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MBA International Study Trip | Silicon Valley

Jan 4, 2024

L-r: MBA students at the Golden Gate Bridge, Genggeng Deng

L-r: MBA students at the Golden Gate Bridge, Genggeng Deng

Genggeng Deng, an MBA ’24 candidate, recently went to Silicon Valley as part of the Ivey MBA International Study Trip, an optional component of the program. In her blog below, she shares takeaways from visits to three innovative organizations and discusses how they transformed her mindset and guiding principles.

In the heart of San Francisco, dreams converge in a city that breathes innovation. The Silicon Valley study trip, a gateway to the epicentre of entrepreneurial dynamism, has left an indelible mark. Here, amidst the bustling districts and entrepreneurial threads like Tenderloin, failure is not an obstacle, but a stepping stone. The city's fabric is woven with optimism, continuous networking, and an unwavering spirit of innovation.

Fuelling my passion for food and travel, I went to Silicon Valley in December alongside my classmates for a week-long study trip. Beyond the anticipated nice weather, the laid-back style of working attire, and the presence of creative minds, the trip unfolded with unexpected revelations, leaving me with some important takeaways.

1. Quality over quantity: Imply Data

Before the study trip, I carried the conventional belief that a startup's triumph hinges on creating products with broad appeal, targeting a large audience for widespread popularity. Our visit to the software company Imply Data shattered this belief.

Fangjin (FJ) Yang, Co-Founder and CEO of the billion-dollar company, stressed to us the importance of building something users love – not just like – to create a dedicated user base.

“A smaller number of users loving your product is 10 times more important than a large number merely liking it,” he said.

Yang’s insights capture the core principles of entrepreneurial success. Success, I realized, is not solely measured by the scale of the market reached, but by the depth of connection within a niche audience. This lesson extends beyond startups; it guides my approach to professional networking, urging me to prioritize meaningful connections over a superficial network.

2. Code Tenderloin's transformative impact

Before taking the Ivey MBA, I had preconceived biases that linked homelessness to laziness and a lack of discipline. Code Tenderloin, a non-profit which aims to secure long-term employment for underserved communities in San Francisco – particularly the troubled Tenderloin neighbourhood – challenged these biases.

The organization was founded by 30-year Tenderloin resident Del Seymour, who shared with us how Code Tenderloin helped Shelley Winner to secure employment with tech giant Microsoft after her release from prison. Seymour emphasized the societal importance of offering support for vulnerable populations.

The concept of offering second chances and recognizing growth potential in unexpected places aligns with my evolving perspective on inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. This lesson propels me to view individuals holistically, recognizing the potential for growth in unexpected places and championing inclusivity for a more equitable workplace.

3. Embracing failure and building an innovative ecosystem: Plug and Play's Influence

Perceived success in Silicon Valley was associated solely with individual tech giants for me in the past. A visit to Plug and Play Tech Center, a venture capital firm and innovation platform that connects startups, corporations, universities, and government agencies with investors, broadened my perspective, emphasizing the significance of building a positive ecosystem. The interconnectedness of universities, investors, and startups creates an environment conducive to innovation.

Success, I learned, results from considering all aspects – hard work, a conducive startup environment, and a touch of luck – rather than focusing on isolated elements.

I anticipated networking to be primarily confined to established tech circles. Exposure to diverse entities, from startups to venture capitalists and educational institutions, highlighted the importance of broad networking. This insight, which is consistent with Ivey's teachings, will not only guide my networking strategy within the MBA program, but also reinforces the Ivey MBA's emphasis on networking beyond established circles for a more comprehensive and diverse professional perspective.

Final reflection: The Silicon Valley mindset

My time in Silicon Valley has been transformative. The city's dynamic blend of resilience, a willingness to learn from failure, and an unwavering commitment to innovation has left an enduring impact. The "fail fast, learn fast" philosophy and the belief that anyone can find success here, regardless of their starting point, deeply resonate.

Silicon Valley isn't just a location; it's a mindset. While there, I witnessed a lively community that not only welcomes dreams, but brings them to life. This journey has broadened my horizons, and also kindled a passion for embracing failure as a crucial stepping stone toward success.

The trip has been more than an exploration of innovation; it's a blueprint for a mindset that transcends geographical boundaries. These takeaways will serve me as guiding principles, shaping my thinking regarding success, inclusivity, ecosystem building, embracing failure, and networking beyond conventional boundaries.

Silicon Valley has not just equipped me with knowledge; it has instilled a mindset that marks a transformative chapter in my academic and professional journey.