Friday – Rabbit


Today, the team visited a Series b start-up called Rabbit. Rabbit’s mission is to give people a way to watch anything with anyone. Users can watch shows and videos on platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and HBO in private online viewing rooms with just their friends; or, they can hop on a public stream with over 60 other viewers. Through organic growth alone, Rabbit already boasts over 4 million active monthly users. Its CEO, Amanda Richardson, is preparing to start another round of fundraising and is excited for new opportunities to monetize Rabbit’s services and expand its user base. She is a McIntire alumnus from the Class of 2001 and also received her MBA from Stanford University. Prior to Rabbit, she spent years working in various VP and executive roles at HotelTonight which was recently acquired by Airbnb.

Apart from Rabbit-specific conversations, Amanda also provided invaluable insight into what working in Silicon Valley as a woman and mother were like. As someone who has tried her hand in finance, product, and now entrepreneurship, her reflections were unsparingly candid. Frankly, Silicon Valley still teems of issues like gender inequality and ageism. However, Richardson urged that breaking through those ceilings is meaningful and worth it, despite the challenges. As our last visit to wrap up our Digital Safari adventure, there was no better ending than Richardson’s encouragement to keep adventuring forward.

By Joan Lee


Friday – Strava

Today we visited Strava and met with the CEO, James Quarles. James graduated from UVA in ’97 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. He previously worked at Dell, Facebook, and Instagram. James gave us valuable insight and walked us through the decision-making process regarding Strava’s target consumers, its product and partnership strategy, and business model.

Strava was founded in 2009 and currently has around 200 employees. Strava is a social network that connects athletes around the world and motivates them to achieve their goals. Users in this engaged community keep each other active through competition and accountability. The Strava athlete is the invested athlete: an athlete who is competitive, passionate, or both. Elite cyclists and runners are present in the Strava community, helping to aspire people to achieve their personal best. Strava partners with companies (ex. Apple, Fitbit, Orange Theory) that have devices which connect directly to Strava. These partnerships make it possible for users to upload and post their activity and performance metrics to Strava. Strava also has micro sponsorships with brands like Lulu Lemon that sponsor fitness challenges, motivating users with reward and recognition.

A really neat and unique feature of Strava is its snap technology, which allows users to easily find a biking/running route anywhere and anytime. Users can simple draw a circle on the map and the circle “snaps” to the best route and gives the exact distance. This technology is part of how Strava helps its users discover new activities in new places.

By Elise Lovett


Thursday – Facebook / WhatsApp

Students visited Facebook and WhatsApp on the fourth day of the Digital Safari trip. Adam Parsell and Blake Rex, our two McIntire alumni, were the hosts for the beautiful Facebook campus tour. While students raised a series of difficult questions about Facebook’s business ethics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and data protection, Adam and Blake were able to offer their insightful comments to bridge Facebook’s vision and the firm’s work-in-progress seamlessly. It was clear that Adam and Blake’s strong business acumen and rich experience enabled them to guide the students to think critically, more importantly, they allowed students to contribute to the conversation in a constructive way. In short, the hosts gave an in-depth introduction of the new company-wide policy. They listed two revolve themes for imagining a secure platform to regain trust from Facebook’s customers and the press. First, Facebook users will be able to interact privately and encrypt messages. Second, Facebook will seek to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger and create an inter-platform communication for its users.

After students gained a better understanding of Facebook’s line of business, culture, and work atmosphere, they re-explored the campus and indulged in international delicate for lunch. Interestingly, Facebook announced the leaving of its Chief Product Officer after the decision to integrate its apps more tightly and use more encryption during students’ lunch time. Is Facebook’s new outlined strategy a prudent decision? Let’s allow the market to decide.

By Kenneth Lin


Thursday – Instagram

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to meet with Susan Buckner Rose, Director of Business and Media Product Marketing at Instagram at the Menlo Park office of Instagram. Susan was able to walk us through some of the processes and inspirations behind certain features and implementations, as well as explain some of the core pillars of Instagram. Above all else, we left knowing that Instagram’s main focus and value proposition revolves around providing community and connection for its users

When we walked into the building, we were immediately greeted by bright, colorful LED screens that projected different Instagram accounts, as well as walls prominently displaying the Instagram logo. We were then offered refreshments from their open kitchen, which was jammed full of different snacks and drinks. The hospitality throughout the visit was truly remarkable.
After a brief overview of Instagram and its mission statement, we dove into some Q&A. Perhaps most interestingly, we learned that Instagram’s business model is highly adaptable based on industry trends and shifting company strategies. As such, it’s relatively easy to implement new features and ascertain their success.

All in all it was an incredible experience and we were extremely thankful for the opportunity!

By Rachel Clark


Thursday – Google

oday, the digital safari took us to Google, one of the major Silicon Valley success stories, where we met with Pedram Pejman, a McIntire 17 graduate. Pejman, a technical program manager, discussed with us his knowledge of machine learning, work in product management, and insight into future trends in technology. Pejman spoke on his experience with machine learning and some of its concepts, showing us how emerging technology can recognize patterns and perform functions with almost no direct instructions. From here, we talked about how to build a product from this field and measure its success. We spoke on the challenges of being a part of an emerging market, and how to create products with this market in mind. Lastly, Pejman offered us advice on entering the tech field, and a reading list!

We wrapped up with a campus tour and picture! Excited to see where our Digital Safari takes us next!

By Brendan Ackelson


Wednesday – Zoom

On day three of our Digital Safari, we visited Zoom Video Communications in downtown San Jose. Zoom has recently become one of the leaders in video conferencing by going through rapid cycles of product innovation led by a brilliant founder, Eric Yuan. With a valuation above the $1 billion mark, Zoom is considered to be a unicorn in the world of startups, which symbolizes the special nature of their success. Be sure to keep an eye on this company as they are projected to go public any day now.

We had the wonderful opportunity to meet Nicholas Kan, a collaboration specialist, and Mila Krivoruchko, a lead product manager. The two of them gave us valuable insight into the product management side of the company. One of the key things they discussed about creating a digital product was the importance of delivering an unparalleled user experience. In order to tackle this selling point, Zoom looks at what features customers are asking for and weighs the tradeoffs between using limited engineering resources on a project and the amount of value customers will extract from that new service.

Walking through their office and feeling the energy of the employees was an honor, and we are excited to see where our trip takes us next.

By Jason Archer


Wednesday – PwC

Thismorning we visited PwC where we were hosted by Senior Partner Tom Archer. After a nice breakfast together, he and his co-workers provided us with insight into how the business world is changing with technology. We learned about Risk Management in the digital age, how PwC works to help companies become more operationally efficient, and how recruiting and retaining talent is evolving with emerging technological progress. One of the coolest parts of the visit was when they showed us a Robotic Process Automation they had built to help clients perform routine tasks at an unbelievably faster pace. The bot that they created could accomplish in thirty minutes what previously took a team of accountants several days to complete. This automation not only saves companies time and money, but also helps them operate in real time as opposed to estimating numbers, as their data can be processed in a matter of minutes. This is just one simple example of how new technology (in this case UIpath) is completely changing the way that companies operate, and it underscores how important it is for students and employees to keep up with technology. It was an awesome start to our day, and an incredibly enriching experience.

By Frayser Wall


Tuesday – Smile Identity

Authentication in emerging markets is being tackled by Mark Straub and his mission driven team. Mark Straub, a 2004 graduate of McIntire, is the founder and CEO of Smile Identity. Smile Identity is truly the company to keep an eye on. Straub and his team are working to make modern digital technology accessible in emerging markets. This company is using image recognition and machine learning to easily prove your identity for individuals across Africa.

Currently, the company supports identity systems in Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. What makes Smile Identity unique is that this company is working to make software as a service regardless of IP address. In addition, this early stage, venture- backed company is working to make users easily identifiable through a two-step authentication process that can be integrated into any app. Smile Identity is excited to bring two- step authentication using face recognition into governments, banks, healthcare and ID verification systems across emerging markets in the world.

By Elizabeth Tikoyan


Tuesday – Virta Health

On the second day of the trip, the Digital Safari class visited Virta Health, a company whose goal is to reverse type 2 diabetes through a keto diet and medical support by physicians without the need of medication. We learned about the creation of Virta through one of its founders, Sami Inkinen, who was an Ironman for his age but still had diabetes. Virta wants to offer convenience to their clients by offering a keto diet plan without having them worry about counting calories. For client costs, Virta receives $4,500 per partnership with that number declining the following year.

Right now, 100% of their fees are at risk due to the unsatisfied client being able to easily cut their ties with the company and no real subscription plan in place at the moment. Their were able to acquire deals with multiple health companies, and, most notably, they are partnered with Activision Blizzard, which showed the diversity of brands. They have raised $45MM to date, but, with negative cash flows, they have set a timeline to be profitable within the next few years. We visited Ryan Whitney, a former JP Morgan analyst and current MYAC board member, who wanted to use his finance skills to help change the world. He took a huge risk and left JP Morgan, looking for a job for 8 months, to stumble upon his true passion and help make a difference in healthcare.

By Aman Waheed


Tuesday – Huckberry

On Tuesday, we visited an independent online retailer and magazine company called Huckberry. Its primary business consists of selling a curated selection of adventurous outdoor footwear, clothing, accessories, and editorial content. This business caters to a specific segment of men who like the outdoors and the image of it, but do not necessarily require high-end performance clothing. Founded by Andy Forch and Richard Greiner originally in 2011, this company remains private with a bootstrapping philosophy for growth.

Upon meeting with co-founder Andy Forch, we discussed not only what his business does and what kind of market it caters to and why, but his determination to grow his company without the help of venture capital. It was very clear his philosophy was all about independence, and that his company was all about differentiation in an under-served market (hence the emphasis on men versus women’s clothing), even if men aren’t as trend-driven consumers. Having made a few acquisitions in footwear and even a surf brand, Andy talked about how Huckberry helps its customers express themselves through these different niche brands through the idea of personas, seasons, and activities.

Huckberry has stayed true to itself since the beginning, and that is the philosophy they will continue to stick with as they grow in the men’s fashion industry.

By Laura De La Cruz


Monday – Impact Alumni Panel


The day was capped off with an alumni event, complete with a panel discussion at WeWork. Our panelists featured Adrienne McCallister (Comm ’97), Kendall Collins (Comm ’97), Alex Wu (Comm ’07) and Drew Jacobs (Comm ’02). The discussion explored a multitude of topics including relevancy, innovation, and the challenges within technology and Silicon Valley. The students also had the opportunity to interact with alumni to learn more about their experiences in tech and the Bay Area.

By Auston Wallace


Monday – LinkedIn

Arin Mitchell (McIntire ’13) was our gracious host at LinkedIn where she is an Employee Communications Manager, Brand & Social Impact. Arin familiarized students with LinkedIn’s business model and culture and was later joined by other Hoos at the company, Katie Baulder, Drew O’Donnell, Yuan Chai, and Rosie Phan. Students were also given a brief tour of the vibrant office and got to soak up the beautiful office views under the lovely San Francisco weather.

By Auston Wallace


Monday – Snappr

Our next stop on Monday morning is Snappr, a start-up with the primary business of on-demand professional photography booking service—customers are able to book a professional photographer with a lower price on various occasions. First established in Australia, Snappr entered the U.S. market in December 2016 with $2 million seed fund from Y Combinator.

We met with Rafat Khan, a 2015 McIntire alum who joined Snappr as an operation associate after two years of experience in Sales and Trading at Morgan Stanley. He talked about the three objectives for Snappr right now, which are increasing the rebooking rate, lowering the acquisition cost and growing GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume). Then, he mentioned several solutions Snappr are employing to improve their performance, like increasing rebooking rate by providing a phenomenal first experience for customers. During the panel, Rafat also emphasized the importance of different skillsets we can acquire at UVA, including the financial knowledge that improves the operational aspect of his job, and the programming skills that help himself understand the big data.
In the future, Snappr will watch the development of videography and adapt it to their business line at some point. Positioning itself as an AI analysis company ultimately, Snappr is on the track to change this brand new industry.

By: Daisy Xu


Monday – Fjord

IMG_3757 copyWe started our journey in San Francisco in Fjord, a design and innovation consultancy who puts people first and launches experiences that redefine industries. We had a Q&A session with Steven Boswell, who has been in Fjord for 3 years as a managing director.

First, Steven talked about how he navigated himself towards this job after getting degrees in international relations and political science, which helped him gain a broad understanding of the world. He worked for several companies in different continents before he started the job at Fjord. Meanwhile, Steven mentioned that “creating chaos” is the way leading to the best idea. Then, he walked us through a project and presented the process of managing “chaos”. In order to achieve that, Fjord is looking for candidates with unconventional stories, “the story that is not on your resume”.

During the panel, Steven also described the interaction endoscopic robotics, which will help fight cancer and promisingly increase 70% early cancer detection rate. As a company that puts people first, Fjord always considers products in the legal and societal framework. Their ethical considerations for all their projects and designs help them make more impact on the world.

By: Daisy Xu