HBS Tech Club reports on the takeaways from the largest professional trek at HBS.
After “winding down” for the holidays between Christmas and New Year, HBS students got back from across the world and embarked on the annual pilgrimage of WesTrek to San Francisco. This year, 130 HBS students participated in the WesTrek organized by the Tech Club. WesTrek 2020 included visits to over 60 companies across a diverse set of industries—from self-driving ride-sharing, to artificial intelligence sales assistants, to IoT for trucking. This year, the trek saw an immense interest in technology companies as well as venture capital.
The “WesTrekkers” arrived in San Francisco on a beautiful Sunday morning, and a group of them began the day with a hike through Lands End. In the evening, the WesTrek organizers arranged a social event where everyone got a chance to meet each other and take off on this fun journey together.
Over the course of three days, students explored the Bay Area, met dozens of alumni, and visited over 60 companies across San Francisco and San Jose. This list included big tech names like Facebook, Google, and Uber, venture capital firms such as Bain Capital, Owl Ventures, and Atomic VC, and startups such as Allbirds, rideOs, and Houzz. WesTrek attendees were a diverse group with varied backgrounds and professional interests, including sales, operations, product management, marketing, engineering, finance, strategy, investing, and human resources.
Over 130 HBS attendees sat down with CEOs, COOs, product executives, and many past HBS alumni to learn what it takes to start, grow, and scale a start up in the Silicon Valley. Some of the highlights included:
- Visiting the famous “no-shoes” office of Gusto, where we learned about creating a work culture to make employees feel like home.
- Meeting an incredible HBS alumni panel at Samsara, where we saw sensor technology enabling trucking, transportation, and cities to operate more safely and with better real-time analytics.
- Taking a behind-the-scenes manufacturing tour at Zoox, where we saw the power of 3D printing to help expedite and significantly cut down the costs testing of new car parts for autonomous vehicles.
- Hearing the career journey of Head of Product at Cloudflare, in which we learned about types of Product roles that exist across startups and how to decide between a sales-driven, product-driven, or engineering-driven company for our first careers in tech.
- Visiting the Waymo office where we got to know about all the amazing innovations that came out of Google X lab and the projects that graduated from the program to become independent companies. The team took us on the journey to show the first prototype of Waymo to what it is today.
- Exploring the changing model of VC firms from funders to venture builders. For example, VCs like Atomic VC have completely changed the model in which VC’s operate by now “co-founding” their companies. The companies start within Atomic with an amazing idea and then work within Atomic’s ecosystem to ideate, research, and prototype together.
In meeting VCs and early funded startups, a common message was that this is an incredible time to be an entrepreneur. With a lot of funding available to entrepreneurs as well as more traditional industries opening up to tech-enabled solutions, now is a great time to be an entrepreneur and raise funding. We also got a great sense of the sheer variety of careers HBS alums held at tech companies. During the trek, we saw HBS alumni from entry-level and senior roles, ranging from product management, product marketing, growth strategy, supply chain and finance. The trek provided great exposure to the strong HBS network that is in the West Coast and closely connected within the tech community.
As one of our trekker notes, “Being able to visit start-ups and how the early stage teams are formed allowed me to expand my perspectives on how to think about my career in a small company versus a larger organization. I was also able to speak to so many interesting alumni who are willing to help in any way possible. It was refreshing to meet and make friends with so many others outside my own section. I am sure because of our many common interests, these friendships are going to go a long way.”
As WesTrek came to a close, all attendees reflected on the four days of amazing meetings, fun events, and long-lasting friendships. It sure wasn’t an easy task to coordinate 130 students visiting 60 companies and trying to match the best fits. With overwhelmingly positive feedback from both the attendees and the companies that hosted the meetings, the WesTrek leadership team is still collecting feedback and looking forward to hosting WesTrek again in 2021.
Poorvi Vijay (MBA ’21) is originally from India. She is a part of the Tech Club and was the CFO for WesTrek 2020.
Prior to HBS, she worked at Alexa Speech Organization at Amazon in the United Kingdom as well as Amazon Retail in India. Her background is in UX design and customer experience, and she loves to talk about all things creative.
Nikita Jagadeesh (MBA’21) is a native of California. She is part of the Tech Club and was the Start Up lead for WesTrek 2020. Prior to HBS, she worked in Silicon Valley, in product management at Nutanix, a fast growing cloud computing company and as a strategy consultant at McKinsey. Her background is in product and go-to-market strategy for early-stage tech companies and she loves all things outdoors.