QUEST Entrepreneurs Take Silicon Valley

QUEST’s second annual Silicon Valley trip over spring break provided students with the opportunity to learn about design, innovation, and product and software development processes from firms in the region. This trip offered students a chance to visit various firms: from Fortune 500 companies, like Google, to tech startup companies, like Q16 Jason Gates’ very own Compology. Additionally, students networked with QUEST alumni working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, developing relationships with firm employees and returning to campus ready to share their stories with members of the QUEST community.

QUEST students frequently learn about these principles in the classroom, but the trip allowed students to apply these principles in a real world setting and use tools such as utilizing the voice of the customer and designing strategies to improve design quality.

This trip was especially enriching for two budding entrepreneurs in the QUEST program: Teddy Li, a junior finance major in Cohort 25, and Derien Scott, a junior computer engineering major in Cohort 24. Teddy and Derien sat down with QUESTPress to discuss what they learned from the trip and how QUEST skills can be useful in developing startups like their own.

What venture are you currently working on? 

Teddy: Reducing restaurant labor costs using data analytics and hardware.

Derien: Kanvasroom LLC, we are building a market network for the creative service industry. We provide a marketplace where people or organizations can subcontract creative services. These teams can then use our real-time collaboration tools to work on and complete their projects. These tools include video conferencing, whiteboarding, file transferring, video editing and many more specifically tailored to the creative service industry. We plan to finish user testing in May and launch our beta version in the summer.

What part of the Silicon Valley trip was the most beneficial to your startup or entrepreneurial goals? 

Teddy: The Silicon Valley trip was interesting because it gave me a glimpse of what career entrepreneurs had to do when they started their companies (very QUEST-like method of thinking). I really enjoyed the Compology visit because we were able to see the different iterations of the product as it progressed into what it is today. I’m gracious for the advice Jason (the founder) gave me. The alumni event in Mountain View on Thursday was also an interesting experience because it reminded me that no matter where I go, there are alumni around who are more than willing to help out.

Derien: The most beneficial part of the trip was being able to network with and learn from so many people that have been in the same shoes that I am currently in. Similarly, it was very beneficial to visually see where I want my company to be in the long term and learn how I can get there.

What was your favorite part of the trip? 

Teddy: Alcatraz [our first morning of the trip], because that was the first time we bonded as a class and even though it was raining, I had a great time getting to know people outside of my cohort that I would only normally pass by or see in the QUEST Lab.

Derien:  My favorite part of the trip was going on random excursions throughout the city. The first day alone, we walked 15 miles and the equivalent of about 150 flights of stairs after our Alcatraz tour. And even after all of that exploration, we still only scratched the surface of the culture in “Frisco”. The eye-opening company visits and the free swag, food, and Palantir Ray Bans were also really nice.

How are QUEST skills helpful in running or developing your startup? 

Teddy:  [QUEST] pushes you to seek out customer input because you won’t have a business if nobody will buy your product. You have a business when you have customers, but the only way to be successful is when you have customers who love your product. Essentially, you want to provide a 100% solution rather than a less than complete solution to their problem.

Derien: I utilize the tools and concepts I’ve learned in QUEST constantly within my startup. Learning how to take a perspective and turn it into an viable solution has been incredibly valuable in our early stages. The skills I’ve learned put me at an advantage in entrepreneurship especially because they are necessary skills that everyone from the CEO’s of a startup to the sales teams have to use on a daily basis and often, people new to the startup world have to learn these lessons the hard way. Even during our trip, many of the speakers would use the usual QUEST jargon like “agile”, “lean” and “user-centered design” to describe their design processes. Learning how to communicate and cooperate with a team is also extremely valuable. Balancing the perspectives of my team members and keeping everyone engaged, organized and open-minded can prove to be difficult at times, but being able to apply previous experiences with working in teams has helped me work through many of those challenges.

What is the biggest take away or lesson you learned on the trip? 

Teddy: Someone once told [me] that “everything you see in the world today is built by people no smarter than you and me” and I think Silicon Valley exemplifies that perfectly. [It helped me confirm] what that person said to me, and I cherish the opportunity I had to go there.

Derien: The biggest takeaway from this trip was that there is no such thing as failing if you can learn from your mistakes and keep yourself from being stubborn about your ideas. As my friend Terrell would put it, ‘Losing doesn’t exist, the only L’s we ever take are learning opportunities.’ Many of the companies we visited had to fail, dissolve problems and reiterate a ton before their ideas came to fruition and while we learn these iterative processes in class, it was really helpful to see them in practice at almost every company we visited from small early-stage startups like Compology to tech giants like Google.

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