Billion-Dollar Startups, Splunk Founder Michael Baum, and One-Minute Pitches at Annual Haas Celebration

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What’s one secret to launching a billion-dollar startup? Continually innovating your business model, not just your product or service, says Michael Baum, founder and former CEO of Splunk, which creates software that helps companies glean insights from machine data and was one of the most successful IPOs of 2012.

Baum was the featured speaker at the 12th annual Haas Celebration at Gap Inc. headquarters in San Francisco on March 18. Nearly 400 alumni, students, and friends of Haas attended the event, which this year highlighted the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. The evening also included a one-minute pitch competition for teams of alumni and students.

In a conversation with Lester Center Executive Director Andre Marquis, MBA 96, Baum spoke about how he built Splunk and the changing landscape of entrepreneurship education. Baum’s 25-year entrepreneurial career has included six startups and five acquisitions that have created more than 3,000 jobs, more than 150 millionaires, and more than $10 billion in shareholder value.

One way Splunk innovated its business model in the early days, when it was competing with companies like IBM, was to buy Google AdWords on troubleshooting topics users might have with a competitor’s software. For anyone seeking help with a problem, Splunk repeatedly appeared as the solution.

Baum also stressed that success is about execution, not ideas. That’s why Splunk cofounders weren’t concerned with competitors seeing the product roadmap they posted online for two years to crowdsource feedback from potential customers. They knew they could deliver the software faster and better than anyone else.

Baum’s current startup is FOUNDER.org, which works with colleges, universities (including Cal), and research institutes to help students become successful entrepreneurs. Its initiatives provide students funding, education, and mentoring to prepare them for long-term success. Baum’s goal for FOUNDER.org is longevity (he’s aiming for a hundred years), so he made it a nonprofit. He says it may be one of the first nonprofit venture capital projects.

The evening also included a one-minute pitch competition among Haas and Cal student and alumni representatives from 10 startups. Audience members could learn about each startup during the cocktail hour and voted via text message. Teams pitching their ideas represented Brandizi, Twindom, Eko Devices, Magoosh, Modify Industries, OCHO Candy, PlushCare, POWr, Xcell Biosciences, and YadaZing.

The winner of Cal swag and bragging rights was Eko Devices (coincidentally affiliated with FOUNDER.org), which helps clinicians amplify, digitize, and analyze patient heart sounds through a smart device that attaches to a stethoscope. Traditional stethoscopes can’t diagnose most heart conditions but an Eko Device can. “We want to put a cardiologist in every doctor’s pocket,” said Eko cofounder and CEO Connor Landgraf, BS 13 (Bioengineering), during his pitch.

Guests at the event also enjoyed access to the renowned modern art of Gap founders Doris Fisher and her late husband, Don Fisher, BS 51, whose collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, and many others.

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