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What Silicon Valley has taught me – First day

First day in Silicon Valley

What Silicon Valley has taught me – First day

A first-hand experience in Silicon Valley


By Gabriel Giehl Martins,
MBA Best Student Leader 2017

In July I had the opportunity to participate in a one-week journey of leadership, innovation, and network in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the GSI (Global Strategic Innovation Executive Program). During the next few articles, I will share my personal takeaways and learnings, some curiosities and information, books and articles recommended, as well as the name of some very interesting people and companies that I had the opportunity to meet.

In a nutshell, the program included (i) lectures about innovation and Silicon Valley culture, (ii) visits to 10 companies (e.g. Facebook, Google, Plug & Play), (iii) a session with Prof Burton Lee at Stanford University, (iv) a session with Johnathan Littman (author of 10 faces of innovation), (v) a session at the recent created World Economic Forum´s Center for the 4th Industrial Revolution and, of course, (vi) network events.

On this article, I´ll share what happened during the first day.

We started the day with a welcome session about how to create a culture of innovation and what are the main characteristics and differentiation factors that make Silicon Valley the winner of this market. The session was led by Carlos Oliveira and Torben Rankine, both partners at Leadership Business Consulting. According to them, the six characteristics behind the title of most innovative place in the world are:

1.      Risk-taker culture

2.      Focused on disruptive innovation and global perspective

3.      Cooperative and pragmatic networking

4.      Through enablement ecosystem (Universities, Government, Investors, Support services, etc)

5.      High availability of investment money

6.      Great pool of talents and attractive for talents

All of it combined creates a strong ground for creativity and for what everyone around innovation wants: Scalability!

Do you agree with them? Would you add or remove some characteristics?

We moved then to visit Autodesk, a company that is truly disrupting industries such as design and architecture engineering, media and entertainment, and manufacturing, using complex mathematic models and a software developed by them running in the cloud. By the way, the software is an open source for small projects and your company can just start to use it today.

Apart from the business model, their museum is well worth visiting.

My major takeaway from this visit is that there is truly no limit to disrupt industries using emerged technologies such as 3D printing (more about 3D printing on the 3rd day) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). One particular project caught my attention and can illustrate easily my point.
On this picture, we can see past, present, and future! The building in the back is a very old one with a very limited shape. The one on the right is a new building recently finished and already shows some interesting and challenging curves from the engineering and design perspectives. The last one is the upcoming future! It was inspired by the F1 cars and how their shape interacts with the wind. The whole structure turns like a spiral and has other “features” such as 6 floors dedicated entirely to entertainment, including indoor parks for cycling!

But the main difference between them is that the concept and the design of the last one were all developed by a computer and not by a human being! Very simply speaking, designers, engineers, and architects create the parameters, inputs the constraints, climate and soil conditions and the software runs interactions on the cloud and comes up with dozens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of possible solutions. It´s like solving a puzzle.

Take this other project called “Infinite seats” as an example. You basically enter your goal (e.g. a simple chair) and constraints into the computer – four legs, an elevated seat, weight requirements, materials – and then the algorithms look for the most efficient way to produce the design. The program offers thousands of ways to build a perfectly honed chair, all of which meet the designer´s criteria. And, because the computer isn´t constrained by preconceived notions of what a chair should look like, it is free to come up with solutions that you, me and even the most famous design in the world might not have imagine before! 

The chair on the right, for instance, does exactly the same function but costs way less money and time to be made and uses way fewer materials.

However, I do believe that human creativity is not taking back seat to technology. Instead, the software serves as a partner in exploration and frees up the designers and engineers to concentrate on more critical decisions and behavior analysis.

The third stop of the day was a session with the CEO and Founder of TalkdeskTiago Paiva. A very friendly Portuguese guy who runs a successful startup that serves the call center industry. The company aims to simplify the future of customer service, improving the customer experience, as well as the call center agent experience and pushing the limits for real-time communication. They claim to be the “most technically advanced could-based contact center software”.

Tiago told us his trajectory from not having money to buy a computer to be the CEO of a company with more than 300 employees that raised $24.5 million from Venture Capital and Angel investors in 3 years.

He also shared with us his biggest mistake so far and what he thinks he did right. For him, the biggest mistake was to delay too much to hire executives and management team to help him to structure and grow the company. He was not expecting the fast growth and underestimated the process of hiring good people around the bay area. However, what he thinks he did great was to not raise too much money at the beginning of the operation. Although, it is kind of weird hearing that at Silicon Valley, he actually has a good point. For him, having a limited amount of money forced him to make smarter and leaner decisions and learn how to be frugal. Not mention his equity protection, of course.

If you have a business that demands a call center or if you are a call center service company, do yourself a favor and investigate what Talkdesk is doing!

We moved then to visit a collaborative workspace and innovation hub founded on the principle that people work better together, The Vault. Their business model adds to the common co-work concept some nice features related to entrepreneurial education, supporting early-stage technology startups and creative agencies. They offer mentorship and acceleration programs, as well as particular training for founders and software developers. They also run pitch events and collaborate with investors and other private institutions in order to pave the way for the startups that “rent” their spaces. They claim to be a more calm and quiet space than big competitors such as Plug&Play, Runaway, and Wework. (Disclaimer: after visiting Plug&Play and Wework during the next days I must say that they were actually saying the truth about noise and focus).

As usual, the best part of the day was the last session (at least in my opinion). We went to visit the company called SalesHood and we were received by the founder himself, Elay Cohen, which is the ex SVP of Sales and Partner Productivity of Salesforce and author of the book that has the same name as his company (Worth read if you work with any kind of sales). Elay is a showman and a very friendly guy! He gave away to everyone one hardcopy of his book and delivered an inspiring pitch about his career path and the company he founded 5 years ago.

He started actually telling us the story of how he was able to multiply Salesforce´s top line results by ruining a worldwide training program, and this was exactly what triggered his current and successful business. His main point was that, although the old-fashion training model worked for some time at Salesforce, at some point it became unsustainable as they reached hundreds of thousands of sales members across the globe! “Must be a better and more efficient solution”, he thougth back then.

After some time invested and after finding the best co-founder, they created what he calls an enablement platform to improve the performance of your sales team, regardless of the industry! Their pitch is:

“We help you create modern, high performing teams. How? We get more of your team performing like your best by enabling them to share knowledge, learn best practices and exceed their attainment goals.”

If you have a company doing any kind of sales, you should definitely check them out and ask for a trial. Connect on LinkedIn with Jon Titchener and Zach Turner, or even with Elay Cohen himself and drop a line.

My takeaway here was the need to create not only a structured sales process that can be replicable and scaled but also a systematic way to allow sellers and management team to share stories! To give and receive feedback regardless of where you are in the world! Looks like a social network platform totally driven to boost top-line results.

Was a great first day and expectations just went high as companies like Facebook and Google and sessions at Stanford and World Economic Forum’s Center for the 4th Industrial Revolution were yet to come!