The summer between my junior and sophomore year of college, I served as a Marketing and Events Management Intern at MassChallenge—a startup incubator in Boston, MA. The experience exceeded my expectations. I found it inspiring to be surrounded by individuals that were obsessed with pursuing their ideas. As a member of the College of Arts and Sciences, my time at MassChallenge was my only exposure to the business world. Therefore, when I heard Professor Kane speak about TechTrek East in my Computers in Management course during the spring of my junior year, I knew I wanted to be a part of the class.
I am so thankful to have spent four whirlwind days in New York City touring and hearing from the employees at some amazing tech companies. One major take-away from this trip was that all these companies consider themselves to be a tech company, from Harry’s who sells razor blades to MetLife who sells insurance. However, what struck me most was the entrepreneurial spirit that existed at both the start-ups and the large organizations we visited. We witnessed examples of both classic entrepreneurship (start-ups) and intrapreneurship (mid to large organizations who think and act entrepreneurial). I noticed that the majority of these organizations possessed the following two aspects of an entrepreneurial mindset (1) an obsession with creating new opportunities and (2) a willingness to fail and learn from their failures.
Blue Dots indicate locations of companies visited
Several of the individuals that we spoke with explained their obsession with solving a problem. For example, Freshly began because CEO Michael Wystrach wanted to solve his meals dilemma. After graduating from college, Michael worked as an investment banker. Due to his demanding job, he found it difficult to find the time to cook meals, let alone healthy ones. As a result, he partnered with a friend, a doctor, to create and deliver healthy meals. Similarly, Harry’s was created to offer individuals an alternative to the expensive razor and blades marketed by competitors like Gillette. They were successful by creating a lifestyle around their brand and providing a new business model, a convenient monthly subscription service. Ceros was founded to solve a problem—how to create interactive web content without the need for software developers. At the time, the only way marketers could do this was by hiring web developers. Therefore, the Ceros platform was founded to help “the world unlock creativity.”
Mid to Large Organizations
The large organizations we visited have remained successful because of their ability to continue to recognize, and capitalize on, opportunities. For example, Dropbox began as a cloud storage platform, similar to Google Drive, but by launching Paper, the company was able to differentiate itself from Google and Microsoft. Like Dropbox, MetLife has separated itself from its competitors through its digital accelerator. The program accepts ten startups with technology that is focused on disrupting the insurance industry. This enables MetLife to learn how it might incorporate technology to better serve its customers or to provide them with new offerings. TED has taken advantage of opportunities by making their talks available in new markets. For example, TED launched an eight-episode show, TED Talks India, in December 2017. The company wanted the new internet users in China and India to have access to similar talks as those in other countries. Finally, WeWork has found ways to expand their offerings, like HQ by WeWork, to keep customers longer. Once a company grows out of the shared office space, they can move to a private floor owned and operated by WeWork.
Learning from Failures
“Fail fast, fail cheap, and institutionalize learning,” remarked CMO Hugh Dineeen when we visited MetLife. Many of the business leaders that we spoke with stressed that it is ok to fail as long as you learn from those failures and make the necessary adjustments to prevent them from happening again. For example, over the past year, Facebook has been the subject of many data breaches that have caused individuals to lose trust in the social media platform. To prevent these breaches from recurring, Facebook has implemented controls to protect consumer data. The Facebook panel told us that the company has chosen to prioritize data protection over new product launches. In addition, ClassPass’s decision to change their business model is an example of learning from failure. Initially, ClassPass offered two packages. Each month, an individual would pay a certain amount to take either five or ten exercise classes; however, the health clubs did not like that all classes were being valued the same. Therefore, ClassPass launched the credit system which enabled health clubs to decide how many credits their class was worth. Like ClassPass, Socure faced problems early on but with regards to their employees. Co-Founder of Socure, Johnny Ayers, shared that from the beginning, he should have focused on creating a strong company culture. Because he did not, Socure experienced employee turnover and lost a great deal of talent. Finally, the Google alumni panel stressed the importance of not only learning from failures but also quickly discovering them. For example, they remarked that it took the company too long to realize that Google+ and Google Glass were better products for the enterprise, rather than the consumer, market.
It is crucial that companies, both large and small, maintain an entrepreneurial mindset because that is the only way they will continue to be successful. I have discovered that it is important to me to work for an organization that thinks in this manner because I want to be in a stimulating environment where I will continue to learn and grow. My long-term goal has always been to attend law school, but when individuals would ask me what type of law I was interested in pursuing, I never knew the answer. After going on TechTrek East, I feel confident in saying that I would like to serve as a lawyer for a tech company. Both what I have learned in class, and what I was told at the companies we visited, has shown me that tech has the potential to enact massive positive change on the world, and I would like to do my part to help these tech companies achieve their goals.
I would be remiss if I did not say thank you to Professor Kane, Professor Doyle, and Kelsey for organizing and planning such an amazing trip. I can only imagine how difficult it was, and based on all the blog posts I have read so far, I know our class is very appreciative. I am also thankful for the opportunity to take a class with such curious, intellectual, and tenacious individuals. I will be sure to promote TechTrek for years to come.