What MBAs Do Visiting Silicon Valley

Tepper students got to take in some of Napa's local wineries. Courtesy photo

Tepper students got to take in some of Napa’s local wineries. Courtesy photo

‘THE THINGS THAT WILL SCREW YOU UP QUICKER THAN ANYTHING ELSE ARE PEOPLE’

In a 28th-story conference room with the Transamerica Pyramid outside one set of windows and Alcatraz Island out the others, the students received one of those valuable Tuesday meetings with Bouchard. After a stint with the Navy SEALs, Bouchard earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton and an MBA from Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Bouchard delved, with immense detail, into what he’s learned from a three-decade-long career in Silicon Valley and the struggles and pivots he’s made growing TrustedPeer over the past nearly five years. He spoke of the challenges that face entrepreneurs and the keys he has learned to success.

“It’s taken a couple of years to find the right market,” admitted Bouchard about growing TrustedPeer, a platform that allows companies to build “human capital” by forming an online network of peer experts. “It’s tough. You’ve got to keep pivoting, pivoting, pivoting until you find your market. Because you never know where it’s going to come from.”

As nuggets of advice surfaced, pens scraped across notepads. “You’ve got managerial expertise, but managerially, you’re going to run into things you’ve never seen before,” Bouchard said at one point, acknowledging his MBA and looking directly into the eyes of the MBAs scattered across the room. When one student asked Bouchard the most important lessons he’s learned over more than 30 years in and around the Bay Area’s tech and startup scene, the answer was one many in the room had gone to Tepper to solve.

“A company is people,” insisted Bouchard. “It doesn’t matter what the concept is. There are tons of great concepts. The concept isn’t enough. The execution part is it. And the things that will screw you up quicker than anything else are people.”

PLACING AN EMPHASIS ON DIVERSE, SKILLED TEAMS

For Tepper students, this seems to be part of the appeal for the relatively small full-time MBA program. Boni says a large draw to Carnegie Mellon is potential interactions with world-class programmers and developers. The necessity of developing a crack team of founders has been a constant discussion point for the group on the trip.

“We’ve had discussions with VCs and founders and by-and-large, the biggest failure is the team,” says Boni. “Out of the team, the market and the technology, the team is the most important part.”

Luckily, and these days intentionally, those deeply involved in Carnegie Mellon’s on-campus entrepreneurial networks are emphasizing and providing opportunities for cross-department collaborations. The university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a campus-wide center and transcends all departments. Likewise, Project Olympus rests in the beneath the umbrella of the center.

“People enter Tepper interested in learning more about technology and science,” Sahoo explains, noting the Graduate Entrepreneurship Club has emphasized diversity in programs and skill sets. “We definitely attract engineers. But at the same time, we draw students who have traditional business backgrounds but are interested in real world problems like transportation, or robotics and artificial intelligence. And there are a lot of startups coming out of CMU that are collaborations between the different departments.”

ZERO WOMEN HAVE TAKEN TRIP OVER PAST THREE YEARS

While the trip certainly seems to be beneficial to those on it, there is at least one noticeable gap–out of the 15 MBAs, not one is a woman. Boni says no women have taken the trip over the past three years but it is something they are working to fix. For those who have taken the trip, the connections have been invaluable.

“We’ve been able to immerse ourselves and talk to VCs and founders who have been there before and have done this before and have that entrepreneurial bug,” says Cardiff. “I can get their take on what I’m doing and understand the culture.”

For Boni, the out-of-classroom experience plays a massive role in hastening the entrepreneurial learning curve.

“We can teach so much in the classroom about what it takes to launch a successful company and build it, grow it, get it financed and build a team, etcetera,” Boni begins. “But until you really experience it personally through the kinds of discussions like we are having of understanding the marketplace and understanding what the need really is for the marketplace before you start building the product will save you a lot of time and energy.”

DON’T MISS: TEPPER BUILDING AN MBA TECH UPRISING or MEET CARNEGIE MELLON TEPPER’S CLASS OF 2017

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