I write this as I fly back, reflecting on the thoroughly enjoyable week I’ve experienced alongside fellow MBA students and faculty in Silicon Valley. All the speakers were inspiring and I’ll mention a few of them below.
You can’t get away from feeling that there is something special that makes Silicon Valley the success story it is. It is no coincidence that the world’s most innovative companies have all been born there in recent years. Experiencing this first hand has been fascinating.
So what did I learn?
Firstly, I’ve learnt that I would make a fantastic ‘alarmist blogger’, although this may not pay too well! I couldn’t help thinking at one time or another about whether companies were overvalued, with a bubble about to burst and an imminent crash to be expected. What about the impact of technology on society? What happens to those displaced and left without jobs? Should we expect the very fabric of society to crumble? Whilst mentioned light heartedly, these issues do need to be thought through carefully!
Having said this there are plenty of great learnings to take from the huge amount of success within Silicon Valley. The three key takeaways for me were:
- Think Big!
We heard from a number of speakers on the importance of this. We have to be more confident and audacious in generating ideas. We shouldn’t bound ourselves by what is possible today and also shouldn’t be afraid to set extremely ambitious goals. Aim high to succeed!
This is something highlighted throughout by speakers ending with Michelle Zatlyn, co-founder of CloudFlare, who believes strongly that without this mentality, they would not have a company which in a few years has scaled to a level that provides 1.6 billion people with a faster, safer and better internet experience. Michelle reflected that her journey started on a similar MBA trip nine years ago where she thought, “if they can do it, so can I.”
- Act Fast and Fail Fast!
Make the most of momentum by relentlessly focussing on proving the idea works. Aim to create a Minimum Viable Product and establish whether there is a market, at as low a cost as possible. The product can be polished later and if it doesn’t work, better to know sooner. Save any thoughts of fancy offices and perks, boot strapping is the name of the game! And if you do fail? Dust yourself off, learn and try again!
Boris Pluskowski from Rocket Space explained how the Silicon Valley ecosystem is perfectly tuned for this model. The company provides funding and a technology campus for early stage start-ups. They have seen companies including Uber and Spotify passing through, so they know what they are talking about.
Marvin Liao from 500 start ups also emphasised the culture of accepting and learning from failure, as long as of course, you fail fast and not too many times!
- Share, Share and Share some more!
Collaboration through sharing is good for everyone. In Silicon Valley, everything is about networks. Bill Reichart, from Garage Technology Ventures told us that it’s only by bouncing ideas around that we can come up with truly great ones. Coming from London, one of the most diverse cities in the world with such a broad mix of skills, experiences and perspectives, we need to make more of this. We are better placed than anywhere (including Silicon Valley) to do this.
The power of this can lead to truly great things, for example, we heard from Jessica Hansen of the not for profit company, Kiva, which offer micro financing to those in most need by crowd sourcing small loans (from $25). This connects for example individuals acting as lenders in the USA to borrowers in places like Kenya in East Africa, which would otherwise not have access to loans. The company’s work was truly inspiring (Kiva.com if you want to learn more)
To summarise, I fly back excited about the future, whether it’s autonomous vehicles or teleportation, who knows what the future holds! What I do know though, is that if we Think Big, Act Fast and Share, there is no limit to what we can achieve!
Executive MBA (2017)