Five Essential Lessons Learned From Stanford Graduate School of Business Entrepreneurs

Five alumni entrepreneurs from Stanford Graduate School of Business offer key tips for building a great business

Long known as a vibrant environment for aspiring entrepreneurs, Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB) immerses its students in the fundamentals of business and innovation — and those fundamentals in turn serve as a springboard for students who decide to pursue their own ventures.

What many of these business founders have in common is a desire to share their practical experiences — inspired by the lessons learned at Stanford — about what it takes to succeed. They are featured in an editorial series called Entrepreneurial Intelligence, in which Stanford GSB alumni share the highs, lows, and key insights they have gleaned along their respective entrepreneurial paths.

Here are just five of their key tips about building a great business.

1. Don’t be afraid to jump in.

“I meet so many individuals who have great plans, but they take way too long to do anything about them. Just put something out there. It will be imperfect. The real work is in figuring out how to make it better. Wake up each day and say, ‘Now what?’”

— Jessica Jackley (MBA ’07), Cofounder of Kiva

2. Figure out if anybody cares about what you are doing first.

“It can be exciting to start a business but I have wasted a lot of time building businesses around solutions to problems no one else thinks are worth paying for. You should start by saying, I have a hypothesis, and then go out and get feedback. Don’t stop or get paralyzed when you get your first ‘no,’ but listen to the underlying reasons. Let people react to the hypothesis.”

— Denise Brosseau (MBA ’93), CEO of Thought Leadership Lab

3. Be mission-driven and authentically connected to what you do.

“The first and most relevant thing I can say is that being an entrepreneur must be your calling. It sounds lofty and grand but building a business takes so much commitment and effort. Only if you love it can you levitate yourself over the obstacles that stand in the way of creating a business.”

— Jessica Herrin, Founder of Stella & Dot

4. Look for cofounders you can spar with productively.

“It’s like getting married. You want to find someone who brings to the table skills you don’t have, but who is not so different that you have different core values. You have to be able to be brutally honest with each other and then heal from it.”

— Ian Kazi Shakil (MBA ’12), Cofounder of Augmedix

5. Align a winning culture with a sense of purpose.

“Define winning so that it has a sense of purpose. Great people are more compelled by a great purpose than by making money or being part of a new trend. If you can align a winning culture with a sense of purpose, you can attract the best people and build a place where people are proud to work and where they enjoy working with each other.”

— James Gutierrez (MBA ’05), Founder of Progreso Financiero

About Entrepreneurship at Stanford GSB
The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) at Stanford Graduate School of Business was founded in 1996 to address the need for greater understanding of the issues faced by entrepreneurial individuals and companies. Today, it serves as the hub for research and case development, curriculum development, and student programs in the areas of entrepreneurship and venture capital. It also supports alumni and students engaged in entrepreneurial pursuits.

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Approximately 99 percent of Stanford GSB students take at least one course in entrepreneurship, courses that are taught by the business school’s world-renowned faculty in partnership with some of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The tools the students take away from these courses are relevant not only in the startup environment, but also within the context of larger organizations.

To complement these efforts, CES launched the Stanford Venture Studio in 2012. The Venture Studio is a learning facility for Stanford graduate students — across all disciplines — who want to learn about designing and creating ventures by testing what they are learning in the classroom. Resident entrepreneurs apply to work in the space with their teams, and the broader Stanford community is invited to participate in workshops and advising sessions on critical startup topics such as the patent process, marketing strategies, and hiring.

SOURCE: Stanford Graduate School of Business