Thursday, October 11, 2007
SIA's Welcome to Class of 09 and beyond
Stanford India Association (SIA) has started the new academic year with a welcome function for the new comers at the Bachtel International Center. The current office bearers of SIA seem to be a highly motivated bunch. Their self-driven methods and dedicated efforts actually bore fruit with the success of their Welcome Party. In a first of its kind panel discussion - SIA hosted a panel of (desi) Venture Capitalists (VCs) living in the Bay Area, all of whom had spent time as students at Stanford, in a discussion moderated by Anand Rajaraman (who, btw I think is one of CS Departments star consulting professors and highly recommend his class cs345a in Winter). The discussions revolved around the role of Stanford, as a univ and as a brand in their lives and how they could leverage it. Also, their views on how best to utilize time at Stanford and sort of the dos and donts of graduate education at Stanford, entrepreneurship, etc. Below is the transcript of the panel discussion which I could barely manage to type in with my meager 30 WPM speed. At some point my fingers bailed out on me, but the sheer energy showed by the panel and their keenness on getting their point through and reaching out to their fellow contrymen/hommies was what kept me going :)
CAUTION: This is written in a very journo-notes kinda way..
Moderator: Anand Rajaraman (Cambrian Ventures)
Panel: Naren Gupta (Nexus India Capitol)
Ajay Shah (Silver Lake Sumeru, Shah Capital Partners)
Neel Bhadkamkar (Monitor Ventures)
Navin Chadhha (Mayfield Fund)
Mohit Gundecha, started off the event - welcoming all the panelists on the dais and said - "our very own people who have made it big in their own way - they had the same dreams which u and i have today - they studied at stanford - an institution instrumental to silicon valley - they are going to talk about leveraging brand stanford and other issues revolving around it."
Anand Rajaraman, the moderator of the panel discussion, started off by asking the following questions to the audience :
how many of u watched 2020?
how many of u are engg majors?
how many want to be entrepreneurs?
how many are going back to India?
how many hv facebook accounts?
Neal and Navin hv facebook profiles..
Start with first question - most of u had the choice of which univ to go to - why did u choose to come to stanford?
Neal - i actually came to stanford as a mid-career person - graduated from iit delhi in 1976 - and i went off and did an mba at hbs and worked in mgmt consulting at boston - got bored - came back to engg - cmu/stanford were the choices I had - knew 0 people in pittsburg and 1 person in silicon valley and so Stanford it was!
Naren: 1969 - IIT Delhi graduate - went to Caltech for masters - stanford looked like a more pragmatic place - caltech more theoretical - broader education possible at stanford -
Navin: stanford 1992 - EE - IIT Delhi - when we are students we look for role models - we were enamoured by vinod khosla - limited horizon and we didnt hv PCs at IITD - we used to sit in front of main frames - curriculum here was very good - and lastly its weather -
ajay: i hd a couple of choices - northwestern - MIT - (engg mgmt.) - i chose stanford - weather - i had an uncle at stanford - Prof. haresh shah -
anand: one thing that the panel agrees on is the weather
anand: What are your best and worst memories at Stanford?
ajay: very tough experience - u actually had to work - another problem is the fees - work constantly between school and work in the computer center - and see how quickly one could finish - memorable exp - having vinod khosla - come by (he was with daisy systems) - talked about his experiences as an entrepreneur - was very inspirational - and at least made me think to want to be an entrepreneur.
navin: worst - orientation - worst nightmare at stanford - losing one of my nails during the first week - didnt know where the hospital was.
plus side: friends, learning from this place - its not only about grades, its the mentorship, the openness of the professor - learning is very diff - challenge ur professors, ur peers, sort of unlearn what u learnt in india and start with a fresh mindset.
navin: after i was here for a year - my professor told me that i am going to retire - did my phd in 2 years and 9 months - not too many negatives - it was much easier place than caltech - kind of a free ride -
neal: when i think back - my biggest hassle in life was always being off balance with a quarter system - coz i came from a semester system - and by the time the quarter had started, it had ended - on the +ve side - the first time i got a chip back after having designed it and sent it to mozes - flipped it on and it worked!
navin: came for masters and phd in 92 - get masters and get phd later on - few of my professors brain washed - they told me to do phd - they told me go to work on video - we came out with very kool technologies - jan 94 - to end of 95 - technology allowed to stream videos over the internet -
Yahoo guys told me to take one year leave of absence - 18 months into the company - very successful in video streaming - MS acquired us - on the same day i had my PhD oral exam. nothing comes for free - i had to make a choice - my parents said - really u are going to drop out of ur pHD?
Naren: i didnt think about making a company - i graduated and took a job with a small co with 50 employees - revenue had grown 100 times - a big co acquired - and bought and i resigned - and everyone told me not to start a company - except my wife and dad - 1990 - took company public - came up from having fun and doing what i love to do ... learnt what not to do when u hv a small company - when u dont hv a clear idea - go and work for a big co - make all the mistakes there -
ajay: reading business week every week, I was very interested in the business aspect of things - and my engg degree was an excuse to be close to business - money part of it is what happens after - not really the main motivator - most enggs particularly are not aware of the social aspects - sometimes bigger than technical aspects - and i think my advice to many of my friends - go work for a large company - see how they do business, how the corporate social culture works - how their internal processes work - and then i think u make a much better entrepreneur - working for a large company is a great way to start ...
neal: i didnt come to stanford to be an entrepreneur - reason - i fundamentally enjoy building things - from building software/hardware i migrated to building companies and help other people build companies - u really hv to do something which u enjoy - my migration in entrepreneurship - i left stanford to join a research lab - from engg i moved to tech commercialization - help spin out companies - saw the early stage action - headed up engg in one of those companies and had an incredible blast - when i was done with that gig - i was looking to be part of another startup - i ended up starting a company which happened to be a venture fund - we are still in the early stage - u hv team issues, u hv customers, various constituents that u hv to satisfy -
At this time, Anand makes an announcement asking people to make way for people standing outside, the room is almost bursting at its seams with people making an effort to soak in every bit of this really rare panel discussion in the Indian community - everyone is listening with rapt attention almost like reading a suspense, page-turner novel.
navin: about working in large cos - i think success can come in anyway - if you are going to sell to enterprises - if you havent worked before - just technology is not going to cut it - u need to understand how customers integrate - legacy systems, etc...
but in 1995 students like me or anand could come out with not friction apps/products - in semi conductors - u need to partner with someone who can help u manufacture - but internet changed all that - silicon valley is a unique place - as a student u are surrounded by mentors - if u know what u do well - focus on that as an entrepreneur - and the ecosystem can help u - if you are good at something how do u - bay area is the best place - first time entrepreneurs do well - an engg with 10 years exp will tell u 10 years why it cant be done..but 80-85% people hv exp..
anand: what are the hot areas for students to get into :
navin: we dont hv any ideas - if we had then we would be starting companies left right center - my job is to pick the best ideas out of the room - keep ears and eyes open - look for the best things which come -
naren: we are looking for ideas from the other side - we only invest in indian companies - my thinking is completely driven from the indian lens...Here is a methodology to find hot areas - what is a compelling need out there - technology is really not the answer to starting companies - what is a compelling need - what can enhance their cell phone exp - retail infra - think about what are the needs out there that u are uniquely qualified to fulfill -
company are about execution - bring people with u who have complimentary expertise - the goal is to the best not second best - be number 1 - u got to hv very high goals - and u got to fill a need - a crying need - and no body can fill that as well..
navin: (jokingly) i would work on number 2 as well...
neal: i get asked that alot - i dont know and none of our partners know - major reasons incubators for the most part all failed was because they thought they know what the hot area was and they pursued that - we look for ideas from other people - we screen those ideas - whether the startup has a unique way to meet that market meet - if you dont hv a team its not gonna happen - in general we find that u will find ideas and opportunities when there is something dramatic changing and change usually creates opportunity...
anand; we all came to the US to study - is the land of opportunity here or in India -
naren: i would say silicon valley (SV) is and always has been the land of opportunites - its a kind of a collection of people who want to do something impossible - and there is nothing that can take that away - india is creating a whole new set of opportunites - change is the biggest reason for opportunites - internet/pc/microprocessor
India is a very very significant opportunity - it is sorta both (india and SV) - leading edge technology and products - india doesnt hv infrastructure - if you have a look at the last several cos - they were not based on unique technology - (example: skype) - how product was packaged - etc - if u can come up with a different business model - can u hv a crm/erp software which is 1/100th the price - think beyond tech - there is a different way to develop drugs - same reliability same way of use - better price point and in a manner people want things to be used...
ajay: different take: in particular it is a very interesting time to be looking into India - lot of VCs hv decided its fashionable to be in India - managerial talents and proper conceptual and presentational talents are really important - in india still that talent is quite weak - and to top it all of - there is a little bit of a situation in india where people are not terribly loyal towards a company or an organization - - you not only have to be trained from tech/business perspective but also trained from a leadership stand point - and i think that many many companies would find that they would want to recruit in india - but they are not able to recruit management
naren: biggest challenge is doing things in time - get it done by friday means get it done by friday - almost every company at the senior management team has a person who has worked in the US - deadlines in India is not gotten thru - part of the communication challenge in India is in employees - cannot communicate vision to employees - that is very critical - that is a huge problem in India...its just the management capabilities -
navin: over the next 1 week, 2 months - write down what do u want to be - do u want to be technologist, want to be a professor, want to be researcher, want to be in business mgmt, or people mgmt,
if you are enamored with cutting edge - this is the place to be -
if u want to make money - more money has been made in india - learn here and go back there - its a rising time - its like appearing in the US in the 50s and 60s - 10 years back when we were graduating, it was hard to get a good job in india from iit - times have changed - really go understand - what u want to be - and once u hv a goal - keep it flexible, follow ur conviction - if you believe in ur self - do it - first answer the question - what u want to believe in -
From audience: How imp is an MBA?
Neal: It can be helpful and its obviously not necessary and it depends on what u want to be good it. SV is unique in that u can be a great engg and be successful but there are other parts of that world where that will not work - this is the place to do it - only place in the world where the rest of the infrastructure is in place to build the teams around urself and fill the parts of the puzzle which go into making a great co - if u go to FL, Boston - it is much much more difficult to find teams of people who hv been there done that who can get into a startup, ramp it up and build it - if you are into marketing/biz dev it would help - if you are in engg - u dont need it -
I highly recommend Tom Buyers course - for enggs..
Ajay: Master of business ADMINISTRATION - doesnt change things into starting a new company, u either hv a sense for it or u dont - MBA is particularly good for finance, not only models but the structure - Tom Buyers course is good for structure of understanding the terms like series A...
Naren: Agree - starting a company look at the talent u can buy and talent u cannot buy - cannot hire
Navin asks: fresh grad from IIT pitches and a fresh grad from IIM pitches- who are u gonna listen to - an MBA possible good for India Bulls, in certain situations MBA could be useful, but the beauty of things in India is that lot of them hv enggs degrees anyway - its good to get people who dont know what cant be done..
Audience Question: What help did you get from Stanford in starting a company?
Navin: In the hall ways of EE, CS - the VC will be roaming around in the hall ways
Aud Q: Talk about failures and mistakes in ur lives
Naren: I think the biggest mistake - was under estimating the competition - we had a unique tech in 1989, and the mistake we made was that we didnt get an exclusive license - under estimating the competition - and the competition we worry about the most is one we dont know about - as Andy Groove said - being paranoid is the best approach - dont worry about the M$/IBM - its gonna be a small companies, since they are very agile.
kEY TO a companies success if adaptability - create a company that is going to last for a long time -
Neal: a consistent and repeated mistake i hv made and many people do - falling in love with the technology and forgetting the market. That a company is making a product for a customer, not a technology.
Navin: If your product is not a pain killer, but just vitamins - dont go for it. Startups dont die of starvation, they die of indigestion - they want to take over M$ the first day.
Ajay: I was an entrepreneur who was not venture funded, and at various points we would not invest, try and make the best with the least, and in many cases we let entire markets go by - its the opposite of picking carefully. (Goes back to the Indian baniya connection). Mistakes are easy to make on every side. Having a few short feedback system - a smaller company has this to its advantage - tech doesnt sustain over time - but a co with the right kind of DNA is they can move quickly and correct quickly..
How best to maximize ur time at Stanford?
Ajay: Great place to meet a lot of people, enjoy and many folks are so immersed in their work to get out of their degrees that u actually miss many parts of benefits of what stanford can bring to you - and u say in hindsight that there are so many things you could hv done - get out of just the indian community - and in 1981, there were not that many indian students, we couldnt hv filled this room - that also pressured us to meet new people and meet a lot more of the world - the forumla u learn are long gone - but there are people u meet..
Navin: the first thing is that remember u are here for a particular reason - dont try to prove urself again and again - leave some hours in the day and week to learn from its environment - and be open to go to the events that happen here - and everybody wants to talk to you - develop certain other extra curricular hobbies - do well in the US - u MUST have leadership skills - play tennis - go look at some other things - what u are doing today might not even be relevant to what you are doing 10 years from now - unix/windows/java
Naren: when i came to caltech - 11 people - when i came to stanford in 1970 - less than a 100 indian students, just to emphasize what ajay and navin said - dont just be in ur comfort zone - get outside - how to interact with people u hv never met - give a talk - and MOST IMPORTANT - be a good listener...customers, employees, ur spouse! Treat people with respect -
Neal: very little if anything - 2 points i jotted down - people and risk - u are ob going to do what u are going to do academically - it will be obsolete and u will start again - get to know the people - make effort to stay in touch - when u graduate stay in touch with the peopple that u hv met - SV is all about risk - force urself to take risk - take risk academically - take courses that u cannot do - take risks career wise - best time to take risks when u are younger...