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Alumni Advice: Evan Macmillan ’09, CEO of Gridspace

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Name: Evan Macmillan 

Stanford Graduating Class: 2009

Major: Product Design 

Current Job: CEO at Gridspace

“Siri, play Rockstar by DaBaby,” I say while making a lasagna with my mum. I’m sure many of you reading this have ordered Siri to play music, games or to find something for you. Speech technology is becoming an increasingly large presence in our lives.

Let’s meet one man on the cusp of this emerging field: Evan Macmillan. He is the CEO of Gridspace, a company pioneering the latest speech technology. Gridspace engineers novel software that “understands customer requests, synchronizes agent responses and drives successful outcomes,” according to its website. The company handles billions of minutes per year and has integration partners like Amazon, Cisco and Google. This Stanford alum will reveal how he and his company have gained such success, answering questions like: what does Stanford not prepare you for? And what advice would you give your younger self? Without further ado, let’s meet the man on the cutting edge of machine intelligence. 

1. What do you do?

“My early goal was to be part of an early team important in infrastructure technology. I founded Gridspace, a company working on speech technology. I am so excited to work on speech because it is the future interface and the most natural interface of communication. I am privileged to be part of the new construction project.”

2. What jobs and experiences have led to your present position?

“I always worked at Stanford. I worked at 555 University Avenue and on my own software projects. But I also went to sports games, adventure vacations — sometimes during class, sometimes not! What they don’t tell you at Stanford is that you can do whatever you want academically, and you probably will still graduate and live your life. I took this to heart very early on in my Stanford journey and thought about class differently. You’ve got to understand, more than class: gain a diversity of experiences and jobs through Stanford.

“Many kids I interview have never actually had to talk about what they are interested in and how they want to do things in an unstructured way.”

3. What would you describe as the biggest hurdle that you have had to overcome on your road to success that Stanford did not prepare you for? 

“Stanford doesn’t prepare you for rejection. Everyone is wearing that red hoodie and you feel like part of the club and that everything is going to be okay. It is going to be okay. But the experience is full of ups and downs. When you get into the real world, and you were this amazing Stanford student, the world doesn’t care. They only care about what you have done. You have to prove yourself over and over again. This where you can get rejected. A lot. Maybe 80 percent of things might not work out. Stanford doesn’t condition you for this. Stanford conditions you to solve pretty precise solutions, with no rejection component. I had to develop a thick shell.”

4. If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently? What advice would you give your younger Stanford self?

“Graduates want to make the best decision, but you have no idea what the wrong turn or the right turn is. You will make some turn and you won’t know the magnitude yet. The heat energy expended worrying is just not worth it… You are going to be fine. Always believe that, and you will be fine.”

5. What are the most significant dissatisfactions and challenges connected with your occupation? 

One of the incredible things about California is that you can go with an idea and make a product happen. But on the other hand, it’s a place where you may not feel that great all the time because the bar is set so high. And it’s getting higher and higher.

“You have to accept that you can’t be the best of the best all the time. Stanford is a very special place for working with special groups of people and an environment where you can forget there is value in not being the best.”

6. What would you say to someone considering entrepreneurship? Do you have any special words of encouragement or warning as a result of your experiences?

“There has been so much said about entrepreneurship, so many books written and podcasts made. But for me, the best advice was never at that level of abstraction, reading some article in a generic way. Life is messy, people are messy, situations are messy. There is no playbook. When I had challenges, I would weigh people’s advice — people who knew me and had gone through similar experiences.

“Find friends that are older, successful entrepreneurs and if you are lucky they will begin to shape you. And that is the best thing that could possibly happen to you! Otherwise, try and put yourself in situations where you can be mentored. Join a start-up with only a few people. In other words, find people who can give you real feedback, and be confident to screen that feedback and apply it to your life. After Stanford, you’ve got to go and find your next set of teachers.”

One of our readers, could be the next Evan Macmillan – destined to shape and disrupt an industry as he has done. So, 

  • Network to try and find older entrepreneurs that can mentor and guide you. What network can you harness? What start-up can you get involved with this summer?
  • Prepare to prove yourself over and over again. How can you prove yourself in these changing times?
  • Exploration begins outside the classroom. Where will you go beyond the lecture halls to explore the industry of your choice and gain new skills?

Contact Emily Broadhurst at ebroad23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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