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.

Lessons in Leadership Gleaned from International Business Development Course

Through the Haas School’s experiential learning course, International Business Development (IBD), teams of Berkeley MBA students have begun work on projects in sectors that include airline, consumer products, education, energy, healthcare, high technology, mining, paper, poverty alleviation, and wildlife conservation. The students will work remotely for the rest of the spring semester, and then spend three weeks in-country. Projects will take them to the countries marked in red on the map above, including Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Finland, Mongolia and South Africa.

IBD yields lessons in leadership, as gleaned from the experience of Peter Hajdu, MBA 05, who journeyed to the Canadian wilderness in 2004, along with his three IBD teammates. Their IBD project focused on alleviating some of the major social and health challenges affecting a community of Native Americans. Landing onto the terrain aboard a very small hydroplane, Peter and his teammates encountered what it means to be a leader within the context of a remote, rugged landscape.
peter hajdu
Peter Hajdu, MBA ’05

Peter reflects, “One expects leadership to happen in boardrooms and presidential palaces, however my IBD experience proved this common belief incorrect. In the middle of the Canadian Pacific Rainforest we found unparalleled leadership, embodied in the community’s visionary leader. He had sacrificed his successful, urban business career to return home and lead his community in overcoming very significant societal challenges. This experience changed my beliefs about leadership: you can find it anywhere, anytime and under any circumstance. Very often leadership involves personal sacrifice as well.”

Today, Peter serves as the General Director of Cisco’s South Eastern operations, a region that contains 10 countries. Prior to this role, he directed strategy and business development for emerging markets, such as Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East – also with Cisco. Prior to Cisco, he worked for McKinsey and Company, leading strategic and operational projects across Europe. In addition, Peter has been instrumental in securing IBD projects for our MBAs over the years in Eastern European markets such as Albania, Macedonia, Georgia and Bulgaria. We recognize Peter for his continued demonstration of leadership in the technology sector, and are thankful for his ongoing involvement with the IBD program.

Taste of Haas: A Delicious Evening

Do I pair Sukhi’s samosa with a cabernet or pinot noir? Do Socola’s chocolate truffles go better with a red or a white? Do I want mustard on that Top Dog classic frank along with an oyster stout from Henhouse Brewing Company to wash it down? Those were the weighty topics of discussion at this year’s Taste of Haas.

Good food and good wine were the order of the day at the annual Taste of Haas event on Sept. 15. Over 300 Haas alums sauntered, sipped and shopped at this year’s event at Williams-Sonoma’s beautiful store on Union Square. Over 35 wine, food and beverage vendors offered their wares. And as in years past, it was a sold-out crowd with folks lined up outside waiting for the doors to open.

Added to all the incredible culinary treats were some treats of a different nature. Several people walked away winners. Tyler Keppler, MBA 2012, had many new friends as he walked out of the Taste of Haas with the Signature Wine Collection—an incredible assortment of wines from all of our Taste of Haas wineries. Mikhail Shneyder, MBA 2007, will be having an enlightening lunch with Dean Rich Lyons as a result of our raffle. Kim Wirtz, MBA 1993, will be cheering on the Cal team at the Washington State game in ATT Park. And Cynthia Harris, MBA 1993, will get some great career coaching advice during her session with Career Insiders’ Mauri Schwarz.

Finally, to help folks hone their networking skills, guests were challenged to discover fun facts about our various vendors and fill in their bingo cards to win a bottle of wine. How many of you know which Taste of Haas winery served its Sauvignon Blanc at President Obama’s inauguration? We’re not giving away the secret here. You’ll have to visit our Facebook page to learn about it. Or better yet, pencil in the date for next year’s Taste of Haas.

–Sandra Stumbaugh, MBA 1993