Spring Break Trip to Silicon Valley: Day Five

Author: Thomas Mitchell

The lads in CaliThe lads in Cali

It’s surprising how much fun you can have when you’re tired.


Friday morning, to close the class trip to California, my classmates and I piled into six vans and split into two groups for one final tour. While three vans made a stop at Intel, my group stopped by Optimizely – a burgeoning tech company nestled in the heart of San Francisco.


As we streamed into their headquarters, hot coffees in hand, we were immediately struck by the scope and style of their space. In stark contrast to the smaller startups we had seen earlier in the week, Optimizely was simply huge! It housed hundred of employees in a sleek modern space memorable for its giant glass panels, gray floors, and green plants. While employees clicked away at their workstations, my cohort quietly made its way to the third floor for a talk by Optimizely’s CEO, Jay Larson.


Jay was as charismatic as leaders come. Candid, energetic, and insightful, Jay captivated the class as he conveyed the core objectives of his company. As its name implies, Optimizely optimizes business operations for companies by providing insights on customer experiences. Having begun as a platform for simple website A/B testing, it presently offers analytic services and extensive experimentation platforms. Their offerings are increasingly invaluable in a data-driven world, and their growth seems guaranteed for the near future. Currently, Optimizely already services 26 of the Fortune 100 and boasts revenues north of $100 million.


Jay’s talk reinforced some of the key lessons that other local CEOs had already imparted to the class throughout the week. To paraphrase, his first takeaway was to place yourself on the path to greatness. This advice seemed spectacularly unhelpful initially, but the meaning became clear when he noted how we live in a time of spectacular growth and innovation. As such, he suggested that we join an expanding operation that excites us and aligns with our interests.


The second lesson was that the difference between good and great is surprisingly small. Yet, while this gap is small, few achieve greatness because they fail to give their best every day. Even fewer give the extra bit of effort consistently needed to transform their lives. I really appreciated this piece of advice, as I find that it’s easiest to follow when you’re periodically reminded of the value of hard work and dedication to a worthy cause. I don’t think any of us really forget this truth or even need to learn it – I think it is self-evident to some degree. Rather, we simply lose sight of it when we are periodically beaten down by the challenges we face in life.


Looking at the week as a whole, I appreciated the spectrum of experiences that the leaders of these companies had to share with us. Repeatedly, I witnessed how business is a fundamentally human endeavor. To flourish, a company needs a devoted and talented team behind it first before concerning itself with its actual product or service! When seeking work, I also learned to evaluate the people of a company first instead of simply chasing pay or prestige. Finally, it’s worth noting the obvious: entrepreneurship is hard. It requires real sacrifice and a dedication to something greater than money. Money can and should be part of a good company’s mission, but it’s seldom enough to keep a founder going when times get tough.


It’s difficult to succinctly describe the other lessons I learned on the trip – the week was replete with experiential learning. Needless to say, our excursion out to the Bay Area was by far the highlight of the year for me. Between tours were many moments of fun that I'll remember for years to come. As excited as I am to finish up my last two months in ESTEEM, I'll be sad to say goodbye when May rolls around.