Over Fall Break, I went on the Penn Tech Trek with a group of 20 students to Silicon Valley. I was so excited for this opportunity to visit top startups and venture capital firms from Andreessen Horowitz to Tesla to Khan Academy to Y-Combinator’s Startup School.
Each day, we visited at least five companies and spoke directly with the founders or chief officers. What I found most surprising was every person we met had an entirely unique background, from a history major in university to a self-taught coder. One story I remember in particular was Jack Abraham’s, a W’08 and founder of Milo, a shopping engine acquired by eBay. He explained that, in high school, he had been a salesperson for Rosetta Stone in the local mall. Jack discovered that if he could induce a potential customer to raise his/her eyebrow three times while speaking to him, they would purchase the language-learning software. From this experience and the sales tactics he developed, he became the second best salesperson for the company in the U.S.
During the trip, I also found that majority of the ideas and advice from these legendary entrepreneurs and investors overlapped. Some key takeaways:
If you’re starting a company, get to know your users early.
Your users make up your business so communicate well with your first customers and build a product that they love. Having a passionate user base is absolutely essential.
Have a strong network of advisors.
Starting a company requires a lot of trial and error. However, having a group of advisors to trust and provide guidance goes a long way. They often can provide the first connections to expanding your business.
Understand startup lingo.
- Hypergrowth: a phase of extremely rapid growth
- Product-market fit: the degree in which a product meets a strong market demand
- PayPal Mafia: former PayPal employees who have developed technology companies such as YouTube, SpaceX and Tesla
Read these books!
- The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
- Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
Getting to know these companies and touring their office space was priceless. What I enjoyed the most, however, was going on a trip with 20 fun, motivated students interested in exploring startups and tech. Bonding on late night trips to In-N-Out and night hikes to the Golden Gate Bridge are definitely experiences I will never forget.
Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on the Wharton Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on Nov. 21, 2014.