Richard Oxland (MBA Class of 2018) co-organised IESE Meets the Valley 2017. In this post he shares his experience during the trek and talks about the companies visited.
The annual Silicon Valley trek, IESE Meets the Valley, took place over the Easter vacation and as every year, it was packed full of amazing visits, events and panel discussions. We were 20 in total making our way to the Golden State. Many of the trekkers managed to squeeze in a day or two of the IESE Spring Games extravaganza before catching the plane, definitely another event not to be missed!
We spent most of the first day in San Francisco, with the jet lag helping us with the early start to visit Strava, the social network for athletes – the perfect way to kick off the trek! After brief introductions, our hosts had us brainstorming elevator pitches for Strava on sticky notes (when you have a room of MBA talent on-site, you should take advantage…!). This was followed up by some insights into the cutting-edge local marketing techniques and best-in-class online marketing they are using to grow their user base. After a tour of the first of many super-cool Silicon Valley offices on the trek, our hosts gave us all some Strava swag and then we were on our way!
“The magic of Silicon Valley is marketing. It’s telling a story of how technology can change the world.” – unnamed VC partner
Next stop was SaaS platform AppDirect, where we were hosted by an IESE alumnus and previous IESE Meets the Valley chairman (on the 25th floor in the SF financial district with incredible views!). Trekkers took the opportunity to have an informal information session on career opportunities and recruitment in the Valley. The busy morning was rounded off by a visit to Flexport – “freight forwarder for the internet age” – and another cool office space. Flexport are growing fast, the #1 success metric in Silicon Valley, and have started moving into Europe and Asia. Keep your eye on this one! After a quick lunch we visited our first VC firm, Blumberg Capital. Our host, a successful start-up CTO and founder turned VC principal gave us a great overview of the state of play for venture capital in 2016 and what trends are hot (AI, of course, and cybersecurity).
Monday evening saw our big-ticket dinner at the Stanford Faculty Club with a famous figure in Silicon Valley: one of the original VCs, Pitch Johnson. Pitch started the first Silicon Valley venture capital fund (in 1962!) and served on the International Advisory Board of IESE for many years, and it was a pleasure to hear him share some of his stories and his answers to the trekkers’ questions.
“Don’t forget the fundamentals: it’s all about sales, earnings, and growth.” – Pitch Johnson, Asset Management Ventures
Tuesday was our first of two days out of the city and we started off with a visit to the newly established Toyota Research Institute where we learned about their collaborative innovation model in self-driving cars. Next up was one of the most exciting prospects of the trip, a visit to the Google campus where we would be hosted by several IESE alumni working in the product teams. Also joining the discussion was an IESE alumnus who is now a Google executive. We had a great time eating pizza and talking about life in Google, getting some career and hiring advice, before we left to take a walk around the campus, the Google store and visitor centre. Some trekkers even had time for a quick turn on the Google bikes.
“You need to win over the investors in the head, the heart and the gut.” – John Diekman, 5am Ventures
Tuesday and Wednesday were rounded off with in-depth discussions with venture capitalists at General Catalyst (where we were hosted by one of the first to invest in Snapchat), Garage Technology, 5am Ventures and Pear Ventures. Each fund has a unique take on the investments, but one thing unifies them: the search for founders who bring ideas with a single-minded determination to disrupt a market and a burning passion for success.
“Entrepreneurship is all about teams.” – Bill Reichert, Garage Technology
On Thursday we were hosted at pharma/bioscience company Genentech by three alumni who gave as the full tour, including a look into the future of healthcare technology. Next up was a trip to online learning platform Udemy and definitely the coolest office of them all. After the presentation and Q&A session we were shown the kitchen where we could enjoy free-flowing M&Ms from the dispenser and beer from the tap (after working hours only!). No time to play PlayStation or Xbox in the social area before heading over to the world’s premier start-up accelerator, Y-Combinator for the inside line on how they operate and what makes them special in an increasingly crowded field.
Finally on Friday, we visited drone delivery start-up Volans-I, where the founder and CEO explained why he left his job at Tesla to start his own company disrupting another transport industry and his business model for success in a market dominated by large-scale incumbents. A quick trip across the road to visit Square, a company started by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (now publicly listed) which continues to revolutionise point-of-sale technology and seems to have managed 100% penetration in SF’s trendy coffee shops. And we were done!
I almost forgot to mention our two panel sessions: the first with new start-up founders at BootUp accelerator in Palo Alto and the second on the topic of blockchain and disruption. The discussions were strictly off the record, so if you want to know more, you’ll have to find one of us on campus… 😉
What a week, full of so many great companies and inspirational conversations, and the whole Silicon Valley experience. I can’t wait for next year. We already started planning, I hope you can come with us!