UVM alumni return often to their alma mater to share experiences with today’s students. This past semester’s guests included Robert Clarkson ’88, PayPal general manager for North America, and Brian Halligan ’90, CEO and co-founder of HubSpot. Read on for a distillation of their insights on building a career in business and making the most of your college years.
Brian Halligan ‘90
Think big, then think bigger
I would think big. A lot of entrepreneurs coming out of UVM don’t think big enough. One of the things that we were inspired by is we wanted to build a California-style company in Boston. We wanted to build something like an Apple or a Google or an Amazon, something big and ambitious. From the beginning, we were ambitious about our vision, about who we hired, ambitious about how much money we raised and how much dilution we could take. We swung hard. I would encourage that. If you’re going to do it, do it.
The lasting impact of Vermont
The culture in Vermont is very different than the culture in Boston or New York, and I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but people are really friendly and nice up here. That has had a big influence on me. There’s a little bit of Vermont that has stuck with me. I wanted to take a little bit of Vermont, being nice and friendly and sociable, and combine it with my technical skills. That sort of mix has been very helpful for me.
I was an electrical engineering major with a biomedical option. I took a ton of electrical engineering courses, math, physics, biology, chemistry. There are technical skills I learned, and I use them all the time. I took computer science classes that were early and raw, but useful. I can speak like an engineer to our engineers.
Tips for the entrepreneurial student
Starting a company early in your life or career is a good thing. At school, you’re in a very inspiring environment to start a company. And, pick a really good cofounder, someone who complements you. My co-founder Dharmesh is really technical, and I’m more on the business side, and we’re sort of this one plus one equals three. The leading cause of death in startups is co-founder conflict.
Robert Clarkson ‘88
On Silicon Valley culture
Some might misperceive laid-back behavior as being non-motivated. There is enormous motivation, enormous pressure, and a constant sense of urgency to innovate. If you went to Silicon Valley thinking that it’s all foosball tables, ping-pong, beer on Fridays, that would be under-selling that sense of urgency and accountability you have to have to make a major impact. You know that the mission never stops, so therefore the job never stops. But it is an absolutely thrilling place to work.
The virtues of a broad education
I loved the balance I found at UVM. In addition to my business courses, I took a lot of English classes and worked on set designs for the Royall Tyler Theatre. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I was in college, but I was smart enough to know what I didn’t know. I realized that I didn’t have it all figured out and thought the wider the influences and education I got was going to be better for me in the long run. It worked out that way, and I still feel that way. The world isn’t single-threaded.
You can’t go it alone
At work I’m motivated by other people’s success. I feel best when I can get somebody on my team promoted or they get more responsibility. I feel like that’s my mission as their leader. Or when I can help a merchant grow their business and satisfy their customers’ needs, I feel like that’s a pretty good day. In Silicon Valley, there’s a strong ethic that advancement is in the collective, not the individual sense—the thinking is “we” not “me.”
On lifelong learning and creativity
Looking back when I was a student, I think I thought that the working world was going to be like some sort of Dickens novel or a Pink Floyd video where you’re shuffling off to contribute to the machine. But that same sense of joy of discovery and camaraderie that you have while at the university can continue throughout your career. The university creates the platform to be successful. But, in fact, the peak of your curiosity and your agility is after you graduate.