The journey from startup to thriving business is a road well traveled for Rick Klau ’93, of Mountainview, Calif. Now as partner in charge of Startup University for Google Ventures, the savvy business entrepreneur is helping others chart a course to success.
Startup University provides employees of Google Ventures’ portfolio of growing companies with educational opportunities such as hands-on courses in completing user research studies, mentorship resources, and classes. By early next year, plans are to house the university in a building being constructed just off Google’s campus in Mountain View, Calif.
As former Google product manager, Klau led product initiatives on Blogger, Google+, and YouTube. He had also been involved in a number of technology startups, including FeedBurner, Socialtext, Interface Software, TrialNet, and iManage.
“I’ve lived the startup life—good, bad, and in between,” says Klau, who earned bachelor’s degrees in French and international affairs from Lafayette and a juris doctorate from University of Richmond School of Law. “But in the last four years, I’ve lived the Google life and seen countless reminders of what an extraordinary collection of talent, experience, and insight Google is.”
At Richmond School of Law, Klau founded Richmond Journal of Law & Technology, the world’s first student-edited law journal to publish exclusively online. He has provided technology advice to three U.S. presidential campaigns, ran the campaign weblog for President Barack Obama during his 2004 Senate race, and led product strategy for and managed Google’s presence at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. He also created superdelegates.org to help the public understand the role these delegates play in the Democratic Party.
According to Klau, Startup University does not offer a blueprint for success.
“Startup U is not about telling the portfolio companies how to do things,” he says. “Instead it’s about setting them up to succeed—and if they’re going to make a mistake, let’s make sure they don’t repeat the ones we made.”
To Klau, the ability to tap into entrepreneurial experience is priceless.
“At my last startup, I was employee number six,” Klau says. “We grew quickly, but we were constantly stretched thin. None of us had a peer group that understood our product, knew our users, and could answer questions, share experiences, and provide advice.”
At Startup University, “students” tap into the collective experience of Google colleagues.
“I have 30,000 peers at Google—people who are some of the best in the world at what they do,” he explains. “Whether that means sitting down one-on-one with our entrepreneurs or putting a workshop together in which an expert Googler can teach a group of our portfolio companies, Startup U is a chance to transfer valuable experiences to entrepreneurs who can apply it immediately to their own situation.”
Klau caught his entrepreneurial fever at Lafayette.
“Lafayette provided a great environment for me to try new things and not be bound by the status quo,” he remembers. “In fact, my first ‘startup’ was a political newspaper that a number of us formed ahead of the 1992 presidential election.”
“Thanks to Lafayette’s early commitment to the Internet I got a taste of the technology that would become an integral part of my career,” he says.