Madrona Venture Group Principal Julie Sandler speaks at We Day Seattle 2014 in front of 15,000 students at Key Arena. Photo courtesy of We Day.
Madrona Venture Group Principal Julie Sandler speaks at We Day Seattle 2014 in front of 15,000 students at Key Arena. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

With more than 15,000 energetic high school students surrounding her on stage at Key Arena, Julie Sandler offered up a simple question: How many of you have ever had an idea to make the world a better place?

Thousands of hands instantly shot up into the air.

Julie Sandler.
Julie Sandler.

“Apparently, we have a ton of entrepreneurs here today,” Sandler said.

Sandler, a Principal at Madrona Venture Group, was among 44 other high-profile speakers at We Day Seattle, an event co-sponsored by Microsoft that celebrates youth empowerment.

Her message to the kids, who earned tickets to Friday’s big celebration by making a commitment to take action on at least one local and one global initiative of their choice, was three-fold: Have confidence in yourself; keep your supporters close but learn from skeptics; and finally, be bold and ask for what you want.

It was advice that not only teenagers could use, but also grown entrepreneurs.

“I am confident as I look around this arena today that I am surrounded by more than 15,000 people who have ideas that will dramatically change the world,” Sandler said. “And a lot of you are already starting to.”

Julie Sandler speaks to 7th graders about entrepreneurship earlier this year. Photo via Leslie McDaniel, Seattle Girls’ School.
Back in January, Julie Sandler talked to 7th graders about entrepreneurship. Photo via Leslie McDaniel, Seattle Girls’ School.

She implored the students to have confidence about their world-changing ideas, saying that “you need to maintain that belief in yourself.” Sandler also said that while it’s important to keep your supporters close by, the naysayers are just as key.

“In my experience, the best entrepreneurs are the ones who listen really closely to what their critics and skeptics have to say,” she explained. “They learn how to make their idea better based on that feedback. Sometimes that feedback can hurt … but if you can put that aside and turn it into focus as you tackle your challenges, those critics can be some of your most valuable relationships.”

Sandler’s final point was about not being afraid to ask other people for what you want. Her message was directed specifically at girls — “we need more girls pursuing their entrepreneurial ideas in Seattle,” she told the crowd — and noted how they often get uneasy when asking for questions or advice.


“We get nervous about it,” Sandler said. “We get embarrassed about potentially being seen as demanding or impolite, or worry about being told that we’re not good enough to receive what we want. So we don’t ask questions and we don’t ask for advice.”

Sandler then shared her “secret.”

“Even the best entrepreneurs out there get told no all the time, but you know what? They know it’s part of the game,” said Sandler, one of the top women VCs in Seattle. “They’re tough, they get thick skin and they persevere. They work hard and they get better because they know if they continue to do that, then eventually those no’s become a yes.”

Microsoft executive and Free The Children co-founder Craig
Microsoft executive vice president of human resources Lisa Brummel and Free The Children co-founder Craig Kielburger. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Also on stage at We Day Seattle was Microsoft executive vice president of human resources Lisa Brummel, who told the crowd that she wanted Microsoft and everyone at We Day to become “best friends forever.”

“When you’re BFFs, you share things in common — what we share is wanting to change the world,” Brummel said. “We’ll be together, we’ll invest in each other and share a common purpose.”

Brummel, who noted that Microsoft plans to sponsor this event for the next three years, also touched on her company’s YouthSpark program and the importance of technology after playing Microsoft’s inspiring Super Bowl commercial for the kids.

“We’re going to invest in technology to make your dreams a reality,” Brummel said.

The We Day Seattle initiative was put together by international charity organization Free The Children and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who helped bring the all-day event that celebrates students’ accomplishments to Washington. The is the second-ever We Day Seattle, which you can learn more about here.

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  • Chris McCoy

    This is great!

    As simple as it sounds, permission to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path is what is needed for many to take the plunge.

    Not many in a position to give it and most would be talked out of it (by family, society, local culture, the standard grow-up-get-a-good-job-live-a-good-family-life-buy-a-home-buy-a-car-narrative, etc.).

    I wish every kid saw this:

    I wish we taught this (along with coding+creativity as a replacement for pure math) in elementary schools.

    In high school, outside of programs like DECA, Junior Achievement, Washington Business Week, there’s limited exposure to “entrepreneurial studies”.

    At University level, inroads are being made but most departments are silo’s.

    Entrepreneurship as a career path thinking has to start early (for boys too!).

    • balls187

      Not really.

      This is a solution in search of a problem.

      And without the “Go to school, get a job” people, entrepreneurs wouldn’t have anyone to work at their companies.

      • Chris McCoy

        Not if you define the problem as being too risk adverse in both talent and capital as in a) the majority of mega talented are in motherships and b) massive amounts of private wealth aren’t invested in the entrepreneurial sector. Locally, of course.

        It’s this very type of thinking about the problem why there is one in the first place.

        • balls187

          Getting more girls interested in non-traditional careers for women–that’s great. I think that’s a real problem, backed by data.

          The problem as you’ve defined it isn’t solved by telling kids they should go into entrepreneurship.

          • Chris McCoy

            Give kids (boys and girls) permission to take risk so that they may fail, and we’ll all be better off in the long run.

            We’re currently grading them like robots therefore we’re at risk of jobs being replaced by robots.

            Need more kids to think about creation, risk, managing across space and time, managing complexity, technology, etc. much earlier.

            Love Julie’s points but my larger point is this isn’t just about girls. It’s about all kids and public school education system.

          • balls187

            Tell me what “risks” and “failures” should we be encouraging in Math, Science, Reading, Writing and other traditional school subjects?

            Grades are a quantitative measurement of learning and scholastic performance, the same way review scores are for work performance.

            (statement not backed up by hard data)
            US students, compared to students in most the industrialized world, are far more entrepreneurial in spirit. In Finland, business failure is such a huge stigma, that many smart people don’t do this. Japan, failure brings shame on the family.

            In the US, we do a great job of teaching our kids that they are special, and that it’s okay to fail.

            It’s why, even though our test scores are moderate-to-poor, we still have some of the most creative students in the world, and that college and post college, American students go into entrepreneurship, eschewing conventional “go to school, get good job” advice you get in certain cultures.


            #10 seems very prescient.

            I reiterate my original point: this is a solution in search of a problem.

          • Chris McCoy

            a) this != debate but I do appreciate the back and forth.

            b) How do we get you a real name?

            c) it’s a solution if 1) I’m wearing your glasses; 2) I believe in the current status quo of public school education being =(large generalization here but spreading across non-high income school districts) 1/2 day care; 1/4 grading/measuring kids to be replaced by robots; 1/8 incredible mentorship/leadership/quasi-parenting; 1/8 building productive + lasting friendships

            d) Projects. Managing complexity across time and space. Built into curriculum. That’s how we de-program current nonsense. Kids have to learn to build things early in a non-linear environment. The earlier one learns it, the less they are afraid of risk, entrepreneurship, etc. Learning this de-risks it a bit because you have confidence you can build through to what you see.

            e) Raise up programs like DECA and Junior Achievement. Introduce projects-based learning outside of core curriculum. Introduce this at 4-6th grade.

            f) Introduce Khan model into traditional education using Coursera, Udacity, etc. GET RID OF TEXTBOOKS. They make us robots.

            g) Replace math with a hybrid creativity/math/coding curriculum.

            I went to a small school in SW part of the state. Grew up on food stamps/free lunch. When the masses went one way, I went the other. Have spent last 4 years of my life fighting for my life in Silicon Valley. Admittedly have a unique pair of glasses on but don’t think it’s too far from where we should be going–and if some of my friends have anything to do with it =where we’ll end up.

            In its current state, I’m fearful for what academia is doing to all our kids regardless of gender.

            Giving permission to someone to a) take some risk and not be afraid to fail; and b) help them fail forward is about the best gift I personally could give anyone outside of raw love.

            Culture in Seattle tech scene not conducive (my theory after many conversations is =rooted in early-to-mid MS culture) to this therefore the most talented (~generalization) stay inside motherships therefore the wealthiest aren’t active investors in local entrepreneurship.

  • Chris

    @chrisamccoy:disqus Longtime listener, first time caller.

    I agree that having entrepreneurial traits is a great asset to any student, so love your idea about altering current educational approach to strengthen critical thinking and creativity.

    With regards to ‘motherships’ and what not, I have to wonder in many cases like yours where you seem highly capable, do you ever wonder what you may have been able to achieve at a ‘mothership’ with those skills and the scale and opportunity of the organization? While yes, we need people building away at the Tesla’s that truly grow our economy, if your goal is truly net positive impact, I’m not sure it’s really correct that some of the best talent in the industry shouldn’t be at larger companies where their capabilities may actually be better utilized.

    My sense is that many folks prefer ‘fighting for life’ at smaller companies because that thrill is part of the compensation (i.e. the lifestyle makes it appealing) in the way that life on the road is part of the compensation for playing in a band. But I think it’s important to separate the components that one may find fulfilling (based on personality) from the societal reason we need/want people to be entrepreneurial in the first place.

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