Interview by Michael S. Cann Jr. '95. Published August 28, 2012
Jim Scheinman T ’88 is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and advisor to start-up companies in Silicon Valley. He is a pioneer in social networking and engagement marketing, a relatively new form of marketing and the predominant source of revenue for facebook and other online social networks. Jim is most prominently known for his role as employee number one (essentially a co-founder) at Bebo, the third largest social network in the world when it was acquired by AOL in early 2008 for $850M. Since his founding of his angel investment business Maven Ventures in 2008, he has had 3 successful exits, two of which were Google acquisitions. Today, several of his investments are leaders in their industry with tens of millions of customers and tens of millions in capital raised, including Tango, Zoom, Pageonce and Banjo.
In this interview, Jim shares some of his experiences at the center of the social networking industry as it was being born. He explains why Friendster was not able to realize its potential and ended up being eclipsed by other social networking sites and some of the key reasons why Bebo was a huge success. Jim reveals how the seeds for his career as an entrepreneur were planted when he was a child selling merchandise at a local flea market under the supervision of his parents. He takes us through his unconventional journey from baseball card mogul to corporate attorney and later from social networking trailblazer to mobile application innovator.
What experiences equipped you to pursue a career as an entrepreneur?
Having business experience early in life is absolutely critical. While growing up in New York, my family regularly went to flea markets and sold things. This was not a means to make a living, but my parents enjoyed watching my brothers and me handle a booth at flea markets and learn how to sell and run a business. People who do not have this experience as a youth can get it while in school. Take an internship and see if you enjoy it and determine whether you have natural gifts in this area.
My brothers and I started a baseball card business when we were in middle school and high school. At Duke, I thought I was finished with it. Then the business started picking up again and my older brother called to ask if I could help him with a baseball card show in Greensboro. I agreed to do it, but with the understanding that this would be the last time.
At the show, I was approached by a guy who said his grandfather had saved his old baseball cards issued by a tobacco company from Durham in the days of tobacco cards and that they were still in mint condition. We got a loan for $20,000, drove to his farm in North Carolina and acquired the collection. It was quite a find and these cards are worth more than $1M today.
I had studied Neuroscience and Behavioral Psychology under Dr. Ted Hall at Duke and planned to go to medical school originally, but I while I loved the work at the lab, I realized that the academic lifestyle wasn’t for me and that I needed more immediate results in my work life. So, I figured business school or law school were likely in store for me after graduating from Duke, but instead of doing that right away, I decided to take some time off from school and open a sports card & memorabilia store with my brother in Las Vegas.
It was supposed to be just a summer, then it extended to a year, and eventually it ended up being four years. We grew the company to be the largest baseball card dealership and wholesaler in the world with $30M in annual revenues. That was the best training I got for everything I have done since.
After this, how did you end up deciding to go to law school, of all things?
At the baseball card business, I handled all of the contracts and negotiations with the sports agents for the baseball card shows and I negotiated all our contracts for the business. I found out that I was good at negotiating the deals and was interested in learning more about corporate law and possibly exploring what life would be like as a sports agent. So I went to law school and I chose UC Davis because I wanted to go to a top-25 law school but a bit more laid back than some of the other law schools I was looking at. I had done pretty well with the baseball card business and did not want the high pressure of Stanford or Duke. Plus, UC Davis was about a tenth of the cost and since I was paying my way for the 3 years, it seemed like an incredible bargain relative to the private schools I was looking at. While in law school, I spoke with a number of sports agents and quickly realized that it was not the business for me. It is a tough business - it is very competitive, very cool and high profile, but basically your job is to manage often very young and difficult personalities.
UC Davis is the one of the top law schools in the nation for public interest law, and I ended up exploring that field. During law school, I worked at a prison law clinic but soon realized that public interest law was not the career for me. Incidentally, I was elected class President at Law School on the platform of returning UC Davis to top 25 status (25 in ’95 was my campaign pitch). I’m proud to say that I did indeed help accomplish this goal working with the UC Davis Administration. After graduation, I ended up working in Silicon Valley at Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, a highly respected law firm with many high tech clients [today it’s called DLA Piper]. While there, I worked with a number of Internet businesses and I could see clearly that this was very exciting—it was the future-- and decided that I wanted to do get involved. While I learned a lot, after a few years I realized that writing 200-page contracts was not my passion and I wanted to go back to the business side.
At Gray Cary I brought a lot of deal flow into the firm, even as a junior attorney. One of my companies was acquired in a very large multi-million dollar deal. The firm did well on the deal, but I just got my salary. I asked the Managing Partner if I could get 1-2% of the value of the next company I brought into the firm and I was told, “Oh no, it does not work that way here. You do this for eight more years and you can become a partner here!” That day I decided I had to get out of there.
Fortunately I had a couple of offers. I turned down an offer to be one of the first attorneys at a relatively new startup called Yahoo (first of several of my internet career choice blunders), because I decided I really wanted to get back on the business side right away. So, I became the head of Business Development at snap.com, a company I had represented as a lawyer. CNET was spinning it off and NBC was putting money in to form NBC Interactive (NBCi). It was really exciting, and we were going to compete with Yahoo, and I was going to be in the thick of it as a lead business guy. It was 1998, the portal wars were on, and this was where the action was going to be. It was the right space to jump in. At NBCi, we had some of the smartest people I ever worked with. Because of the peacock brand, we attracted the best in the business. We had people leave great companies to come to NBCi, but unfortunately, it was also one of the most unlucky companies and the timing was terrible.
As you know from the tech bubble era of the late 90s, NBCi was by no means the only company with a great team that did not end up being a big success. What did you learn from that experience?
Many people do not realize this, but NBCi was actually a huge success on two fronts. First, many employees of Xoom, which was acquired by NBCi, made millions of dollars in their acquisition. Second, when NBCi went public, we were a $10B company, and many executives did quite well. But, there were also a lot of lessons learned about growing a hyper-growth business and many mistakes were made.
So people who sold out around that time made money.
Yes, and I did not sell everything, which was a lesson learned, but I sold enough that I could live comfortably for some time. On paper my shares were worth a lot more, but like many other relatively young Internet entrepreneurs, I drank the Kool-Aid and thought the stock price was going to continue going up forever.
Jack Welch [CEO of General Electric at the time, which owned NBCi] was on our board and he told us he saw a recession coming and that we had two choices. Our business, online advertising, was very experimental at the time and so we could either shrink the business and try to survive or try to sell it. He gave us six months to decide. We shrunk from 1,000 to 200 people and were still the sixth largest website in the world because we had television advertising driving traffic to snap.com and NBCi. Our business was humming and it was looking like we might be able to survive the dot com bust and grow our business once again. We were making a lot of money from our experimental (at the time) text link deals with companies like Overture and the upstart Google. But, we were not going to catch Yahoo or MSN or AOL, and GE/NBC didn’t want to be in a business if they couldn’t be #1 or #2.
So, we ended up selling NBCi back to GE for $300M, which perhaps to the outside world might have looked like a failure, but in hindsight, was actually quite a success. Many other companies at that time simply went bankrupt and didn’t return any value to shareholders. We returned some value to our shareholders and the management team made some money. In the end, fortunately, it was far from a disaster and I learned a lot. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that several NBC execs agree that had we held on back then and not sold, we would’ve had one of the largest most successful websites in the world today.
After this roller-coaster experience did you ever tell yourself that this is crazy and I am not going to do that anymore?
Actually I did. I took eight months off to spend time with my two young kids, which is a time I will always remember and cherish. I highly recommend to people that you celebrate and take some real time-off (at least 6 months) after each success and spend time with the ones you love. You will never get this time back and these chances don’t always present themselves. And, not only do you get to spend time and build relationships with the people who mean the most to you, you also get to recharge and think about what you’re gong to do next. While I was with the family, I wanted to stay somewhat involved with the business community, so I worked as a consultant for an Internet TV startup which created a remote control that responds to voice commands. It was really too early for this kind of product, so another lesson learned – you cannot be too far ahead of the curve. It is still a revolutionary idea that has not been done yet.
I also spent time giving back to the community during my time off and I ended up working as a volunteer in the Jewish community, which is something I am passionate about. My wife observed that I love my volunteer work and suggested I find a job doing what I love to do. I decided to give back to the community while working for a salary in a nine-to-five job, something I highly recommend everyone experience. I loved the idea of being able to be home for dinner with my family most every night. There are tradeoffs, clearly no big salaries and no stock options, but I was also working for a cause that I felt passionate about. Without any previous non-profit experience, the New Israel Fund decided to take a chance and hire someone from the private sector to run the SF office as the director. The New Israel Fund is an important organization that raises money for non-profits in Israel that help societal issues. Many of the grantees do amazing work like helping children in poverty - Jewish, Arab and Christian, children. There are grantees, which bring these children together in a kibbutz so that they can learn about each other’s cultures and living together, perhaps building the seeds of tolerance that can lead to a lasting peace in the Middle East one day. It is a terrific organization, but after two years of fundraising and doing dinners, I realized that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my day-to-day work and that I missed the private sector.
Something sucked you back in?
Well, I was at a fundraising event and I met Jonathan Abrams, the founder of Friendster and a former colleague from NBCi days. When he showed me Friendster, there were four people working there. I told him I thought he was going to change the way people interact with one another, especially the younger generation. I knew he was onto to something big. He said he needed a business guy, and I felt like this was the right opportunity to jump back into the private sector. He told me that the Google guys had just come in and wanted to buy his company. He asked me if he should do that or should he take money from Kleiner Perkins and Benchmark? And I thought wow – those are some pretty good options!
At the time I was talking to Jonathan, there was only one other company that I thought was doing some very interesting things and where I would want to work for the next several years, so I had started interviewing at Google. This was a ridiculously long and grueling process (on which much has been written). I was very impressed with the team at Google and I had a very serious decision between joining a tiny start-up, Friendster, or an already somewhat mature start-up with 1,000 employees, Google. While Google was still pre-IPO, I felt the bigger and more exciting opportunity was at Friendster. So I accepted the offer to head up business development, sales and marketing at Friendster. Internet career choice blunder #2. But, fortunately, no regrets at all, since it all lead to the right path for me and my eventual financial success at Bebo and elsewhere. Moreover, I try to be consistent in my career decision and make choices based on risk/reward, opportunity to be creative and shape the direction of the business, and working with great people.
You start to have bureaucracy and challenges innovating when you get to be that size, right?
Yes, it is amazing. I subsequently met the business development team at Google when I was working with one of my Maven Ventures investments, PageOnce. Most everyone on that team, my peers, were all still there eight years later. I mean, why leave? But for me, I did the right thing. I joined Friendster and did not take the Google offer, and I can laugh about it now, though there were days that decision didn’t feel so good. I would probably still be at Google if I had accepted their offer and missed the amazing start-up opportunities and people that I’ve worked with since.
If I am not mistaken, at that time it was not obvious how Friendster was going to monetize its service, and your job was to figure that out, right?
That is right. During our first board meeting, I walked in and John Doerr [prominent venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins] said “Hey Jim, I am so glad you are here. Welcome. I just put $13M into this business. How are you going to make money for us?”
It’s like you were on notice. Hurry up!
That is right. Their original idea was that they were going to charge for the service – it was going to be a subscription business. But I believed that people used Friendster because it was free, and we needed to do what I learned from NBCi, which was to sell them advertising and not put any roadblocks in the amazing growth of the free service. We were not going to put banners on the site, but we were going to do something much more integrated. My vision was that if you could have hundreds of millions of people interacting on the service, you could do engagement marketing, which is something which NBCi dreamed of doing. Facebook and other social networks toady are employing many of these engagement marketing techniques we created at Friendster.
We did not have interactions like those at NBCi. At NBCi, we had people come in, read two pages, and leave. We had to throw banner advertisements and pop-up advertisements at them. But if users are engaged in a site for twenty minutes, brands can really integrate themselves into the user experience.
Yes, many online services today have created an immersive experience for their users, haven’t they?
All of the major brands are on Facebook—this is a given today, but took many years to get here. And through Facebook they engaged hundreds of thousands of fans. This medium is better than a TV channel. Why? Because users are not just passively watching an advertisement on their screen. A marketing manager can find out what users are saying about his or her products. Social networks are like a TV channel with someone talking to you as an individual, even though that marketer is really talking to 100,000 people at the same time. It is much more powerful than a TV channel, and that is the beauty of it. The big brands did not embrace this marketing channel in a big way until this recently, but they will continue to do so. This is absolutely the future of online advertising, and you’ll see many new innovations from Facebook and others, especially on the mobile side.
How big was Friendster when you left the company in March 2005?
We went from zero to 3 million members in less than two years, which was phenomenal growth, and we had fifty employees. Friendster’s viral growth (no paid acquisition) was unprecedented at that time and I learned many key viral growth strategies during the early days of Friendster that have served me well in all my future companies.
You left Friendster to join an unknown husband and wife team which had just started their company two months before. At the time, Friendster was the #1 social networking site and you had Tier I venture capital firms backing the company. So what possessed you to leave?
I left because I had a feeling that…well I knew that this was a billion dollar industry and this was the future of the way people were going to communicate with one another, especially young adults, and that Friendster was likely not going to be the winner. It was mostly around the technology and team issues that we were having. I knew this because I had lived through it already with NBCi.
When I saw the growth trajectory MySpace was experiencing and the challenges Friendster was having internally with people and technology, I knew that either MySpace or some other young upstart would steal our thunder and be the winner. Friendster’s CEO at the time asked me to head up Corporate Development and bring in a company to acquire to help get Friendster going in the right direction. The first company that I contacted and brought in was Facebook. Very early on, I introduced two of the founders, Mark Zuckerberg & Dustin Moskovitz to our executive team and we were all impressed with these young college students who were passionately building a social network for themselves. This was one of the key differences between facebook and Friendster. We had several meetings with Zuck and the team and eventually made an offer to acquire facebook and have them lead our technical team at Friendster. But Zuck and his team had other plans and when that deal did not happen, I decided that I needed to leave Friendster. I knew that there was going to be a billion dollar play in this space but was not confident Friendster was going to be that company.
I met Michael and Xochi Birch through my corporate development work at Friendster. The old Bebo site was growing very quickly, though it wasn’t a social network at the time. It was more of a contact-sharing site, like Plaxo. They had lots of viral growth, but very little user engagement. When I called the Birches, I thought they had a team of thirty people. Michael told me to meet me at his pad. I said, what do you mean? It was just the two of them were working out of the top floor of their apartment, and they had more unique users than Friendster did. It was incredible. They had recently sold the rapidly growing social networking site Ringo to tickle.com and had a taste of success, but not the blockbuster outcome that it could have been. I didn’t think they’d be a great fit at Friendster and I told them to let me know if they wanted to try to build a billion dollar social networking site out of Bebo, because I had tons of ideas on how to do this and knew what to avoid from my experience at Friendster.
Incidentally, I was so impressed with Zuck and his team at facebook that I met up with him for lunch (at 2pm at the Creamery—he had just woken up from a late night of computer programming!), to explore possible opportunities for me at facebook. While it was still early, there were more than 50 people at the company already and the prospects of working college shift hours (2pm-3am) didn’t fit well with my family-friendly working lifestyle. The Birches with their 2 kids at the time were a much better fit from that perspective. Once again, a possible colossal failed opportunity to be in the first 50 employees at facebook, in hindsight, but staying consistent with my values, was the right call for me. Who knows, it I were too miserable with the work schedule, I might have quit after 6 months before vesting any stock and just left the social networking field completely. Fortunately, things worked out at Bebo.
The Biches called me soon thereafter and we quickly agreed on terms for me to come in and help re-launch Bebo as the next great social network. I was on vacation in Lake Tahoe at the time, which was great, because it’s helpful to make these tough decisions in a care-free environment. If I had been focused on Friendster day to day, I probably would not have done it. At the time, it didn’t seem like a very rational thing to do. I was leaving as an early executive of the largest (by far at the time) social network to help start a new one in an already crowded field. But in this calm environment I could think clearly about the opportunity and decided to take a big swing for the fences. I really liked the Birches and we were at similar life stages (working and having kids). I figured that no matter what, we are going to have a lot of fun working together for the next four years, and we’ll learn a lot, and we really have a shot at doing something special. And, if Bebo was successful, I was so early, essentially a co-founder, that there would be no doubt that I was an integral part of Bebo’s successes. I knew a lot of people were going to think I was crazy for leaving the #1 social networking company for this no-name business, but that’s what I did.
We spent the first six months re-architecting it as a social networking site and then launched it. It took about another six months to get some traction and once we got some traction, it just took off. A lot of the things I had learned from working at NBCi and Friendster about how to plan for success and what to avoid came in very handy. And the Birches’ viral growth skills and all the lessons that they had learned from their past failed and successful internet ventures came in very handy as well. We were off to the races!
You have mentioned luck as a significant factor in determining the success or failure of a company. Can you please expand on that?
A lot of entrepreneurs do not like to hear this, but luck plays a major role in the successful outcome of any business. It’s frustrating for entrepreneurs because it’s not something we can control. Bebo was the luckiest company for which I have ever worked. We were a great team with incredible engineering and product skills. And we created some great features that no one else had. Talent, great ideas, execution are critical for success. Without it, startups won’t succeed. But, it’s not sufficient for success—you need a lot of good luck for the significant successful outcomes. At Bebo, there were a lot of things that could have been huge disasters, but fortunately were not. And there were things out of the blue that went really well for the company.
Here are my two favorite stories. Early on with social networking, there was a lot of talk about security. MySpace was so ‘wild wild west’ that it gave the entire industry a bad reputation. You have kids, teenagers, young adults using these sites…the government was coming after us and we were all being subpoenaed. Bebo were the new kids on the block and were growing the fastest, so people were really looking at us. We did things differently on security.
A year after launch, we had about a million customers and were doing almost a billion page views. Bebo was the largest social network in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and we were #3 in the US. We received a call from The Breakfast Show in the UK, which is like Good Morning America. It was a huge opportunity for us, and so we said yes. We did not have a public relations firm handling this, so our CEO Michael showed up without any idea what they are going to talk about. The first question was: “How are you going to protect my children from these sex addicts who are on your website?” Michael handled it very well. They had a government leader on the show whose role was to hammer Michael with these questions. They turned to her and asked: “So what do you think, don’t you think that Bebo is the worst place for kids?” And she said: “Actually, no, I was on it last night and I think they do a very nice job of protecting kids.” A huge collective sigh of relief overcame us at that comments. I called Michael right after the show and told him to go hire her. Michael was thinking along the same lines and had lunch with her after the show. And that’s how Dr. Rachel O’Connel became Bebo’s Chief Security Officer.
Here’s another favorite Good Luck story. The number one issue for all the social networks as we were growing in unprecedented customer numbers, especially back then and even today, is performance. Performance was one of the main reasons that myspace and facebook overtook Friendster as the #1 social networking site. If you want more details on this and you can read my Top Ten Reasons why Friendster Failed and Facebook won the battle of the social networks post on www.mavenventures.com
From the beginning, we focused on performance at Bebo. We chose Oracle database over the cutting edge technology at the time, which was MySQL. We knew Oracle would scale until MySQL got its act together. Incidentally, Friendster was a key reason for MySQL’s successes—they learned from all of Friendster’s woes and sold for a billion while Friendster languished. Another lesson learned – avoid the bleeding edge technology if you are the industry pioneer.
Oracle allowed Bebo to grow to be a very big business, but eventually we hit a wall with Oracle and our site performance slowed substantially. I immediately contacted a friend who happened to be a senior executive at Oracle who helped us call people throughout the organization. We were told that the only person they believed could solve the problem was a ‘genius consultant’ in the U.K. By this time, the site had been down for 24 hours, which was a disaster. If this continued for two or three more days, it would have been a disaster and could have been the start of the end for Bebo.
We contacted this consultant and he said first, you cannot afford me, and second, I am too busy. We were crestfallen. That was around midnight, and we were wondering what we were going to do. The next morning the site was still down, and we got an email from him. He said he had taken a look at the issue, he thought he knew how to fix it, and that it would take him a couple of hours. We were stunned. He fixed it! So what happened? He later shared with us that at dinner that night, his daughter had complained about Bebo being slow. She was really upset that she could not communicate with her friends. He told her that he had just spoken with Bebo founder earlier that day and he had asked him to help. She told him that if he did not fix the problem that night, she would leave the family. So he fixed it.
You have to have the 10% essence of smarts, right team, great idea, great product, and execution. Without that you cannot succeed. But that 90% bubble around it is good luck and timing. Friendster was incredibly unlucky. Bebo was incredibly lucky.
What other advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
It is absolutely critical that you be passionate about what you are doing. If you are not, don’t do it. Life is too short and you will not be successful. Find something else you are passionate about, because you are going to have to work really hard. You are going to have ups and downs, and the downs are so depressing that you must have that passion to persevere.
I left Bebo to become an Entrepreneur in Residence at Charles River Ventures, a very successful venture firm based in Silicon Valley and Boston. I had an idea that I was passionate about and I was working on the term sheet for $10M when the Bebo acquisition was finally announced. The $850M exit was a life-changing event for me and sticking to my values, I decided that instead of starting something right away, I needed to take some time off. Spend some time with the family and recharge. I thought it was important to pause and celebrate, because otherwise you can lose sight of why you are doing this.
So around the time you had the $10M term sheet in hand, Bebo was acquired by AOL for $850M and you asked yourself: “Do I really want to go bang my head against a wall and have tunnel vision and make a lot of personal sacrifices…”?
It was not “Do I really want to do this?” I realized that I physically could not do it. You need the fire in the belly to take on such a venture and I had lost some of that fire just at that moment. The Charles River Ventures partners were amazing and they completely understood and they appreciated my honesty. Fortunately, they asked me to stick around and help them vet deals and bring in deal flow. I was able to work with great visionaries in the social media, consumer, mobile venture industry. George Zachary (who’s funded such great companies as Twitter and Yamer) and Bill Tai (Tango) were great to learn from and work with, as well as Saar Gur (a junior partner at the time). After a while, I realized that I enjoyed helping out and mentoring some of the startups that I met as an EIR at CRV, and that I had sufficient experience as an operator of many startups that I actually had some insights to offer. Several companies offered me stock options to advise them, and others offered generous packages to join as CEO or COO. I left CRV grateful for the chance to learn about this business and founded my own angel investment and mentor capital business in 2008, Maven Ventures. Some I chose to invest in or consult to, and that led to a lot of my portfolio today. I’ve made 10 investments to date and have been fortunate to have had 3 exits so far, 2 of them to Google. I have been focused on the mobile sector since 2008 and a few of my startups have seen significant growth, like Tango, the leading mobile video call service, which has reached 60 million members in 2 years. And, Pageonce, the leading financial management app with over 7 million members in the US. And, banjo (2 Million members) and Zoom, my most recent investment, which will revolutionize group video calling. Walt Mossberg wrote a rave review of the product for launch. I’m always on the lookout for the next amazing technology, service, product that will change the world like social networking did. I’m still very focused on mobile computing as we’re in the early stages of everything going mobile and there will be many more great opportunities here.
I see a lot of great creative ideas that are on the cutting edge, but too far out in front. If you are too early, you will create the market for someone else to succeed. This can be hard for good entrepreneurs, but the difference between the successful startup and the failed one is simply timing.
How does Maven Ventures differ from other angel and venture firms?
First, I haven’t raised any outside money…I’ve been approached by many folks to explore this, but have decided that for now, I’m enjoying the flexibility of investing my own money in the amount and time that I want to. If I raise outside funds, there’s obviously different pressures of investing other people’s money. Second, I invest my time as well as money. I rarely only put $ into a company. I also invest my time working with the Founders and exec team often up to a day per week in the office for up to a year. For this work, I get compensated in equity. I call this Mentor Capital. I find that often this is really helpful for the CEO who appreciates having me as a sounding board for ideas or issues that they are facing. They sometimes choose not share some raw data with their board or major investors because it might create more problems in just asking the questions. And, they often can’t speak openly about everything to their employees. In many respects, I act as a CEO coach in helping them make tough decisions. I also help with fundraising and connecting entrepreneurs to my extensive network in Silicon Valley. And, I love helping out on the product, UI/UX, Viral Marketing & PR strategies as well as monetization. I can help with everything but sitting down and coding. For more information on Maven Ventures, see my CEO testimonials
And on my linkedin page: www.linkedin.com/in/jscheinman
I actively tweet on Silicon Valley Startups and Entrepreneurs’ issues, you can follow me @jimscheinman
How have your Duke education and the Duke alumni network tied into your career?
I’m certainly grateful for my Duke education and the marketing power the Duke brand has had for my career, in addition to the amazing basketball that one of my ideals, Coach K, has provided for me and my family over the years! At Duke you learn how to learn and how to apply yourself. That is critical for an entrepreneur. I’m glad that I choose a variety of classes at Duke that I would never get to take or learn about later like music and art appreciation. And, I took some classes in finance at the Fuqua School of Business when I was there, which were very helpful.
I love connecting with fellow Duke Almuni in my industry—there’s definitely an instant connection there. It’s not happening enough, but it’s certainly happening more often these days. I’m also excited to be working with the amazing team at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation as we spread the power of Duke to Silicon Valley and beyond. The leadership at Duke gets it: to be relevant for the next 100 years, a leading University must have a core program in entrepreneurism, innovation and startups. Stanford has been leading the way on this, and I’m delighted to see that Duke is now making concerted efforts at building momentum here as well. I look forward to the day where I can help mentor Duke Students who are working a semester abroad here at a new ‘Silicon Valley Startup-house!’