Open letter to Professor Seelig:
I picked up your book eagerly when it came out, because I'm a Haas Business School student wishing to make a contribution to this world through entrepreneurship. But I stopped after the first 10 pages or so, and made sure to flip through the rest of the chapters to make sure I wasn't missing out on some big message. I was disappointed.
"What would you do to earn money if all you had was 5 dollars and 2 hours?" Seemingly harmless and interesting experiment, but your example of the "winning" team had me furrowing my brow in disbelief that a Stanford professor would laud this team for rigging restaurant reservations and taking a commission cut as being "innovative" and "creative" thinkers. Are you serious?? Can nobody else see how ridiculous this is?
Umm....hello? It's called SCALPING. Scalping is not a novel, innovative concept. Anyone can do it and earn $600 in two hours - ethical people just choose not to.
Innovative: 0. You can find ticket scalpers anywhere, from crowded sold-out railroad stations of third world countries, to rock concerts. These ticket scalpers are often street kids who don't even have a high school education and are just trying to survive to feed themselves. How is this "creative thinking" by privileged Stanford students?
Unethical: 1. Those unsuspecting people who are outside waiting in line aren't "benefitting" and "happily paying" for a spot, they've been duped out of a spot, and are unfairly waiting in line because these Stanford students took up a fake spot in the first place. That's like creating an anti-virus software company and then creating a virus so that you can make money from your anti-virus software. It's a cruel and meaningless way to make money.
Contribution to Society: 0. Who likes middlemen whose sole purpose is to take a commission? Haven't we as a society been working to eliminate travel booking agencies and wanting to deal directly? It's a huge annoyance and unfair rig in the system. And it's easy. Anyone can do it, but it's reprehensible, and we simply choose not to because it's wrong.
After you laud this team for scalping, you go on to describe how they creatively got the females to sell the spots. Umm...hello? Sex trafficking? Need I go on?
Stanford is supposed to stand for something - a place for big minds and big ideas that will transform and contribute to our society in a positive and benevolent way. Instead, your "two hours and $5" exercise is inadvertently training a cohort of immoral and unethical business leaders, who will make no contribution to society, and will try to eek out selfish advantage at any price. Enron-in-the-training.
What would you think of Stanford if you were patiently waiting in line at your favorite restaurant with your wife, only to find that a bunch of Stanford business kids had rigged the system by taking away all the spots ahead of time to turn a profit? Sure, scalping can be a business opportunity Stanford students are allowed to take, but they should not, because they're supposed to be better than that. Aren't Stanford students better than that?
So what should entrepreneurship at Stanford look like? Why don't you train your students to study macroeconomic trends, identify entrepreneurial opportunities in Asia's shifting markets, how to save our failing economy, or analyze big-picture ideas like Warren Buffet does? Why are you training them to employ get-rich-quick tactics that any street kid in the developing world or city ghettos already know, and then complimenting them for "winning" the exercise and boasting about it in a non-contributing book? You forgot one vital component to the exercise: must contribute to society and be of social value.
Please, Prof. Seelig, let's teach our nation's brightest minds to be big-picture thinkers and effective philanthropists like Warren Buffet, not get-rich-quick people like Guy Kawasaki who for all we know probably made his actual money from his books and audio tapes. By teaching this approach, you're basically saying Kawasaki is qualified to be a Stanford professor too. Aren't you of a better ilk than him?
By having the "Stanford" label of approval on these methods, you are harming others even more, because college-aged kids all over will think that well, if Stanford approves, it must be ok. It is NOT okay to scalp money and make a living by tricking unsuspecting people into paying you a commissioner's cut.
I'm 26 years old, and I know these principles without reading your book. It boggles my mind how this book could be touted as innovative and creative. I learned nothing new, and worry for the kids who will take away the wrong message.
In fairness though, your intentions were probably good, just misguided, and there were a few good tidbits later on in the book - like the "failure resume" - a good practice that teaches humility I hope. Just please do away with the "2 hours, $5" exercise, or at least, modify it to include principles of decency, and teach your students ethics and how to be upstanding moral citizens worthy of Stanford's branding.
Instead of "Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous"...at another's expense...how about "Never miss an opportunity to do the right thing"? It's a dangerous mix when you encourage intelligent minds toward selfish attainments that disregard the greater good. Intelligence can be used for good or evil, and these intelligent kids need your guidance toward good if they're going to be our world leaders, helping the less fortunate.