Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trip Summary

Having failed to post on a daily basis, I thought I could at least finish up with a summary of the trip. Being a categorizer I have tried to put the various people and companies into categories:

  • Seed Stage
    • VarLabs Facebook shopping/recommender app
    • Wameeni
    • Citizen Space

  • early stage (1 -2 rounds)
    • Boxee
    • Seesmic
    • Revision 3

  • Middle stage / pre public
    • LS9
    • MobiTV
    • Krugle
    • Tesla Motors
    • Facebook

  • Mature public Company
    • Google
    • Apple
    • Pixar

  • Meeting with VC's
    • Hummer Winblad Venture Partners (Ann Winblad)
    • Guy Kawasaki

  • Individuals Working on their own as Authors/Consultants/Entrepreneurs
    • Sara Lacy
    • Robert Scoble (FastCompany TV)
    • Charlene Li

  • Research
    • Xerox PARC

  • Persistent thread about branding and building your own brand
    • Jeremiah Owyang @ forrester summarized it really well
    • Twitter and Blogging as devices for building brand

At all stages of company we heard some persistent themes. One of them revolved around risk. The message the students heard was don't be afraid to take risks, there are lots of good opportunities out there and if one thing doesn't work out, learn from that and move on. We also heard very consistently about the concept of value. How do you add value to the company you work for? If you don't know the answer to that question then you are in the wrong place. Figure out how you can add value doing something you love and you will be happy and successful. Related to the value question the students heard a lot of encouragement that it doesn't matter what your pedigree is once you are in the door.

Silicon Valley is an amazing and vibrant community. People are constantly supporting each other and encouraging each other around the ideas that are floating around. People openly share enough of what they are doing to build on each others ideas and enthusiasm. We heard consistently that its not enough to have an idea you have to be able to execute on it and that is really what differentiates the winners from the losers.

We heard about lots of different business models. How does a company make money? How does an individual monetize their blog and other online work?

  • Advertising supported
  • Technology licensing
  • direct sale to consumers
  • consulting

Open source is as big as you think it is. Virtually every company is building and using open source software.

We saw examples of lots of different work environments:
  • Very Open
  •  Facebook, Citizen Space, Revision 3
  • These companies have little or no personal space. If there are cubes, the cube walls are extremely low and allow you to see everyone at a glance. At the facebook extreme its like a public lab except you bring in your laptop and plug it into a monitor and keyboard. There is lots of movement as project requirements and stages demand.

  • Moderately Open
  • Google -- Google appears to have a more traditional mix of offices and high cubes, but there are so many entertaining activities going on all the time that it draws people out into the open for frequent interaction. Google has a very open culture in that all the data about the performance of virtually any product is available to any employee on their intranet. The "testing on the toilet" program is a great example of both openness, and how to use every avilable second to educate and keep people engaged.

  • Closed, but with other strategies for bringing employees together
  • Apple --  More closed. This brings about the legendary secretive nature. But this is by design. We heard that you don't really work at apple, you belong to a cult. And people are proud of that.
  • Pixar is closed because they need to protect whats coming next. The entertainment industry is much more cut-throat than the tech industry and without enforcing some secrecy on projects it would be a disaster. However, they are open in other ways that encourage people to be creative.

I would like to thank the Estrem Endowment for making this trip possible. I would like to thank all of the students for being great representatives of Luther College. Finally I would like to again, publicly thank all of the people we met with for being so gracious and taking the time to talk to us.

I hope we can do this again.

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