The Spirit of Entrepreneurship Lives in Silicon Valley—A Report from The MIT Sloan Tech Trek

1/27/11

The three asses of entrepreneurship—A smart-ass team with a kick-ass product in a big-ass market: Never before has entrepreneurship been so succinctly captured as in this line coined by Jeff Clavier of Softtech VC.

I met Jeff during the Silicon Valley “tech trek” organized by the MIT Sloan School of Management earlier this month. As a part of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation certificate requirement, this trek was a way of initiating the class to the world of Silicon Valley, the hotbed of entrepreneurs and innovation, with an ecosystem that fosters enterprise like no other place in the world. For me, this was a trek back home.

My name is Akash Bhatia and I am a first year MBA student at MIT Sloan School of Management. I also lived in the Silicon Valley for seven years, before I went back to India and co-founded India’s first and largest ticketing company.

It all started early in the morning on January 3, 2011, when at breakfast, we met with Jim Kim of Khosla Ventures. After a talk by Jim and Bill Aulet of the Entrepreneurship Center at MIT Sloan School of Management, about 120 students from the MBA class of 2012 went out in groups of 5-7 to various companies they wanted to meet with, and explore their urge to be entrepreneurs. Students had selected the companies they wanted to visit from a long list of companies in the Silicon Valley. Some wanted to visit hitherto unknown startups operating in stealth mode, some wanted to visit companies like Facebook and Google, that, until a few years ago, were startups. Some people, like me, wanted to make their first pit stop at Softtech VC in Palo Alto.

Jeff started Softtech VC in 2004 with a view to investing in “next generation capital efficient companies.” His very first investment gave him a 17x return within 11 months. Since then, he has invested in 20+ companies. The other key take away from this meeting with Jeff was that start ups should get acquired, and not sold. What he meant by this remark is that a startup should be in a position where there is inbound interest to acquire it rather than the startup being out there trying to solicit buyers. This one simple line made a world of sense to all of us. This trek was on a roll.

Next stop was the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale. Plug and Play is an incubator that provides office space, facilities and even funding opportunities to start-ups. It has partnered with Google, eBay, Nokia, Microsoft and Yahoo to mentor startups in its community and also organizes events where startups and investors can meet and interact. A visit here just underscored why Silicon Valley remains the best place for a tech startup. The place reeks of entrepreneurship!

Tuesday saw me driving up the peninsula to San Francisco, where we met with the founders of Hipmunk, a travel website that is a serious competitor to Kayak. Just when you thought that online travel was a saturated space, come these two sites (Hipmunk and Kayak) and prove all of us wrong. With a co-founder who had met success with his earlier start-up, reddit.com, Hipmunk has raised $1 million in Angel funding and is Y Combinator-backed. Tucked away in a nice loft on Bryant Street in the Mission in San Francisco, Hipmunk’s biggest challenges are building relationships with clients and Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA. This space is definitely not done yet.

Then followed a visit to a company that I had been eagerly waiting to meet with—Ticketfly. Eagerly, because my company, KyaZoonga, is India’s first and largest entertainment and sports ticketing company. Ticketfly is the latest entrant in the crowded space of event ticketing here in the US. It is founded by two entrepreneurs who had earlier started Ticketweb, which was acquired by Ticketmaster. They are back to doing what they know best, creating a company in the event ticketing space.

But Silicon Valley is not all about success stories. We got our dose of reality, when we met with an ex-entrepreneur who unsuccessfully tried to run a technology driven startup. Biz Dev could not create a market for the technology, and hence it had to fold. The lesson was that it’s not always about the technology, but also about a market for that technology. It is very easy for us entrepreneurs to get trapped into thinking about the coolness factor of technology, and overlook the fact that there might not be a demand for that technology. Only one company has figured a way to tell the market what it needs—Apple!

It was also while we were on this trip that news broke about Goldman Sachs investing in Facebook. One couldn’t help but feel that the valley is once again in a bubble—a bubble driven by Google and Facebook, along with Zynga, Kayak, and the like. Tech company valuations are at a high, and while it doesn’t feel like 1999 all over, the valley could definitely be in a bubble again. But if I were to start another company, and this time in the United States, I would do it in the valley. I have lived here for seven years and hence, maybe I am biased. But those were the best seven years of my life.

The valley oozes entrepreneurship. The ecosystem respects entrepreneurs. Everyone who lives in the valley dreams of starting his company someday. Some eventually do, and some eventually work for them, but the spirit of entrepreneurship lives here.

Akash Bhatia is a first-year MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management and founder of KyaZoonga, India's largest entertainment and sports ticketing company. Follow @

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  • Ryan

    Hey Akash,

    Well written article and you make some great points. Don’t you think there is enough intellectual capital, cash, and flare for the entrepreneurial here in Boston/Cambridge to rival that of the valley?

    I, myself, grew up in and spent the first 22 years of my life in San Francisco. I then spent some time in DC and then moved to Boston in 2009. I was surprised and alarmed by how many people share your feeling about Silicon Valley.

    There are more young, smart, driven people roaming the streets in Boston and Cambridge than there are in the Bay Area. The difference is that we keep perpetuating the notion that Silicon Valley remains the hub of innovation–which is probably true but it doesn’t need to be.

    What I am trying to say is that it is time for people to stop packing up their things and moving West with their great ideas. The community for new companies is getting better but we need people willing to take the chance and stay before it can compete.

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  • http://softtechvc.com Jeff Clavier

    Hey Akash, thanks for the write-up! Just one thing, I have closed 90+ investments – not 20+ :).

  • Ben

    Excellent capture of the silicon valley entrepreneurial spirit & upcomers – looking forward to many more & in-depth articles on entrepreneurship and next wave of bleeding edge technologies!

  • http://StartupPoker20.com Bob Crimmins

    Akash,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences on the Valley Trek. It is always interesting to hear perspectives of the Valley’s secret sauce. What a terrific opportunity you had to plug into the jetstream of innovation that is the Valley. It must have been a blast. I’m not saying I’m jealous… I’m just not gonna say it.

    I also read Ryan’s account of the Trek to Seattle, my home town. Even he couldn’t resist allusions to the Valley’s prominence. ;) At least these days the the Valley/Seattle references are more generally favorable to Seattle then they used to be.

    I’ve been in the tech startup space in Seattle for a little over ten years. Over those years, I’ve unfortunately seen too many really smart folks leave Seattle to pursue their ventures in the Valley. I can’t blame them, of course, but I don’t have to like it — it’s a lot worse for Seattle than it is good for the Valley when capable entrepreneurs leave Seattle for the Valley. After all, if the pool is so deep in the Valley then adding a few more buckets will barely be noticed. Over the past few years I have definitely seen the entrepreneurial pool deepening in Seattle. As a chronic entrepreneur, that makes Seattle an exciting place to be.

    I regret that I didn’t know you guys were coming to Seattle. If I had known then I would have invited you to join us at a Startup Poker 2.0 event. If you or any of your MIT Sloan colleagues find yourselves in Seattle again then please consider yourselves invited.

  • Brian

    Akash,

    Thanks for the write-up. I don’t think entrepreneurship has been as important in recent times as it is now, and your article does a good job of capturing the spirit of entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan and in the valley.

    Now for a silicon alley trek!

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