By Eli Wallace
Eli is a senior majoring in history and minoring in business institutions in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He participated in the 2017 Startup and Technology Career Trek in San Francisco.
Andy Linder organized and led our visit to LinkedIn. He is a Northwestern alumnus who graduated from Medill in 2016. Andy works in sales for LinkedIn’s Global Leadership Program, and has worked there for a year.
The main event during our LinkedIn visit was a panel discussion and Q & A with six LinkedIn employees. Andy led the panel, and four of the remaining five were all Northwestern graduates. The sixth member was a recruiter. After the panel, Andy took us all to LinkedIn’s rooftop terrace where we had photo ops and many enjoyed LinkedIn’s free snacks.
Insider’s insight: A member of the sales team told us that 2/3 of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from enterprise sales.
Biggest takeaway: Create an effective LinkedIn account. Students and professionals can attract real opportunities from their LinkedIn presence. Surprisingly—or not surprisingly at all—Andy was recruited for his job via LinkedIn. The more personal, current, and polished your profile is, the more likely you are to attract opportunities.
Sutter Hill Ventures
Sam Pullara spoke to our group at Sutter Hill Ventures. He enrolled in a physics PhD program at Northwestern in the mid-1990s, but left during his first year to pursue his interests in computers and technology. Sam spent about half an hour sharing his background with the group, and an hour fielding our questions.
Insider’s insight: Sutter Hill Ventures is one of the country’s oldest venture capital firms.
Biggest takeaway: There is no standard route to becoming a venture capitalist. Sam started off in a physics PhD program in Chicago, and ended up as a technology specialist, entrepreneur, and now venture capitalist. The common thread amongst Sam and others is that they pursued their interests and said yes to attractive opportunities.
David Shull and Alex Amerling spoke to us at Handshake. David was the fourth person to join Handshake after the three co-founders. Alex was the company’s first real employee. The two of them spent half of our time together telling us the exciting story of Handshake’s founding, and the other half answering our questions.
Insider’s insight: Hollywood depictions of startup founders are more accurate than you think. David and about seven others on the original team spent the earliest days of the company traveling around the country in an old, beat up Ford to sales and investor pitches, and working out of a rented house in Silicon Valley.
Biggest takeaway: The best ideas come from solutions to problems. The founder of Handshake came up with the idea after experiencing firsthand how difficult it could be getting good jobs from lesser known universities. He originally started by using the expertise he had gained from job recruiting to help his friends get jobs. After graduating, he decided to take a leap of faith and start a company doing it.
At Pinterest, we got a tour of the office, and spoke with a panel of employees who were Northwestern alumni.
Insider’s insight: Pinterest has a giant pin made of Legos in their building.
Biggest takeaway: Take opportunities when they come your way. Many of the alumni that spoke to us were not from San Francisco, but went there when they had the opportunity to work at Pinterest. Most of them are happy for doing so.
We were lucky enough to have one of the three co-founders of Thumbtack, Sander Daniels, speak to us. He spoke about his personal background, the early days of the company, and then thoughtfully answered the many questions we had for him.
Insider’s insight: Although Thumbtack is a software company, none of the three co-founders come from technical backgrounds. Sander graduated from Yale Law School, and the other two co-founders have a background in politics.
Biggest takeaway: “It’s important to have civic minded founders.” –Sander Daniels. Sander and his two co-founders began brainstorming ideas not necessarily to start a company, but to start an organization that would have a sizable impact on the world around them. Sander’s and Thumbtack’s story was a reminder of the importance of looking to serve others as opposed to only thinking of yourself.
The panel was held at Northwestern’s beautiful San Francisco campus. Andy Linder, Zack Moy, Jo Lee, Avy Faingezicht, and Michael Krakaris spoke to us. They shared with us their backgrounds, answered questions, and spoke with us individually after the panel discussion. They were all fairly recent graduates (within about 5 years out). Despite their youth, two out of the five had started companies, and one had just sold his company two weeks before speaking to us.
Insider’s insight: While the panel members certainly valued their academic education from Northwestern, they credited extracurricular activities and experiences for teaching them skills that were most applicable to their careers. For example, Avy worked internships during the school year after his manager at a summer internship told him he was deficient in important computer skills. Avy ultimately got a job at Apple upon graduating.
Biggest takeaway: Very little in Silicon Valley is predictable. Two of the five panel members had started companies. One was 27 and the other was just 23. This would be seen as unusual in most environments, but in Silicon Valley, it is common. Silicon Valley is not the best place to go for one looking for a traditional career path. But if someone is comfortable with uncertainty along with opportunity, it’s a great place to be.
Facebook and Instagram
Our last visit of the trek was to Facebook and Instagram’s campus. There was a panel discussion and a tour of the sprawling campus afterwards. Just about anything one would need could be found there: several restaurants, a dentist’s office, an arcade, and much more.
Insider’s insight: There were only eight people on the team that built the Instagram Stories feature. Many entrepreneurs look at a large, successful company like Facebook and believe it’s almost impossible to compete with it. In reality, only so many resources and attention are allocated to any given project. It was the responsibility of eight people to create a competing product to Snapchat.
Biggest takeaway: It’s possible to find an entrepreneurial environment in a large, mature company. Despite the fact that over 17,000 people work at Facebook, everyone on the panel spoke of their ability to work on the things that interested them most, and with a relatively high degree of autonomy. If freedom to run is what someone is looking for, there may be more options than what they’d initially expect.
The San Francisco Startup and Technology Trek was an incredible learning experience. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been exposed to so much valuable information and such impressive people in such a small time period—just two and a half days. We saw software companies and venture capital firms, companies in their infancy and mature companies like Pinterest, and we even got to speak with the co-founder of a billion dollar startup. The trek gave me a firsthand perspective on something I had only read about before—the startup and technology environment in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
Going into the trek, I was deciding between accepting a job offer I received in San Francisco, or asking the firm to give me an offer in Chicago. My mind was made up to accept the San Francisco offer before my plane had landed in Chicago after the trek. My decision was largely informed by this trip to San Francisco. It may be possible that this trek changes the trajectory of my life. I hope that future students find it as valuable as I did.