Zuckerberg, Kutcher share startup wisdom

Nov. 1, 2011, 2:25 a.m.

On Saturday, approximately 800 students and entrepreneurs gathered in Dinkelspiel Auditorium for Startup School 2011, according to Ruby Lee ’13, vice president of finance for the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES), which sponsored the event along with the venture capitalist firm Y Combinator.

Students from around the country came to hear a panel of entrepreneurial experts speak-from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Ashton Kutcher to Zynga founder Mark Pincus, according to the event website. When Zuckerberg asked all those in the auditorium not from Silicon Valley to raise their hands, nearly half of the audience had their hands raised.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Ning and Netscape, James Lindenbaum, co-founder of Heroku and Startup School alumnus, and Jim Goetz, venture capitalist and founder of VitalSigns, were the first speakers on the agenda.

After a short intermission, Kutcher took the stage and talked about his entrepreneurial pursuits, bringing up an anecdote about unsung marketing genius Carl Fisher.

When asked by a member of the audience whether the legacy of his products motivates him, he answered, “I don’t give a shit about legacy at all. I want to change people’s lives.”

An undergraduate from the University of Pennsylvania, David Wang flew in the night before to attend the Startup School.

“I thought he was just an actor,” Wang said about Kutcher. “But when he talked about his business, he was really captivating.”

Kutcher was followed by Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic, the company behind the WordPress blogging platform, and Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga, which produced FarmVille.

After lunch, Paul Graham, founder of Viaweb and co-founder of Y Combinator, held quick discussions with members of potential startups on stage, listening to their business plans and giving them advice.

Zuckerberg spoke following Graham. In his on-stage interview, when asked about what he might have done differently, Zuckerberg said that in retrospect, he might have wanted to start Facebook in Boston as opposed to coming to Silicon Valley.

“There are aspects of the culture out here where it still is a little bit of short-term focus in a way that bothers me,” Zuckerberg said. “I think there’s a culture out here where people just don’t commit to doing things.”

Stephen Cohen, a Stanford B.S. ’05 and co-founder of Palantir, took the stage next and talked about his experience working on data management for the government. After another short break, Max Levchin, co-founder of Slide and PayPal, made a speech on the importance and difficulties of finding a co-founder.

Ron Conway, an angel investor working with Y Combinator, then talked about the startups with which he has collaborated and gave tips to up-and-coming startups.

Dropbox founder Drew Houston concluded the event.

The presentations were followed by mingling between the speakers and start-up hopefuls in Old Union.

The talks were live-streamed on Justin.tv and have received over 2 million views.

Karthik Viswanathan ’15 said he thought the Startup School was very inspiring and is considering getting more involved in the future.

“I was able to connect a lot to all the founders that they had talking,” Viswanathan said. “And I think the best part about it really was the fact that the founders tried to make everything they were talking about very relatable to everyone in the auditorium.”

Rob Yates, a first-time attendee of the Startup School and a graduate student in computer science at Stanford, echoed what many of the speakers emphasized in their speeches.

“Lots of people don’t plan what they end up doing,” Yates said. “It’s the same thing with Mark Zuckerberg. He didn’t really start out wanting to make a company.”


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