Monday, May 4, 2015

How Pitching to Silicon Valley VCs Better Prepared Me for Managing Risk and Entrepreneurship

By Sean Taylor

Some opportunities are simply too good to pass up. They are the kind of opportunities that would harbor regret and resentment if missed. The chance to participate in the Kelley Direct Silicon Valley Challenge was exactly one of those opportunities.

The premise of this immersion course is simple at its core. You have five weeks to establish a business concept, build a feasibility plan, and pitch it to seasoned venture capitalists.  It was as one student put it, “Shark Tank on steroids”. The location Kelley Direct selected for our pitches was Plug and Plug (PnP), one of the largest startup incubators in the world, and one of the most exciting buildings I’ve ever been in.

The Vibe in Silicon Valley

When we walked through the entry door the front desk had a listing of companies that have made their way through PnP. PayPal, Dropbox, Zoosk, and even Google have graced the hallways of their incubator.  There was energy oozing about the building the moment we arrived – an energy that told you special things happen here. 

Coming from the Midwest you always hear about how there is a different vibe in the “Valley”. I’m not talking about the shorts and sandals business attire vibe, but rather a “shoot for the moon” mentality that corporate America often struggles to embrace.

When I was pacing the outdoor patio working on my pitch I was kindly interrupted by a gentleman wearing a Stanford t-shirt. “I’ve got this idea, it’s about making haircuts easier, you have a nice haircut so I wanted to bounce it off you…” He nailed his elevator pitch I thought to myself; let’s hear this out. 

While his Uber/haircut idea had some glaring kinks, I couldn’t help but admire how this entrepreneur was never ashamed to put himself out there and learn. It gave me a healthy sense of perspective before stepping into my first-ever business pitch.

Not Your Typical Corporate Presentation

As I launched into my pitch for KeyCupid – my start-up idea for the real-estate industry – it was a complete adrenaline rush.  This wasn’t like your typical corporate presentation.  The audience wasn’t smiling or nodding in false approval, but meticulously evaluating every move I made.  I imagined a feeling similar to what a lone sheep might feel when confronted by a pack of wolves.

As I was beginning to hit my stride, John Shoemaker jumped in about my GTM strategy.  The former EVP of Sun Microsystems Worldwide Operations asked “Why would you setup exclusive agreements in specific neighborhoods? It’s impeding larger potential revenue gains.”  While there was a strategic reason, it raised a more important point – understanding your audience.  Potential investors don’t favor strategies that slow revenue flows.  They want to know how they’ll get their capital back quicker – not slower.  Noted.

After completing the pitch, we got to spend 2-3 hours with investors sharing drinks and appetizers, which was perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of this experience.  Hearing about other investments they were involved with, their personal stories of rising to success, and getting some informal tips and critiques for improvements was an incredible learning opportunity. 

Why Experiencing Entrepreneurship Matters

As I was flying back to Chicago I came across an intriguing quote by Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City and PayPal.  Elon said, “As much as possible, avoid hiring MBAs. MBA programs don’t teach people how to create companies … At my companies, our position is that we hire someone in spite of an MBA, not because of one. 

It was a bold comment, by one of the boldest entrepreneurs in the World that continued to resonate in my head.  While the quote may irritate some who are investing significant money to advance their business acumen, it only further justified my decision in selecting Kelley Direct. 

The Kelley School of Business understands that crunching finance assignments, listening to marketing professors, or reading Harvard Business cases studies doesn’t teach innovation and entrepreneurship. Yes, these build a critical foundation, but truly learning how to create a company and innovate involves risk taking and learning to handle brutal, constructive criticism. I can’t think of a possible way any academic institution could better replicate this learning experience than Kelley has through their Silicon Valley Challenge. 

Time will tell if KeyCupid evolves to a thriving startup, but regardless of its success, this course provided the push I needed to pursue a dream. I hope others follow and find similar satisfaction in experiencing true entrepreneurism through Kelley Direct’s unique immersion opportunities.  

About Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor graduated with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from The Ohio State University. His career at Motorola has spanned engineering, business development, and currently product strategy where he manages mergers & acquisitions. Sean joined Kelley Direct in the Fall of 2013 and is pursuing a dual degree MBA and MS in Entrepreneurship & Innovation.


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