Silicon Valley Change League Tour – Day 3

InSites Consulting was recently elected as one of the winners of the BNP Paribas Fortis Change League competition, putting companies in the spotlight that have been (radically) redefining themselves in light of a changing environment. Being among the winners, Tim Duhamel and I have the unique opportunity of spending a week in Silicon Valley with a group of 18 other Belgian entrepreneurs and CEOs, tapping into the ground zero of innovative ideas, disruptive technologies and entrepreneurship. Every day, we will write down our learnings, thoughts and ideas based on what we have experienced.

ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ

With $4.7 billion assets under management, Andreessen Horowitz is one of the most significant venture capitalists of the bay area, investing in computer science only. Andreessen Horowitz is different from other VCs, in the sense that it puts entrepreneurs at the very core of what they do. Their 8 general partners are all former entrepreneurs from earlier startups, bringing with them real and specific expertise.
Andreessen Horowitz at Sillicon Valley Change League tour
Benedict Evans talked about the power of mobile, describing it as the first universal tech product, which is a fundamental change compared to previous tech innovations. By 2020, 80% of adults are expected to have a smartphone. Mobile is the new scale, accelerating the creation of many more, smaller and cheaper components: smartphone components being the Lego of technology, virtual reality, wearables, drones, etc. Things are best when they are obsolete: PCs have reached their state of perfection but have been overtaken by the mobile revolution. The mobile revolution drives the quality of the tools we are using and is shaping the future of how we work and live in fundamental ways. Cars are, for example, being transformed into smartphones with wheels, with the future being electric, on-demand and autonomous. Mobile is a new platform, it is not a device!
Next, we witnessed 2 impressive cases. Capriza removes people’s limitations using classic business applications. The power of a minute is their central departure point: they radically bring down the time people need to execute a specific task to one magical minute. Instead of people having to chase the technology, they flip the funnel and ensure technology is chasing and serving people’s needs. The brilliant thing about the Capriza story is that it allows anyone to build an app in 5 minutes: no coding needed, all complexity removed, just dragging and dropping and customizing your app to your specific needs. Everyone in the room was simply overwhelmed by the demonstration. Tanium was up next. They are the Google-like search for IT data. By bringing in peer-to-peer and network thinking in a corporate environment, the company’s technology can test millions of computers that are attached to corporate networks, ask them questions, and patch them or shut them down in seconds.

Our key take-away

We are witnessing the consumerization of business environments (easy, simple, fun) thanks to the power of the mobile platform and the maturity level consumers have reached when it comes to using social media and technologies. Think about how you can turn your business challenges into consumer-like applications!

CITY OF PALO ALTO

Jonathan Reichental, Chief Information Officer for the City of Palo Alto, took us on a journey on how to make cities smarter through technology. Palo Alto, the birth place of Silion Valley, is a city that is small in size and big in dreams with Tim Cook, the late Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all being its inhabitants. Jonathan was recruited to become the CIO of the city for the simple reason that it was not able to live up to the reputation of smart technology that is so typical for Silicon Valley. Half of the planet now lives in cities and another 2 billion people will migrate to urban areas over the next decade. By consequence, cities are the key to tackle many of the world’s big challenges.
In 2014, the City of Palo Alto was awarded the most digital city of the US. How did they get there? Reinventing cities basically means taking a fresh look at existing problems and challenges, thinking about suitable software solutions and using the power of the crowd. “The future belongs to cities, but we are not ready” Jonathan says. We need a new operating system for cities characterized by connectivity, human sharing and participation, abundant and open data, smartphones, and the cloud. It is often a matter of life and death; just think about tsunami warning, earthquake event reporting, predictive crime forecasting and so on. Jonathan says one of the most valuable resources in government is not used: data. That’s why the City of Palo Alto follows the principle of open data by default; just check out data.cityofpaloalto.org. The result is that everyone can add new value and applications can be created based on the available open data. A great example is PaloAlto311, allowing people to report issues around the city, get notifications and get access to information about the city. In addition to tapping into today’s problems, we need to stretch our minds thinking about different future scenarios and envision the impact of that on our lives. What happens if we all have self-driving cars: we would no longer need parking spaces, traffic lights, car ownership, home garages, and so on.
Jonathan finished his talk stating that all of this is just the beginning. It is a multi-trillion dollar opportunity that will affect the lives of billions of people. It could even change the concept of democracy, just take a look at how Estonia is dealing with this.
City of Palo Alto at Sillicon Valley Change League tour

Our key take-away

In analogy with Jonathan’s vision on the new operating system for cities, think about how you can create a new operating system for your brand or industry by embedding human sharing and participation and applying a default mindset to open data.

COINBASE

Founded in 2012, Coinbase is the world’s largest bitcoin company, wanting to make payments easier globally. Its main activities are to manage coinbase wallet (free product to store, send and receive bitcoin that is available globally) and coinbase exchange (buy and sell bitcoin with a bank account, charging 1% on transactions). Blockchain technology is a global distributed ledger of all bitcoin transactions anyone can download and audit. While in 1995 the key question was “What is our internet strategy?” and in 2008 “What’s our mobile strategy?”, it now is “What is our blockchain strategy?”. The added value of bitcoin resides in the fact that it allows a previously impossible functionality, that it is an open neutral platform to build on, and that it has a built-in economic model. Growth opportunities for bitcoin in 2016 are cheaper and faster cross-border payments, micro-payments for content built into browsers for use on demand (e.g. ChangeTip), and public ledger applications such as ticketing, contracting or managing image rights (e.g. Tierion).

Our key take-away

Have you thought whether blockchain technology can create new value or drive efficiency in your market? It is the ultimate key to disintermediate many of the things that are today controlled by larger systems or organisms, creating trust in the cloud.

PANEL DISCUSSION WITH BELGIAN STARTUPS

At the end of the day, we were able to spend some quality time with Davy Kestens, founder of Sparkcentral and Xavier Damman, founder of Storify.
Davy started his talk by stating that the way companies organize customer service has nearly evolved over time, while the world has shifted dramatically with consumers communicating in drastically different ways, deciding themselves what channel they use. For most customer service departments, this is a true nightmare. Sparkcentral facilitates customer service for clients through what Davy refers to as the first channel-agnostic enterprise customer engagement platform. To give an idea of their impact, for Netflix they have been able to reduce the average response time from 4 hours to 30 minutes and to increase outbound volume by 1,000%. Here are a couple of bold statements Davy raised that challenged our thinking:

  • Lots of people disqualify themselves from solving a problem because they have become too much of an expert. Ignorance has been our bliss.
  • Formal education is useless, you can’t learn business at school and I never look at resumes. It is only relevant if you are doing something very specific and technical such as medicine.
  • The moment we become profitable is the moment we are out of business: it is all about building a rocket ship and moving really fast. If we have our money sit in profits, we cannot use that money to finance growth and innovation.
  • We create entry barriers by moving at the speed of light when it comes to innovation, we don’t have patents or anything similar to protect us.

Sparkcentral at Sillicon Valley Change League tour
Xavier Damman is the founder of Storify and moved to the Silicon Valley region 6 years ago. He shared the whole experience of immersing in the valley and stressed the fact of never giving up, even if investors initially advised him to go back to Belgium. Some statements made by Xavier that were remarkable:

  • We need to share more ideas instead of hide them away from others: it is the only way to learn and iterate over time
  • There is a bubble here, there is no doubt about it
  • Give, give, take“: first help your community before asking something back
  • The 20th century was the age of waged slavery, it’s time to escape

Our key take-away

We can learn a lot from the passion and extreme dedication of both Davy and Xavier to really solve the problems companies are encountering every day. Dare to take a step back to see more clearly, speed up your innovation process in a big way, and keep on going until you crack the code.
Missed our adventures of day 1 & 2 of the Sillicon Valley Change League tour? Just visit them here:

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