DSV Week Four: Learning the Difference between Management & Leadership


“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs

Up until Silicon Valley, I always thought of leadership as someone who directs others – who brings them to success. I used to think that everyone at Duke was a leader – I mean that’s a skill we all have on our resumes, right?

Well, to be frank, we shouldn’t. That is, not unless we’ve proven it. Just because we are the President of some organization or are the captain of a Club Sports team does not mean we are a leader. Did we inspire anyone in the process or did we just go through the motions of what we thought a leader should do?


Apple’s new campus in Cupertino

This week we met individuals that are arguably the best examples of extraordinary leaders. Since I began the article with a Steve Jobs quote, I’ll start with our visit to Apple this week. At Apple we met Eddy Cue, who probably doesn’t need an introduction but for those who may not know, Eddy is the senior VP of Internet Software and Services. Eddy has been at Apple for almost 30 years now and stayed there during its earliest days when it was about to go bankrupt (hard to imagine). When asked why he stayed, his answer was immediate and simple: Steve Jobs. Steve was such a great leader that he kept Eddy motivated during a time where he thought the future of Apple was looking very dismal. Eddy explained that Steve pointed out characteristics in him that he never saw in himself and gave him confidence in those newfound skills. That is a great leader – someone who finds a way to inspire others in the darkest of times and to build relationships to constantly make their peers better.

In the beginning of the week we had the pleasure of meeting Ravi Gupta, COO/CFO of Instacart. Ravi has mastered the leadership skill of building relationships and creating a positive work environment. Ravi put together a panel of Duke alumni for us to talk with and the first thing I noticed was their relationship – his employees were making fun of him! Ravi then responded with a great comeback and the banter went back and forth. It really seemed like I was watching an episode of Friends! Ravi established a genuine relationship with his employees and they felt comfortable enough around him to joke around. By building these personal relationships with his employees he has created a work environment in which everyone is free to discuss their thoughts and opinions – even to him. A leader does not instruct or dictate employees, they encourage employees to curate new ideas and to present them with confidence. I could tell that Ravi exemplifies this characteristic – it was extremely noticeable that his employees loved working with him. I say with because Ravi mentioned that he does not consider his employees to be working under him; he considers them his equals.

We also visited Zume Pizza where we met Alex Garden, Chairman and CEO. Zume Pizza is revolutionizing the food industry utilizing robotics. While Alex could not talk to us for a long time since he had to catch a flight, I realized how effective his leadership is by talking to some of the interns. When asked what they liked most about interning at Zume, they all answered, “Alex.” The word I kept hearing over and over was “motivating”. They all agreed that Alex takes the time to give the best feedback possible – he will tell you exactly what you are doing right and wrong and what you can do to improve. They said that Alex forms a true relationship with each person in the company and cares about them deeply. His main goal is to make his employees better – he prioritizes the individuals in his company and not revenue. A leader makes it their mission to challenge their staff to make them better. Alex has gone to the extreme to even focus on establishing relationships with his interns – he is a true leader.

I’ve realized the direct correlation between a company’s success and its leader. These visits and interactions have made me reflect on the type of leader I want to be. I’m extremely lucky to have met these individuals because they now serve as my inspiration.


Elle is a rising junior from Stamford, Connecticut pursuing a major in mechanical engineering and a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship. At Duke, she is an active member of Dukes and Duchesses, Alpha Phi, Duke Engineers for International Development, Club Volleyball, and Duke Admissions Ambassadors. Since coming to Silicon Valley she has realized her passion for entrepreneurship and hopes to find a career in product management. She will be traveling to Australia this fall to study abroad. 

DSV Week Three: Tell Your Own Story

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” -Rumi

I share this quote not only because Rumi has been the resounding poetic voice throughout our course with Professor Azhar, but also because its message, to tell your story, has been repeated by everyone we’ve met here in Silicon Valley.

As humans, storytelling is a natural format that communicates our passions, values, and uniqueness to each other, and as an entrepreneur connecting others to our story is integral to the success of a business. As we’ve visited diverse companies ranging from smaller ventures like Carbon to large corporations like Facebook, and heard from guest speakers in a variety of fields, everyone has their own story to tell.

For Pamela Hawley founder of UniversalGiving, a non-profit venture matching volunteers with quality giving and project opportunities worldwide, this story began with a trip to Mexico when she was 12. While on vacation with her family, Pamela witnessed the gap between extreme poverty in the surrounding country and the luxury lifestyle within her cruise ship walls, inspiring a lifelong commitment to philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. This narrative crafted the authentic passion for the company values embodied in her presentation, and created the 100% client retention rate that allows UniversalGiving to grow. Through connecting her story to her career, Pamela was able to build a company that engages target consumers and communicates a genuine mission.

On Monday, our class welcomed speaker Greg Badros who currently works as an advisor to tech startups at his company Prepared Mind Innovations. As he spoke to us about the importance of preserving company culture and practicing empathy across teams, he spoke in stories of his experiences at Facebook and Google, stories that informed his passion for helping others succeed today. He conveyed specific career experiences, for example relaying the story of the fellow Facebook employee who broke the glass frame of a poster reading “Move fast and break things;” these small stories built before us a business leader whose interest in helping others to achieve ambitious objectives became apparent from his career journey.


Later on we visited ThirdLove, the revolutionary bra company that provides 59 sizes including half-cup sizes, 15 styles, and a personalized test to find the best fit. As we listened to founder Heidi Zak, she began with her own story of struggle as she became frustrated with the discomfort and inaccuracy of the traditional bra-shopping experience that causes consumers to wear the wrong fit or write-off their body type as simply unrepresented by bra offerings. Heidi harnessed this personal narrative to develop a brand inclusive of diverse body differences and sensitive to the comfort and personalized detail necessary to design the perfect-fitting bra. Like the other founders we’ve met, this ethos of her own story ultimately built a top brand connecting to a worldwide market and growing.


Though I can’t quite tell you much about the game, Bill Schough alone, CIO and SVP of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, just might have converted me into a fan (sorry Dad but the Mets never really stood a chance anyway). As Bill brought us into a VIP meeting room filled with championship rings and a World Series trophy, he used a map to share his story and the different points of luck and passion for sports along the way that brought him to the Giants. Despite my embarrassing lack of baseball knowledge, Bill’s infectious enthusiasm in his career narrative made this visit one of my favorite so far, engaging me in a world of sports business I had never known before.


Even at larger corporations like Facebook and Netflix, each employee began with their career journey leading up to their current role. As we continue to hear from different speakers and visit all different companies, I’m constantly thinking about all the pieces coming together to build my own narrative and my eventual career path. I hope one day to inspire the same passion with my story as these business leaders have inspired me.


Renée is a rising sophomore from Westport, Connecticut pursuing a major in Linguistics and a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. At Duke, she’s extended this entrepreneurial spirit to her role as a partner of Bull City Beds, a student-run mattress rental company. She’s also the Features editor for the Standard as well as a member of Business Oriented Women, Delta Sigma Pi (Duke’s professional business fraternity), and Alpha Phi. In her free time, Renée enjoys running, hiking, updating her playlists on Spotify, and watching Shameless.

Halfway there: Netflix. Stanford d.school. Cognito. Ecologic. UniversalGiving.

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We are halfway through Duke in Silicon Valley, and I have found the key takeaway of the program to be speaking with those that have personally dived into the startup and venture capital culture. Our class gets this exposure through interaction with the guest speakers at our Plug & Play classroom and site visits to diversified firms in Mountain View and San Francisco. Several of the people that I meet are also Duke alumni, for example the panelists at the Netflix office, which further exemplifies the strong Duke community embedded in the company culture.

Since I am going into the finance industry, I came into this program with the desire to learn more about the innovative technological side to finance as well as the strategic funding component of scaling a startup. During our visit to the Stanford d.school (https://dschool.stanford.edu), we stood in a large, open circle and were asked the question, “What does innovation mean to us?” I responded by saying that innovation to me is the synthesis of different industries in efficient processes that add value. I gave an example of how we see technology seeping into the finance industry particularly through the lens of blockchain, automation, electronic trading, P2P lending, among others. During a group lunch with Chris Morton, the president and COO of Cognito (https://cognitohq.com), an identity verification and anti-fraud solution company, I was able to discuss my ideas on the intersection of finance and technology and hear his feedback. Chris shared that many of his customers are financial institutions who demand his company’s products due to the value of identity and anti-fraud security with online payment data and transactions. I was also intrigued to hear that one of his co-founders used to be a trader and applied some of the technical and analytical skills that he acquired on the trading floor.

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It was also interesting to hear how many company founders and venture capitalists started off their career working in finance and now apply the financial modeling and analytics skillset in their current role in Silicon Valley. To illustrate, one of our guest speakers Julie Corbett was a manager at RBC, Royal Bank of Canada; now, she is the founder and president of Ecologic Brands (https://ecologicbrands.com), an environmentally sustainable packaging company. Her insight on her transition between working in finance and starting her own company strongly resonated with me. Julie explained how having a background in the finance industry gave her the skill in analyzing and researching companies, including both private and public equities. For example, her packaging company collaborates and partners with a variety of industries, including beauty and beverages. When she was working with beverages, she saw the potential in investing in the acquisitions of smaller brands such as SmartWater and IZZE by large corporations such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola due to people’s shifting preferences toward more natural drinks versus soda. In addition, at our site visit to UniversalGiving (http://www.universalgiving.org), I saw how it was necessary for entrepreneurs to have an understanding of financial and investing knowledge because the company runs on vetting and obtaining capital from investors and funders. When I asked the founder and CEO Pamela Hawley about UniversalGiving’s goals in rebuilding the company website, she responded by explaining the importance of taking advantage of new technology such as UI/UX design to scale the brand globally with (1) a more efficient online platform, (2) cleaner back-end code, and (3) an organized access to an NGO database. An improved and technologically adaptive user experience would then give UniversalGiving a stronger standing when presenting to investors and funders who provide the company with the capital needed to pursue its Corporate Social Responsibility programs and projects worldwide.

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After widening my perspective of the innovative community in the Bay Area so far, I am looking forward to spending more time talking with early and late-stage entrepreneurs throughout the rest of the DSV program. We have the unparalleled opportunity to have face time with Duke alumni and corporate partners, and I will definitely be taking advantage of it.


Pansy Tseng is a rising junior from Southern California, and she is studying Economics, Finance, and Visual & Media Studies at Duke. With a strong interest in expanding her global perspective, Pansy will have participated in Duke in Geneva, Duke in New York: Financial Markets & Institutions, Duke in Silicon Valley, and Duke in Los Angeles during her undergraduate career. Her YouTube channel documents her study abroad experiences as well as her dance choreography and involvement in Duke Business-Oriented Women, NYC Web Design Conference, and LA Art Exhibition. During Duke in Silicon Valley, Pansy hopes to explore the intersection of media technology and finance, particularly through the lens of venture capital and FinTech. She is excited to synthesize this industry knowledge as she joins the Summer 2019 Sales & Trading team at Barclays Capital in New York City.

DSV Week Two: Empathy in Design, Vintner’s Daughter, Carbon 3D

“Choose someone you hate. Now, put yourself in their shoes and reason why they would act this way.”

Many of the volunteers who took on this task at the start of class had a difficult time setting aside one’s emotional bias against the hated person.

Professor Azhar started our ethnography section of our course with this request. We learned that anthropological studies provided crucial data to understand the customers.

It was a transformative experience because it forced us to empathize with other people. You know, really REALLY put ourselves in another person’s perspectives and that is the core of what a business should do. Businesses have to understand every detail of what the customer wants, needs, feels, hates, and appreciates. The product should not solve a problem that is not validated by customers. This exercise was very useful in removing ourselves from the normal tendency to believe that we as a business know everything about the customers.

April Gargiulo, founder and CEO of Vintner’s Daughter, a skincare company, visited our class on May 31stto speak to us about her experience in the start-up field. The company is five years old and grew organically without any funding or marketing costs. She emphasized “brand over revenue” and how she wants to focus on making her one product to be a category-defining, game-changing product.

Her experience captivated the entire class. She started the company while she was pregnant believing that she could do anything as a mother. I was very intrigued by her intrinsic motivation. She was not motivated by money or glorious exit opportunities, but her passion and trust in the ability of her product to change lives. I believe in order to start a successful business, you have to have some sort of greater purpose and vision for the company.

She had a very unconventional way of running the company. She only has 11 employees and never spent any money on marketing. She rejects all investment offers in order to keep control of her company and maintain her vision, which is also very different from the goal of other Silicon Valley companies. She was not motivated by money at all. Most companies want global domination, or to be the next Facebook. Mrs. Gargiulo wanted to maintain organic growth, ensure high quality, and most importantly provide a game-changing product.

I realized how important it was to understand the gaps in the markets as well. The beauty industry is saturated with products made of cheap materials with high prices. Mrs. Gargiulo connected the need of the customer to maintain healthy skin with the desire of high quality, safe, effective products. I believe that connection is where her success lies.

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One of the most memorable company visit for me was Carbon Inc. Carbon Inc. was a revolutionary company. They were radically changing manufacturing with their 3D printing technology. What surprised me most about this company was definitely the technology. It felt like magic when they would pull the printed material out of the water, as if something was being created from nothing. As they told us about how the company started from a garage to an almost 300 person company today, we were all inspired to start our own ventures and pursue our dreams.

I felt as if Carbon Inc. was one of the most organized companies I have ever encountered. Everything was going at the optimal pace from manufacturing, business deals, and R&D. It appealed so much to me who loves organization and precision while passionate about the freedom to create any idea that comes to mind.

Duke in Silicon Valley has been a very rewarding program so far, and I have learned so much about how companies work and what they work for. It motivated me to eventually sit at one of these companies one day or even better make one of my own.


Mark Kang is a rising sophomore at Duke University studying Economics and Computer Science. He is interested in pursuing a career in product management and software engineering and eventually going into venture capital. He is the VP of Pledge Education for Delta Sigma Pi and a coach for Duke Tae Kwon Do.

DSV Week One: First Day of Class, Palantir, Stanford


Duke in Silicon Valley has been off to a great start!  Starting off with the class with Prof. Azhar was a great and unconventional experience.  He put us on the spot and made us think unconventionally – all part of his goal to simulate what it’s like to be a part of a startup.  I think that we were all a bit anxious at first, but by the end of the class, we were all sold by his teaching style and excited to draw from his entrepreneurial experience moving forward with the summer.

Immediately following our first class, we headed to Palantir Technologies, one of the world leaders in software services and big data analysis.  We were able to get our first taste of a Silicon Valley tech company – employees laser-focused on their projects, unique interior design around the office, and all the snacks and refreshments needed to refuel after some hard work.  Though I was amazed by the environment we were in, what I found most captivating was the panel session we had with several software developers and data analysts.

I found it amazing to hear about Palantir’s mission and maturity process.  One of the more senior software developers pointed out that throughout his time, Palantir has evolved from a more rambunctious startup company to one with more structure and importance.  This reminded me that years ago, Palantir was just another budding company with a couple people working in a small office space with no concrete sense of direction.  This panel also reaffirmed that there isn’t an instant route to success; Palantir was founded roughly 15 years ago, and there were a lot of obstacles the company needed to overcome to get to where it is now.  Seeing how the company developed from just focusing on intelligence to a wide variety of services, I saw how important it is for a company to constantly innovate.  Palantir is constantly tackling new issues, and it is this mindset that enables it to keep growing.

What I find most admirable about Palantir is how they innovate with a purpose.  Outside CEO Alex Karp’s office is a leafy wall with the wooden phrase “SAVE THE SHIRE”.  Adopted from Lord of the Rings, the phrase essentially means “Save the World” and is Palantir’s unofficial motto.  Every single service they offer comes directly from a client’s needs – everything they do is to help people.  One of the software developers pointed out that when you work on a project on Palantir, you could be facilitating a disaster relief program that directly feeds children or saves drowning people.  To them, it doesn’t matter that their project isn’t mass-marketed; having a great impact on just several people is much more important to the company’s mission.  As someone with a dream to start my own company someday, I found this an extremely important value to keep in mind with any venture that I pursue.


We also had the opportunity to speak with Tom Byers from Stanford University, who heads the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.  I loved hearing about some of the more detail-oriented aspects of entrepreneurship that he recommended every venture focus on.  He repeated the idea that every entrepreneur should keep the values of purpose in mind; focus on helping others in some way and improving the world. I found this especially inspiring in light of the fact of some of the ethical issues that have come up in Silicon Valley this year – an issue that Tom brought up as well.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve already learned so much about entrepreneurship and technology that I ever have before.  I’ve had an amazing experience being exposed to the professionals of Silicon Valley and am looking forward to the unforgettable month that lies ahead.

Bryant is a rising sophomore at Duke University studying Economics and Computer Science with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. He’s interested in finance and technology, hoping to find his niche in the intersection of these fields.  In his free time, he loves to play basketball and go to the beach.

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.