Shaw Li

Shaw Li

Cornell Tech MBA '15

Age: 29
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Education: University of California, Berkeley

Why I chose Johnson

I chose Johnson Cornell Tech because I wanted a program that focuses on the intersection of technology and business. I also wanted a comprehensive program offered in one-year allowing me to focus on my career.

Distinctions and Awards


May 11 2015

What Two Notebooks Taught Me about Startups and Corporate Culture

Recently I was invited to attend the Credit Suisse Entrepreneurs Forum in NYC. It was a beautiful event, featuring a wide range of entrepreneurs that included a panel discussion with Siggi Hilmarsson, Founder & CEO, siggi’s dairy.

As a thank you gift, each attendee was given a notebook. On my walk home, I compared my notebook in hand to others I’ve received and it dawned upon me that a simple notebook can say a lot about the differences between startup and corporate culture.


Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati notebook vs. Credit Suisse notebook

Currently, I use a notebook from the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR). Like Credit Suisse, I received it after attending a corporate entrepreneurship event. WSGR is a corporate law firm that often serves the same clientele as Credit Suisse. Side by side, the two notebooks aren’t functionally that different. They have approximately the same number of pages and both have a small pocket to hold a few pieces of loose paper. But when you look beyond the functional aspects, the two notebooks tell a very different story.

The most striking aspects of WSGR’s notebook are its color, size, and flexibility. Made by the company poppin, WSGR’s notebook evokes fun, simplicity, and ease. You immediately notice its green color, which attracts attention whenever brought out of my bag. Then, there’s the size. Its dimensions make carrying the notebook outside of a bag much easier. Coupled with its flexible design, you can toss this notebook around without much worry.

For Credit Suisse, its notebook is immediately more respectable and striking. Its cover feels luxurious and the dark color and weight gives the notebook physical “umph.” It feels natural in a boardroom, but because of its larger size, is more cumbersome to carry.

For WSGR, it’s a notebook that matches the culture of a company that’s trying to be scrappy and smart with capital. The notebook retails for about $10 and I can easily use the notebook at Starbucks or during an investor meeting. However, the Credit Suisse notebook feels more natural to the corporate world. While I don’t know the price, I imagine it is more expensive given its craftsmanship. It feels less natural to a scrappy startup culture, but more at home in an established business. The notebook comparison almost feels like early Google vs. Microsoft, if we take the analogy to the extreme: colorful vs. traditional black, light and flexible vs. weighty and firm.

We often forget that the small things we carry say a lot about who we are and what we value. Just as notebook characteristics can be used to describe startups vs. corporate culture, someone at each of the respective firms had to make a decision about which notebook to give away. They each made different choices; reflective of their brand and image portrayed to attendees.


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