Reflecting on Bond University Silicon Valley Study Tour 21–27 August 2016
Today is my last day “in San Francisco” and I am sitting in a little old-fashioned pizzeria in Sausalito looking out over the water as I write this. It is the most beautiful sunny day today and I really would love to be out on the water “sailing the day away” for my last day on this trip. If only I knew someone who owned a boat…
As you may already know, I was prompted to start a blog due to starting my EMBA at Bond University, as well as a number of changes I have been compelled to make regarding the direction I am heading — in both life and business. As part of this “journey” I felt compelled to go on the second Bond University Silicon Valley Study Tour. It was something that I considered would give me the momentum I need to move forward on a number of things I have been contemplating for a while now. The tour has definitely provided me with a lot of “food for thought”.
The tour was focused on innovation and the cultural enablers for innovation. Prior to the tour commencing we were provided with the theory on this topic via readings and videos and throughout the tour we were tasked with integrating the theory with our experiences at each site we visited. Therefore, attendees on the tour were to experience the theories of innovation “in action” and consider how they interact and integrate to form/facilitate innovation.
The first thing that struck me about Silicon Valley is the speed at which start-ups and/or people wishing to launch a start-up are expected to operate at. It is intense and my initial reaction from our first site visit at US MAC and Smith Reed was that I finally understood the reason why a former “colleague” and friend of my husband had expected so much progress in 2 weeks when he came to stay with us and we were working on our start-up for The Fruit Circle. It was not until that point that I could fathom how this “colleague” could consider 2 weeks to be sufficient time to build the platform and launch the business, when it had taken my husband the better part of 18 months (or more) to build up the network of farmers and supporters that we needed to make the whole thing work. I now understand that this way of thinking (and being) aligns with the Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail early”.
After attending US MAC and Smith Reed we attended at Twitter and a Start Up House Pitch Night. Meeting and interacting with Twitter’s engineers was like “coming home” for me, as I have had many partners who were (and still are) engineers and many friends who are engineers. So, for me, hearing Twitter’s engineers talk about networking and the other Silicon Valley mantra of “don’t piss people off” whilst also stating that they need their own private space away from the hustle and bustle of open-plan offices resonated with me. As a lawyer I too need time “away from the water cooler” and time to just be in my own company, contemplate matters and get things done quietly. In this regard, I feel that the focus on an “open-plan workspace to foster collaboration” is not always the best way for things to get done, well at least not for everyone. There is a notion that “engineers require their bat cave” in Silicon Valley, however I feel that this cliché will not serve the community in the long run. At the end of the day everyone still needs to get their work done and, generally speaking, most work gets done after you have collaborated with your team and gone back to your own quiet space to complete your individual tasks. That is, of course, with the exception of the industry accepted “paired programming” that occurs in most organisations.
Following our attendance at US MAC and the Start Up House Pitch Night I realised that pitching wasn’t this mysterious thing that only a select few of us can do, but rather that it was something that I could do! Something that I could do RIGHT NOW. The Start Up House Pitch Night solidified the “3 point presentation” style that is taught to us at Bond, as we saw first-hand what happens when the person pitching doesn’t do it effectively. From observing the pitch night we learnt that there are 3 main elements required for an effective pitch:
1. Be able to explain your product/service very well and know your customer — Minimum Viable Product/Product Market Fit;
2. Explain why you and your team are the best people for the job — Founder Fit; and
3. Know your statistics, analytics, performance indicators and all other relevant figures inside and out — Scaling and Growth Strategy/Know Your Success Metrics.
This brings me to what I feel was the most beneficial “site visit” of the trip — our attendance at and participation in an Endeavour Program class at Stanford with George Foster. This class validated the thoughts I, and other students, had been having regarding the sustainability of the “Silicon Valley model”. In fact, George Foster provided us with a replacement mantra for “fail fast, fail early” — “Silicon Valley tolerates [my emphasis] smart failure that you learn from”. At last someone was agreeing with me and others who thought that Silicon Valley’s “catch phrase”, despite being catchy and reflective of the pace at which things move in Silicon, was not entirely true, nor sustainable.
George’s focus is on scaling and growth, as there can be a disconnect between the value actually created in a business and the business model being employed. Scaling and growth strategies are important because you need to be clear about what is being put in as to what the expected outcome is. That is, you “need to know your stuff” in order to ensure that what you are doing will be viable and have the impact you foresee in order to either innovate in an existing industry or use innovation as a way to create a new industry.
As a result of the study tour, I consider that there are actually 2 halves to innovation:
1. the “front end” — where you have an idea, get some funding whether through an incubator or accelerator, or both, and get started with your business; and
2. the “back end” where once you have been going for a while you really focus on scaling and growth and what your exit strategy looks like — despite whether you ever intend “exiting” or not.
From what I’ve experienced during the study tour, I tend to agree with George Foster that “too much focus is placed on starting” and the “focus should be on scaling and growth”. I now consider that I have a lot of work to do regarding my future direction with my business and the other million plus one venture ideas that are currently floating around in my head. I don’t know how I am going to “get there” and “make it”, but I do know that despite the hype of Silicon Valley a lot of hard work is required to bring any innovation “to the mainstream” and consider the below list to be the essential aspects required to enable innovation:
- Networking and presentation skills
- A team of good people with a good work ethic — stewardship model
- Interesting project/revolutionary idea — or ability to use skunkworks model
- Venture capital/funding and mentor support
- Scaling, Growth and Exit Strategies