The Hogwarts of Silicon Valley

Michael Arrington’s move to these parts has reignited the old debate about what Seattle has to offer as an alternative to Silicon Valley. But the point isn’t just to say what is genuinely different and good about Seattle, but also to figure out what ideas and institutional characteristics we can take from Silicon Valley so we can one day be better.

And if I could take one thing from the Valley, it would be Stanford. It’s not that Stanford students are so brilliant, though they are. It’s that they naturally assume the cantaloupe you were slicing is just for them, that the rules of our Matrix can be bent or broken to suit their fancy, that they can start a company as easily as you or I could eat a bag of chips. It’s an amazing aura. It is a way I’ve always wanted to be.

At a colloquium this Tuesday hosted by the University of Washington computer science department, we talked about what we can learn from Stanford to develop our local computer scientists into entrepreneurs. Most of the entrepreneurs in Seattle are folks like me on our second go-round, or MBAs focused as much on business models as on products. Those folks are great, but we need some young turks fresh from the UW to shake things up a bit too.

Here’s the preso, with some narration added in parentheses to each slide.
[slideshare id=4205034&doc=neverworkforastanfordstudentagain-100521132648-phpapp01]
And here’s a run-down of the ideas in the presentation; some are for students, some for faculty, some for VCs, some for startups.

  1. Dorms & clubs: lots of folks at UW commute or live in a fraternity. It’s easier to talk all night about an idea in a dorm, and you’re more likely to meet co-founders. For as long as you can stand the food, live in a dorm.
  2. Mentorship: every would-be entrepreneur in UW’s CS department should hook up with a mentor in the Seattle community.
  3. Brashness: I don’t know how to teach our polite young folks at UW brashness, and I’m not sure I want to, but a good entrepreneur needs a dash of Zuckerberg, too.
  4. Electives:  Stanford students are different from Cal Tech graduates. They occasionally enroll in a philosophy or drama class. It really helps later in life.
  5. Fun classes: Sure it wasn’t technically novel, but Stanford’s Facebook class got everyone excited about coding. UW could do the same with Amazon’s cloud or Real’s music.
  6. Competitions: UW’s business-plan competitions are fantastic, but student hackathons also appeal to engineers, particularly if judged by bigshots like Jonathan Sposato or Mark Vadon.
  7. Internships: UW students may prefer the safety of Microsoft or Google for permanent employment, but why not give a startup a shot for a summer internship?
  8. VCs: I’ve long wondered if UW graduates could sign up for a two-year gig at a VC’s entire portfolio, learning social marketing at TeachStreet, user interface design at Redfin, architecture at Apptio, product management at Animoto. It would be the ultimate entrepreneurship boot-camp.

No matter how many academic breakthroughs emerge from UW, nothing will draw the best and brightest from around the country than producing our own Jerry Yang or Larry Page.

Many thanks to UW’s Oren Etzioni for hosting us, and to the UW students for coming out. We had a lot of fun.


  • joesunga

    I think there's everything that's necessary here in Seattle to do A LOT of the things you've mentioned in the post. I came from the UW Business School, and am pretty proud to come of the Entrepreneurship program. We were able to work on building a business, getting sales, evolving…etc in a span of 6 months.

    Now what would have been amazing is if we were able to pair up with folks in the Infomatics or CS schools, a lot could spur out of that. I've been trying to push more collaboration here just because I come from a tech startup myself (go TeachStreet, and thanks for mentioning us) and I know how valuable developers are. It's great to see more entrepreneurs growing here and I hope it doesn't stop.

    Congrats on the Seattle 2.0 Awards — good stuff!

    • GlennKelman

      The entrepreneurship program is definitely leading the way at UW Joe. And I couldn't agree more: GO TEACHSTREET!

  • sheynkman

    Why do most speeches you give to the student populace of your home town turn into an ever so slight, underdoggy, bashing of Stanford University?
    Not all of us arrogant Stanford alums had a fortune handed to us on a silver platter. Some of us actually worked hard, GOT INTO Stanford, and CHOSE that school because it was the best place to study. Because graduating from Stanford taught us a lot more than math (that's MIT) or street know-how. And if one of the things learned is a sense of confidence and self-determination (which you seem to dub “entitlement”) so be it.
    It is that sense of confidence that makes entrepreneurs want to try being entrepreneurs. However, while there is always a lot of luck associated with any business venture, it is often sheer brain power and sense of destiny that tips the odds ever so slightly in one's favor. That's why when hiring (or investing) I favor a population where the selection has been partially performed by the admissions office and the professors at the school. Granted, not 100% accurate, but, as you know, investing is a game of statistics and a Black Sholes risk and volatility adjusted return. It's not love, faith, or giddy belief in the underdog. (Oh my God, you can't be saying that some people are smarter than other… well, yes I can, I'm not your mom).
    And, by the way, Goldman Sachs is a great place to work, if you can get in, despite the fact that Balnkfein is 100% Harvard. Hmm… reminds me of the old “We got in” chant we used to do at Cal and USC games. That certainly instilled a sense of arrogance, at least in the 1980's.
    I guess I am helping you make a point… at some stage in life you have to sound and act like an arrogant ass to try starting a company. You have to look at the old f..s across the table from you and say, without batting an eye… “I AM better than everyone around me, you included.” And if other schools want to teach students how to do that, Stanford indeed, has a lot of lessons to offer.

    • GlennKelman

      Couldn't have said it better myself Dutch. A sense of entitlement isn't always a bad thing…

  • Daniel Howard

    As an Illinois grad, I read “UW” as Wisconsin, but more power to you.

    As a Silicon Valley denizen, I like the MIT kids better than the Harvard or Stanford kids.

    I also liked your slide show and I have a crush on RedFin. Good luck!!

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