“It’s not a course. It’s an experience.”
These are the words we see on the screen every day we walk in our class that teaches us how to build and sustain a successful enterprise. These words could not be more true. Since starting Duke In Silicon Valley, I have been introduced and exposed to many things inside and outside of the course that have made attending this program one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I came to Duke in Silicon Valley not really knowing what to expect. I had never been to California. I had never even been on a plane! I was never exposed to tech companies or startups. All I knew is that I was open to seeing any and everything these startups-and San Francisco, I was still a tourist, ya know!- had to offer, and if it would help me find clarity on how I would fit in the tech, entrepreneurial, and business world. Besides the many new experiences it has granted me (I now know the toils of a CALtrain and bus commuter and have tried many new foods that I can not pronounce or spell thanks to my DSV roommate), my favorite part of this program by far has been the lessons and advice I have received from the inspirational individuals who were once in my shoes based on THEIR experiences. Here are some valuable and encouraging themes that have stuck with me from this week.
CAREER PATH–YOU GOTTA CREATE IT
We started the week off with a visit to Instacart where we talked to four Duke alumni. It was clear that the company had a great culture and took pride in cultivating it. There were posters of the company vision and values on the wall. During this visit, we met Ravi Gupta, CFO. Ravi spoke about learning from his experiences and the importance of not expecting life and your career path to be fully managed or handed to you. You have to put in work for what you want to do and create what you want to do. We all have heard how we should follow our passion, but Ravi talked about it with a different approach. He brought in the reality that some may not be able to follow their passion right out of school if they have other responsibilities, and that is okay. This really related to me, as I am constantly finding conflict between my passions and responsibilities. You can still create your career path and start doing what you are passionate about after putting in the work, and create a path that allows you to do what you are passionate about and also take care of responsibilities.
FIND YOUR STORY
This week, I was so inspired by the drive, passion, and focus of the people we talked to and learning what made those companies successful. Take Alex Garden, the CEO of Zume Pizza, for example. Alex was a high school dropout who’s drive allowed him to still secure a Microsoft internship and start multiple companies. Now, he hopes to completely change the food and delivery industry by using robots to make pizza, and ovens that cook the pizza while driving to the delivery locations. When he first came up with the idea, there was a lot of doubt from others in it, and it was difficult even finding someone to make the pizza ovens for him. However, they continued to focus, and not take no for an answer, and they achieved their goal. Now, he is making delicious pizza (my favorite was the buffalo chicken!) with healthier ingredients and eliminating waste with their custom compostable box. The culture of having focus and drive seeps down from him unto every other member of the company we met, even the interns! They all had different backgrounds and majors and were each passionate about the projects they were doing to improve the startup. This really appealed to me. Many of these companies met plenty of “no’s”, which is very common in entrepreneurship. However, their ability to keep persisting and developing has led them to continue to be successful.
Perhaps one of my favorite conversations I have had with any Duke alumni so far was the one with Grant Kelly this week. He is a Global Supply Manager at Apple and has basically allowed his story to shape his passion, and ultimately his career path. As a child he grew up with Dyslexia, and was doubtful that he would be able to learn. He found solace in using a Mac computer which helped show him that he had a great ability to learn. Now he is working in what he considers his dream job at Apple, and studied what he loved and what challenged him; Economics and Music. His advice is simple, but deep: major in what you love and what you feel challenges you, and constantly question yourself on why you like doing what you are doing or why you are attracted to certain opportunities. Eventually, this constant reflection will allow you to articulate your story, figure out how you differentiate yourself from others, and why and how it relates to what careers you want to do.
Before coming to DSV, I was constantly thinking that in order to succeed in the business, tech and entrepreneurial world, I may need to have a tech major or minor. However, both stories from Alex and Grant have motivated me to stay true and confident with who I am, what I am interested in, and what I bring to the table.
BEING ENTREPRENEURIAL- THINK IMPOSSIBLE
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This Henry Ford quote has been mentioned by many speakers during this entire program. To me, this means people know what problems they want to solve, but it is sometimes impossible for them to fathom doing it in innovative ways. I think this week is where we really got to see the most innovative and seemingly impossible ways people have solved problems. This included seeing the meticulous work put into making TESLA vehicles when taking the TESLA factory tour, and hearing how much it helps the environment. It also included talking to Knightscope CEO, William Santana Li, who has created robots to help with surveillance and security of the United States, an area where little innovation has been done and where the government has not provided much funding. We visted ABB, another startup, that creates robots to improve efficiency in many different industries. All of these companies seem to be doing things before their time, but this innovation is definitely needed for the problems that we endure now. Three speakers this week spoke on how powerful it is to think about the impossible and work to achieve it, versus thinking about what has already been done. A huge part of this is being cognizant of your surroundings and the problems that arise around you, and thinking of different ways to solve those problems. Another question to get you to reflect on ways to be entrepreneurial includes a question that Nicholas Zaldastani’s dad started asking him every night; “What did you learn today that can make tomorrow better?”
After this week, I have come to realize the importance of being a self-starter that constantly creates her own path, practicing reflection frequently to help with knowing your story, and constantly being aware of problems around you and thinking of creative ways to solve them, even if they seem far-fetched. Overall, this program has been amazing, and I doubt that I could ever do justice with trying to share all of the once in a lifetime experiences I have had so far. This program has exceeded my expectations. This has truly been a program to remember with so much advice and words of wisdom I will follow for a lifetime!
Ehime Ohue is a native of Santee, South Carolina, but has recently moved to Waldorf, MD. She is a rising junior majoring in Public Policy Studies with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate.At Duke, She is a DuWELL intern, research assistant and a member of Nakisai African Dance Team, United in Praise Praise Dance Team, Movement of Youth, Every Nation Campus Ministry . She loves to learn new things, sleep, read, and catch up on her latest Netflix show addictions. She is participating in DSV to learn about developing her own venture and to gain exposure to different types of businesses to help her gain clarity on her career choices.