Joe Tey on Stanford ASES

An interview with Joe Tey, the President of Stanford ASES, on the global focus of the club, how they select students for their programs, and more.
February 18, 2024
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Background

Joseph Tey is a junior at Stanford University studying computer science. He is the Co-President of Stanford ASES. Stanford ASES is a global entrepreneurship society with chapters all around the world. They have 800+ alums, including people like Garry Tan. I talked with Joe to learn what they look for when selecting students for their programs, how to join the internal team, and why he thinks it’s the place on campus to learn entrepreneurship. 

Highlights

  • Stanford ASES looks for students who genuinely care deeply about solving problems impacting the world and are strongly biased toward action.

  • ASES is a global entrepreneurship club —with chapters in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. When you join ASES, you are a part of a larger community than your local institution.

  • Joe encourages students to come with an open mind. ASES is designed to support students who want to explore entrepreneurship and those already working on something.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Thanks, Joe, for joining me today. To start, do you want to introduce yourself?

Joe: I’m Joe, and I’m a junior at Stanford University. I’m the Co-President of ASES, Stanford's premier global entrepreneurship club. I’m originally from Australia. I study computer science and care a lot about education. So, I’ve worked at the lab for a bit and spent the summer building my own edtech company. I’ve been a part of ASES for almost three years, and this is the one organization I lead, so it’s exciting. It’s a lot of work, but I'm super excited to chat more about it.

Kieran: How did you first hear about Stanford ASES?

Joe: We run a flagship program at the start of freshman year, Bootcamp. It’s our main 40-person cohort, relatively competitive, and one of those things that every freshman wants to be a part of. I really enjoyed it. I met many of my best friends through it, and it felt like a really cool community to be a part of. Then, ASES runs a bunch of other programs as well, like Breakthrough and VC3. A lot of them span different parts of the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I ended up running one of those my sophomore year.

Kieran: Stanford ASES stands for Affiliated Stanford Entrepreneurial Students. It is a student-led org at Stanford University. This organization was created in 1988, and there are now 800+ alums, including people like Garry Tan. Is there any other background information that is important for the audience?

Joe: The unique aspect of ASES is that it is a global entrepreneurship club. We have chapters around the world in Australia, Manilla, Shenzhen, etc. One of our main programs is Summit, where we fly 30 delegates from around the world to Stanford. This is how we differentiate ourselves or what we care about beyond just being an entrepreneurship club. 

Kieran: Are all the chapters connected to schools?

Joe: Most of them are connected to universities. Some of them aren’t. Some of them are connected to local institutions that work with schools. Stanford is the headquarters and tries to maintain these relationships around the world.

Kieran: Stanford ASES runs several programs: Bootcamp, Launchpad, VC3, Summit, and Breakthrough. Can you give an overview of the programs?

Joe: We’ve grown a significant amount in the last few years. It’s a 40-year institution. It’s been around for a while. It started with Summit, our flagship program. Summit is a week-long immersion for Stanford and Silicon Valley. Thirty delegates from around the world come in, and we give them a week-long experience. Over time, our on-campus presence has increased. We now have programs like Bootcamp, where we take students through a 12-week program regarding how to validate an idea, get from zero to one, and be scrappy, build, and create this entrepreneurial mindset beyond just sitting in a lecture hall and listening. It’s very hands-on. We also have VC3, a very popular program where we invite 15 VCs from the valley and curate ~30 startups at Stanford. We do a rotating 1:1 pitch-style competition. Each VC has 5 minutes with each team. It’s very educational. They advise on the pitches and their ideas. It’s also an opportunity to invest. We have Breakthrough, which is a VC education program. I see it as a board-building program where we split teams into climate, healthcare, education, etc. We match teams with a mentor who is an expert in that field, and then over ten weeks, the students think about different theses and hypotheses regarding where the industry is going and how they can make tangible bets in the future. Quentin, the ex-CTO of Dropbox, is one of the mentors. We had someone from Reach Capital participate in the education sector. So, it’s a pretty cool program and one of my favorites. We also have Launchpad, where we go to high schools that don’t have a traditional entrepreneurship or business program. We run a weekend workshop with these students. We also have a really strong alum network and foundation that our team supports. ASES used to be very international. Then COVID hit, so many of our relationships abroad have been wavering. This year, we intend to revive those relationships beyond Asia. We only used to be an Asia-Pacific club, but now it’s much broader. We’re expanding our relationships in Europe and elsewhere.

Kieran: Earlier on this call, you mentioned getting into these programs is competitive. Can you talk about the application process and what you’re looking for when selecting students?

Joe: Bootcamp and Breakthrough are a little competitive. I will say if you don’t get into Bootcamp or one of these programs, you can join the organizing team at any point. There’s no application process; you’ll be a part of the team. Bootcamp is a little competitive because only thirty get it, and ASES has a decent amount of buy-in from the Stanford community. People are willing to give to this organization beyond just work. With Bootcamp, it’s also a pretty strenuous process where it’s an initial screen, group interviews, individual interviews, and then we deliberate about the candidates. My most significant piece is we want to see how much you care about problems in this world. As a global entrepreneurship society, the big thesis here is it’s easy to get sucked into the issues of the Bay when you look around us in the bubble. We’re building tech for tech, AI for AI. It’s easy to lose sight of genuine problems around the world, and I think part of our mission is to bring together people who care about real issues beyond just what they see around them. If you can demonstrate this, you know, care about anything truly, but just something meaningful to you and demonstrate a bias towards action, I think that is the main thing we’re looking for. It’s something that will help you thrive during your Bootcamp experience.

Kieran: What are the biggest opportunities to improve how Stanford ASES supports student entrepreneurship? You mentioned trying to revive some international relationships. What are some other things you’re working on?

Joe: One aspect is the international part. The dream is that for anyone who interacts with ASES at Stanford or abroad, the goal is to feel as if you’re a part of this greater community beyond your local institution. If you join ASES Manila, you’re part of this grand vision of ASES. If you come to the States, we will support you. Much of that has been investing in a platform where different chapters will have a portal and a tech solution. Another thing ASES is trying to improve on is creating a space for technically-minded founders to thrive. We are thinking about different ways to do this. I think with entrepreneurship and whatnot, there’s so much to do with the business aspect when it comes to pitching and storytelling, but there’s also a lot about being scrappy, validating fast, creating versatile MVPs, and building up a skillset that allows you to do that. We’re trying to make Bootcamp more about building. It’s less of this structured entrepreneurship course, but can we give you the right people to mentor you, take your idea to the next level, and help you understand whether this idea holds up in the real world? We want to give you the tools to test and validate those ideas, whether knowing how to mock up something in Figma or building a quick React app to share with your friends. Those are the main improvements we’re moving towards.

– now, let’s transition to questions to help students who want to join the Stanford ASES internal team –  

Kieran: When do you recruit internal team members?

Joe: We recruit at the start of every quarter. Bootcamp starts week 1 in the Fall, so that has already passed. In terms of joining an organizing team, if you want to help organize Summit, VC3, etc., all those teams are open to joining year-long. Most of that starts at the beginning of each quarter. So, if you want to join any of those, feel free to reach out. Then, our next big one is VC3 in mid-winter. If you wish to join Breakthrough, it’s also mid-winter because we start in the spring.

Kieran: What are you looking for when selecting students to join the internal team?

Joe: So, we don’t have a selection criteria for the organizing team. If you want to join a team, we will put you on that team to help. So, it’s a very inclusive process. In some sense, I think it compensates for having very exclusive programs. We want everyone to be a part of ASES. Honestly, if you care about one of the teams and want to make a difference in that field, that will help you thrive.

Kieran: How big is this org? How many internal team members and how many students are you supporting?

Joe: We have ~30 internal team members. Every team is like a startup. We have two Co-Directors per program, and they run it entirely. As execs, we help out where we can, but fundamentally, it’s their responsibility to drive it and push it forward. So, it’s like seven startups under ASES. In terms of how big it is, I think we have ~800 undergraduate and graduate members. We’re primarily an undergraduate institution, but it’s a pretty good split. Some of our programs, like Breakthrough, cater more to graduate students. If any graduate students are watching this, I think our split was 40% graduate vs 60% undergraduate. Many were MBA students. We also have several PhDs; many were on the deep tech team. So, I think Breakthrough has increased the diversity of our interactions with ASES beyond just undergrads but also to different parts of the school, which has been really cool.

Kieran: In your own words, what makes Stanford ASES the best place to learn entrepreneurship on campus?

Joe: As you said, there are a lot of places on campus to learn entrepreneurship. There is BASES, ASES, etc. There are a lot of different communities. There are friend groups you can be a part of. Fundamentally, I think it comes down to the people. I think the buy-in and care of the team I’m a part of is truly special. I think there is something special and unique about not just being a club that is there for work but a club that is a little bit more. I don’t think entrepreneurship is a very structured thing. You can’t learn it in a classroom, and I don't think it should be taught in one. I think what’s hard is entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly institutionalized and more of a pipeline, a machine. I think ASES, BASES, and all these clubs are a product of that environment. It is institutionalizing and creating a pipeline out of what was once very hacky, scrappy, and loose. Despite all the structure that exists within ASES, I think there is a shift culturally to make it a bit more of a loose environment where Bootcamp is more scrappy, and even from a leadership point of view, I think people are dropping out of ASES to go into YC, and people are building on the side. Shaurya and I started a company on the side. I think culturally, there is a shift as well, and I think just to be around individuals who care beyond just classes and what is typically required for a student is somewhat a unique experience. I think the global thing is really cool, too. I think a lot of what ASES supports is the genuine care of problems around the world.

Kieran: A lot of your programs are directed towards people who want to build tech startups and raise VC funding. Do you see this as a good organization for people who want to start small businesses or other forms of entrepreneurship? 

Joe: I think you’re right. There is a focus on scalable, VC-backed startups, especially because many of our mentors are VCs or VC-backed founders. So, naturally, the advice is catered towards those super ambitious ideas. But I will say we are in chats with a few partner organizations trying to support that middle outcome. Maybe you’re not scaling to the moon, but you also don’t want to do nothing. You want to create a sustainable business that is helping people. It is still skewed towards either end of the spectrum, but I think we are trying to help potentially. My co-founder and I are in that position right now. We’ve built this education business, and we have 30 classrooms around the world using it, but we’re juniors and, essentially, two years left of college. We’re not building a venture-backable business, and I also don’t think you can when it’s going within the system. We’re trying to find that middle ground of whether we can hire people to support this thing beyond ourselves. There are avenues, and ASES is trying to put things in place to support that.

Kieran: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that is important to know if you’re considering Stanford ASES as a student wanting to participate in one of the programs or someone who wants to join the internal team?

Joe: I would say come with an open mind. ASES is one of those institutions where I think we’re very open; it’s very non-traditional. For many people at Stanford, it is their first introduction to entrepreneurship. So, not many of our students are hardcore about startups yet. Many of them are like, hey, I’m here at Stanford, I come from a policy background or economics background, and I want to learn more about what it means to be entrepreneurial and move an idea into the real world. This is the place for that. So, it’s very open-minded. Don’t feel like you have to plan to start a company to join this club. It’s more about exploring and learning. We also believe a lot in not necessarily working at a startup or small company to be entrepreneurial. You can be entrepreneurial in whatever discipline you choose. So, you can be entrepreneurial if you want to be a researcher or in the pharmaceutical business. It’s very much a spirit and mindset and something that we can cultivate beyond just working at a small company with five people. That’s the biggest thing; we’re very open to many different backgrounds, and I think our students come from those backgrounds.