As the bus left New York City on a Wednesday afternoon, my heart felt so full. I couldn’t believe we had finally completed BC’s very first Tech Trek East. This short but extremely insightful period has been filled with new growth, discoveries, and connections. Before I dive into more details, I wanted to give some interesting recap statistics on the trip:
-# of startups that we visited: 12
-# of Harvard Business School alumni: 5
-# of Tech Trek alumni that we met: 4
-Max # of people we fit into an elevator: 16
-Times the phrase “big city” was vocalized: upwards of 60 times
-Happiness from experiencing Tech Trek East: infinite amounts
Despite only having three days to complete all the visits lined up, I actually liked the fact that we were constantly “on-the-go” at all times from early in the morning to evening. It gave me a chance to be consistently productive. There was a lot of information to take in on a given day but I enjoyed the constant mental and intellectual stimulation. My particular favorites (and this was insanely difficult to narrow down) were Sprinklr, Harry’s, Spotify, Handy, Google, and Goldman Sachs. These were visits where I felt as though I learned the most about the brands themselves, their inner cultures, and their visions. The first official day kicked off with an impressive personal narrative by Carlos Dominguez at Sprinklr. The panel at Harry’s and Handy really engaged me in selling their brand and their culture, and as startups in its growing stage, provided exciting potential. Google, Spotify, and Goldman Sachs, which were two of the bigger companies that we visited, were also exciting in a different way—it was exciting to hear the perspectives from within such influential companies that I had grown up knowing. And this might sound trivial, but by associating human faces to these giant tech conglomerates, made me realize that these big names that we read about in the news, regardless of whether that press is positive or grossly negative, are made up of everyday normal people. Brilliant people, of course, with some of the most creative and focused minds, but at the end of the day, they are humans.
Apart from the company visits, some golden moments on the trip were getting to know the people in the class, from conversations on the bus to conversations on the streets, while frantically trying to match the Professor Doyle’s breakneck speed. I also really enjoyed the BC alumni in tech panel. It made me realize just how expansive and special BC’s alumni community is and though there were people who had graduated years before me and were very well into their careers, yet there were tidbits of BC tradition that had connected us. As a senior, the panel and the networking event gave me a glimpse into life after Boston College and I couldn’t help but think that within a matter of months, my life was about to be more similar to the alumni in the room than my own classmates.
Here are a few common themes that I’ve gleaned from visiting and conversing with these companies in New York as well as our conversations with companies in Boston, and our two in-house visitors Sophie Miller and Pat Twomey.
- There’s no such thing as a linear path to success.
I’ve always known this to be true, but never actualized this notion until it was embedded in practice by a lot of the founders, product managers, executives’ stories. Did the founder of Freshly as an investment banker ever imagine that he would be running a startup that delivered healthy food? Did Carlos Dominguez think that as someone who didn’t finish college would end up to be president at Cisco Systems and later Sprinklr? Did Daniel Simon, who has a J.D from Yale Law School, think that he would end up working in the fintech startup space in New York? These stories inspired me to really take life by the reins without fearing the consequences because unlike the world of machine learning, there is no set algorithm for success. This same practice could be applied to companies as well. Whether it’s a company like Google who pulled Google+ or realized that Googleglass was not a great fit for the consumer market or whether it’s Classpass transitioning from a classes system to a credit-based model, companies go in spirals all the time and there is no telling that individuals or companies will know the answer straight off the bat to continue in a line of success and growth. If anything, an indicator of success is an ability to learn fast from your mistakes, pivot flexibly, and apply your lessons to new experiences and opportunities fearlessly.
- Data is really the fuel for these tech companies.
We’ve always read about how “data is the new oil.” These company visits only corroborated this idea. Freshly’s founder, for example, has stated that Freshly is not so much a food delivery company as they are a data analytics company. They’re using and applying data analytics to food delivery. Classpass’s biggest value proposition is the data insights that they receive from its users that will help curate marketing, exposure, and business acumen that translates to incremental revenue for its partners. Two Sigma is all about quantitative data modeling to formulate decisions. There is a huge pool of data that isn’t being tapped into and when somebody is able to unlock it and utilize it in a relevant, appropriate way…there is MONEY to be made. This made me realize the value of knowing how to read data and work with data for future reference.
- Do right by the user, and everything else will follow.
Google’s Julie Rollauer, global head of sales managing training, said this was the primary reason for why Google shut down Google+. JW Player has also stressed the importance of timing when it comes to innovation, gauging whether consumers will favor it. Harry’s has kept customers in their conversation, starting initiatives like Five O’Clock magazine, and even listening to their feedback to launch a new women’s line. I’ve learned that this is the golden rule by many product managers and marketers that we have met throughout this trip—consumers rule everything.
- Companies are striving to be more than their products and services.
All the companies, regardless of size, from Harry’s to Facebook exhibited this interest—the idea that their brands go more than skin-deep and produce a meaningful impact on society. Pat Twomey from Uber recently emphasized this—the goal for Uber, years down the line, is not to offer car rides but to offer mobility as service whether that’s tapping into other modes of transportation, giving people the most effective and diverse set of options of moving from one point to another. Classpass is not intended only to be an app that you can sign up for fitness classes, but rather a lifestyle brand. Harry’s doesn’t only sell shaving and hygiene products—as a brand that sells products of bare essentials of the average person, it also provides a platform to discuss larger issues of humanity and personhood such as gender, masculinity, identity, race, etc.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I mean, this had to be the last but not least takeaway of the trip. People at MetLife, Goldman Sachs, Ceros, Uber, Google, have all said this in one form or another. “A.B.L” as Pat Twomey would’ve said. We must always be in this learning stage because if you’re not constantly in a state of learning, then you’re not growing. Be a sponge. Don’t be stagnant. Be comfortable with change and crisis! I wish BC offered a crisis class similar to the one at Harvard, though perhaps, I’ll look into the crisis management class that Sophie Miller took while she was here that made her so eager to handle things at Google when sh*%$ hit the fan. Having been through a few transitions in college and trying new experiences, this message really resonated with me. Tech Trek East has always been a constant state of learning for me. We were throwing ourselves out of our everyday, routine comfort zones to meet these amazing people who are making a profound difference at one of these innovative tech companies in the world. If I’m the most knowledgeable one in the room, I want to go to a different room. I’m inspired to keep throwing myself out of my comfort zone and to continue to be curious.
With that, I will end here. I am so proud of us as a class for experiencing this together. More so, I am eternally grateful. Thank you so much Professor Kane and Doyle for arranging these company visits, for making class such an enjoyable experience, for being such great mentors and role models. Thank you to all the companies for taking the time to meet with us. Thank you Shea Center for even having such an extraordinary program, and also accepting me to be a part of it. This will be a time in my life I will always appreciate, cherish, and remember.