The streets of San Francisco were immortalized in that famous car chase scene from the movie Bullitt starring the legendary Steve McQueen, but on our visit to the Golden state, a trip that forms a significant learning element to the Executive MBA programme, it is the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley who are now leading the chase towards the next big phenomena.
In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have envisaged the inspiration this 5 day enterprise engagement would deliver, where the concentration of innovation is probably best defined on the walls of Johnson & Johnson as being found ‘where people, ideas and technology intersect’ and is the most glaring reason why ‘The Valley” produces so many success stories.
The CEO of RocketSpace Duncan Logan further captured the essence of this technological epicenter when discussing how we are products of our own environment when he remarked, ‘if you want oranges go to Florida, if you want Tech come to San Fran’.
The week allowed unparalleled access across the full spectrum of organisations that make-up the entire ecosystem of entrepreneurship. From small-scale seed-stage venture capitalists to the premier bank in Silicon Valley and through start-up firms at various stages of their evolution to the much sought after ‘Unicorn’, we were offered a glimpse of the immense hold Silicon Valley has on inspirational thinking.
Although at times the scale and numbers presented reached telephone book proportions, as we drilled past the financial gains we touched on some key themes across the week, none more so than the importance of both culture and trust in building and sustaining a competitive business advantage.
Dr. Burton Lee of Stanford University laid the foundation for these recurring themes, where his overarching message was on how, regardless of product or concepts, ‘culture beats and eats strategy for breakfast’. Furthermore he contended that the significance of a thriving corporate culture remains key to keeping and attracting talent but also to achieving strategic objectives.
Trust is generally viewed as an essential ingredient for successful relationships, and this theme reverberated through the vast majority of our hosts. Rob Lamb, head of ‘customer evangelism’ with SalesForce stated that their number one value is trust. Similarly, Matt Prince, CEO of CloudFlare, detailed his three concerns as 1) losing the trust of customers, 2) losing trust of society and 3) losing internal trust of the team.
Additionally, Kiva’s business model is built entirely on two-way trust between the lender and the borrower, with a 98.4% repayment rate reflecting the success of this trust relationship. Bernard Moon, co-founder of SparkLabs, probably best captured the core nature of trust when he pointed out that in its absence ‘one third of start-ups fail’.
Out of these trusting and vibrant cultures we got a real sense for the importance of community in the Valley and how it is frequently the catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors. Our visit to ‘The Vault’, a communal incubation centre which purposefully collects emerging entrepreneurs under one roof, further embraced Logan’s view of the critical nature of surrounding yourself with the right people as it provides the ability to create ‘operational excellence’ something he refers to as the key differentiator. This critical aspect of a thriving network is what creates the platform for business’ to grow; although in conjunction with this a clear vision or strategy has to be the spearhead.
Somewhat unsure that his mobile e-commerce app for selling women’s clothes would be a success, Manish Chandra of PoshMark’s strategy is now styled on fashion domination when he said that he “wants every woman’s closet on Poshmark.” Not only has the concept inspired the online fashion industry, it has brought US communities closer and closer together, and touches off the concept of social ecosystems, where their business platform, similar to that of Survey Monkey’s, fosters customer empowerment.
Despite witnessing at first hand some quiet staggering success stories, Andy Tsao of Silicon Valley bank hinted that all may not be well and that the air may be beginning to escape from an over inflated balloon. Having a lean business model and an agile team might just be the best way to survive the risk of becoming what Tsao described as a ‘Unicorpse’, although on the back of our leisure day to Napa Valley and Domaine Carneros we hope any pain served up is of the champagne variety.
Although storm clouds maybe looming large on the horizon our whistle stop tour is testament that the ‘Valley’ is a truly inspirational place where Daria Lamb from the Institute of the future remarked “the impossible is becoming inevitable”. I guess like the saying goes ‘if you can dream it you can achieve it’ encapsulates the sentiment echoed by Tsao, who said about his surrounding environment, that they can “make next happen now”.
This post was kindly written by Audrey Byrne, Coman Goggins, Karl Kohler, and Caroline Murphy, all current DCU Executive MBA2 participants.