Skip to content

What Silicon Valley has taught me – Second day

foto 4

What Silicon Valley has taught me – Second 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). On this second article, I´ll share my experience about the second day when we visited Facebook, Stanford University and Plug & Play.ond day started very early as we needed to commute from San Francisco to Mountain View and Palo Alto.

Allow me to take a break here and mention how bad is the traffic between San Francisco and Silicon Valley! Took us almost 2 hours to reach Facebook´s village.

Anyway, let’s get back on track…

We visited just one of many Facebook´s offices around there and was enough to confirm what is being said about the company. They definitely have created something different and nailed the “culture in practice” kind of strategy.

They have a huge fleet of busses all day long that brings and sends employees home even from places as far as 90Km away (with Wi-Fi, of course, so they can work on the way). I could just write one entire article to share what they provide as “benefits” for employees. All of it to try to motivate employees, foster innovation and, of course, hold employees for a longer period (on average, employees are staying at this kind of companies less than 3 years before moving out to another challenge). I already mentioned recruiting challenges at the bay area in the article about the first day, so companies are creating different strategies to hold the best guys.

If you send me a message, I can send you the video that I made inside the village. 

With expectations already high, we reached the Stanford University to listen and have lunch with Professor Burton Lee, professor, and researcher on European Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The goal was to talk about the key features of Silicon Valley Trends and Global Tech as well as making some comparison to the European environment and culture.

Among a bunch of smart discussions, his four main topics were SCALE, SPEED, COMPETITON FOR TALENT, and CORPORATE CULTURE, ORGANIZATION, LEADERSHIP & STRATEGY and I´ll do my best to share the main thoughts on each topic.

Please bear in mind that these ideas have authoring rights by Prof. Burton Lee, so if you use them, please don’t forget to cite Prof. Burton Lee, as I have done here!

  • Scale

His point about scale is related to how emerging technologies such as big data, AI, blockchain, IoT are not only enabling new markets but also allowing companies to reach a scale speed that was not possible before! He also made a very interesting comparison between assets driven companies to tech-driven companies in terms of market valuation (which as we know is more about scalability than book value itself nowadays).

The graph is from 2015 and compares only US and Germany, but I believe is enough to prove his point. For instance, what is the main way for BMW to grow? Sell more cars. But to sell more cars they need to invest upfront and heavily in manufacturing facilities that worth billions. Now, what is the main way for Google to grow? Just hire more engineers! Of course, I´m simplifying the scenario to make my point, but you get it.

As we are mentioned cars and technology I´ll finish this topic with a strong prevision by Professor Burton Lee. He said that in the near future, software inside the cars will value more than the car itself! Do you agree?

  • Speed

Scalability leads naturally to speed! Or vice versa 😉

It took about 75 years for the telephone to connect 50 million people around the globe. Recently, a simple app like Angry Birds can reach that same milestone in a matter of days! In the past 10 years, the rate of adoption of new technologies has accelerated at a dizzying speed. Can we keep up with it all? 

  • Competition for Talent

It´s the third time that this topic pops up during the seminar. And it is not a coincidence at all as numbers such those on the graph speaks for itself.

According to business inside“Oracle offered at least one candidate a $6 million package made up of salary and equity incentives to convince them to join the company, a source told Business Insider.”

From the same Business Inside article: “In October, the New York Times reported that the typical salary for PhD-trained AI talent is around $300,000 to $500,000 in salary and equity, but that some well-known people in the field make double-digit millions”

Are you as CEO, founder or even director willing to write a higher check for someone below you at the organizational structure? If not, I´m sorry. You definitely need to change your mind.

  •  Corporate culture, organization, leadership & strategy

This topic is a Ph.D. thesis itself. Dr. Burton Lee spent some time here comparing different types of organizational structure and how it can influence a company´s culture. We discussed, for instance how Microsoft was able to change from a cross-department competitive culture to a more collaborative one.

He also showed us a study from Google after years studying effective Google´s teams. They came up with 5 traits that the most successful ones shared.

1.      Psychological safety: Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other;

2.      Dependability: Team members get things done on time and meet Google´s high bar for excellence;

3.      Structure and Clarity: Team members have clear roles, plans, and goals;

4.      Meaning: Work is personally important to team members;

5.      Impact: Team members think their work matters and create changes.

Another conclusion in this kind of study from Google was some key qualities of team members identified.

“What matters isn’t so much who’s on your team, but rather how the team works together”

What mattered most: Trust / Listen first / Show empathy / Be authentic / Set the example / Be helpful / Disagree and commit / Be humble / Be transparent / Commend sincerely and specifically

Regarding this topic, Burton Lee recommends to us a book called “Team of Teams”, by Chris Fussell, David Silverman, Stanley A. McChrystal, and Tantum Collins.

In the end, after almost 2 hours of very interesting discussions, he stated as a conclusion that “Speed of innovation & Decision Making + Competition for talents and markets shape Corporate Culture and Structure.”

This whole session just reinforced what Peter Drucker said: “CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST”! This is a personal battle that I had to fight over my 10 years of professional experience. Most of the time what we see is Top Executives just trying to impose what they think is the best strategy or culture for the company with beautiful slides and marketing initiatives after spending millions of dollars with a big four consulting firm. Same works for the culture of innovation. Almost every company wants to have innovation on its DNA, but most of them are doing wrongly stating with the solutions in mind (ex: implement an app, use IoT, etc.) rather than focusing on creating an enabling culture to foster innovation. But this is a discussion for another article.

As Burton Lee also stated: “Company Culture is the core of Innovation Platform”.

To complete this already amazing day, we went to visit Plug and Play. Our host was Jackie Hernandez, the SVP of Operations & Customer Engagement. Apart from being a very charismatic person, she works for the group for 12 years and saw all the road being built by the company´s founder and CEO, Saeed Amidi.

Plug and Play was the crib of some famous unicorns such as Google and PayPal.

They are an innovation platform that brings together the startups and the world’s largest corporations. If you are from an early stage startup, you should definitely subscribe to be part of their (disclaimer, they do not require equity as investors!) They invest in over 250 startups a year and have connections to 300 of the world’s best VCs.

During the visit, we had also the chance to interact with Gideon Marks, a very experienced startup mentor at Plug & Play. He shared with us his thought and lessons learned about startup funding. An interesting one that I took for me was his advice to never report efforts, but always report PROGRESS! Doesn´t matter how hard you worked or what sacrifices you made, the results and progress will separate success from failure and amateurs from professionals.

“You gain knowledge by listening, so develop big ears like an elephant. But stay away from talkers, with a big mouth like a hippopotamus”

My conclusion here is based on numbers. Plug & Play, for instance, evaluate over 10.000 startups every single year, they select then 250 to invest or accelerate and only 1 is expected to become a unicorn! You do not need to be a unicorn to be successful in the startup environment, but you have this goal, keep this numbers in mind, but never drive your decisions or give up because of these odds. Not everyone will, but anyone can succeed!

That´s it for the 2nd day. But before reaching the hotel in San Francisco we had to face the terrible 2 hours traffic again!