Building a new company to support Swedish companies in their digital transformation, we headed for a week long business tour to Silicon Valley. The purpose was to meet with our first local cooperation partners, but most of all getting to understand the latest trends and get a feel for that famous innovation culture everyone is talking about. A bit of t-shirt tourism, so to speak.
We met with locals as well as Swedish entrepreneurs who had made it and stayed “over there”. We also managed to squeeze ourselves into Facebook and Stanford University to meetings. (And yes – FB does have ice cream parlors, beanbags, balloons and hard-working youngsters all over the place. Stanford has mainly got hard-working youngsters.) The most innovation-centered experience though was our participation at Global Startup Grind 2017 where thousands of entrepreneurs met to share experiences, pitch their ideas and listen to speakers like founders of WhatsApp, Tinder, Waze, Giphy, Kabam, Stripe, Zoom and Horowitz Anderzeen.
The tech was there alright…
The Valley shelters some 15.000-20.000 startups which count for nearly 50% of the exits in the world compared to for instance London’s 10%. Startups, established enterprises, incubators, investors and academia thrive together in a dynamic and vibrant echo system.
When asked about the latest tech trends you would be given the list of familiar areas such as AI and Machine Learning, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Internet of Things and Automation. The technologies as such may no longer be new, but the combination of technologies in creation of practical applications for industries, individuals and society is accelerating due to increasing maturity and reasonable levels of cost. And one thing is clear – those who adopt the ability to understand the value of, collect, process and analyze DATA will get a huge competitive advantage.
…but everyone was talking about something entirely different
This could now of course be a dirty trick just to get away from the complex technical discussions which might arise from this article, but honestly – they just did not talk about tech. These inspiring founders and leaders we had made our pilgrimage to were instead sharing experiences around a number of themes that seemed to build the very foundation of the Silicon Valley innovation culture:
- Everything is about the team. To enable innovation, it is absolutely critical to put together diverse teams with different experiences and approaches. Skills from outside are needed and the culture must allow existing truths to be challenged. Looking at many established companies this probably means a lot of stepping out of those comfort zones – especially for senior management.
- Cooperation – not competition. ”Pay it forward” apparently isn’t just a movie title, but a real way of living. Here we can see a challenge for our Nordic enterprise culture, characterized by competition and do-it-yourself mentality. There are some things to learn from the values of the Startup Grind conference: “Give First – Don’t take. Help others Before Yourself. Make Friends – Not Contacts”.
- Start from the issue your customer needs to solve – and communicate clearly. Even simple needs can translate into new products and services. A major reason for WhatsApp’s success was that other communication plattforms couldn’t provide simplicity. To reach your customers you also need to have the ability to “wow” them immediately. The line between communication and entertainment is getting blurred.
- Speed before perfection and Do fail, but fast. 3-year-plans by all means, but the pace is accelerating. We heard entrepreneurs testify about the importance of daring to test and launch even if isn’t 100% ready. You continue to process your offer together with your customers. Also somehow, these guys have managed to make failure cool – how about that?
- If you have too much money you are likely to fail. This may sound strange, but the message we got from many of the founders was clear and it should apply to established companies as well. If you have less capital you will more likely need to challenge and be more creative in finding the solutions – and at a higher speed. Fat and happy won’t get you far anymore.
- Get yourself a t-shirt. Even though we are not entirely sure about the statistically significant link between a relaxed dresscode and immediate business success, it probably won’t hurt to try.
So – what does all this mean to a leadership team who hasn’t yet started to steer their business towards that bright digital future? Probably a lot. To continue working in old ways won’t do much longer. It is time to start building knowledge around the new technologies and the value they can bring to customers and internal processes. An active business intelligence will be needed to monitor the development on the markets. Strategies might need to be revised and adjusted to the rapidly changing business environment. Culture, internal processes and infrastructure may have to be modernized to support both exisiting business and innovation. New competencies such as in data analytics or agile development could be needed and new kinds of strategic partnerships might follow. And then of course there is that t-shirt. Do not forget the t-shirt – just in case.