“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.