computer Science and a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She was born and brought up in Mumbai, India and wants to work in the business/finance world.

Passion Leads to Purpose

These past two weeks have been filled with excitement as we have learned from some of Silicon Valley’s most influential figures. 

Thursday, we were fortunate enough to meet with Duke Alumni, Greg Badros, Founder of Prepared Mind Innovations Inc., Melissa Dalis a data scientist, Ryan Toussaint a software engineer, Suyash Kumar another software engineer at Uber, and Ryan Callback the CEO of CircleUp. 

While each of their careers different as they are working towards solving different problems and revolutionizing different industries, all three emphasized the importance of following your passion in order to make an impact and foster unique and positive company culture. 


We met with Greg Badros in the morning. He spoke about his impressive career as he networked in the Valley and landed lasting jobs at Google and then Facebook. He spoke to the importance of failure by sharing his philosophy of using failure to learn from by embracing it instead of fearing it. He also shared why he chose to work at the companies he did given his passions and admirable skill sets. He highlighted the importance of maintaining values which directly manifest into the company culture.

People often throw the word values around and Greg showed how values are actually the core of the companies and how they lead to the success of the company. Without strong leadership, imposing these core values and integrating them into every aspect of a company creates a desirable culture and ultimately produce a successful product and work environment. 


At Uber we had the pleasure to meet with recently graduated Duke alumni, who found that Uber was the company that they wanted to work for in order to influence the company with their insights and continue to revolutionize the transportation industry. They gave us a tour through the modern and innovative office space. Their passion and excitement radiated as they presented how they contribute to the Uber team on a day to day basis. It was extremely impressive, despite how young and new they were to industry, how much of an impact they make as individuals in the company. Their excitement for the world of tech and future of innovation was nothing less than inspiring. We even got the opportunity to raid the free snack pantry and freezer. (If you’re considering working for Uber, the food is a plus!)

We ended the day with a meeting with Ryan the CEO and Founder of CircleUp. As we began to ask him standard questions about the process of investing, he quickly changed the direction of the conversation to tell us what he wish he had known when he was our age. He shared his life story and told us how he followed what he defined as a “traditional conformist path” working in consulting and private equity until he realized his passion was rooted elsewhere. He quit his job and decided to found CircleUp, following his passion for helping people, his skills for investing, and pursing his vision to make the world a better place by creating better consumer products. From Halo Ice Cream to non carcinogen sunscreen he invests in small mission driven companies with innovative vision, high growth potential, and disruptive potential. Ryan emphasized how the power of passion, purpose, nonconformity, and vision can make a positive change in the world.


Today was amazing to say the least. As we all are figuring out what career paths we want to take, we left with a sense of inspiration and a desire to be true to ourselves and prioritize our passions.


Ariana is pursuing an interdepartmental major in History and Public Policy and a certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Ariana was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico but grew up in La Jolla, California. She is a member of Business Oriented Women and is the Membership Development Chair for her sorority. Last Summer she worked as a social media marketing strategist for a hotel management company. She is currently working as a campus ambassador for a business news startup called Morning Brew and as a social media and branding manager for a wedding venue company. In her free time she enjoys yoga, meditation, photography and discovering new music. As a Southern Californian, she is excited to explore the northern part of her state and she is excited to learn from and be inspired by the most creative and innovative leaders in the world. 

Learning Success: The Ultimate Non-Recipe

The Duke in Silicon Valley program is always busy. From 8:25am bus departures, three-hour classes, site visits, and guest speakers to dinners, Giants games, and hectic rush-hour Caltrain rides, no day is uneventful. Yesterday, however, was even more eventful than usual. The normal morning class at Plug and Play was supplemented with not one but two VC guest speakers and topped off with two site visits, to Apple HQ in Cupertino and 500 Startups in Mountain View.

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For a Wednesday, yesterday was pretty fantastic. Class went really well – we came up with ways to innovate around demographic changes like higher online college enrollment and later marriages. The speakers who came afterwards were funny and engaging. I had to contain my geeky excitement at meeting Eddy Cue while simultaneously hiding my Samsung Galaxy deeper and deeper in my pocket. And 500 Startups gave us a look at some cool up-and-coming entrepreneurs and some even cooler ideas. But yesterday also offered us something else: the sought-after answer to a question many of us have wondered for years – “what makes a successful company?”

We’ve all asked ourselves this at one point or another. What makes a Zuckerberg? A Gates? A Jobs? What makes the companies that succeed over the ones that fail? What makes the entrepreneurs that thrive over the ones that go bankrupt and give up? Ultimately, what’s the recipe for success?

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Now, success is certainly not in short supply here; everyone we met yesterday was successful in one way or another, whether it be leading VCs to high growth, helping startups scale to an exit, or pioneering innovation at Apple. At the same time, however, we’ve seen a lot of failures – companies that are barely hanging on, or entrepreneurs that needed six tries to get it right. So when these questions were raised yesterday, I anticipated at least some degree of disagreement between speakers. But even I was not prepared for the level of disagreement we saw.

One VC partner told us about the power of social entrepreneurship just an hour before another shot it down as impractical and unsustainable. Eddy Cue talked about a CEO’s influence on culture while a business leader at 500 Startups put more emphasis on ideas. 500 Startups talked about the importance of investing in many companies in the hopes of landing one ‘unicorn’ (worth over $1 billion at exit), while the second VC partner slammed the technique as foolish and akin to hoarding lottery tickets. Eddy talked about the importance of team members gaining specialty in their own exclusive areas, while the VCs talked about the importance of broad knowledge and interdepartmental collaboration. One VC railed against corporate tech and another defended it as a valuable learning experience. 500 Startups advocated for young entrepreneurs while one partner discussed his refusal to invest in younger executives due to inexperience; and 500 Startups had a hands-off approach post-investment whereas that same VC insisted that post-investment mentorship was essential to success.

Even the characteristics of the speakers and companies were different. Eddy Cue has been at Apple for decades, whereas the 500 Startups staff member had been there only a few years. One VC invests an average of $5 million in its startups, while 500 Startups uniformly puts in just $150,000. And while 500 Startups focuses on providing networking tools, that same VC puts more emphasis on regular meetings and acting as a soundboard for ideas.


At this point, our recipe for success wasn’t looking too good; four successful chefs in four different restaurants couldn’t even agree on the core ingredients. But something strange happened. Rather than ending the day with a sense of dissatisfaction, we all felt as if everything from the past two weeks had come together. It was as if we now understood: there is no recipe for success because every successful company, every successful entrepreneur, does it differently. Age, team size, investment size – it all varies from one to another. The best thing we can do, then, is take away some general cooking conventions that contribute to a better end result.

Work in teams effectively. Be a creative problem-solver. Stay convicted but respectful. Value collaboration over secrecy. And lastly, as they all said, get *stuff* done. So now we know – that, combined with a bit of networking, mentorship, randomness, and a hell of a lot of luck, is the ultimate non-recipe for success.


Justin is a rising sophomore from New Jersey double-majoring in Computer Science and Public Policy with a certificate in Markets and Management. He is deeply interested in cybersecurity and technology policy, and in his free time, he loves reading, running, watching movies, and hacking.

Idea Couture Visit

Last Wednesday we visited Idea Couture’s office in San Francisco. Idea Couture is an innovation consulting firm that works with Fortune 100 and 200 companies. Their consultants utilize product design techniques such as rapid prototyping and 2×2 matrices to come up with ideas for how their clients can innovate aspects of their businesses. During our visit, we met with Nick Bradley, an innovation strategist and Duke alum, who explained in depth to us how Idea Couture functions on a day to day basis. After hearing the run down of the company and asking various questions, we completed a product design workshop run by Nick and other members of the Idea Couture.

In our workshop, we were asked to consider the coffee industry and how we could help a large coffee company expand its customer base. We first split up into groups of two people and considered the pros and cons of our various customer experiences with food and beverages. After discussing these factors, we constructed a model for how we can innovate the design of how coffee is served. Our groups came up with a vending machine model that streamlined the process of purchasing and receiving coffee. In this model, we considered how a coffee company could shorten lines and make coffee accessible in places outside of their stores, such as subway stations or offices.

After we received feedback from Mr. Bradley, a panel of Idea Couture employees told us about their experiences and answered our questions. This panel included software engineers, innovation catalysts and people involved with the consulting aspect of the firm. These panelists provided us with a deep understanding of their individual jobs and the focus and values of Idea Couture.

Our group was fascinated with the idea of innovation consulting, as many of us had been interested in management consulting but really appreciated the innovative aspect of Idea Couture’s business. Specifically, we liked how Idea Couture integrated both product design and engineering to help large and well known companies that have remained stagnant for long periods of time. Our visit at Idea Couture helped us expand our scope of the various types of businesses in Silicon Valley, and allowed us to improve our network.


Parker Levi is a rising sophomore at Duke University. He is pursuing a major in Economics, a minor in Japanese, and a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Parker is originally from New York City, and his interests include sports, politics and music.

Silicon Valley: The Light of the Future

Ever since I set foot in the Bay, I was swept away by the energy and creativity. Even the first sunset had the finesse of a painter, coloring the skies in wide swaths of pink, orange and purple in ways that the New York skies had never shown me. I felt at home.

Our first visit to Tesla blew my mind—my love for the integration of design, cars and energy efficiency all welded together beautifully in that experience, just like the Model S. I was thrown off guard by the kindness and generosity of the work culture, as every employee went out of their way to make a group of loud, disruptive visiting students happy.


The next day, we landed in Carbon 3D, and I was past the point of joy. I have spent the last year pretty much living out of the Innovation Co-Lab, designing prosthetics with Duke eNable, along with toy cars for my Engineering Innovation class, and bobbleheads for my sister. To be standing in the hub of the 3D printing revolution amongst the pioneers of continuous liquid interface projection printing was a distant dream come true. Our next visit brought us to Idea Couture, where we learned about innovation consulting and the power of creative design. Everyone was told to reach out of their comfort zones and embrace the diversity of ideation we all hold within. With the spirit of entrepreneurs, we designed the future growth technology of the coffee industry while growing closer to each other, awed by the power of our collective minds. All three of these companies pushed our imaginations, creativity, and speed to limits none of us imagined, and set the tone for the incredible innovation of Silicon Valley.

The experience that has impacted our group dynamic the most was today’s trip to Intuit, where we all learned to be divergent thinkers. Our experienced and hilarious professor, Dr. Azhar, had spent the morning talking with us about the strength of teamwork, divergent thinking, and hypothesis-based testing as we sleepily sipped our Plug-and-Play coffees and mentally prepared for another long and exhilarating day. Little did we know; those exact theories were going to be applied during our visit to Intuit.


The visit started off with a tour of the breathtaking campus, complete with a 24-hour gym, a basketball court, and an enormous building reminiscent of a spaceship from Star Trek. We then met with Chief of Staff Lindsey Argalas, a proud Duke alum, who coached us on Intuit’s strong core values. Somehow, Intuit manages to be a company as old as the Valley that feels younger than us. This is a product of their values of consumer-driven innovation and Design for Delight (D4D). These principles stem from the idea that the most important part of a product is not the technology or the features, but the people who use it. Intuit firmly believes in a “Go Broad to Go Narrow” approach to ideation, where creative people from divergent backgrounds come up with as many ideas as possible on how to solve a problem, then narrow down to a single hypothesis. They come up with a quick viable product, then go straight to the market to get feedback, iterate, and try again.

After giving us this framework, the employees split us into teams and had us learn about the problem of large unexpected expenses. We had to understand every aspect of the problem, brainstorm hundreds of small ideas on what we believed would solve it, and then create our visual mockup that we could lead a consumer through. We had a 40 minute timeline to create our minimum viable product before actual uninformed consumers would come in and try our product. After two gave their feedback, we had 17 minutes to iterate and try again.

The process was energizing. Every one of us felt challenged by the idea of designing for a consumer, and had to approach the problem from an ethnographic perspective, taking note on the qualitative and personal emotions and reactions consumers with unexpected payments would feel. We then designed a product together, trying to tackle all of the existing problems in one seamless experience. Of course, when the first customers tried the product, it failed. But failure, mixed with pride, taught us to create innovative design based on feedback. By the second set of consumers, each team had improved considerably, developed stronger bonds, and, learned at a greatly accelerated rate. We had all caught the bug of innovation.

There is something different about the Valley. The air teems with electricity, fueled by companies like Intuit. Here, people do not stop at the right answer. They create new questions. The problems that the world face are idiosyncratic; they are so diverse and specific to peoples, cultures, and identities. Only by understanding people will we learn to solve problems and lead industries. Only by thinking in divergent ways will people be able to find the true capabilities of their collective intelligence, and come across cross-disciplinary ideas that will lay the groundwork to a better future. Last Friday, we were shown by Tesla that with unparalleled vision and determination, energy can have a green, sustainable, and beautiful future. On Tuesday, we were given a peek into a world where manufacturing can be seamless, waste-free, and unbelievably convenient with Carbon, Inc.’s continuous 3D printing technology. Yesterday, Idea Couture envisioned a future in which every product connects with the human journey. Today, Intuit showed us that understanding people breathes delight and solution into complex and ambiguous problems. Elon Musk recently asked, “What do you love about the future?” (TED). This is something that many of us are afraid to ask ourselves. The answers will appear if we find ways to believe in ourselves and each other, recognize and understand the complexity of problems, and lead the world as change-makers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

I can’t wait for next week 🙂


Gaurav Uppal is a rising sophomore studying Mechanical Engineering with a passion for entrepreneurial change. He works with a diverse array of organizations around and outside Duke’s campus in the fields of energy, prosthetic design, and innovation. Outside of class, he loves learning about the world’s leaders and playing Ultimate.