As I begin to write this essay, the MSTM group tour is going wrapping up our second day journey. Although I am intrigued to tell the stories of how all the companies are related to one another and how they are different, I believe I would not do justice for each individual company. In a short trip across Silicon Valley, I saw the name of many major companies and I realized that what excited me the most was how it was relatable to me.
Our first company visit is a well-known startup accelerator called Plug and Play. They are located in the friendly neighborhood of Sunnyvale. Upon arriving to Plug and Play, I did some research on the company and I have to admit that I am pretty impressed with the range of portfolio of companies that they have handled in the past including Zoosk, PayPal and SoundHound among others.
As a young entrepreneur with a startup myself, I am well aware of the benefit from startup accelerator. Not only do they provide programs that accelerate the establishment of the companies, they also provide much additional assistance with regard to legal issues and networks. As a UIUC student, I am privileged that the university provides its own start up accelerator called EnterpriseWorks. However, Plug and Play opened my eyes to the full potential of startup accelerator located in the heart of Silicon Valley.
As we enter the office, we were greeted with enthusiasm of the representative and colorful building and flags from different countries that really signifies the spirit of entrepreneurism on a global scale. I was very surprised to find out that the company was founded in 2006. I personally feel that much commitment, vision and passion is needed to be able to reach that rate of growth for a company. Plug and Play distinguishes itself by providing many well-rounded accelerator options and they made alliance with 220 universities presently, making them one of the pioneers in this area. One interesting program that they have is called startup camp, a 10-week program designed to immerse university startups and entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley environment.
Right after our lunch, we went down to visit Zynga, an online gaming company famous for its Farm Ville and Mafia Wars. Founded in April 2007 under the name of Presidio Media, it gained huge user base growth with the strategic platform alliance with Facebook. I found myself very excited for the Zynga visit. Part of it was because of Zynga was the first gaming company that I visited, while it is also a leading company in social media overall. This combination places them in a unique position and market-leading brand of social media gaming.
As we enter the building, our eyes laid on a strange RV with distinctive white and maroon color and blaring light tunnel right in the front of the guest ID gate. The group instinctively knew that we were not in a conventional 9 to 5 company. After we were given our own ID badge from Texan like front office – complete with Buffalo skull and Rodeo saddle – we began to tour to the dining hall, wellness center and break corner. Zynga boasted a large, six floor complex where each corner of the working spaces seems to have characteristics on their own. Phone booth stands on one side of balcony with Xbox 360 complete with a large TV flat screen was plugged at one corner that seems to be out of place yet they tell a story of Zynga vision that exudes abstractness, freedom and creativity.
After a short break, we went to a room where we met project managers and the MSTM group was privileged to have the opportunity of hearing their stories on Zynga vision and how their role impacted the company as a whole. With technology is expanding at a rapid pace, the topic of innovation and sustaining competitive advantage naturally surfaced. One project manager stated that – and I edited where necessary – “I think one reason that makes Zynga so successful is the ability of us to involve everyone more than the professional level. We do not just come here to work, but we are passionate and take great pride and ownership in building our product.” This statement seemed to be generic at glance, but it took a great effort to instill such spirit of belonging. A good project manager should be able to appreciate the importance of this while at the same time exhibit the flexibility and flair of creating an effective workflow where his or her group members can play according to their strengths.
I noticed from the first day of the trip that no matter how different the nature of two companies, they are essentially geared towards making the connection, whether it is inward alignment or external network outreach. One key thing that both Plug and Play and Zynga found valuable is the availability of data in timely manner. Accelerators work more effectively if they know the potential startup and its status beforehand, the information of venture capitalists and what they are looking for. The situation is faced with Zynga on different aspect. When they want to introduce a certain feature or launch a new game, they have to understand the market trend and project financial forecast that justifies the strategy of the company overall. This availability of data boils down to our readiness in utilizing new technology. Thus, I see MSTM as not just a major that prepare us to be a well-rounded project managers, but also a cultivation of flexible mindset to fit into different aspects of industries.