Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Learning Journey in San Francisco

I'm in San Francisco on a Learning Journey, an organised tour around businesses and institutions in California with a group of entrepreneurs from around the UK. It is an incredible life changing experience.

We headed south first thing in the morning to Mountain View in Silicon Valley for the first appointment with Symantec with company evangelist Dale Zabriskie. The security software company is best known for consumer security software product Norton Utilities. The presentation was an expansive overview of the threats to data security and the constantly changing nature of those such perils – from hackers, activists, organised crime and even hostile states. They do this specifically through their three Security Operations Centres (SOC) – one is in Reading – which track what the bad guys do. But we learned too about how Symantec has embedded a culture of innovation into the business to make them able to provide the thought leadership that can maintain their business and on top of their sector and even acquire businesses that give them a strategic edge. And to innovate the key is to fail quickly, take heed, move on. This was evident in how business has started analysing the weight of data now being produced – had you ever heard of a Zeddobyte or a Yottabyte? Big numbers with 24 zeroes. We are a generation that is data rich but information poor, so much we have, but so much is also irrelevant, 75 per cent, Dale suggested. What matters is being able to understand which bits of data require a layer of information that make them intelligent and worth backing up and securing.

Then we headed back to the city to meet Salesforce.com.  It takes balls of steel to cull a chunk of your business at a time of maximum growth. Especially so when you grow by 40 per cent a year, every year, for 13 years. That was just one of the hundreds of anecdotes, insights, facts and spellbinding insights from a trio of presentations and discussions we were part of at Salesforce.com the most innovative company in the world. At the centre was the transformation of the business – essentially an internet based sales CRM management system - into a social enterprise – one that embraces and enhances the social networking revolution and places it at the centre of everything the company does. Woodson Martin kicked us off with his analysis of how the explosion in mobile devices is changing everything – his you can even read this here – 50 ways to become a social enterprise. Part of this is embedded in the ways in which Salesforce have implemented Chatter – essentially a bespoke secure internal communications network that edits out the noise we all suffer from with Facebook and Twitter. It's improved productivity, communication and the flow of ideas – indeed CEO Marc Benioff has tagged these the Chatterati – and radically flattened the whole organisation. Innovation is at the heart of Salesforce and Cloud computing and keeping that edge is what gives the business a premium. Clarence So, senior VP of strategy, spoke to us about how the business fought off various challenges over the years with a characteristic cheeky humour and attitude. One way they do this: how tactics dictate strategy that recognises how many of the best laid plans end up going wrong anyway – tactics and what we learn from them inform our strategy.

To understand the entrepreneurial mindset of Silicon Valley it's important to get your head around the contribution of the universties – in particular Stanford and Berkeley, our next stop off. We were hosted at Stanford by Tom Byers, the head of the technology ventures program. Though the university has a proud legacy of creating businesses in the technology field, the purpose of Tom had worked Symantec beforehand and so had some rubber on the entrepreneurial road. His talk included video presentations from a bunch of his friends – Jack Dorsey, one of the creators of Twitter, venture capital investor Marc Andressen, entrepreneur Steve Blank, evangelist Guy Kawsaki, and Randy Komiser author of Getting to Plan B. He capped it off with a clip of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO and a hot tip to be the first female President of the United States. The themes included business models and planning, as well as some of the the resources are here.

More tomorrow.

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