“I talk that talk, I walk the walk.”
– Young Jeezy, “R.I.P.“
I recently hosted a group of 20 Harvard MBA students to share insights on the venture capital industry and its career opportunities. While a student at HBS, I found such talks from venture firms and startups very informative, which is why I’ve hosted talks annually over the last 17 years since I graduated.
During my recent HBS talk, I went through the basic topics on how the venture industry works. The students asked some insightful questions such as: “If you were not a partner at IDG Ventures, where else would you want to be a partner?” and “What companies would you suggest we work for after HBS if not in venture?”
I in turn, had one question for them. “How many of you use Twitter?” Only one person raised their hand.
At this point I felt compelled to lay it out on the table, and I didn’t hold anything back. Here’s what I said:
You are defined by your beliefs and actions, and if you want to be an ‘A’ player, you need to think and act like one. You have made the decision to go to business school and to spend a week checking out Silicon Valley. That is the first step, but if you want a career in technology as a VC or entrepreneur, you must immerse yourself in this world by using the market leaders in your daily lives.
My HBS classmate Aileen Lee recently wrote a great article on TechCrunch about “The Unicorn Club,” 39 tech companies with billion-dollar+ valuations founded in the last decade. 24 companies in the Unicorn Club are consumer Internet businesses — you should be using all of these companies, which include: Twitter, Evernote, and Pinterest (see below for the complete list). I would also add Snapchat and Hootsuite to this list.
If you are in an interview for a tech company — or even other industries — and admit you don’t use Twitter, this will reflect badly on you. You can’t recover from that. You will come across as someone who isn’t current on technology and business trends.
You should be an early adopter of technology. Buy the latest gadgets and download the most popular mobile apps. Sell your iPad on eBay and buy the iPad Air. The upgrade will cost you $200. Compare that cost with the knowledge you get from the opportunity cost of going to business school and what you learn. It has a pretty good ROI.
If you are interested in technology, walk the walk. While Harvard Business School is nothing to sneeze at, you are at a geographical disadvantage compared to your peers at Stanford. As a VC, it’s easier to engage with GSB students for in-person company pitches and business plan reviews. So you need to level the playing field for yourselves by bridging any technology gaps and making yourself stand out.
It was a harsh message, but it is the reality for business school students and all professionals in tech. ‘A’ players see opportunities in advance and act on them.
Here’s a list of companies in the Unicorn Club that are in the consumer Internet space:
- Lending Club
Get to know these Unicorn companies. Study the business models, use the products/services, and analyze the markets.
Agree with the fact that being up to date with today’s technology is important for everyone that wants to have an impact in his career (wheither tech or not). But one should not be obsessed by Twitter, FB, Snapchat,… Indeed, this is only part of the story, emotional inteligence (e.g. understanding peole’s emotions and/or beliefs leading to x or y behavior) is also important. Being well-rounded is what matters for long term personal and profesional success.
Great post Phil! Could not agree more, and this is well in line with other successful VCs e.g. Albert Wenger. If one can’t get genuinely excited by what’s happening and the new tools/services, than maybe it’s a good reality check for people who think they want to get in tech/VC.
Agreed. One of the best ways VCs/Job seekers can endear themselves to a company is through product feedback.
While I think the article is spot on, my criticism of it is that you don’t articulate why one should use Twitter beyond being upto date on technology and business trends; which I think is only a portion of the value twitter provides.
Essentially, what twitter has allowed me to do is not just be current on technology (which I was through all the blogs and feedly feeds I was following) but rather be involved in the conversation AS IT HAPPENS. To see Marc Andreessen, or Steve Sinofsky, or Benedict Evans, or Aaron Levie (to name a few) pushing each other and disagreeing openly is not only fascinating but also addictive! It’s like being in class during a HBS Case Discussion where the protagonists are arguing with one another!
This, I believe, is something that is not apparent while using Twitter at first glance and what some of my fellow students are potentially missing out on!
So, thanks again for hosting us on WestTrek and being so candid about your views.
I actually agree with Ben. There’s an important inference being made that using twitter is correlated with an interest in and knowledge of tech (Richard alludes to this inference). Why must this be true? I’ve worked in tech as a product manager and investor, and I don’t use twitter because frankly I don’t find it that useful. Same goes for Pinterest; does the fact that I am not a regular user mean I can’t possibly be interested in tech, or might I also be one of those males who are 1/4 as likely to use Pinterest as females? Even if you believe that interest in consumer tech is strongly correlated with your use of Twitter and Pinterest, must the same true for interest in say enterprise IT?
I certainly buy the overall argument that people who aren’t genuinely interested in tech probably shouldn’t be flocking to tech, and MBAs may be more guilty of this than others. But your argument as-presented extrapolates a lot from very little data.
Lots of prof’s and students at HBS use Twitter. I think part of what you’re seeing is that rarely are the treks populated by the people most familiar with a given industry. Coming from the Bay, I’m far more interested in a New York or a Hollywood trek than in a Bay Area trek. Telling people who are not on Twitter who have traveled to SF because they’re curious that they should get on Twitter is exactly the sort of educational experience people should get.
Agree, and thanks for writing this. That said, I do think the people who are saavy are the ones that make it through the interviews and get the jobs in the end… my theory is that there is a current “romanticism” about startups/vc with the “traditional” routes out of school (you know the one’s I’m talking about…) losing a bit of prestige in recent years. I have no doubt that the people who care will be distilled out vs. those who don’t in the long run. Regardless of those individuals’ motivations, I honestly think its a better deployment of productivity coming out of a great institution than could otherwise happen (i.e. I’m not entirely convinced the world needs another consultant or banker)
I was dismayed by this post as I think it encapsulates a big problem I have with the mentality I saw in Silicon Valley when I visited on Westrek, especially as an entrepreneur interested in tech. There was an attitude that tech is great for the sake of tech, and not because it necessarily serves a purpose. Many of the companies I visited had this problem – they had built cool technologies, but struggled to come up with the use case relevant to a wide swatch of users. I think Twitter is a prime example of this problem as well – it makes sense for a small group of people who create good content (e.g. entertainers or sports players), but for the vast majority of people (including myself) it provides little to no value.
Your mention of the iPad was another good example. Many people have no use for it – a laptop serves their purposes. One of the earliest adopters of the iPad I know uses it with a Bluetooth keyboard for many functions. At least in my mind, that’s just called an (overpriced) laptop. Likewise, considering that the iPad air and the old iPad run on literally the same iOS means that trading in one for the other doesn’t provide additional value beyond the fact that one is lighter and faster. I do understand that if a new tech company is targeting iPad users, or if they will be delivering an iOS app, that using an iPad is a must, but I think linking one’s credibility to the tech they use is no better than a Wall Street banker judging other bankers based on how expensive their tie is or the model year of their luxury car. In my mind, it has little relevance to that person’s capability/idea/execution, and it is a mentality that does more damage than good.
Every single company on this list is a multi-billion dollar company, providing value to millions of users. Phil’s point is that you should know every single one of these cold. Does this mean you need to use zulily every single day? No, of course not. You’re going to go broke paying for every little thing. But you should understand these products and services at a very fine level, as well as hundreds of others. In order to succeed in tech you need to live and breathe it. I work in VC. Our job is to understand tons of products that we don’t necessarily find value in, as long as there are people who do. It’s short-sighted to ignore products simply because you don’t get them, especially something as big and universal as Twitter.
Agree, but figure these are table stakes for anyone who wants to be successful in this space. My sense is that a lot of these folks wont quite be up to snuff when they are in the interview seat…
Totally agreed. Seems pretty obvious and I am surprised that only 5% of the Westrekers use Twitter. It would be awesome if HBS could do more to educate its students on technology! You should appreciate this article from the Harbus: http://bit.ly/19DiQiR