Tech Trek to Silicon Valley Startups

Over Fall Break, I went on the Penn Tech Trek with a group of 20 students to Silicon Valley. I was so excited for this opportunity to visit top startups and venture capital firms from Andreessen Horowitz to Tesla to Khan Academy to Y-Combinator’s Startup School.

Each day, we visited at least five companies and spoke directly with the founders or chief officers. What I found most surprising was every person we met had an entirely unique background, from a history major in university to a self-taught coder. One story I remember in particular was Jack Abraham’s, a W’08 and founder of Milo, a shopping engine acquired by eBay. He explained that, in high school, he had been  a salesperson for Rosetta Stone in the local mall. Jack discovered that if he could induce a potential customer to raise his/her eyebrow three times while speaking to him, they would purchase the language-learning software. From this experience and the sales tactics he developed, he became the second best salesperson for the company in the U.S.

Penn Tech Trek members hike up to see an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Penn Tech Trek members hike up to see an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

During the trip, I also found that majority of the ideas and advice from these legendary entrepreneurs and investors overlapped. Some key takeaways:

If you’re starting a company, get to know your users early.

Your users make up your business so communicate well with your first customers and build a product that they love. Having a passionate user base is absolutely essential.

Have a strong network of advisors.

Starting a company requires a lot of trial and error. However, having a group of advisors to trust and provide guidance goes a long way. They often can provide the first connections to expanding your business.

Understand startup lingo.

  • Hypergrowth: a phase of extremely rapid growth
    Penn Tech Trek members visit Tesla Motors

    Penn Tech Trek members visit Tesla Motors.

  • Product-market fit: the degree in which a product meets a strong market demand
  • PayPal Mafia: former PayPal employees who have developed technology companies such as YouTube, SpaceX and Tesla

Read these books!

  • The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
  • Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

Getting to know these companies and touring their office space was priceless. What I enjoyed the most, however, was going on a trip with 20 fun, motivated students interested in exploring startups and tech. Bonding on late night trips to In-N-Out and night hikes to the Golden Gate Bridge are definitely experiences I will never forget.

Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on the Wharton Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on Nov. 21, 2014.



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