By Tom Quach
For any student searching for a final push to act on their startup idea, Netflix co-founder and ex-CEO Marc Randolph said, “You can start your own small business this afternoon.”
Randolph, along with 17 other guest speakers, headlined Stanford’s Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES) 23rd Global Entrepreneurship Summit last weekend. Due to the pandemic, ASES’s Summit Directing team presented their first-ever virtual event.
From April 15 to 16, the summit welcomed over 600 students from around the globe to listen to prominent leaders in social tech, according to summit co-directors Emily Yuan ’23 and Niral Patel ’23.
In addition to Netflix’s Randolph, ASES hosted multiple key players in the entrepreneurship community for fireside chats, including Poshmark’s Manish Chandra, Internalized Capital’s Garry Tan ’03, Quora’s Adam D’Angelo and Zūm’s Ritu Narayan M.B.A. ’14 — all founders and leaders of their respective startups.
This year’s theme was titled “Entrepreneurship Around The World.”
“We wanted to expose our delegates to founders and speakers who have had experience building companies or investing not just in Silicon Valley, but also globally,” Yuan said.
While only a couple dozen international students were invited to Stanford’s campus for the ordinarily in-person summit in previous years, this year was different. The virtual format offered free access to students interested in learning about innovation through networking, pitching and workshopping.
In their hour-long conversations the keynote speakers highlighted key insights they gained over decades of experience.
Tan encouraged aspiring student entrepreneurs to look into a specific niche that they enjoy and become an expert of it. “Right now, pick a skill or set of skills that does not feel like work to you,” he said. “By doing that, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
He explained the two stages of successful startups: first, laying out and “catching” one-of-a-kind ideas — which he called “lightning in a bottle” — and second, determining how to build out the project and scale up. The second phase is most important, Tan added, noting that many companies fail when they lose the “lightning” to competition or decline in customer interest.
Randolph urged college students searching for raw hands-on experience in tech business growth to consider staying away from jobs at big tech companies.
“Work at a startup, but I don’t mean Google or Facebook or Uber,” Randolph said. “Find a company which has not yet found a product-market fit and help the CEO get the business off the ground. You will see that it is grueling.”
“You can learn how to be an entrepreneur at any place you live right now,” he added. Randolph said motivated entrepreneurs can make a full-fledged website in a couple of hours by setting up shop on Shopify, accepting payments with Stripe or PayPal, and storing data on Amazon Web Services (AWS) — far easier than in the past, where it could take six months and over $2 million to construct a website.
“Be your own business person and start trying to solve some unique problems on your own and see how you feel about that,” Randolph said.
Jake Chao ’22, an ASES co-president, moderated the discussion with Randolph, and told The Daily that a nugget he gained was that aspiring entrepreneurs should first identify problems that need to be addressed. By doing so, new ideas will always be available.
According to Chao, Randolph captured the essence of teamwork with a growth mindset. His favorite take away from the CEO was his advice on communication: “‘When talking to your teammates and others, especially those that might disagree with you, ‘Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong,’” Chao recounted.
To facilitate virtual interaction between participants, ASES ran the event on RunTheWorld, a platform that specializes in hosting digital meetings and speaking engagements.
Multiple features, ranging from reaction emojis to direct messaging among students, enabled viewers to engage with the student moderators and spotlighted guests. The platform also offered multiple networking sessions, randomly assigning attendees to five-minute, one-on-one interactions with other participants.
“I was able to meet and learn more about some of the attendees,” Yuan said. “It was incredible hearing about their life story and ideas, and how they ended up at the summit.”
“Many of the delegates shared that they woke up at 3 or 4 a.m., or stayed up really late to attend,” ASES co-president Trinity Donohugh ’22 added. “This was definitely a more challenging year to build community among the delegates, but the educational element was impeccable.”
Matthew He, an investment director at FrontRow Ventures, participated in an evening “Student VC” panel, featuring five current students and venture capital advisors who discussed what pursuing startups during one’s collegiate years entails. One student asked if it was necessary to drop out in order to become a student entrepreneur. He, along with the other panelists, all agreed that the answer was a resounding “absolutely not.”
Acting as a student and CEO or founder of a startup is not exclusive, he said. People can be both and still achieve success.
He also hoped to share his international perspective with other attendees and leave with entrepreneurial takeaways that would inspire peers back home: “In Canada, this [startup mindset in young adults] is still very rare,” he noted. “We are working to educate the community that it is a real possibility to be an entrepreneur at the age of 21 or 22, wherever you are in life.”
When asked about next year’s summit, Yuan felt that this year’s virtual design left a mark for future planning on this important annual multi-day event.
“Next year, the summit will hopefully be in person, but we hope that there is still some way for us to make it accessible to a wider audience as well.”