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  • Start-Up vs Established: Which Path do you Prefer?

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    After eye-opening company visits experience yesterday, the expectation and excitement for the upcoming day is pretty high. For me, the big challenge was to get myself ready by 7:30 AM in the hotel lobby. Luckily, with the help of an alarm clock - with few snoozes – and delicious latte in the morning, I found myself ready for the trip. The second day of our companies visit entail an innovative start-up, Piazza and global network hardware manufacturer, Cisco.

    The bus trip itself was a lot of fun. Our cool trip leader, Jeff Kurtz, always encouraged casual discussion which allowed a good mixture of business strategy analysis on each company. Being absorbed in our discussion, we did not notice that the bus had left the highway to the neatly arranged housing establishment. The place was a nice change of atmosphere from the beautiful scenery of Fisherman’s Wharf. Time slips quietly while the group admired the neighborhood nuance from the bus window. Before we realized, the bus driver signals us that we have arrived at our destination.

    Piazza definitely gave different feel compared to those we have gone on the day before. It was a small and vibrant company founded by Pooja Sankar. With only 8 full time employees, the speakers told us that it takes vision, undying passion and commitment to be able to create lasting impact for sustaining growth of the company. One might be deceived glancing through the simple building infrastructure, but it is the headquarter of a disruptive innovation in educational forum that has gained wide recognition from TechCrunch, Forbes, BloombergBusinessweek, and The New York Times amongst others.


    After we are ushered into the meeting room, our speaker started the informal introduction of the company and his own career journey. He was a young software engineer, hardly older than myself. He shared that his passion in making an impact for people as the reason why he joined a start-up. One thing that really impressed me is the amount of faith he was putting in the product and the vision of the CEO. He stated that he enjoyed being involved in ‘a little of everything’ in the company, ranging from meeting clients to developing the product itself.

    During our Q&A session, there was an interesting question that sprang from my colleagues. It was how he would handle being an early contributor as the structure may change as the company grows. For me, this is something that founders tend to neglect. We are so focused in our product that we gave small recognition for the internal cultural development. It was not surprising that our speaker was unable to decisively deliver an answer, however he did state that change is constant variable in any aspect of life and when the time comes, choices have to be made after careful consideration.

    After an interesting session with Piazza and delicious lunch break in California Pizza Kitchen, we went on to San Jose for the Cisco visit. I was excited because this visit promised to give me a close comparison of the culture and business strategy within a globally established firm and a start-up. This is one aspect of the trip that I admire because it was arranged in detail not only for the benefit of individual visits but also to give an opportunity for MSTM students a to gain practical case study of companies in differing industries, capabilities and stages of growth.

    As expected, Cisco was a colossal company with buildings circling around a few blocks. As the bus drove around the complex, we could not help but to observe in awe the scale of business that Cisco currently operates in. Upon entering the front office, we were greeted by a very friendly receptionist and were given name tags. In a few minutes, a UIUC alumna came and introduced herself as our first speaker of the day. She guided us to a large meeting area and formally introduced the innovation driven culture that catapulted the company as the leading network hardware leader globally.



    Right after her talk, two speakers were given opportunity to talk about student networking academy and career opportunities. It is clear that Cisco values the talent from differing backgrounds and they are committed in building a solid network that bridges the student transition into the professional environment. One speaker really impressed me in driving the importance of innovation culture within Cisco. He mentioned that to estimate the dimension of innovation is like going sailing. We may project that a certain product will gain premier spot in the industry, but certain disruptive innovation may change the platform completely just as everyone plan on go straight when sailing, but looking backwards they will find that the journey will go through an unplanned crooked path.

    Adding on this statement, I believe that we have learned the importance of appreciating the meaning of disruptive innovation and its impact in any industry. Just as Clayton M. Christensen often quoted, “It is, indeed, an innovator’s dilemma. Firms that sought growth by entering small, emerging markets logged twenty times the revenues of the firms pursuing growth in larger markets.” A good business model may sometimes be counter-intuitive, but in this increasingly competitive market, a good manager and business leaders are demanded for the ability to observe, identify and act accordingly towards the change in the technological trend.

    Cisco was also very welcoming during our trip. They provide us with special tour of their products, the timeline and few innovations that they are currently experimenting with. MSTM students were fortunate to try their latest tele-conferencing technology complete with high definition television in private room. One cool feature from Cisco would be the social network track, by which they are able to seamlessly filter and translate any public impression on Cisco from social networks. This technology made it possible for Cisco to strategize their marketing effort, product innovation as well as holding global events.

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