Truth Trumps Trend

Mike Peña, Stanford University May 26, 2014

In a tech-driven society that often fixates on the “next big thing,” it’s comforting to know that truth can trump trend. Rather than launching a venture that seeks to profit off whatever is popular at the moment, the message from those who have succeeded in Silicon Valley — who also speak of true fulfillment in their lives — are innovators who honor authenticity.

Below are three recent video clips from The Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series on how authenticity keeps an immensely popular startup focused on its mission, how it remains vital even within large corporations, and most importantly, how it is the single-best guide in your own entrepreneurial pursuits.

As many already know, the free, online education platform Khan Academy began as one man’s hobby of making a math video for his 12-year-old cousin after she bombed a placement test. Ten years later, Khan Academy boasts 5,500 instructional videos, with 4 million exercises solved daily over approximately 200 countries.

That well-meaning man, Sal Khan, spoke at Stanford on April 16 and ended his talk by acknowledging the pressure to measure progress by the metrics those around him use. In Silicon Valley, that’s often data points like “unique users,” “click-through rates” and “sales conversions.”

Khan Academy’s stated mission is “to provide a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” And Khan, the academy’s founder and executive director, concluded his talk by saying that his not-for-profit organization’s biggest challenge is “staying true to our mission.”

Authenticity also has its place in the largest of enterprises. Corporate guideposts such as mission and identity can get complicated and evolve over time as a company grows and shifts focus, which puts the onus on its people to preserve authenticity.

In her Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk last October, Cisco’s chief technology and strategy officer, Padmasree Warrior, talked about how authenticity makes a “huge difference,” whether you’re trying to attract talented people, or create a work environment where people feel empowered to contribute.

But if you do plan to launch your own venture, whether tech-related or not, authenticity is critical to ingrain at the start. Entrepreneur Tristan Walker, who spoke in April, found his calling in the “ethnic aisle” at the local drugstore.

Walker is African American, and so truly knows the frustration that black men feel throughout their lives when it comes to shaving. So when it came time to launch his own product, he decided on the first end-to-end shaving system specifically designed for men of color.

“If I was going to dedicate the next 10-plus years of my life to anything,” Walker said, “I wanted to fundamentally feel like I was the best person in the world to solve that problem.”