You can work with your own personality to find your own leadership style.
While studying for his undergrad economics degree at Stanford, Sam Shapiro got involved in a mentorship program in which he was paired with a student from Stanford Graduate School of Business. The experience inspired him to apply after he graduated in 2013, and he was accepted. Still, he waited nearly four years before enrolling, and spent those years working at a private equity firm and at a tech startup founded by a Stanford GSB grad.
It sounds like you experimented a bit with your career during your years before business school.
Yeah, between college and coming here, I worked at the private equity firm TPG Capital on their investing team, doing large private equity buyouts and growth equity investing in tech. Then for one year I went to work at a company called Homebase in San Francisco, founded by John Waldmann (MBA ’13). The Stanford GSB connection helped with that. He and many of his executive team went here, and they were excited that that was on my horizon. That helped them be comfortable that I’d only be staying at their company for a year, and it helped me get the confidence to make the jump from TPG, which is a very steady job, to this high-risk, early-stage startup. But I knew I wanted to try that, and I knew I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d have something after it or not, because I knew I was coming back to school.
What were you doing at Homebase?
I was hired as chief of staff for John, the founder and CEO. I worked on projects with him, and my main focus became helping to build and launch a new product for them. The company’s core operations are in employee scheduling, time sheets, and payroll and employee management products for small businesses that have hourly workers — essentially taking a paper work schedule that would be posted in the back of a restaurant or retail store and putting it online and allowing the scheduling to be done by a manager that way, and then building a suite of products around that. The product I helped launch focused on hiring, because there’s tons of turnover in cooks and waiters and hourly positions at retail companies. Once you lose an employee you should be able to hire their replacement through this product as well.
What were you hoping to learn when you finally enrolled at the GSB?
The biggest part of Stanford GSB’s public reputation is the emphasis on personal development and leadership, whether that’s through classes such as Managing Growing Enterprises, or “Touchy Feely,” or by putting yourself in these hairy situations.
Having all these guests talk about their experiences building companies was inspirational, because it shows there are all these different types of people who can do it.
Situations that require book knowledge as well as experience to tackle. I wanted to be in a position to feel confident in those situations wherever they come up in my career. That was the biggest attraction, but I also wanted to pause and make lifelong friends during those two years in a way that I hadn’t during the intervening years. Looking back, that’s the thing that’s most important to me coming out of it. We’ve gotten to travel to incredible places, including South Africa, New Zealand, Colombia, and Japan. Some of the global travel with classmates has been incredibly fun and bonding and eye-opening. The global aspect of the school, just having friends from all over the world and going in some cases to their hometowns — that’s a perspective I didn’t expect to be as great as it was.
Anything else you didn’t expect to learn while here that turned out to be important?
There’s a big focus on entrepreneurship. Not that I came here to start a company, but having seen all these guests come back to my classes and talk about their experiences building companies was inspirational, because it shows there are all these different types of people who can do it. You don’t have to be a technological genius or a social recluse or one of the more extreme profiles of founders and successful leaders of companies. You can work with your own personality to find your own leadership style. I didn’t know that coming in, and that was exciting to me, and motivational, and it removed the excuse that I’m not the right type of person for this or that. Also, the friendships and relationships were something I hoped for and that exceeded my expectations. Two years is a relatively short time, but it feels like much longer.
In a good way or a bad way?
In a good way. The relationships feel deeper than what I thought would be possible in two years. That’s probably because you’re traveling the world together, and you’re doing all these crazy things outside of school. But it’s also that you’re fully present because you’re here in large part to make those friends and relationships.
What will you be doing after graduation?
I’m going to San Francisco to work at a late-stage venture capital firm called DFJ Growth. The investing team is eight people, and I’ll be the ninth. Being part of a small team is exciting for me.
What’s the firm’s focus?
Companies with big ambitions that have reached an inflection point where they’ve got a real business, they’ve got traction with real growth demonstrated over a number of years, but they still have a long way to go to fulfill the upside potential of the market they’re in. The job offers a combination of what I loved about my jobs at TPG and Homebase, where you get the rigor of investing and you’re going around meeting with amazing companies and following trends that you think are exciting, but then also working with those companies as they go through the challenges of growth. I’m excited to be involved at an earlier stage with the companies.
What three things are most important to you when considering an investment?
One is the potential of the market the company is going after. Does that need to be changed, or is it efficient? I look at the logic of whether that company is positioned to change things and the size of the opportunity if they do change it. From there, I look at the quality of the product or service they’re offering and whether current customers truly love them. And then the team that’s building it and whether they’ll be able to continue innovating beyond what the current product is and realize the potential.
Sam Shapiro, Stanford Graduate Student