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What does a week at Stanford teach you about building great companies?

Apr 29, 2024

Shae McKenna

Table of Contents

Title

What does a week at Stanford teach you about building great companies?

I was selected as one of only 35 delegates to attend Stanford's Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The conference brought together startup enthusiasts from all over the world for a week long immersion into Silicon Valley. Over the course of the summit, the other delegates and I were treated to guest speakers, workshops, and tours around Stanford’s beautiful campus. All culminating into a pitch competition judged by veteran Silicon Valley investors and operators, Cris Neckar, Danielle Strachman, and Jacob Cole. It’s not often anyone gets to hear from such accomplished individuals, so I’ve decided to compile my biggest takeaways and learnings to share with you.

Australia on top

I’ve begun to notice an increasing interest in startups from students all over Australia. I thought it was great to see Australia make its initial steps to have a global entrepreneurial presence. I now know I severely underestimated our progress. For starters 11 of the 35 delegates were Australian, disproportionate to any other nationality. I got to meet Joe Tey who, although originally from Melbourne, has launched his own startup while attending Stanford. He also happened to be the president of the Stanford Entrepreneurship Society (the organisation responsible for the summit). It’s clear to me now that there has never been so much enthusiasm and high quality talent focused in on entrepreneurship in Australia. With the rise of organisations like HEX, Build Club, and NextGen Ventures, I’m excited to see how myself and others will leverage this excitement to create the next wave of innovation in Australia.


How lucky are you?

A recurring theme from the guest speakers was the acknowledgment of luck and timing as influential, if not key factors in entrepreneurial success. I generally can’t help but get frustrated by this line of thinking. Unfortunately, I agree to an extent but, I don’t find it to be very productive or helpful. After all, how do you get more ‘lucky’? Paul Orlando, managing director of USC startup incubator, put it quite well when he likened our control of luck as sitting at the right table at a poker tournament. As is with life, poker can be uncertain but we still have the power to sit at the table with the biggest pot - therefore, increasing our chances of a big payout. That is to say we have an incredible amount of power to be thoughtful with the things we dedicate ourselves to, the relationships we develop, and the opportunities we chase. Choosing correctly can put ourselves in favourable positions that look like pure luck to others.

It’s not often you’re in the room with 35 world class innovators…

I heard a great story from David Hornik, Founding Partner at Lobby Capital, where he detailed how the Netflix founders incubated their idea at his Lobby Conference event. From that moment on I realised the people in the audience sitting next to me were the people I needed to connect with. I began to operate on the mental model that assumed everyone in the world has something valuable to share.

It’s a matter of how well I can communicate with others to let those great ideas and the thinking behind them come to light. For each person I met I couldn't help but ask myself, what makes this person tick? What can I do to learn things only this person could teach me? What insights and views on the world could only this person cultivate?

Unfortunately, in the context of startups this is only the first step.

A much more difficult task to organise these ideas and begin executing quickly. When finalising our idea for the summit’s pitch competition, it was only after hours of back and forth when we all came to an agreement just 8 hours before we had to pitch. With so many great problem-solving and visionary minds working together in a limited time frame, it’s a hard task to produce strong ideas but a much more difficult task to organise those ideas to let the best one shine through. And ironically, even after these discussions, our team wasn’t fully set on the idea we landed on - feeding into the perfectionist trap that we see many students (including myself at times) fall into.

The learning here is that getting started and moving forward can be equally productive as creating the best solution. Some ideas might not seem great at first, but neither did the thought of paying to stay a random strangers house. But, now look at Airbnb.


What is the equation for success?

After landing back in Sydney, I caught up with a good friend and discussed the idea of defining the personality of a successful entrepreneur.

At Stanford, I found it easy to fall into the trap of attempting to define the ‘high achieving founder’ archetype. Curiously, my friend and I really struggled to define a consistent set of skills, qualities and behaviours that weren’t either trivial or had a counter example.

At first we built a characterisation predicated on the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg who fit with the distinctive engineer stereotype. However, Steve Jobs was famously non-technical. In fact, some of Jobs’ biggest inspirations during the development of Apple came from as peculiar places as calligraphy class during his university years.

In my short time since starting at NextGen, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sheer variety of backgrounds and personalities founders poses. I’ve come to realise the makeup of a successful entrepreneur is not obvious. Perhaps it is precisely those that don’t fit into the neat boxes of past founders that are the most likely to have the perspective necessary to dream up the next Australian unicorn.


The trap of persistence

Danielle Strachman, ex-founding member of the Thiel Fellowship, recounted many stories during her time managing the Thiel Fellows (perhaps the highest performing teenagers in the world). One particular story she told, was about a fellow who should have cut their losses and pivot to another idea years before they did.

I have certainly found myself in situations where I was pursuing the wrong idea for far longer than I should. Although, I couldn’t help but feel this is at odds with the usual ‘work hard’ rhetoric. ‘Quitters never win, winners never quit’ type mentality. How is it that these can both be true? How can we determine if we’re going down the wrong track or just feeling the bumps in a windy road?

Dani Grant, CEO and Founder of Jam.dev, emphasised the importance of the customer. If all else fails, trust the customer. Being intently curious about the problems your customers face increase your chances of pursuing the right things. In 2015 Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO of Hinge, threw out his original codebase, halved his team and redefined Hinge once he realised he lost touch with his customers. This pivot has allowed Hinge to secure a 15% market share of the dating app market and uniquely differentiate itself from it’s competitors.

It goes without saying that my week at Stanford was incredible. It’s never been more clear that startups are not easy. The path founders find themselves walking down is often tough and will push you right to your breaking point. But, it doesn’t have to be. I hope with my work at NextGen to enable as many founders as possible to blow right past common pitfalls and to more easily bring their visions to life.

Are you curious about startups? Are you a founder yourself or got an idea you can’t stop thinking about? Keen to hear more about NextGen? You can reach out to me on Linkedin @Shae McKenna or learn more about @NextGen!

Author

Shae McKenna

Investment Associate

Ex-Apple, AFR top 100 future leader - Curious about problems, technology and future

Sign Up For Pilot Project

Table of Contents

Title

What does a week at Stanford teach you about building great companies?

I was selected as one of only 35 delegates to attend Stanford's Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The conference brought together startup enthusiasts from all over the world for a week long immersion into Silicon Valley. Over the course of the summit, the other delegates and I were treated to guest speakers, workshops, and tours around Stanford’s beautiful campus. All culminating into a pitch competition judged by veteran Silicon Valley investors and operators, Cris Neckar, Danielle Strachman, and Jacob Cole. It’s not often anyone gets to hear from such accomplished individuals, so I’ve decided to compile my biggest takeaways and learnings to share with you.

Australia on top

I’ve begun to notice an increasing interest in startups from students all over Australia. I thought it was great to see Australia make its initial steps to have a global entrepreneurial presence. I now know I severely underestimated our progress. For starters 11 of the 35 delegates were Australian, disproportionate to any other nationality. I got to meet Joe Tey who, although originally from Melbourne, has launched his own startup while attending Stanford. He also happened to be the president of the Stanford Entrepreneurship Society (the organisation responsible for the summit). It’s clear to me now that there has never been so much enthusiasm and high quality talent focused in on entrepreneurship in Australia. With the rise of organisations like HEX, Build Club, and NextGen Ventures, I’m excited to see how myself and others will leverage this excitement to create the next wave of innovation in Australia.


How lucky are you?

A recurring theme from the guest speakers was the acknowledgment of luck and timing as influential, if not key factors in entrepreneurial success. I generally can’t help but get frustrated by this line of thinking. Unfortunately, I agree to an extent but, I don’t find it to be very productive or helpful. After all, how do you get more ‘lucky’? Paul Orlando, managing director of USC startup incubator, put it quite well when he likened our control of luck as sitting at the right table at a poker tournament. As is with life, poker can be uncertain but we still have the power to sit at the table with the biggest pot - therefore, increasing our chances of a big payout. That is to say we have an incredible amount of power to be thoughtful with the things we dedicate ourselves to, the relationships we develop, and the opportunities we chase. Choosing correctly can put ourselves in favourable positions that look like pure luck to others.

It’s not often you’re in the room with 35 world class innovators…

I heard a great story from David Hornik, Founding Partner at Lobby Capital, where he detailed how the Netflix founders incubated their idea at his Lobby Conference event. From that moment on I realised the people in the audience sitting next to me were the people I needed to connect with. I began to operate on the mental model that assumed everyone in the world has something valuable to share.

It’s a matter of how well I can communicate with others to let those great ideas and the thinking behind them come to light. For each person I met I couldn't help but ask myself, what makes this person tick? What can I do to learn things only this person could teach me? What insights and views on the world could only this person cultivate?

Unfortunately, in the context of startups this is only the first step.

A much more difficult task to organise these ideas and begin executing quickly. When finalising our idea for the summit’s pitch competition, it was only after hours of back and forth when we all came to an agreement just 8 hours before we had to pitch. With so many great problem-solving and visionary minds working together in a limited time frame, it’s a hard task to produce strong ideas but a much more difficult task to organise those ideas to let the best one shine through. And ironically, even after these discussions, our team wasn’t fully set on the idea we landed on - feeding into the perfectionist trap that we see many students (including myself at times) fall into.

The learning here is that getting started and moving forward can be equally productive as creating the best solution. Some ideas might not seem great at first, but neither did the thought of paying to stay a random strangers house. But, now look at Airbnb.


What is the equation for success?

After landing back in Sydney, I caught up with a good friend and discussed the idea of defining the personality of a successful entrepreneur.

At Stanford, I found it easy to fall into the trap of attempting to define the ‘high achieving founder’ archetype. Curiously, my friend and I really struggled to define a consistent set of skills, qualities and behaviours that weren’t either trivial or had a counter example.

At first we built a characterisation predicated on the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg who fit with the distinctive engineer stereotype. However, Steve Jobs was famously non-technical. In fact, some of Jobs’ biggest inspirations during the development of Apple came from as peculiar places as calligraphy class during his university years.

In my short time since starting at NextGen, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sheer variety of backgrounds and personalities founders poses. I’ve come to realise the makeup of a successful entrepreneur is not obvious. Perhaps it is precisely those that don’t fit into the neat boxes of past founders that are the most likely to have the perspective necessary to dream up the next Australian unicorn.


The trap of persistence

Danielle Strachman, ex-founding member of the Thiel Fellowship, recounted many stories during her time managing the Thiel Fellows (perhaps the highest performing teenagers in the world). One particular story she told, was about a fellow who should have cut their losses and pivot to another idea years before they did.

I have certainly found myself in situations where I was pursuing the wrong idea for far longer than I should. Although, I couldn’t help but feel this is at odds with the usual ‘work hard’ rhetoric. ‘Quitters never win, winners never quit’ type mentality. How is it that these can both be true? How can we determine if we’re going down the wrong track or just feeling the bumps in a windy road?

Dani Grant, CEO and Founder of Jam.dev, emphasised the importance of the customer. If all else fails, trust the customer. Being intently curious about the problems your customers face increase your chances of pursuing the right things. In 2015 Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO of Hinge, threw out his original codebase, halved his team and redefined Hinge once he realised he lost touch with his customers. This pivot has allowed Hinge to secure a 15% market share of the dating app market and uniquely differentiate itself from it’s competitors.

It goes without saying that my week at Stanford was incredible. It’s never been more clear that startups are not easy. The path founders find themselves walking down is often tough and will push you right to your breaking point. But, it doesn’t have to be. I hope with my work at NextGen to enable as many founders as possible to blow right past common pitfalls and to more easily bring their visions to life.

Are you curious about startups? Are you a founder yourself or got an idea you can’t stop thinking about? Keen to hear more about NextGen? You can reach out to me on Linkedin @Shae McKenna or learn more about @NextGen!

Author

Shae McKenna

Investment Associate

Ex-Apple, AFR top 100 future leader - Curious about problems, technology and future

Sign Up For Pilot Project

Table of Contents

Title

What does a week at Stanford teach you about building great companies?

I was selected as one of only 35 delegates to attend Stanford's Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The conference brought together startup enthusiasts from all over the world for a week long immersion into Silicon Valley. Over the course of the summit, the other delegates and I were treated to guest speakers, workshops, and tours around Stanford’s beautiful campus. All culminating into a pitch competition judged by veteran Silicon Valley investors and operators, Cris Neckar, Danielle Strachman, and Jacob Cole. It’s not often anyone gets to hear from such accomplished individuals, so I’ve decided to compile my biggest takeaways and learnings to share with you.

Australia on top

I’ve begun to notice an increasing interest in startups from students all over Australia. I thought it was great to see Australia make its initial steps to have a global entrepreneurial presence. I now know I severely underestimated our progress. For starters 11 of the 35 delegates were Australian, disproportionate to any other nationality. I got to meet Joe Tey who, although originally from Melbourne, has launched his own startup while attending Stanford. He also happened to be the president of the Stanford Entrepreneurship Society (the organisation responsible for the summit). It’s clear to me now that there has never been so much enthusiasm and high quality talent focused in on entrepreneurship in Australia. With the rise of organisations like HEX, Build Club, and NextGen Ventures, I’m excited to see how myself and others will leverage this excitement to create the next wave of innovation in Australia.


How lucky are you?

A recurring theme from the guest speakers was the acknowledgment of luck and timing as influential, if not key factors in entrepreneurial success. I generally can’t help but get frustrated by this line of thinking. Unfortunately, I agree to an extent but, I don’t find it to be very productive or helpful. After all, how do you get more ‘lucky’? Paul Orlando, managing director of USC startup incubator, put it quite well when he likened our control of luck as sitting at the right table at a poker tournament. As is with life, poker can be uncertain but we still have the power to sit at the table with the biggest pot - therefore, increasing our chances of a big payout. That is to say we have an incredible amount of power to be thoughtful with the things we dedicate ourselves to, the relationships we develop, and the opportunities we chase. Choosing correctly can put ourselves in favourable positions that look like pure luck to others.

It’s not often you’re in the room with 35 world class innovators…

I heard a great story from David Hornik, Founding Partner at Lobby Capital, where he detailed how the Netflix founders incubated their idea at his Lobby Conference event. From that moment on I realised the people in the audience sitting next to me were the people I needed to connect with. I began to operate on the mental model that assumed everyone in the world has something valuable to share.

It’s a matter of how well I can communicate with others to let those great ideas and the thinking behind them come to light. For each person I met I couldn't help but ask myself, what makes this person tick? What can I do to learn things only this person could teach me? What insights and views on the world could only this person cultivate?

Unfortunately, in the context of startups this is only the first step.

A much more difficult task to organise these ideas and begin executing quickly. When finalising our idea for the summit’s pitch competition, it was only after hours of back and forth when we all came to an agreement just 8 hours before we had to pitch. With so many great problem-solving and visionary minds working together in a limited time frame, it’s a hard task to produce strong ideas but a much more difficult task to organise those ideas to let the best one shine through. And ironically, even after these discussions, our team wasn’t fully set on the idea we landed on - feeding into the perfectionist trap that we see many students (including myself at times) fall into.

The learning here is that getting started and moving forward can be equally productive as creating the best solution. Some ideas might not seem great at first, but neither did the thought of paying to stay a random strangers house. But, now look at Airbnb.


What is the equation for success?

After landing back in Sydney, I caught up with a good friend and discussed the idea of defining the personality of a successful entrepreneur.

At Stanford, I found it easy to fall into the trap of attempting to define the ‘high achieving founder’ archetype. Curiously, my friend and I really struggled to define a consistent set of skills, qualities and behaviours that weren’t either trivial or had a counter example.

At first we built a characterisation predicated on the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg who fit with the distinctive engineer stereotype. However, Steve Jobs was famously non-technical. In fact, some of Jobs’ biggest inspirations during the development of Apple came from as peculiar places as calligraphy class during his university years.

In my short time since starting at NextGen, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sheer variety of backgrounds and personalities founders poses. I’ve come to realise the makeup of a successful entrepreneur is not obvious. Perhaps it is precisely those that don’t fit into the neat boxes of past founders that are the most likely to have the perspective necessary to dream up the next Australian unicorn.


The trap of persistence

Danielle Strachman, ex-founding member of the Thiel Fellowship, recounted many stories during her time managing the Thiel Fellows (perhaps the highest performing teenagers in the world). One particular story she told, was about a fellow who should have cut their losses and pivot to another idea years before they did.

I have certainly found myself in situations where I was pursuing the wrong idea for far longer than I should. Although, I couldn’t help but feel this is at odds with the usual ‘work hard’ rhetoric. ‘Quitters never win, winners never quit’ type mentality. How is it that these can both be true? How can we determine if we’re going down the wrong track or just feeling the bumps in a windy road?

Dani Grant, CEO and Founder of Jam.dev, emphasised the importance of the customer. If all else fails, trust the customer. Being intently curious about the problems your customers face increase your chances of pursuing the right things. In 2015 Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO of Hinge, threw out his original codebase, halved his team and redefined Hinge once he realised he lost touch with his customers. This pivot has allowed Hinge to secure a 15% market share of the dating app market and uniquely differentiate itself from it’s competitors.

It goes without saying that my week at Stanford was incredible. It’s never been more clear that startups are not easy. The path founders find themselves walking down is often tough and will push you right to your breaking point. But, it doesn’t have to be. I hope with my work at NextGen to enable as many founders as possible to blow right past common pitfalls and to more easily bring their visions to life.

Are you curious about startups? Are you a founder yourself or got an idea you can’t stop thinking about? Keen to hear more about NextGen? You can reach out to me on Linkedin @Shae McKenna or learn more about @NextGen!

Author

Shae McKenna

Investment Associate

Ex-Apple, AFR top 100 future leader - Curious about problems, technology and future

Sign Up For Pilot Project

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