5 1/2 Questions for Chuck Eesley
Entrepreneurship Professor, Stanford University
Entrepreneurship Professor, Stanford University and Faculty Director Stanford Technology Ventures Program
Chuck Eesley is an Associate Professor and W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. As part of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, his research focuses on the role of the institutional and university environment in high-growth, technology entrepreneurship.
His research focuses on rethinking how the educational and policy environment shapes the economic and entrepreneurial impact of university alumni. His field research spans China, Japan, Chile, Bangladesh, Thailand and Silicon Valley and has received awards from the Schulze Foundation, the Technical University of Munich, and the Kauffman Foundation. He is a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Center for International Development, the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Stanford King Center on Global Development. He is also a member of the Editorial Board for the Strategic Management Journal.
Before coming to Stanford, Prof. Eesley completed his Ph.D. at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He started his first company while earning a Bachelor’s degree from Duke University in 2002. His work has been published among other places in Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, Research Policy, and Biological Psychiatry. He has also been an advocate and mentor for immigrants and historically under-represented groups in STEM, academia and the tech sector via programs such as Diversifying Academia, Recognizing Excellence (DARE), AAAS — Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST), and SURF among others.
Charles (Chuck) Eesley
Chuck Eesley is an Associate Professor and W.M. Keck Foundation Faculty Scholar in the Department of Management Science…
5 1/2 Questions for Chuck Eesley
1 — What is the biggest impact you ultimately hope to have in your current role?
Well, I always say that I’m really trying to train the next generation of entrepreneurs, and you know in my view, entrepreneurs, they’re the change makers and the problem solvers driving our our progress forward.
And so ultimately [the biggest impact I want to have] is on the next generation: I’m hoping to make them at least a little bit more successful, or at least avoid some of the mistakes that I’ve made along the way.
[what was your secret sauce — in helping to train the next generation of entrepreneurs?]
I don’t know if there’s just one secret sauce — I mean now we say that it’s the recipe here in Silicon Valley — in putting all the elements together. So, you know, that’s the mentors that come in, and the social network that we build for them. That’s the skills and opportunity recognition, and then the skills in opportunity execution, that we try to impart — plus just some experience.
I guess my special sauce that I might be adding relative to others is that I’ve got the research insights as well. So it’s gathering a lot of data, and crunching the numbers on what predicts likelihood of IPO or acquisition — things along those lines, and not just in the US, but also in emerging economies.
That’s kind of my unique contribution, I guess, to entrepreneurship.
2 — If you weren’t in your current role, what career would you have?
Well, actually, initially I thought I was gonna be a professor, but I thought I was gonna be a professor in in biology or in neuroscience. So that was the career path not-taken, I suppose.
My PHD. wound up studying management at the MIT Sloan School, and after that was after working at the Duke University Medical Center for a while, and under Professor Richard Keefe. We’d actually just had a big startup success with a company called Sundance Genetics. It just got acquired — which was great to see, because I worked on what eventually became VeraSci [a clinic drug trial company].
But yeah I think you know It’s always gonna be a mix of of some teaching, some research and some startup activity. It was just a question of the relative balance and and timing of those things, and and so you know I always thought that I’d become a biology or neuroscience Professor first. And then I’d commercialize some invention out of the lab later on in my career. But the turning point for me was stumbling across a technology out of a lab at Duke, and realizing that I didn’t have to wait. I could get started on the entrepreneurial journey much earlier.
Long story short, I had a study-abroad experience in India, and as a result of that saw the need for drought-resistant, pest-resistant varieties of corn. I happen to see a biology professor at Duke giving a talk on how she had developed a technology exactly along those lines, and went up to her afterwards, saying “you know I I really want to help and see this get out of the lab and into the real world to to benefit people.”
And that was the first startup project that I worked on when when I was a senior at Duke University. That opened my eyes to the dark side, and I realized that [success] wasn’t simply a matter of inventing the technology and then letting the business people sell it.
3 -What was the biggest career mistake you ever saw someone make?
Oh gosh, you know I was thinking about this one and I’m not sure. It’s always hard to know what’s a mistake in in hindsight. Some of the biggest mistakes wind up being the most important learning lessons that lead you to the future opportunities.
So you know I think my answer is that — I think there’s a lot of folks that never get pushed or never see the opportunity, either in engineering or science or in entrepreneurship, and they think [the opportunity] is not for them, or they never question it. So you know I think that’s the biggest mistake — just kind of following a career path the without questioning it, and without seeing that there’s tremendous opportunities that are out there, using skills around science, engineering, technology and using it in in entrepreneurship. So I think that’s the biggest mistake that I could think of.
4 — What talent impresses you?
The talent that impresses me? I think right right along those lines is the people that can really use their creativity and take initiative, and in particular, that they take initiative in a way that is patient.
I think there’s there’s too much kind of short term-ism and people just thinking like 6 months or a year ahead.
I think there’s tremendous advantages to people who have the patience to apply their talents, whatever they might be — to problems that are going to take a long time to solve or to initiatives like building a company that are not going to happen overnight.
And so I think it’s it’s the application of those talents that are core to entrepreneurship, but but applying them in a way that that has some long-term vision and and patients for more meaningful outcome. There’s a talent about being patient about the opportunity.
There’s a lot of very talented Stanford students who choose to apply that talent in the place where they need to get the biggest immediate paycheck for next year, instead of for the long term.
[do you have you have that “long term” gene?]
I do, I do. Yeah, for whatever reason it comes more natural to me — the long term.
[As for talent that impresses] The person that I have in mind is actually Catalin Voss,
He’s one of the most amazing Stanford students that that I’ve had, you know, AI/CS background and had been starting companies from a young age. He could get, you know, a huge salary at a Google, or wherever he wanted to go. He could start up an AI Company optimizing advertising, and have a huge valuation immediately.
But instead, if you look at what he’s chosen to do — and he talks about this very explicitly in his interviews — is he’s chosen to apply this talents and skill set in AI to solve problems in education — things that have social impact, and he recognizes that this is not the quickest path to to getting wealthy but It’s much more meaningful. And I think it creates more enduring companies in the long run. So Catalin Voss is actually my exemplar for this idea of applying your talent and in a way that has long term vision and patience.
Catalin Voss is a German inventor and entrepreneur, founder of startup company Sension (acquired by GAIA systems) and the Autism Glass Project at Stanford University. Voss’s technology inventions have been seen as a potential tool for widening the bottleneck for autism treatment by helping those on the Autism Spectrum to better identify emotions. In 2015, Voss’s research work has received grant support from Google and the Packard Foundation. (Quick excerpt From Wikipedia)
5 — If you could have one tweet or message that every entrepreneur would save and read every day — what would it be?
Question your assumptions.
Yeah, that’s it: “Question your assumptions”
5–1/2 — BONUS “Color” Question
You’re the professor on Gillian’s island. How do YOU get them off that damn island?
Well, I love this question because I was a big fan of Gilligan’s Island. As a kid I watched, I think, every episode.
Now it’s nice living on an island — so actually, I would not escape. Instead I would create a business around eco-tourism.
[Did did you identify with the professor when you were younger?]
I did. I always loved that. He even created a radio from scratch, though I wasn’t quite sure how they got all the parts.
For more 5–1/2 Questions Interviews, see:
5-1/2 Questions with CJ Cornell
5 1/2 Questions from The Metapreneurs "5-1/2 Questions" from CJ Cornell is a new series of mini-interviews with leaders…
“5–1/2 Questions” from CJ Cornell is a new series of mini-interviews with leaders in the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem around the world. In less than a half-dozen short questions, we’ll try to learn more about each leader, and what makes them successful and unique.
The questions are designed a little like a “Magic Eight Ball” (my GenX colleagues know what this is): A set of questions, posed at random. Plus, at least one question, or half-question, is designed to find out something about their personality that most people might never suspect (I mean expect).
CJ Cornell is a serial entrepreneur, investor, advisor, mentor, author, speaker, and educator. As an entrepreneur, CJ Cornell was a founder of more than a dozen successful startup ventures that collectively attracted over $250 million in private funding; created nearly a thousand new jobs; and launched dozens of innovative consumer, media, and communications products — that have exceeded $3 billion in revenues.
He is the author of the bestselling “The Age of Metapreneurship — A Journey into the Future of Entrepreneurship.”
And the upcoming “The Startup Brain Trust — A Guidebook for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and the Mentors that Help them Become Great.”