Evan Ryan, GradTech Club 1st Year Representative, shares key takeaways from his experience on Tech Trek
Over winter break, Professor John Gallaugher led twenty-four Boston College MBA students – including myself – on the field study portion of Graduate Tech Trek West. The class uses the tech industry as a platform to study entrepreneurship, innovation, management, and competition. Over the course of nine days, the field study took us to twenty technology companies in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco. The companies that we visited include both tech industry titans like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, as well as startups such as ThredUP and WePay.
I came away from the field study with a wealth of new knowledge and insight, but three of my key takeaways are as follow:
Boston College is a big player in the technology industry. When I first started my MBA at Boston College, I wasn’t aware of just how strongly represented Boston College is in the Tech Industry. Almost all of our twenty visits were hosted by BC alumni, many of whom themselves took Professor Gallaugher’s Tech Trek class. Not only are Eagles joining the biggest names in tech, but they are also founding some of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley. I was lucky enough to attend an event for BC alumni in the San Francisco area and got to see firsthand how supportive and welcoming the community is to Eagles looking to move out west.
Online payments are very, very hard. A recurring theme in many of the companies we visited on the field study is that online payments were very difficult. Even companies like Apple, Starbucks, and WePay, who have had a great deal of success, have had to overcome tremendous obstacles to accomplish something that seems somewhat straightforward to an outsider. The primary hurdles include security and government regulations. Security is paramount because even one incident could cause the public to lose trust in the company, which could cause its downfall. Government regulation is difficult because each state has different financial laws and these get even more complicated as the service expands internationally. That being said, BC alums have had an incredible amount of success in payments. Bill Clerico and Rich Aberman, co-founders of online payments services provider WePay, are former Eagles who have found great success, processing billions in payments each year and driving some of the most successful online marketplaces. Additionally, Colleen Kreyling (BC MBA) has been an integral part of Starbuck’s mobile payment efforts – the most successful mobile payments platform in retail.
The venture capital-start-up relationship is a lot like a marriage. We saw this from both sides of the relationship, as we visited many venture-backed companies, as well as a VC firm. My group asked many questions about how the venture process happened, and what I heard surprised me. VCs, while interested in the businesses, care a great deal about the founders. They have found that founders tend to have a certain charisma and confidence that is essential as a start-up goes through its cycles of ups and downs. Similarly, venture-backed companies care about the people at the VC firms, not just the name on the door. The VC-company relationship is initiated with the long haul in mind (exit events typically take 7 to 10 years for successful companies). Each just wants to be in a relationship with people they believe in and feel comfortable with, hence the frequent references to marriage.