Day Twenty One: The End

Hello everyone! Today was our final day on this incredible journey, and what better way to end it than with amazing people and more exploration and adventure? To start, Chris and I drove around Beverly Hills and Bel Air to see the gigantic (and ridiculously expensive) homes in the area…

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After a scenic and exciting trip through these two amazing areas, we headed over for some delicious seafood at Gladstones Oceanside Restaurant!

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One spectacular meal later, we walked down to the beachfront and enjoyed the Pacific Coast for the final time this trip…

On our way back to Venice, we spotted the Santa Monica Pier:

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After an absolutely perfect final weekend, my hospitable and generous guide Chris (a very special thanks to him for a fantastic weekend adventure) returned me to the cottage where I reunited with my group. We had a great time exchanging stories from the weekend, and Brad grilled a delicious chicken dinner; overall, a perfect end to this amazing journey. Thank you all for following along through my West Coast Adventure; although this may be the end to this journey, I know that many more are in store and this is just the beginning. As my course-load gets hectic back on campus, new postings will be less frequent; however, I will publicize any new posts through my Twitter (check me out in the widget on the right), so be on the lookout! Thank you all so much for your devoted readership this month; I never imagined the amazing support I received throughout this journey, and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity and ability to share this experience with you. And now, as always, stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle!

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Day Twenty: Los Angeles

Good evening, everyone! Today was my first free day in Los Angeles, and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend it with one of the most talented and wonderful people I have ever met, Chris Untiet. We saw so many amazing things and made too many “moments” to list here, so enjoy some picture ‘recaps’ of our day and check back tomorrow for my FINAL full day on this amazing journey.

We started off the day with a celebration for Habitat for Humanity; Chris, the Faith and Community Relations Manager of the Los Angeles sector, spoke at the ceremony for a new homeowner of a recently finished home. An amazing and humbling experience, and Chris did a wonderful job.

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Next stop was the Queen Mary:

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A quick stop at the Trump National Golf Club… gave me the itch! Stunning scenery.

Terranea Resort and Nelson’s for lunch:

A stop at the beach and my first time touching the Pacific on this adventure; more beach time to come tomorrow!

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A fantastic night in Downtown Hollywood exploring the Dolby Theatre, the TCL Chinese Theatre, and going to a birthday party for Chris’s acting coach (Tony)!

After the party, we headed over to Mel’s Drive In Diner for a delicious midnight breakfast.

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Thank you all for reading and stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

Day Nineteen: Capsule and FullScreen

Good evening and welcome back! As you may or may not know, today was our final day of company meetings for my west coast adventure, and we managed to “go out with a bang”. We started out our day at a nearby Peet’s Coffee and Tea where we met up with Cyrus Farudi, CEO of Capsule. Capsule is an app designed for a bride and groom to gather pictures from every guest at their wedding into one consolidated album. It automatically uploads pictures from the user’s smart phone camera or Instagram into the album, and the happy couple can have immediate access to a multitude of pictures taken by their own friends and family. It is an extremely successful and rapidly growing company, and Cyrus had a few words to say about contributors to its success.

The first of these was to (surprise!) make the product for and market to the customer. Cyrus came up with the idea for Capsule because, in his words, “everyone started getting married!” Before he began this company, he attended 14 weddings and 9 bachelor parties in one year. He came across the same problem at every one of these events, and thought “there’s gotta be a better way to do this”. It was in encountering these problems that multiple other people were having that he found his niche market. After finding this market, Cyrus had conversations with and was able to form an advertising partnership of sorts with The Knot. He also found that asking people to pay for the application was limiting the possible amount of customers, hence the application is now free and there are many options to purchase special additions to the product. These insights to what customers do and do not want and to where there is a niche are crucial to any company.

Second, Cyrus claimed that success comes from being able to “admit when you’re wrong, apply what you learn, and change based on that”. Knowing when something isn’t working and being able to pull the plug on a project is huge, as is learning from mistakes. This doesn’t mean that a company shouldn’t take risks, but knowing when to take a step back and see how the change is being received by the client is incredibly important.

And finally, “don’t pursue everything”. As Cyrus explained, people have lots of ideas, but you must be picky and not spend too much money. After going through a failed startup, he told us that “it’s very easy to spend”; but knowing why you need funding and exactly what it should go toward is incredibly important to consider before any major decisions. Don’t spread yourself too thin.

After our visit with Cyrus, a few of us headed over to Panera for a quick lunch before walking around the Marina for a while. After a bit of exploring, we headed back to meet up with the group for our final meeting of both the day and the trip!

Located in the same gated area where many famous shows and films such as Gone With the Wind and Arrested Development were filmed, FullScreen is an energetic and rapidly growing company.  By connecting YouTube creators through a social-networking environment, FullScreen helps allow client creators (such as the amazing Lindsey Stirling) to share, collaborate, and work together with other creators.

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The mansion from Gone With the Wind:

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The entire show “Arrested Development” was filmed in this studio; here is where all the scenes for Lucille’s apartment were created:

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Even Sony does casting work here:


Inside one of their main buildings, we met with three Luther College alumni (Drew, Jacob, and Aaron) in addition to the CEO, George. These four gentlemen had a few words to say about what exactly makes a company successful.

First, you must build off of what works and find a niche in the market. George found a niche in the YouTube market through working on the product at Google. After seeing so many videos and understanding how difficult it was for small creators to ‘make it big,’ he realized that he could find a way to help the ‘small guy’ out. He had a passion “to help the lonelygirl15‘s of the internet,” and along with this passion there was knowledge of what the client needs and what he could do to help them.

Along with making the client happy, George stated, “we want to continue to improve things to make FullScreen an enjoyable place to work for everyone”.  By making it a goal to please current employees while bringing in new clients, FullScreen is an incredibly fun (and productive) place to work. By placing an emphasis on continual learning (FullScreen will pay for its employees to take educational courses and necessary materials) and allowing them the freedom to take their dog to work, be collaborative, and have fun, FullScreen employees become passionate about their job and strive to do even better work.

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And the final advice of the trip: “you have to be the CEO of your own job”. Make decisions and don’t be afraid to fail; take the initiative and really gain experience (good and bad) in the workplace.

After our final meeting of the trip, we were invited to FullScreen’s Friday happy hour, where we were able to talk with and enjoy the company of many employees. After this, I met up with a very dear friend, Chris, for a wonderful movie night (we went to see Her- a fantastic depiction of the human/technology dilemma, and I would highly recommend it).

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Chris lives in the Los Angeles area, and he will be showing me around the area (no public transport!) tomorrow. We will be attending a Habitat for Humanity event in the morning, followed promptly by lunch and an afternoon around the beach, and a Hollywood extravaganza to end the night! It’s Grammy weekend, ladies and gents, so it should be an exciting start to the finale of this amazing adventure. Stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

Day Eighteen: Coloft

Welcome back, everyone! Today was our second to last “meeting” day, and we began at a company called “Coloft”. Coloft is a company that provides working space to start-ups and entrepreneurs. We arrived in the modern and comfortable office space to find Avesta Rasouli, founder of Coloft. After settling down in a conference room, Avesta began to explain the secrets to his (and the many companies he hosts’) success.

The first point Avesta emphasized was that every person within a company should build on his or her strengths. Avesta claimed his motto to be, “your best move is one that enables you to make better moves. Find your strengths and focus on those”. Being able to diagnose what exactly sets you apart and working toward refining your best skill sets is extremely important in any company. Even more than this, however, is being passionate about what you do. Many people share similar skills, but the ones that are especially invested in a particular skill sets them apart and makes them inherently successful. As Avesta stated, “most people don’t know that much. You just have  to have this hunger for learning”.

Avesta was also very insistent on the importance of teamwork and building connections with other people. The entire idea behind Coloft is so that people with different areas of knowledge and expertise can both help and “learn from one another”. The connections you make with others is so critical, and Avesta instructed: “don’t network; build relationships”.

Along with building professional relationships, the relationships a company builds with the customer is just as critical. Avesta explained, “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen so many companies make is that they focus on solving their own problems rather than the customer’s problems”. In the beginning stages of founding Coloft (before Avesta even owned the space), he sent a survey out to prospective customers asking them how important different factors (natural light, desks, etc.) were to them. He then proceeded to purchase the lot and design it with the customer in mind with the hopes of making a difference for the people he was marketing to. I can’t stress enough how critical it is for any company to have this extreme focus on the client and to build a company off their needs and desires.

And finally (just for kicks): “Don’t feel like you have to move to be successful. That’s just not the way it is anymore,”. Silicon Prairie is on the move, and Avesta made sure to emphasize that you shouldn’t feel as though you had to know something or live somewhere in order to create a successful technology business. Just start and see where is takes you; “it’s all in the execution”.

After our meeting, the group split up based on food preferences, so Kelsey and I headed over to In-N-Out Burger to pick up lunch for a picnic on our balcony. It was so beautiful outside that we decided to lay out for a few hours before dinner…

Tonight was our final “group meal”, and we decided to make a grocery run and grill bacon-wrapped steaks in the backyard! It was a delectable meal and a very fun night for us all; after dinner, we watched the Big Bang Theory, King of the Nerds, and played a few card games before calling it a night. I cannot believe that tomorrow is our final day of meetings; it’s definitely bittersweet, but I refuse to get sappy on you yet! Check back tomorrow to see how our final meetings with Capsule and FullScreen go, and I hope you’re ready for a weekend full of exciting new adventures in L.A.! Stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

Day Seventeen: The Train Take 2

Good evening, ladies and gents! Today we took a 12-hour train from San Jose to Los Angeles; we have arrived at our final destination of this amazing journey. Enjoy a few pictures from the ride today and get ready for our first L.A. meeting with Avesta Rasouli, Co-Founder of Coloft tomorrow. Stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

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Day Sixteen: SportVision and Fenwick & West LLP

Hello and welcome back! Today we got back to business and met with two fun and informative new companies. We started off our day at SportVision, a company that uses virtual reality software to enhance the viewing experience of televised sports; they invented the yellow 1st and Ten line graphics seen in virtually every broadcasted football game today, along with creating enhancements in sports such as baseball (K-Zone), hockey (glowing puck), and even golf (flight path). And, in chatting with Michael, it becomes quite clear as to why SportVision has been such a success.

The success of SportVision is due in part to their being- I bet you can guess- extremely customer-oriented. They have remodeled their product countless times in order to be accommodating to the customer (from instances of not being able to put location receiver chips into football helmets for fear of concussion to basketball players not wanting a chip in their jersey because it might mess up their “mojo”). Michael even explained that some of SportVision’s most accurate location technology could be found in using chips in players’ football helmets, but because the customer wasn’t sold on this idea, the company redirected its focus to other means of finding the precise location of players.

Along with this, leaders at SportVision know their market and really strive to focus in on where they are going to be the most successful. They understand that football is the most televised sport to date, and so they put majority of their resources into making sure they are pleasing their football customers. They also realize that the Olympics aren’t really a primary concern, because they understand that the market is not extremely competitive and that it only occurs once every four years (and thus would not be very profitable for the company).

Finally, being large enough to have the resources and connections to try new technologies has been crucial to the success of SportVision. Michael told us a story about the only time a SportVision data receiver impacted the result of a race (the Robby Gordon incident); even after the disastrous blow to SportVision’s reputation, Nascar continued using SportVision’s technology. This connection really helped SportVision in continuing to remain afloat and well, and networks like these have really helped this company to thrive.

After our visit at SportVision, we headed over to “Casa Lupe” for a delicious Mexican lunch before our visit with Patent Litigators at Fenwick & West LLP. The litigators we met with support large companies (such as Apple, Amazon, Entertainment Arts, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Twitter, etc.) against patent trolls. This meeting was extremely informative and different from other companies we have visited with so far on the trip. However, success can be found everywhere, and Fenwick & West LLP have it down!

Again, customer satisfaction is unbelievably important. The litigators we spoke with all agreed that the best part about their job is being able to be constantly invested in many inventions and clients, and helping them to win a case gave them extreme satisfaction as well. This focus on helping the customer and really working to help them succeed is absolutely crucial in any successful litigation firm.

Along with this, being passionate about what you do plays a huge role in the success of any company. Every litigator also claimed that their job made them feel “smug”, and that working on any given case was like a game they desired to win. Having employees with this focus on not only helping the customer but also on finding this satisfaction and passion in what they do can also very easily result in success.

Finally, a team-oriented atmosphere really contributes to the success of this company. Although a company can definitely be successful with its employees cut off in cubicles, in a place such as this, teamwork can be essential. When you have multiple people working on one case, having a comfortable atmosphere for constant learning and working together to find different angles and solutions is almost a necessity to the success of the firm.

After finishing our meeting with these litigators, the group headed back to the hotel for a bit before an absolutely delicious group dinner at the nearby Turkish restaurant, “Sultana”. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and watch a couple shows and the end of “The Lucky One”; another long train ride tomorrow! Palo Alto has been absolutely amazing, but I know we are all looking forward to some more great meetings and even warmer weather in L.A. to finish off this amazing journey. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

Day Fifteen: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Hello again everyone! Today was our final “free day” before getting back to business, and what a wonderful day indeed! We started our journey today at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we saw everything from otters to penguins to sharks and jellyfish…

After exploring the exhibits, a portion of us decided to hunt for food in the nearby shops, and were very pleasantly surprised to find a delicious “make-your-own” pizza place only a few blocks away!

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After finishing our meal, we realized that we still had a little over an hour before our bus was scheduled to depart, so we decided to continue walking down the street. Little did we know that a few more blocks down the street led us straight to a public beach access! We spent the remainder of our free time exploring the beach and enjoying the beautiful weather by the shore.

On our trek back to the bus, we found ourselves stalled at the “Mirror Maze” by group member Erik, who insisted on playing a few rounds of the James Bond-like game, “Lazer Challenge”… unfortunately, he couldn’t quite overtake leader ‘Olivia”s high score…

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After a couple hours of relaxing hotel time, the entire group headed over to “Fey”, an incredible nearby Chinese restaurant. Nice to have the whole gang together… it was like one big, happy family. 🙂

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And another fun fortune… hope I have done my part in “sharing my happiness” today with all of you! Thanks for reading and check back tomorrow as we take a step back into the business world with SportVision, Fenwick & West LLP, and Benetech. Stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

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Day Fourteen: Stanford

Good evening and welcome back! Today was our second free day in Palo Alto (hence I unfortunately have another slightly “educationally lacking” post for you), and many of us decided to make our way over to Stanford University. We chose to walk and found a small selection of lunch options in the Stanford Shopping Center along the way. Upon arriving at Stanford, we navigated our way through a cactus garden, the Main Quad, a beautiful cathedral, towers, arches, and finally found ourselves at the bookstore! After a long walk home, it was time for a much needed nap time before dinner at Applewood Pizza and another relaxing night in the hotel! This has been a wonderful weekend full of R&R (with a tad bit of adventure thrown in), but we are all looking forward to celebrating a wonderful Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium tomorrow! Enjoy a few pictures from our day below and stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

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Day Thirteen: Palo Alto

Welcome back, everyone! Today was a free day and a wonderful and relaxing start to the weekend, so (unfortunately) I don’t have much news. We slept in for the first time since embarking on our journey in Seattle, walked a few blocks to pick up Subway sandwiches, and had a picnic in a nearby park. We spent majority of the afternoon there enjoying the beautiful weather before grabbing dinner at Round Table Pizza and heading back to the hotel where I spent the remainder of my night editing my resume (*hint hint*), catching up on emails, and more fun of that nature! So, since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll give you a few here and call it a day. I should have more for you all tomorrow after our trip to Stanford, but until then thanks for reading and stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!

Day Twelve: Google

Good evening, everyone! Today was a very special day in our West Coast Adventure… not only did we transfer to our 3rd stop (Palo Alto), but we spent the day at the very famous and successful Google!

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From arriving at our first meeting place, we found that Google bikes are a very popular (and easy) means of transportation for employees… and they have their own parking spot! Unfortunately, guests are forbidden from using bikes, fire poles, or slides… so close yet so far!

Toys are in no short demand at Google, and this leads me to, yet again, the importance of keeping employees happy and excited. By giving them freedom and incentive to play, Google is fueling its employees’ creative juices in order to imagine bigger and better things. By recruiting aggressively and carefully (as we were told by our recruitment officers Lauren and Natalie, there is a “very particular hiring process… we look for “Googliness,” or a personality that will mesh well with the company over hard skills that can be taught), Google has mastered the art of employee satisfaction… and has been named the “Best Company to Work For” by Fortune yet again in 2014. As our two “guides” of the day- Charles Banta and Craig Cornelius, both Luther grads and now Google employees- led us around campus, this was made even more obvious.

I give you the nerf guns…

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The shuffleboard table…

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The sand volleyball courts…

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The electric (rentable) cars and charging stations…

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And some sort of futuristic segway machinery…

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Not to mention the 30 different cafes, multiple workout centers, team building bicycles (which requires 7 or 8 people to try and ride a strange circular bike contraption together), massages… and the personal benefits, such as charity work (Google asks its employees to take a fully paid 20 hours per year to do charity work of their choosing), free online classes available to all employees about a variety of subjects from programming to dance lessons, and 20% projects (Google asks that 20% of the time you spend working Google should devoted toward a creative project).

Below, you will find the “classroom” for Nooglers (new Googlers) to go through their orientation and 3-week training process. Google places a very high value on learning, and wants its employees to continue learning throughout their entire career at Google. This is shown in a variety of ways; in 20% projects, Craig stated that “people are encouraged to work with other teams”. The classes that are available and encouraged for Googlers to take and teach through the company. This is another key to Google’s success: emphasis on continual learning for all employees.

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The final key to any company’s success that Craig made sure to point out was: “a company must be able to obsolete its products”. Whether it is scary or risky to jump into something totally new, every company that is afraid to make the jump to newer and better technology will eventually become outdated and no longer necessary. By continuing to update and ‘reinvent the wheel’, companies like Google are able to get ahead of the curve (as Ann explained yesterday) and really focus in on what the customer wants or needs.

After our meetings with Craig, Charles, and our recruiting officers (Lauren and Natalie), and a short tour of the campus, the group headed over to one of the countless cafeterias to eat a ridiculously amazing lunch…

Overall, visiting Google (one of the most successful companies in the world) was an amazing and enlightening experience. From Nooglers to Googlers, employees absolutely adore the company and will do just about anything to ensure its success as a direct result. Being in a place with so many happy and imaginative individuals was a blast, and I know we all feel a little more “googly”. Time to review Steve Yegge’s Blog Rant: Get That Job at Google!

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After leaving the Google campus and checking in to the hotel, we headed over to Jeffrey’s Hamburgers for a delicious (yet light due to such a huge lunch) meal! Full, happy, and sleepy, we all headed back to the hotel. The girls watched the movie “21” and settled in for a relaxing (free) weekend of fun! And with that, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more epiphanies, explorations, insights, and discoveries by the HTMelle on her West Coast Adventure!