My take away from visit to Silicon Valley with board professionals: Attitude, agility, awareness, ac
I have participated to exploration visit to Silicon Valley during this century in several different contexts varying from corporate to startup groups. The observations and also my personal expectations to those have developed over time. This probably shows partly the development in Finland and Europe in general. My focus in earlier visits was the trends that are surfacing and the fast-developing new innovation. Now I started my trip with interest in the actual way how things are happening in Silicon Valley and how they might differ from what is see in Europe.
In many discussions I found the borders created by my own approach to new things. I couldn’t invent many of those simple ideas, that now have been proven to be the winners. Reason for that is the approach were you often find your self endlessly fine tuning an idea instead of just testing it into market and leave tuning later. You cannot know everything by yourself, so it is fruitful to open your ideas to others and collect the feedback from friends, competitors and customers to re-innovate your idea. Some of the companies, I saw during the visit, where maybe showing idea of “world not being ready” in too concrete and high lighting way. Like in their premises, which were missing pieces of interior decoration just for that purpose. I got the point anyhow. This attitude in general seemed quite fruitful as it leads faster and more customer focused development cycles with ability see and react to needed adjustments while running towards goal.
Time is more valuable than money, because the resources of an start-up are limited from people point of view. You can get faster new money from the market to your start-up than people with the knowledge of the founding team. Education takes time, which is also taken away from the speed of progress. Also investors are lacking time as there are so many opportunities available. Thus presenting and handling of the cases has developed to the perfection from efficiency point of view. Finns have time to discuss the topics in more peaceful manner at warmth of sauna and for us elevator pitch seem artificial. Elevator pitch is actualy just a necessity dictated by environment as best way of delivering your first message in noisy market full of ideas.
Awareness and being open to new ideas are important. Being too open sounded from Silicon Valley point of view culturally suspicious. So, you need to be aware of this fact if you are landing from European cultural environment into new territory: you need to learn where is the limit of being open, but not too open. When exaggeration (from Finnish point of view) is normal, too modestly formulated or expressed ideas are easily left into shadow of stronger expression. So, you need to be able to garnish your thoughts to look pretty (no, amazingly brilliant I should say), but leave certain level of smoke around, hiding the detail, to make it interesting and believable. After making the appearance with brilliant introduction, next important thing is showing your capability to implement the idea fast. This leads to though that actually, from investor point of view, it is not important if the idea is unique, but their focus is rather on capability to execute: The credible and enthusiastic team that can deliver is the diamond, they can make profit even with more modest idea or just develop it further while running. I found for example the idea of ice cream museum awareness to customer need and new thinking with connection to fast delivery merger nicely (history is slow, but ice cream melts fast).
An interesting finding was how appreciation of diversity seem to be crucial factor for emergence of community such as Silicon Valley. This could be something that may European leaders could explore as current trend seem to be heading opposite way. As one example was raised the accent and appreciation of that. Some times in different cultures an accent of local language might lead foreigner to sound funny and you lose the actual content while concentrating to how it was delivered. In Silicon Valley all have an accent as population is combination of individuals from different origins, and that is seen as great thing! “Nobody is from here” attitude leads to environment where integration to community is easier. When people don’t have inward turned minds and have an attitude of delivering, new ideas can flow into area from all over the world and thus contribute to cumulative spirit of innovation of the whole area. I believe this is one of the key factors of Silicon Valley being prosperous, even though the local cost level is ridiculously high compared to other locations.
The belief, that good deeds done and friendliness are paying back sooner or later, is a strength of local behavior. People are ”paying forward”. If they would be expecting reciprocity to their actions immediately, this would slower down interaction significantly. If you have just founded a start-up, you cannot be expected to contribute to your benefactors anything valuable from their point of view immediately. Co-operation and assistance without own obvious interest is most probably not just naive goodwill. Based on discussions it seem to be relying on idea that target of good deed will eventually pay back when opportunity arises. I think this is supporting the network effect between companies and individuals which are in different phases of development. I see this phenomenon being much weaker in Europe: big companies talk with equals and lack the connection to start-ups and wise versa. This seem to be another power source of Silicon Valley phenomenon.
Maybe time has passed Silicon Valley as the epicenter of innovation and derived solutions, but I see that there is still a lot to learn from the culture that foster the start-up phenomenon. These lessons have naturally to be compose to fit your own operating environment, not just try to copy as they are. In general, this visit equipped me with comprehensive view of current state of big players of Silicon Valley. Through the people I met I believe to have seen also some glimpses to individuals’ point of view too. Direct discussions are so much more fruitful compared to dull and faceless company presentations. Through these it is easier to drill into challenges and opportunities of presented working models.
I originally wrote this story to Boardman Grow’s blog in Finnish. Funny part is that I was able to generate 5 As for this (little modified) English version too. I believe that those 5 As highlighted here present excellent base for self reflection towards own thinking about how businesses should be run and which could be the keys for success.
Writer is founding partner of Cybermind Oy Seppo Heikura