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Friday: Strava

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By Russell Rudd ’20

Although our program has come to an end, we were extremely fortunate to close out with such an exciting company as Strava.  Upon walking in, we were greeted by James Quarles, a ’97 graduate of the Engineering School at UVa and the CEO of Strava!  Our experience at Strava was slightly different from previous stops, as James used his recently developed pitch deck to describe his company.  It was particularly interesting since we had just spoke with Breakout Ventures – we learned more about the investor and investee perspectives.

Strava is an unfiltered platform for all athletes.  Using the app, users are able to share data on the progress they’ve made within their respective sports, whether that is running, cycling, or swimming.  Some of the students, including myself, were curious as to what differentiates Strava from other apps by Nike or Under Armor, for instance.  Going in, we viewed Strava as simply another running tracker.  However, we left with a completely different perspective.  Unlike its competitors, Strava is purely focused on its social network of athletes.

Congratulations Strava, you just recruited 14 new users!

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Friday: Breakout Ventures

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By Victor Layne ’20

Innovation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and disruption is common language in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. From small startups to large enterprises, integration of these new technologies is expected at all levels. But how many of these organizations are truly innovating, disrupting, and pushing boundaries? How can these companies consistently rise above the crowd to find the resources they need? For Julia Moore of Breakout Ventures – an investing arm of Peter Thiel – it is her job.

As a venture capitalist, consistently identifying companies that genuinely disrupt industries is vital to generating positive returns. Combining market research with a network of seasoned investors, veteran entrepreneurs, and thought leaders, Moore lives inside these ephemeral opportunities. In her own words, she says that it takes innovation in both the business model and technology of a company to become a potentially dominant leader in any given industry. Cutting through the noise of all tech companies, Moore selects only a handful of teams to bring to the next level –  carefully identifying real traction and real potential. Amidst the “common language of our time”, knowing what is buzz and what is not makes all the difference.

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Thursday: Stanford

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Chuck Hall ‘19

Our group was fortunate enough to travel to a beautiful campus at Stanford Graduate School of Business only to be hosted by three McIntire ’12 graduates. Evan Cantor, Meg Raymond, and Mannie Ajayi are all finishing up their second year at GSB and shared plenty of their insights about a range of topics including previous investment banking and consulting internships, the vast Stanford resources, and the value of building what they called management “soft” skills.

These driven and successful alumni spoke very highly of their experience at McIntire, and their deep appreciation for their time as a Hoo. Most notably, they all echoed the notion that the McIntire curriculum set themselves up for success in their first internships, but also for their pursuits of an MBA from Stanford. Impressively, Mannie mentioned he was advised by various mentors at Morgan Stanley to only accept a program that would be considered the best of the best, or else the coursework might simply be too repetitive with that of McIntire’s.

All in all, this thought provoking meeting left us with a key takeaway that whether or not we pursue an MBA program, investment in self-reflection and exploration is vital to the pursuit of a fulfilling career.

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Thursday: eBay

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By Tyler Walker ’19

To end our day we stopped by eBay’s offices in San Jose. Our host, Joe McCaffery, graciously took the time to fly down from the Seattle offices. The focus of our time at eBay revolved around how the company is moving towards focusing on its core business and becoming more data and technology driven. A key idea expressed during the visit is that eBay drives value not from warehouses of inventory, but through data centers full of insights about their customers.

Pauline Burke, the Senior Director for AI Experimentation and Tracking, opened with a short discussion of how her team is working to leverage the firm’s immense data to innovate through experimentation. Tori Bailey, who works in the firm’s Self-Service Analytics team, demonstrated the internal tools eBay is creating to empower its data scientists. We even viewed an actual dashboard used by engineers to summarize web pages’ key metrics.

After a Q&A session, Joe took us on a tour of the sprawling campus which included a stop by the original item sold on eBay, a broken laser pen. This item signifies eBay’s mission to empower any individual or small businesses to connect to like-minded purchasers from across the globe, creating a more inclusive economy and giving items longer life-cycles.

Tomorrow, we will be wrapping up our trip with a discussion of the venture capital space with Julia Moore of Breakout Ventures and a final company visit to Strava.

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Thursday: PwC

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By Grant Tobben

Thursday morning started bright and early at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a company that is no longer your parents accounting firm. We were hosted by Jasmin Young, the Director of Business Model Transformation. PwC has moved into consulting and delivering value to companies in ways beyond just dealing with taxes.

Several PwC employees talked about innovation happening in their departments. We learned from Kim about how AI and big data are being applied to fraud investigations. Rajit enlightened us about the use of RPA or Robot Process Automation. Many menial tasks performed by humans on computers can be done much more quickly by bots. Rajit showed us footage of a bot performing a task that would take a human seven days but a bot only thirty minutes. The bot was made in only a few weeks, as a part of Rajit’s department’s push to fail fast and complete projects on two to three-week cycles. Glen showed us an award winning artificial intelligence technology that allowed for easy ledger checking.

Overall, PwC was an exposure to the ways bots and AI are transforming the way an office runs and saving humans from performing repetitive tasks.

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Wednesday: Facebook

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By Rohan Raval ’20

We got to Facebook around noon and met with Adam Parsell and Blake Rex, both McIntire grads who work on data analytics in their current roles at Facebook. We toured the “classic campus” which was the original workplace, and it was a really huge space with plenty of outdoor areas, very much resembling a college campus. Some really interesting points were brought up in our discussion at the conference room with Blake and Adam. We talked about some of the new challenges facing Facebook and how the organization is committed to using data-driven decision making to attack these problems, such as fake news and news feed algorithm. I

loved learning about Adam’s job, which involved supervised machine learning on the massive scale of data that Facebook collected. Afterwards, we had an amazing lunch at the Epic cafe (picture below) and got to chat with some engineering alum who came out to meet us, which was my favorite part. All in all, I was left with the impression that while Facebook has grown to be a giant corporation, its core startup values of “move fast and break things” still pervades the campus and the conversation.

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Wednesday: Instagram

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By Will Crowley ’18

The earliest wake up of the trip came on the group’s first trip out to Silicon Valley to see the Facebook campus. After walking all the way to South Park downtown, the Digital Safari team joined the early morning commuters on about an hour’s train ride out to Menlo Park to see the app that all of our classmates seem to love: Instagram.

Susan Rose, McIntire ’05 and director of Instagram’s product marketing team, hosted the group and walked us through Instagram’s main buildings on the Facebook Campus.  The trip has been fortunate enough to have Susan host the Digital Safari group for a couple years now, but this year was the first time she had the opportunity to talk to us without fellow UVA alum Jim Quarles (who we will later visit at Strava).

Aside from many selfies and Instagram opportunities on-site, we were able to sit down and discuss with Susan two of the more pressing questions that have been on our mind since the beginning of the trip: 1) How does Instagram differentiate from Snap and even Facebook? 2) Does Instagram truly make the lives of its users better?

Susan explained how these two questions tied into her own decision to work at Instagram. Instagram is a unique platform that allows its user to create and discover quality visual stories. The platform itself promotes individuality yet captures and promotes tailored communities to enjoy shared personal interests and common connection. While she admits that there have been many unintended social consequences of collecting “followers” and likes, Instagram strives to break down the social barriers to truly allow people to create and have access to the most quality content. She views this discovery and artistic expression as a far different tool that Snapchat promotes.

The Digital Safari team ran right against our allotted time at Instagram and ultimately had to leave to head over to Facebook’s main campus for its afternoon session. The morning stint at Instagram was a great kick off to an action-packed day in the Silicon Valley.

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Wednesday: Intuit

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By: Nojan Sheybani

You can’t spell intuitive without Intuit. On Wednesday we visited Intuit, which has the sole focus of making finances intuitive for their consumers. Intuit is a software company that focuses on making tools to help people with taxes, budgeting, and many other financial aspects of their lives.

We had a question and answer session with a panel of project managers, recruiters, and other employees.  Intuit refers to itself as an “8000 person startup”, which plays a huge part in the culture of the company and its employees. Ever since 1983, the year that Scott Cook started the company with Quicken, the goal of the company has been to put the consumer first.  One thing that really stood out to me whilst talking to the panel was the freedom that the employees have. Micah Canal, a senior program manager, described that anytime he had an idea, he was given the resources to experiment it and see how it works, which has been something that we have not seen in most of the companies we’ve visited thus far.

One of the core values of Intuit was “Be Passionate”, and after speaking with the panel and seeing the employees on our tour of the campus, we could all see how passionate everyone at Intuit is about the mission of the company. It was a pleasure to see such a value and consumer driven company.

 

 

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Tuesday: Hotel Tonight

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By Joana Morais

The students ended their third day in San Francisco at Hotel Tonight, the startup responsible for developing the HotelTonight app. The mobile travel app helps consumers find discounted hotel accommodation at the last minute. We were welcomed by Amanda Richardson, Chief Data and Strategy Officer and ‘01 McIntire alum, who greeted us with her friendly wit. The students engaged in a deep discussion about Amanda’s journey to Hotel Tonight, the company’s rise to the third largest hotel booking engine, and its prospective growth opportunities. Founder, Sam Shank, later joined the discussion to answer some of the student’s questions and further talk about his experience founding a total of three travel startups.

The evening of fun continued as the Digital Safari class was joined by other students from the HackCville trip, alumni from various backgrounds, and a panel of fascinating professionals. Panelist included:

Linda Abraham, Parent ’17,’18
Entrepreneur, investor; Managing Director, Crimson Capital; Vice Chair, Upskill; comScore co-founder

Paul Holland MA ’84
General Partner, Foundation Capital (16 years); Produced acclaimed documentary about early days of Silicon Valley Something Ventured

Amanda Richardson, McIntire ‘01
Chief Data & Strategy Officer, HotelTonight been at HT Since 2014; Former Head of Product at Prezi

Tyler Wisnand ’90
Creative Director – Apple; Previously at Wieden and Kennedy in Portland

Linda Yates, BA Foreign Affairs ’85
CEO, Mach49; Co-founder and CEO of Strategos; Decade on the board at Sybase

Panelists discussed their careers in tech, venture capital, and design as well as their encounters with diversity in the tech industry and how companies have managed to stay relevant in this ever-changing environment.

The night ended with the students getting to personally interact with the many UVA alumni who generously volunteered their time.

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Tuesday: Snappr

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By Stephen Chung

Tuesday morning, we visited Snappr, a photography startup located in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Founded in 2016, Snappr is seeking to revolutionize the way photographers are connected to gigs and hopes to become the “Uber” of photography. The startup’s mobile application connects photographers to those seeking professional photography for a variety of needs ranging from real estate shoots to family portraits.
Spearheading the startup’s growth and operations is Rafat Khan, a McIntire ’15 who left his job with Morgan Stanley’s Sales and Trading group to pursue a career here in the Valley. During our visit, Rafat emphasized the value of the skillset the McIntire School of Commerce provided not only on Wall Street, but also in the local start-up scene as his role requires a unique mixture of quantitative skills, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit.
Snappr is in the midst of preparing for its Series A round of funding after using its last round to expand to cities across the US. Meeting with Rafat provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the Venture Capital industry and what it takes to be successful in Silicon Valley. We wish the best of luck to Rafat in the coming months and are proud of all of the UVA Alum doing big things in here San Francisco.
Go Hoos!
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Tuesday: LinkedIn

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By Lan Jiang ’19

Today, we had a great time visiting LinkedIn, hosted by a McIntire alum Arin Mitchell. She first gave us an overview of the culture, values, and business model of LinkedIn. Then, we had a panel with four UVa alumni to hear their experiences navigating career paths in the Bay Area and insights at the forefront of technology.

Though LinkedIn is well-known for its business-oriented networking service, it has a very cool culture of “dream big; get things done; have fun” and it values the opinions of its members. People here are really passionate about providing economic opportunities for every talented individual out there because oftentimes people don’t have equal access to job opportunities. In order to achieve this mission, LinkedIn also put efforts into making sure that their searching algorithms are not biased. Meanwhile, it is bringing LinkedIn learning solutions­ (Lynda.com) to different regions of the world, expanding the platform for people to learn new skills, and driving the growth of the business.

During the panel, we learned three key things: location matters, cultural fit matters, and connection matters. Even though our alumni started their career at different places and different industries, they are able to feel happy working in a right city through right connections. They are passionate about building social impact driven by LinkedIn’s mission and technology capabilities.

Last but not least, the view on the 18th floor is awesome!

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Monday: Oakland Impact Hub

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By Zane Homsi

Today we visited a number of companies, one of which being Impact Hub Oakland. Situated in the heart of Oakland and surrounded by murals, this converted car dealership was oozing change from the minute you walked in. We were greeted by Lauren, a recent Tufts graduate, who sat is down in one of their conference rooms. Impact Hub Oakland is a for-profit, co-working space that enables socially focused companies to get off the ground and ‘change the world.’ Founded by three women, two of which women of color, the Hub’s stated focus is to demonstrate that anyone and everyone can and should work to build up their local economy and work to expand what they consider their community. Ashara Ekundayo the Hub’s chief creative director gave a final call to action stating that what opportunities might seem inaccessible are more within reach then we realize.

The west coast innovation community has built up a reputation of being ultra-attractive, lucrative and crawling business owners, make millions in the process; getting to see a different perspective of innovation gave us a much more holistic interpretation of the community – I’m so glad this was on our first day.

Until next time, Oakland!

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Monday: Pixar

IMG_0296By Julian Hitzer

Monday, our first day, we visited the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. Andy Sakhrani and Laura Holshouser showed us around and gave us insights how Pixar makes its legendary movies.

We came on a happy day! Entering the Steve Jobs Building we could see the Oscars exhibited of which Pixar won another one just the day before. We could not really tell if they were fake, but if so, that’s the only thing that’s mocked at Pixar. In every part of the building and every single digital drawing or clay model they exhibit you can downright see their true passion and dedication to create perfect movies.

All they do is well thought through and conceptualized in detail before they start with the animation. It was astonishing to see the amount of work they put into a single
movie – a project which typically lasts several years.

High secrecy regulations prevented us from seeing more of their cutting-edge animation technology. However, walking through the animation offices, we were able to see another manifestation of their creativity: customized offices transformed into jungle temples, airplane wrecks or pubs. In the end we were pleased that the tour measured up to our high expectations on that legendary company.

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Monday: Fjord

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The first company we visited was Fjord design studio in the heart of San Francisco. Fjord is a premier design and innovation consultancy company with a mission to improve the lives of people. We met with Steve Boswell, a very passionate and eccentric group director for Fjord. Steve familiarized us with Fjord’s consultancy process, in which a project begins at ideation and concludes at production. Having freedom along this continuum is key to Fjord’s success, as the ideation phase generates many ideas due to their untraditional approach. Fjord hires creative thinkers implements an ad hoc structure in their project teams, therefore ideas can be generated and tweaked by any team member.

The guiding ethos for Fjord is their customer-centric way of thinking. Every design element implemented is created with the customer in mind. Fjord achieves this primarily through co-creation, in which they constantly relay ideas to the client to ensure their needs are met. In his closing message, Steve stressed the importance of constant innovation to address society’s problems. Fjord’s driving belief in simplistic design is not only changing San Francisco, but also improving the world around us.

By: Joe Challis ‘

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2018 Digital Safari Kick Off

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The 2018 Digital Safari is taking a group of 14 students to the bay area from March 4-9th to visit some of the leading companies in the world. This blog will follow the insights from the students for each of the visits.

Our visits include:

  • Fjord
  • Pixar
  • Oakland Impact Hub
  • LinkedIn
  • Snappr
  • Hotel Tonight
  • Instragram
  • Facebook
  • Intuit
  • PwC
  • Stanford
  • Ebay
  • Breakout Ventures
  • Strava