When Chris Hanks, director of UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program, called me regarding an MBA student trip to Silicon Valley, I was happy to oblige and plan the rental car, flights, and hotel rooms. That’s a piece of cake.
“I don’t know how hands-on you are with your travel job,” he continued, “but it would be great if you could help us plan a few meetings while we’re out there.” I agreed to try my best and, before I hung up the phone, he jokingly added, “I mean, the guys would love to see Google.”
Yeah, right, I thought to myself. As if I have Larry Page’s contact information saved somewhere between Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Then, the wheels started spinning. I’m in the business of making people’s travel dreams come true, and having to knock on the door of a billion dollar corporation should not stand in my way. With the Silicon Valley contacts I had, I networked my way through a series of businesspeople before finally reaching Ben Chu, a Google employee who had graduated from Terry.
Within minutes of getting in touch, I had a confirmation e-mail regarding a tour of Google. The graduate expressed how excited he was to tour around fellow Dawgs and immediately began planning a full-out tour of the campus. Less than two months later, a group of four Terry MBA students and their professor were playing Dance Dance Revolution in Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters.
“It feels like a college campus,” noted Hanks, who went on to describe a scene of Google employees playing volleyball, taking naps in sleeping pods, and calculating finances on treadmills. “You can do a case study on the Google-plex, but when you’re there experiencing it, it’s just so different.”
The firsthand experience is exactly what resonated with each of the entrepreneurship students. From riding Google bikes around the campus to sneaking Odwalla smoothies from the free snacking stations, they were able to spend a day in the life of a Google employee. “I was ready to submit my application!” joked Charles Roach, MBA Class of 2012.
After the in-depth tour of Google, the group ventured to Sand Hill Road, the renowned location of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists, like Onset Ventures and Lightspeed. Here, the group learned about the success of the firms, as well as the challenges faced to make it to the top. “There’s a long, hard road in front of anyone interested in ending up on Sand Hill,” explained Brent Wetmore, MBA Class of 2012, who shared the experience of being able to present their business ideas to the distinguished venture capitalists. “Now we’re able to say that we pitched on Sand Hill Road, and not many people can say that.”
During their second day in Silicon Valley, the group enjoyed lunch at Apple, which offered a significantly different atmosphere from Google. The comprehensive nature of the trip allowed for a new perspective on powerhouse brands like Google and Apple. “Apple definitely has an intense professional culture,” noted Roach. No Dance Dance Revolution there.
The educational side of the trip concluded with a tour of Light and Motion, where the group gained perspective on operating a small business in the area. Their final day in Northern California was spent surfing in Monterey, sightseeing in San Francisco, and processing all that they had learned on their whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley.
“So much about entrepreneurship is experiential,” explained Hanks, “you have to live it to create that deeper understanding and a trip like this helped us accomplish that.”