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Stanford's Student Startup Accelerator

Archive for July 2010

7/31: Chuck Eesley at SSE Labs – Tech Entrepreneurship

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This Friday, we were fortunate to have Chuck Eesley join us to speak on “Success Factors for Technology Entrepreneurs.” Chuck is a professor at Stanford in the Management Science & Engineering department and maintains a weblog. He is also a faculty member of STVP, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. Prior to coming to Stanford, Chuck worked as a consultant and analyst, founding Lobby 10 Consulting and also served as a mentor to teams in the MIT 100K and Ignite Clean Energy Competitions. He focuses on strategy and technology entrepreneurship, and teaches E145 (Technology Entrepreneurship) at Stanford.

Our teams were able to gain some great insight to the findings of Chuck’s research on Entrepreneurial Impact, which examined different success factors for startups. For example, he provided his data-driven inferences on the positive correlation between the number of founders on the chance of the company having an exit or IPO. His research surveyed around 8,000 MIT alumni entrepreneurs and plans to continue his research in the area.

Chuck presented a lot of information in his slideshow under a few main points that he wanted to emphasize:

  • Learn to share well with others. Chuck noted Noam Wasserman’s  “Rich-versus-King Tradeoff,” which states that there is a negative correlation between valuation of a founding member’s share and the amount of control (defined as Board control and CEO role) he has in the company.
  • Try, try again. The more ventures someone has been involved in, the more likely they are to find funding, launch successfully, etc.
  • Be careful who your friends are. Among other things, it’s important to carefully weigh important decisions like early hiring and co-founder selection.

Thanks again to Chuck for a great talk and the presentation from his unique research-based perspective.


Written by ahzietsman

July 31, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Mentorship, Speaker

7/28 Dave Hodson at SSE Labs on Open Iteration

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This week for our Wednesday workshop, Dave Hodson came in to talk about Open Iteration. Dave currently works at Microsoft and is a Principal on the Bing Team, working on domain-oriented search and large-scale data extraction. Previously, he co-founded MessageCast, iPrint, and has a strong technical background with experience in fund-raising, building infrastructure, and team-building.

Dave presented a lot of information on product development cycles/strategies and open iteration; a few of the key takeaways from the workshop are:

  • Read “Getting Real” by 37Signals and Dave McClure’s presentation on Startup Metrics (the pirate one)
  • The #1 most important thing is to have your vision, and execute.
  • Optimize your product development strategy for the best fit to your context. Pick something lightweight and figure out a way to automate the process of verifying the validity of a build.
  • Communicate with your customers, and set the expectations for them. You also need visibility for bug fixes and updates (for this, email and blogs work great)
  • One great strategy for controlling your release is using the concept of buckets/flights for your feature deployment. Deploy to a limited audience, some x% of users for a limited time. Remove the feature, and analyze the feedback to determine if you should release it to more users for further feedback, all users, or simply drop the feature.

His slides on Open Iteration can be found here:

Thanks again to Dave for coming in, we really appreciate your involvement as a mentor!

Written by ahzietsman

July 29, 2010 at 12:19 am

Posted in Mentorship, Workshop

7/27 Office Hours with CRV, double feature

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Thanks to Charles River Ventures for holding office hours with George Zachary and Saar Gur in the Zachary room today.

George Zachary joined Charles River Ventures in 2004. He brings more than 17 years of operating and investing experience in computing and consumer technology. George’s focus is on building great services and software technology companies. George led CRV’s investments in,GoTVMillennial MediaSkyriderTwitter and is a board member at Twitter.
Saar Gur is a partner at Charles River Ventures (CRV), with more than 12 years of experience working with entrepreneurs as a founder, investor and advisor. Saar is passionate about discovering and growing early-stage companies and focuses on CRV’s consumer and internet investments. Saar currently sits on the boards of Progress FinancialWonderhill, and Blippy (incubated at CRV), and was involved in CRV’s seed investment in social games company LilGreenPatch, which was acquired by Playdom. Saar was also involved with CRV’s investments in Scribd.

CRV has been instrumental in launching SSE Labs as a sponsor, and George has been a great help to us as an advisor and mentor. We appreciate your time spent fielding many questions from our fellows, and advice on many topics from product-market fit for Fountainhop to Saar’s expertise on lead gen for Accevia.

Thank you George, and Saar. We hope you enjoyed your visit to 401 Ellis St today!

Written by ahzietsman

July 27, 2010 at 4:43 pm

7/23 Ending the week with Howard Hartenbaum

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Tonight we had a great dinner with Howard Hartenbaum from August Capital.

From his August Capital bio:

Howard Hartenbaum joined August Capital in 2008. Prior to joining, he served as a General Partner at Draper Richards LP where he was the founding investor in Skype and a former member of the board of directors where his achievement resulted in his joining the Forbes Midas List of top venture capitalists.

Before entering the venture capital field, Howard was at Hughes Electronics, where he was responsible for supporting business development, marketing and sales of satellite, information security and automotive technologies developed by HRL Laboratories. He also worked in engineering positions in ergonomics and user experience at Honda Motor Company and manufacturing at Teledyne Relays.

Howard has worked overseas for a total of ten years in Luxembourg and Japan. He is a graduate of M.I.T.

We covered a lot of ground, but some highlights of the night are:

  • The most successful entrepreneurs that he has seen have been problem-oriented, experts in a certain domain, and passionate about the problem they are trying to solve.
  • Smart, experienced people will offer you feedback and opinions, but don’t forget to take them with a grain of salt. Investors are often initially skeptical of the most interesting companies (aka the ones that become the biggest names in the business).
  • Focus on the user, focus on solving a problem. User experience is key; it can make or break you. Also, it generally doesn’t work to be a “solution searching for a market.” This can lead you to a nice business, but it’s not likely to be a billion-dollar company.

What a great speaker to wrap up our busy week at SSE Labs. Thank you to Howard for your time, and great stories.

Written by ahzietsman

July 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm

7/22: Dave McClure on Pitching to VCs, Maveron at SSE Labs

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Today was an eventful day at SSE Labs with Dave McClure in the house. Dave currently writes the 500 Hats blog, an entrepreneurship blog, and is an active angel investor in Silicon Valley. Previously, he managed FF Angel for Founders Fund, ran fbFund REV in 2009, and he is well known for startup metrics. Dave is involved in every part of Silicon Valley, having invested in over 60 companies, co-founding Startup2Startup and Finance4Founders, and serving as advisor for several startups.

We were fortunate enough to have Dave give a workshop to the teams on pitching to VCs (slides to his presentation can be found here). True to his ideology, Dave stressed articulation of the problem before explanation of the solution, and he also provided a lot of valuable insight regarding dealing with the short attention span of VCs, the kind of numbers that should be included in a pitch, and the main components that make a pitch really memorable or noticeable.

Hopefully the teams learned quickly – following his talk, Dave gave our teams the unique opportunity to meet with him individually and provided valuable feedback. Given that John Malloy referred to Dave as the best person to go to with consumer products, it was a great experience for our teams and they got a lot out of his advice.

We were also lucky to have Ben Choi and Mark Menell of Maveron in the office to provide the VC perspective. Ben’s focus on Web/mobile services, Mark’s experience with game companies, and Maveron’s overall focus on consumer-internet opportunities are all great fits for our teams and we are extremely excited for Maveron’s involvement with SSE Labs.

Thanks again to Dave, Ben, and Mark for their time and help with SSE Labs!

Written by ahzietsman

July 23, 2010 at 1:54 am

7/21: Dan Olsen at SSE Labs on Product Management

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It was great to have Dan Olsen in the office today for our weekly workshop. Dan is currently CEO & founder at YourVersion, a “discovery engine” for finding content relevant to users’ interests in all different types of web media, such as Twitter, blogs, news, etc. He is a Stanford MBA with a strong technical background, broad general management skills, and deep expertise in product management and marketing. Within the consumer software and web industry, he has held senior management positions at established companies as well as executive roles at start-ups. Previously, he has had extensive experience in Product Management at Friendster and Quicken at Intuit.

Dan was able to provide a lot of useful information to our teams on the entire timeline of product development. The teams found his presentation extremely helpful, especially in areas such as user testing, considering their current stages and that many of them are developing consumer applications. Dan emphasized user testing, quick iterations, and clearly defining a value proposition. Some key takeaways are:

  • High Importance of User Need + Low Satisfaction with Current Alternatives = Opportunity.
  • Ruthlessly prioritize what features your team focuses on, based on its expected ROI.
  • Identify and track key metrics of your business. These will help you measure progress as well as aid in prioritizing which areas you need to focus on next.

Also, it was great to see Matt Bartus (one of our sponsors, and a Partner at Dorsey & Whitney) at Dan’s talk today.

Thanks to Dan for another great workshop at the SSE Labs office!

If you’re interested in Dan’s presentation, be sure to check out his slides at:

Written by ahzietsman

July 21, 2010 at 5:25 am

Posted in Mentorship, Workshop

7/15 Dinner with Adam Rodnitzky, Justin Kan

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For Thursday night’s double feature, Adam presented first on Marketing Strategy. A few highlights from his presentation include:

  • Focus on developing something based on what your customers tell you they want, not what you think they want; you can use simple tools (surveys and false features in your product UI) to measure response to potential features before prioritizing them on your product roadmap.
  • The cost of user acquisition is generally higher than the cost of user retention, so focus on keeping your users happy, and don’t be afraid to spend to retain them if they show evidence of being valuable.
  • Search engine marketing is a good, low cost market research tool; search activity reveals purchase intent, which is as about as close to the money as you can get when making a product decision.

Afterward, Justin shared his entrepreneurship story with Emmett and stepped through the experiences that taught him and his team good practices and principles to follow when developing a product or building a company. A few tips he gave us were:

  • There’s no secret to getting good PR coverage, but you can focus on doing something interesting that people naturally will talk about
  • Don’t build a company as something you want to sell; things don’t always go the way you plan, so make sure your business is sustainable
  • You need to focus as much as possible on your core product, which translates to: leverage existing tools. If a solution is supported and developed by entire companies, your chances of hacking together a better solution is slim to none.

Thanks to Adam and Justin both for visiting us at 401 Ellis St, and giving our startups great advice and feedback.

Adam Rodnitzky currently serves as Chief Marketing Officer for ReTel Technologies, a video analytics company he co-founded in 2007. Prior to co-founding ReTel, Adam co-founded two successful start-up companies, (acquiried in 2000 by CarParts Technologies) and TacitLogic. Adam also has extensive experience in senior marketing and creative strategy roles, having worked with national retailers such as Safeway Stores, Wal-Mart,, Hallmark and eBay.

Justin Kan is a founder and President of, the web’s leading live video site which lets anyone broadcast and watch live video with chat for free. He currently serves as’s Chief Product Officer, managing the product and technical teams, recruiting talent for the company, and evangelizing’s website and API.

Written by ahzietsman

July 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm