Tag: USC

A business school professor who studied 20,000 startup founders says ‘going ugly’ can be the key to a successful partnership — or marriage

ceo employee mistake embarassed meeting fired
Don’t avoid tough conversations — “going ugly” benefits all parties in a relationship.
Strelka Institute/Flickr
  • Most of us try to avoid tough conversations, but the most successful people tackle awkward subjects head on.
  • A professor who studied 20,000 startup founders said “going ugly” and addressing uncomfortable issues can help you both in the business world and in romantic relationships.
  • From planning for the departure of a company’s cofounder to drawing up a prenuptial agreement, “going ugly” tends to benefit all parties in the long run.

It’s human nature to want to avoid tough conversations.

But the most successful people know that skirting around uncomfortable subjects just makes things worse in the long run.

That’s what Noam Wasserman, a professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, discovered after almost 20 years of studying 20,000 startup founders.

Wasserman wrote about the lessons he learned from his research in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, and he said they apply to both business and life itself.

The professor wrote that the best startup founders he studied had a tendency to approach tough discussions head on — “going ugly,” as he calls it.

“In a hypercompetitive environment, there is little wiggle room for balky products or ineffective team members,” Wasserman wrote for The Journal. “As a result, the best founders move quickly to identify and deal with any problem areas they see, despite the natural inclination to avoid tension-filled issues.”

In one case he studied, two of the three cofounders of a software startup had doubts that the third founder would remain with the company. The third founder had just become a father, and they suspected he might take his ownership stake in the startup and leave for a more stable job, leaving the company unable to attract a good replacement.

To cover their bases, the founders “went ugly” and drafted a plan about what would happen in such a scenario.

“It was a tough conversation, but it paid off,” Wasserman wrote. “When the new father decided that he couldn’t found a venture while founding a family, the company had a deal ready to go. The co-founders reclaimed his ownership stake, used his shares to lure a replacement executive and, down the road, attracted a buyer.”

But “going ugly” is more than just good business advice — it can help in personal relationships, too.

Wasserman said one of his students had a habit of “going ugly” on first dates, refusing to tiptoe around awkward topics like income prospects and where he wants to live.

Prenuptial agreements are another example of how “going ugly” can benefit both parties in a relationship.

“Just as in the entrepreneurial world, agreements like these can strengthen relationships by surfacing issues early, revealing people’s true intentions and motivations and clarifying expectations while adjustments can still be made easily,” Wasserman said.

Source: Business Insider

The CW Buys Drama ‘The Progeny’ Based On Thriller Novel From Chris Roberts, Edward Burns & Radar Pictures

Rex/Shutterstock/Simon & Schuster

The CW has put in development The Progeny, a drama based on Tosca Lee’s bestselling book, from writer Chris Roberts (Orphan Black), Edward Burns’ Marlboro Road Gang Productions, Radar Pictures and CBS TV Studios.

Chris Roberts
Roberts – Courtesy of Verve

Written by Roberts, The Progeny centers on a young amnesiac who discovers she’s a descendant of history’s greatest murderess, plunging her into a deadly underground war as she fights to stop a secret society that has preyed on her kind for centuries.

Burns’ Marlboro Road Gang Productions and Radar Pictures teamed last year to develop the project and went out to writers. Burns and producing partner Aaron Lubin executive produce alongside Radar’s Ted Field, Michael Napoliello and Mike Weber. Roberts is co-executive producer. Maria Frisk serves as producer. CBS TV Studios is the studio.

Roberts most recently worked as a supervising producer on Frontier for Netflix. Before that, he wrote on all seasons of Orphan Black for BBC America. He is repped by Verve and Vanguarde Artists Management.

Radar is producing fantasy drama The Wheel of Time recently ordered to series at Amazon.

Burns and Lubin, through Marlboro Road Gang Prods, produced Burns’ coming-of-age, ensemble comedy Summertime. Burns, along with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, executive produced the TNT period cop drama Public Morals, which Burns wrote, directed and starred in.

Source: Deadline

USC has a new varsity team: The Trojans of esports

USC has a new varsity team: The Trojans of esports
Members of the USC varsity esports team are reflected in the screens of their monitors during practice in a basement lab. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The players on USC’s newest varsity team wear the familiar cardinal and gold, with Tommy Trojan splashed across the front of their jerseys. But on their backs, fans will find names that have never graced a playing field: TankNStein, Kamdono, Loopy, bestty, and Study Meta.

As they scrimmaged in a windowless campus basement Monday night, eyes glued to the popular online battle game League of Legends, the team’s student analyst, Michael Ahn, took note of how players could improve their form. Coach Peter Zhang, recruited from the pro leagues, tracked from his own screen how well the squad followed his strategies.

They were prepping for their game on Thursday night, when the team will battle UCLA in an exhibition match at USC’s Conquest pep rally. The teams will face off onstage in front of an array of gaming computers. Spectators will be able to follow the action on giant screens displaying the players’ monitors.

The varsity League of Legends team is the most public face of a larger organization launching Thursday, the school’s new Esports Union, or ESU.

Unlike most college esports leagues, which are overseen by athletic or campus life departments, USC’s initiative is an offshoot of its game design program, which draws on resources from the film and engineering schools.

Michael Ahn, center, goes over a replay of his team's last match, while team members Duc Minh Nguyen, Ulysses Quesada, William Huang, Jonathan Chai and Jack Johnson look on.
Michael Ahn, center, goes over a replay of his team’s last match, while team members Duc Minh Nguyen, Ulysses Quesada, William Huang, Jonathan Chai and Jack Johnson look on. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Along with of the official team, the ESU will support student clubs across a number of games, and run programs such as League of Legends clinics, where more casual players can pick up pro-level pointers from the varsity squad.

In coming years, the ESU will also support classes dedicated to the event-management and business side of esports, add more varsity teams in popular games such as the team shooter Overwatch and Nintendo’s brawler Super Smash Bros., and help set up scholarship programs for e-athletes.

The creation of the program was spearheaded by current USC senior Keanu Concepcion, who pitched the idea in the fall of 2017 as a way for the school — which is already home to a top-ranked game design program — to remain competitive in all aspects of the growing field.

“My argument for the administration was: If we start the process to make a varsity esports program now, by the time it matters in terms of rankings, USC will be excellently positioned to maintain our top spot,” Concepcion said.

“We always have to be where the industry is and where the art form is,” said Danny Bilson, chairman of the Interactive Media & Games Division of USC’s film school. “It was already on our radar, but once the enthusiasm of the students became clear, we started talking about how we start from zero as USC — one of the better game design schools around, with a well-renowned athletic department.”

With students taking the lead on running the Esports Union and faculty advisors clocking long hours to get the program off the ground, the program is running lean to start, but corporate sponsors such as Red Bull and Logitech are helping fund the initial push.

“We have to bootstrap everything; we’re a school,” Bilson said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s throw off a bunch of budget,’ like we’re a game company,’ it’s all homegrown.”

USC's esports team includes, from left, in front: Duc Minh Nguyen, Jonathan Chai, Ulysses Quesada, Michael Yuan. In back are Brandon Gunning, Jack Johnson, Hoang Phan, William Huang, and Damian Dorrance-Steiner
USC’s esports team includes, from left, in front: Duc Minh Nguyen, Jonathan Chai, Ulysses Quesada, Michael Yuan. In back are Brandon Gunning, Jack Johnson, Hoang Phan, William Huang, and Damian Dorrance-Steiner (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

In spring, posters across campus announced open tryouts and the team began taking shape. The program settled on League of Legends as its first focus, both because the game has a well-developed collegiate league with more than 80 schools split among regional divisions and because its founders, Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, are both USC alumni.

USC also looked to nearby schools for models. UC Irvine has the best-developed esports program in the region, with a campus esports arena and about $80,000 in scholarships for students who make the cut for competitive League of Legends and Overwatch teams.

Zhang, the USC coach, has worked with UC Irvine in the past, and has also served as the head coach for the L.A.-based professional squad Team Liquid.

Michael Sherman, head of Riot Games’ college esports in North America, said school teams help teach players the responsibility and social skills needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“The average pro player is 21.5 years old — trending older as opposed to younger,” Sherman said. “That’s because we’re looking for a lot more of the soft skills. The path of a 17-year-old moving out of his parents’ house and into a team environment with no experience completely on their own was not creating the best team players.”

It’s a boom time for college esports, with Sherman saying that Riot’s program has more than doubled year over year since starting in 2014. It follows the success of the esports industry itself, which has seen dedicated arenas opening up across the country, prize money for major competitions in the tens of millions of dollars, and a global revenue estimated to hit $1.4 billion by 2020, according to market research company Newzoo.

With esports currently falling outside of the NCAA’s jurisdiction, student competitors are allowed to take home cash prizes.

But Neal Robison, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy who researches esports, said cash is beside the point for most collegiate esports programs.

“It’s more about recruitment,” Robison said. “Especially for the smaller schools, this is a way of attracting computer science talent to their university, and specifically attracting female STEM students.”

USC’s varsity program is coed, though its inaugural team has only one female player out of 16.

Concepcion, who has become the program’s director for his final year at USC, said it also serves as another connection to the growing industry.

“Varsity esports is a pathway to build a community on campus, but I think most importantly it’s a pathway to working in the space,” Concepcion said.

And on Thursday night, he’ll be cheering for the team along with the rest of the crowd. Despite running the program, he isn’t on the team. He said getting the ESU off the ground is plenty of work on its own.

Plus, he didn’t make the cut. “I am nowhere near the level of our frontline team,” Concepcion said. “They’re on a whole other level.”

Source: LA Times

Startup Feature: Handstand


“Handstand is a trainer/instructor on-demand app that makes it easy for even the busiest of people to workout effectively. Our trainers provide all the equipment if you choose to workout at home or a park, or you can visit a partner gym on our app. Some people even use their apartment gym. We’re any time and any place. We have session types that range from Pilates, Yoga, Boxing, Tone Up Butt, Legs, & Core classes. It’s your workout on demand from the best trainers in your city.”


I was a workout addict and played sports for years, but when you enter the real world, your time for fitness and other things becomes limited. To make it short, I just wanted a workout when I wanted it – and I wanted results. I didn’t have time to make it to a lot of classes that I wanted, and even if I did, it was stressful, not working. So I hired my first trainer, learned about the industry, and when the idea hit me, I was paranoid, quit my job, launched a website, joined Science Inc., a tech incubator in Santa Monica, and got started.”


All of the texts, emails, calls, notes, reviews, everything from your customers and for us, our trainers, about how much our product has changed their lives. They’re changing their health, which changes lives. We’re making it efficient, convenient, affordable, accessible, and therefore, possible for anyone.”


There are lots of obstacles daily, hourly, weekly – and they’ll never stop, because we’ll keep pushing the envelope. Take a look at Uber – they face obstacles to this day. I keep pushing – some great advice from my dad. If someone says no, ask again, ask someone else, do it yourself. Just find a way to do it.”


If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, I’d say – don’t be scared to get your idea out there. Pitch it, ask questions and get criticism. No one is going to steal your idea. And if you’re scared they will, then you had better get started, right? Make a website tomorrow. Squarespace is awesome.”

Startup Feature: 121C Boards


“121C collects waste carbon fiber from companies in the aerospace industry and upcycles the material to make the highest quality skateboards on the market. Our boards are light, incredibly strong and a blast to  ride.”


“At first I wanted to make carbon fiber skateboards with the scrap that the rocket lab was generating, and when I realized how big of a problem carbon waste was for the industry, I knew I had to start a business.”


“We recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign for $44,000 and have been signing on new companies to collect material from. We’ve also been featured in articles on USC’s website.”


“Half way through our kickstarter campaign, our manufacturer bailed on us and we had to lease a facility and bring everything in house. At first, this was a challenge, but it ended up being a blessing. “


“Be prepared to work a ton.”

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Startup Feature: Y Athletics


“Y Athletics is a men’s premium activewear brand. We spend most of our time on developing new products by incorporating the latest technology and innovations in material sciences. Once we’re satisfied with our products, we usually kick off a crowdfunding campaign to bring the products to life. This helps us gauge the demand for the products and of course also provides us with the funding to manufacture them.”


“My partner, Sam, who also happens to be a trojan alum, came up with the idea when he was trying to buy a new workout shirt. He was confused by all the options provided by the existing retailers and no single product seemed to stand out from the crowd in terms of quality and functionality. So, that’s what led him to start exploring different avenues to build the best workout shirt himself.”


“In our first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, we raised $250k in pre-orders for our shirts. Since then, we’ve launched our own online store and launched two more campaigns on Kickstarter. In total, we’ve sold about $1.3 million worth of activewear over the past 24 months.”


“The fact that people genuinely love the products we make. The satisfaction of running into someone wearing a Y Athletics product and talking about how much they love it… or a friend telling me how much his father loves his YA gear. Our core community of backers on Kickstarter usually write back to us to tell us how much they love our products. So that experience overall has been amazing.”


“We’ve faced obstacles in the past where larger manufacturers have tried to cut off our supply chain. That led to a few months of confusion, legal battles and of course letting our customers down since our shipments were delayed. Our current obstacles are mainly around trying to scale the current operations. Unlike something that’s purely software, it’s much harder to scale the physical infrastructure required to scale our operations.”


“Amongst students, you usually run into two types of people – people who think that they’d never be able to pull off starting their own business because “they’re just not the type,” and then those that are so in love with their ideas that they lose touch with reality and refuse to test out whether there’s actually a market, need or demand for the product they’re building. So, the only advice I would give is to think from a problem-first mentality, and then work backwards to figure out the best solution. Most of the time, people fall in love with a solution rather than a problem.”

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SoGal Marketing Special: Your Startup Deserves More Traction

Are you an early-stage startup? Do you need a low-cost marketing plan? SoGal will help you overcome these obstacles and more during their panel, mixer and workshop event this weekend that aims to support budding entrepreneurs with crucial marketing insights. You’ll learn how to build traffic, foster brand awareness and acquire customers.
Speakers will include:
  • Julie Thorne Engels, Founder and CEO of Tribement (a creative marketing company)
  • Linsey Heisser, Partner and Managing Director of Tribement
  • Audrey Bellis, Founder of Worthy Women and StartupDTLA
  • Eric Rice, CEO Of TrepScore
  • Ann Wang, CEO & Co-Founder Of Enrou
  • Ron Miller, Partner At StartEngine and CEO Of Disability Group, Inc.

When: Saturday, March 26th from 1-5PM

Where: Waite Philips Hall at USC

More about speaker lineup and event website: https://sogalmarketing.splashthat.com/

Startup Feature: Cropsticks


Interview with co-founder Jay Chang


“Cropsticks are eco-friendly, “mind-blowing” disposable chopsticks. It’s the utensil you’ve always known, made better.”



“Chopsticks were invented in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE) and possibly even earlier during the Xia dynasty. In nearly 4000 years, no one has truly innovated the way we use chopsticks. The idea for Cropsticks first came to inventor Mylen Fe Yamamoto as she was on a flight to Asia in April 2015 and her chopsticks kept rolling off the dirty tray table. She thought that there must be an easier way to keep her chopsticks in place.

Then the horizontal breakaway holder was born! After doing more research, she found out that over 20 millions trees go into production to create the wooden disposable utensil. So it became a goal to produce it sustainably from fast growing bamboo. Mylen and Jay met in 2013 when Jay was producing the DiscoverMe conference. Jay’s family background has been in manufacturing bamboo housewares for the past 15+ years through TotallyBamboo.”


“Seeing thoughts become reality and it helps when you like the people you work with.”


“We’ve been working on Cropsticks since April last year. So when the chopstick meme of our similar idea went viral last month and challenged our product, we knew it was important to launch fast.”


“Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to your first customers. Don’t be afraid that people will steal your idea. Don’t be afraid someone else is better than you or will beat you to market. Be cognizant of all of those things and use them to your advantage to clearly articulate your unique value proposition, and build the best product you can to solve your customer’s pain.”




– Kickstarter at 40% in 5 days

– Interest from angel investors potential distribution partners and major restaurant chains

– Featured on NBC, NextShark, Hawaii Magazine, KITV4 ABC, Hawaii News Now and Folic Hawaii 

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Global Recon Lecture 1: Swim in the Deep Water

If you didn’t surf today, you’re not the best surfer. Global Recon, Machine Shop Ventures’ 5-week lecture series at USC, kicked off with this wisdom from brand strategist Josh Madden. Madden has colored the brand histories of some of the biggest names in business and media, and on Tuesday night he offered students a one-of-a-kind crash course in the craft of building big ideas.

Here were Madden’s pro tips:

Tip #1: “If you Didn’t Surf Today, you’re Not the Best Surfer”

Madden made it clear: if you’re not working diligently at your craft every day, you’re not the best in the business today. He said, “If you do business every day, you know what business is.” The key to success in any venture is to actively pursue success and practice your craft daily. There are competitors around every corner, and the best barrier to their entry is competitive diligence. Madden says, “swim in the deep water.”

Business diligence also sustains the heartbeat of your network. “All the time you spend working on your company is how you become the person who knows everyone. That’s how you become linked. Because you’re surfing.” Persistence and repetition are key.


Tip #2: Support the Newcomers

You should network with creators before they get big. Madden said, “if you like something and you think it’s going to be huge, invest yourself in it.” This applies to your own venture, but also to the ideas of others in the startup ecosystem. It’s important to “support people that are new in business,” Madden said. You never know whose idea will take off; make connections early and invest in your long-term network.

Tip #3: “Apathy is Bad for Business”

There’s no value in working without passion. Madden talked about today’s bummer of business: “It’s a hand-me-down of bum-outs in business right now.” He called out the sunken disinterest of creators who’ve grown too comfortable and detached from the energy of creativity.

Tip #4: Curiosity is Key

Be a curious entrepreneur. Madden said, “It’s usually free to discover stuff. Go out there and meet people. Network, get in early and make friendships with people who are successful.” There’s value in expanding your friendships and channeling new perspectives. The experiences of those around you will only broaden your own. “Find something you like and do it all the time. Do something a lot and do it well. Do it often and build a job for yourself.”

Tip #5: Understand Social Media  

Your social media use must have purpose and context. Madden commented, “social media: if it’s not social, and it’s not media… what are you doing?” It’s important to understand the dynamics of social networks in order to post relevant and meaningful content. There’s a desperate attempt by brands to break through the noise, and posting memes isn’t an end-all social strategy. Madden asks an important question: “what are memes even for?”

Tip #6: Insights, Insights, Insights

Every idea should be rooted in insight. Madden said, “strategies come from insights. If you can present a strategy built on insights, you can convince anyone of anything. Giving insights is the way you get to where you want to go.” You can’t force an idea if it’s not intuitive. Find reasons for why you want to build your idea, and “make sure your idea satisfies those reasons.”