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