West to Silicon Valley

My name is Alex Katz, and I’m a senior at UNC studying Management, Entrepreneurship, and Spanish. This summer I flew out to California for two incredible experiences: a full Silicon Valley immersion through the Duke in Silicon Valley program (DSV), and an eight-week internship with Vaynermedia; a social media consulting agency.Senior Alex Katz

I found out about the DSV program through the Minor in Entrepreneurship while taking Dr. Lowry Caudill and Dr. Joe DeSimone’s class on business venturing in science and high tech. Our class had the pleasure of hearing Kimberly Jenkins guest teach a class on her experiences in the early days of Microsoft and NeXT. After a captivating talk, Kimberly announced that she was piloting a program for Summer 2013 where Clay and Matt Christensen would adapt the Harvard Business School course on disruptive innovation and teach it on the Apple University campus in Cupertino. I rushed to apply.

Each day of DSV, we were shuttled to class from our group housing to spend two hours discussing Harvard Business School cases and ways in which we could apply the frameworks and theories from our textbook, The Innovator’s Solution, to solve the protagonists’ business problems. Sometimes after class we would have a guest speaker, other times we would do a site visit to companies like LinkedIn, Facebook, Sequoia Capital, and Google. On free afternoons, we would be shuttled back to our apartments where we would all sit by the pool and read the next day’s case together—anticipating the questions our professor would bring up the next day.

At the end of the program I wished many of my classmates goodbye as they flew back to the east coast. As the last of my friends left for the airport, I packed my things and moved one hour north to the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. For those unfamiliar with the Mission, as I was, the closest comparison I can make is Brooklyn, New York. The Mission is young and trendy, representing a mixture of different cultures, and very much still figuring itself out.

I began work with Vaynermedia on June 17 and was immediately thrown into the fast-paced and team-based agency environment. I went through several

Google Hangouts with leaders in the New York office and sessions with each team member in the San Francisco office to fully orient myself with the company. I learned that Vaynermedia’s goal is to humanize massive Fortune 100 and 500 brands to create real and meaningful context between those brands and their customers. For eight weeks I worked with many different departments in many different capacities from assisting the core teams with content creation and asset production, to owning presentations on best practices for a CPG brand launching in Pinterest and Instagram, a competitive analysis surveying eight competitors for one of our clients, and a prospective client pitch.

I learned incredibly valuable lessons that will stay with me to help me in my journey to becoming an entrepreneur. From Clay and Matt Christensen I learned the importance of maintaining a work-life balance that goes far beyond the hours you spend in each place. By consciously examining my days, weeks, and months as a finite resource that needs to be allocated carefully, instead of taking every day for granted, I have increased my productivity tremendously and have found that I am spending more of my time with the people or doing the things that I enjoy most. From Vaynermedia I learned, tried, failed, and succeeded in what we called “Test and Learn.” Every entrepreneur makes the decisions he or she does for a reason. At Vaynermedia I saw decisions become strategies that were tested with select accounts, taught valuable lessons, and were presented across all the accounts once they had become refined and market-ready. In a world where most startups run out of money before figuring out their eventual strategy, this was a powerful lesson to learn and experience. Overall, the summer in Silicon Valley brought to life what I had been learning in the classroom all year.