10 Things Nobody Tells You About Entrepreneurship (But They Told Us)
Duke in Silicon Valley Week 2 Recap
1. “Yes, and” could Change your Team and Change your Life
Improv is so much more than acting on the fly and its value spans way beyond the stage. We learned how to say “yes, and,” which is basically the idea that you take what somebody else says, accept it, and use it to fuel what you are going to say. While a seemingly simple concept, it is hugely important to not only move forward with ideas, but also empower others to feel their voice is heard and their contributions are valuable. On the first day of class, Kathie spoke about elements of a successful team, and the single greatest correlate with a team’s success is psychological safety. Psychological safety, or the idea that team members can feel comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable, is a primary byproduct of “yes, and” as it promotes listening, equality in turn-taking, and forces team members to work off of one another rather than solo. The real impact of “yes, and” was felt in a recent class in which we were brainstorming development ideas for the business we are consulting, Allergood, and we used “yes, and” before every contribution we made. While a seemingly simple addition to our statements, adding “yes, and” made the brainstorming incredibly productive and filled with creativity I didn’t think was possible. From Matthew approaching allergies like it was Tinder, to Lhamo and her popular concept of AllerLove. So while improv was filled with unbridled laughter and playfulness, it also sneaked in the key to a team’s success, and if used in one’s life, it could change the way we operate in social settings for the better.
2. The secret to YouTube isn’t master coders. It’s communication.
For some it was the slide in the middle of the workplace, for others it was the kitchen filled with free food, but for us, our favorite part of the YouTube company visit was getting to hear insights on their company philosophy. Their philosophy is that communication is more important than technical skills, meaning individual skill sets don’t mean much when people don’t work as a team. Everybody at YouTube has their own expertise, but it is not a collection of accomplished individuals that makes YouTube successful, but the interconnectedness of their expertise that allows for them to excel. We learned this philosophy during a panel in which there was a combination of skill sets ranging from a software engineer to a product manager. Each one of them has a particular range of experiences and technical skills, but they say the communication and culmination of these skills are much more important than any one skill an individual has. This philosophy is present in our I&E class as we all are different ages, have different majors, and are interested in different things. Thomas is a rising senior chemistry major and Lhamo is a rising junior religion studies major and yet the two of them together are a dynamic duo.
3. The Scientific Method is not just for Labs
From our earliest school days, the significance of the scientific method has been ingrained in us. However, it wasn’t until we had the privilege of hearing from guest speaker David Schwarzbach, Yelp’s CEO, that we truly understood its vital role in product development and entrepreneurship. David enlightened us on the constant idea generation, hypothesis formation, testing, and experimentation that he and his team engage in to determine statistically significant concepts worth implementing. We had a taste of this process ourselves during a project in our I&E class, where we tackled the challenge of redesigning the lunch-making process for a mother and daughter struggling with communication. With only post-it notes and a big pad of paper, our class came up with both simple and extraordinary ideas to help solve the issue at hand. Through ideation, quick prototyping, and evaluation from the father of the family, we witnessed the power of the scientific method in driving innovative solutions. For this challenge, solutions included websites, whiteboards, lunch boxes, schedules, and more. It doesn’t matter if you are a student or an entrepreneur; embracing the scientific method allows us to tackle complex problems and unleash creativity to discover solutions.
4. Make Tipos… Intentionally
Although it may seem like a mistake at first glance, companies like Stytch, Lyft, and MiResource intentionally incorporate misspellings in their names. This strategic choice serves a dual purpose: differentiation and discoverability. By tweaking just one letter in familiar words, these companies create their own distinctive identity and streamline online search results. Reed McGinley-Stempel, the founder of Stytch, emphasized the significance of this seemingly simple alteration. Rather than getting lost looking search results related to the literal definition of “Stitch,” such as clothing or Lilo & Stitch, users can effortlessly access information on user authentication and security assistance by searching for “Stytch.” This innovative mindset extends beyond company names—our own teacher, Kathie, embraces a creatively spelled name to amplify her individuality. The spirit of creativity even is seen in Stytch’s conference rooms, with funny names like “Open Sesame” and playful nods to common password references like “ABC123.” When it comes to leaving a lasting impression and being found easily, a touch of creativity and spelling can go a long way.
5. MiResource’s Resource: Using the Duke Network can Fuel your Startup
After hearing from the owner of MiResource, Mackenzie Drazan, we learned the importance of taking advantage of the Duke network. Mackenzie lost someone close to her to suicide and she wished there was an easier way to connect them to a therapist before it was too late. With this unwavering mission, Mackenzie went to Duke CAPS to learn how they operated their processes to connect students to mental health resources, and implemented this strategy at a bigger and more efficient scale, ultimately founding MiResource. Mackenzie knew she wanted to start something to help people be able to take action on improving their mental health, and found pockets of Duke that could help her chase this purpose. Starting with Duke CAPS, she began working with other universities, now totaling over 50. So she used the resources available to her at Duke to propel her startup and has never looked back.
6. There’s a Fence Shielding us From the Unknown. Cross it.
While everyone was so sad that Kathie’s two-weeks were up, she left us with a story that really motivated us to redefine our mindsets. The story was about an electric fence that divided up two areas of land due to political turmoil. There were deer that lived on one side that learned to never cross that fence due to its danger. Eventually the fence was taken down, and the opportunity for the deer to venture to the other side was there and would have provided them an incredible new habitat. However, since they were programmed to never cross that fence, they never crossed over even after the fence was down. In fact, after multiple generations when no deer were alive to witness the fence, they still did not go to the other land. The moral of this story is that we are programmed to confine ourselves in imaginary fences, when if we had the courage to venture to the unknown that lies outside that comfort zone, we would find success where no one else had the courage to go. The best CEOs cross the fence. They are not afraid to take uncommon routes. For Duke students, there is a norm of if you want to be successful one day, you must do consulting or finance; however, there are other routes that will lead to success if we dare to venture down unfamiliar paths.
7. It’s just like a Puzzle–Find the Piece that (Product Market) Fits!
Throughout various visits, guest speaker sessions, and lectures, one concept has consistently echoed: product market fit (PMF). Yelp CFO, David Schwarzbach even explained “Product market fit is to live by. It’s the mantra.” But what exactly does PMF entail, and why is it important to companies? PMF is the stage in a company’s growth where its product or service perfectly aligns with the precise needs and demands of a specific target market. However, uncovering product market fit can be a challenging task because people will make assumptions and stereotypes that may not be true. Often, companies look too broad or too narrow, and will not spend enough time to find their true “target audience” to market, resulting in missed opportunities for maximizing sales potential. During our visit to ThirdLove, Heidi Zac, the founder, shared her own arduous journey of discovering PMF, which spanned over two years. As a brand that prioritizes comfort in bra design, she eventually realized that her primary customers were moms aged 35-60. She delved into the customer personas of these women, finding out that they typically have young kids and enjoy cooking. Once she found this PMF, she could accurately market her product to this demographic and cater to their needs and desires. By taking advantage of PMF, companies can unlock the potential for strategic growth and long-term success.
8. What if Chaos is a Feature, not a Bug
Do you ever get lost for hours on TikTok? If the answer is no, you either don’t have TikTok or don’t have TikTok because it is addicting. We heard from Chen-Lin Lee who works for TikTok in reputation management, but as he puts it, his job is to waste billions of hours of people’s time. While this job sounds almost maniacal, TikTok commands attention for a reason and it is that they have learned to “sell chaos as a feature, not a bug.” And when you think about it, TikTok is very chaotic, steered by creators down an endless feed. TikTok has learned to lean into chaos even though perhaps chaos is what many companies try to avoid. For TikTok, chaos is what appeals to the users as it is unpredictable, random, and entertaining, but it is chaos targeted towards us given TikTok’s genius algorithm. Even for Chen-Lin Lee, he likes companies during some of their most chaotic times as he has a track record for joining companies in their earliest stages. And for us, sometimes the most chaotic moments are the best, like when we went bowling as a group, but it was the claw machine and karaoke that made that chaotic bowling alley so much fun. Like TikTok, we could use chaos as an asset and figure out how to apply that TikTok secret sauce to our own lives.
9. I got 99 Solutions but a Problem ain’t 1
When faced with a problem, our instinct is to rush into finding solutions. However, a more effective approach is to prioritize understanding customer needs before diving into new approaches. In order to assist Allergood, a company dedicated to addressing allergies in restaurants, our I&E class focused on a crucial first step: identifying the existing challenges. Our class was divided into four teams, each tasked with “observation dinners” at various restaurants. We engaged with restaurant owners, servers, and even family members of individuals with allergies, among others, conducting interviews with a total of 100 individuals. Through this combined effort, we collected valuable insights and were able to identify the challenges experienced by different stakeholders. By analyzing this data, we crafted problem statements that captured the pain points and what each group needed to be able to have a more enjoyable and safe experience. In this scenario, we discovered many solutions by focusing on the actual needs of customers and staff, rather than proposing solutions that may seem effective but fail to align with anyone’s necessities.
10. Lily and Jack’s DSV Hacks
When coming to Silicon Valley, our first bus ride was awfully quiet as no one came into the program knowing anyone. Day by day, the bus rides got louder and louder, filled with laughter and inside jokes. Although we came in as strangers, now we are having daily group events such as barbecues, bowling, karaoke, and ice cream. So how did this happen in only 2 weeks? Lily and Jack have come to realize the keys to this group’s success. First, it is important to make the most of the daily adventures. When the group went out bowling for a nighttime adventure, we were burdened by a 1 hour wait time because we (Amelia) didn’t make a reservation for our large party. We could have been frustratingly waiting, but instead we turned that 1 hour into the best hour of the trip: we went to the arcade and won claw machine after claw machine. We were all huddled around Ardil as he won a stuffed animal for his little sister and the energy was infectious. Everyone was screaming (even non-DSV people). We entered our name at the karaoke booth surrounded by a bunch of all the club regulars and stole the show. By the time we were up for bowling, we forgot that we were even there to bowl. The moral of this story is that everyone decided to put their ego aside and just have a good time and that is why all of us, each from a different major and different hometowns, have become so close. We all collectively want to have the best time together and we are spending each day as a group to the fullest, and we can’t wait for the adventures these next two weeks.
Jack is a rising junior from Charlotte, NC, studying psychology and pursuing an Innovation and Entrepreneurship certificate at Duke. Jack is involved with both basketball teams, working as a manager and practice player for the women’s team and as a social media manager for the men’s team. He ultimately wants to be an entrepreneur and is very interested in personal development and motivation, much of why he is studying psychology. He is very excited to get closer to his goal being immersed in the Duke in Silicon Valley program.
Lily is a rising sophomore from Ardsley, NY studying Computational Media (Computer Science & Visual Media Studies). She is planning on pursuing the Innovation & Entrepreneurship certificate, and the Digital Intelligence certificate. She is actively involved in several organizations on campus, including Dtech, Project Build, and the Penny Pilgram George Women’s Leadership Initiative, reflecting her interest in promoting gender diversity in technology and contributing to impactful projects that create positive change. Outside the class, she loves music, traveling, playing sports, and spending time with family and friends. Lily is thrilled to be participating in the Duke in Silicon Valley program. She looks forward to collaborating with like-minded students, gaining insights from Duke alumni and industry leaders, and exploring the intersection of technology and design. This program presents an opportunity for her to expand her knowledge, skills, innovative mindset, and teamwork.