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A quick digest from the US of A.

A quick digest from the US of A. inploi Team | 13.07.2016

In the summer of 2016, inploi's CEO and co-founder, Matthew de la Hey jetted off to the San Francisco for the Global Entrepreneurial Summit. Here's a quick digest of his time at the conference and lessons learnt in the US of A.

inploi’s tour of Silicon Valley kicked off in haste with a pitch to the Oxford Entrepreneurs in the Bay at Facebook’s HQ. It is an epic building, with half a mile of rooftop garden/forest! inploi was well received and it was good to meet a few locals!

Fast forward to Wednesday 22nd – the start of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The day kicked off with a plenary session exploring entrepreneurship around the world, and particularly the position of women and minority communities. The panel featured Oren Yakobovich of Videre, Leila Janah founder of Sama and Laxmi and Ooshma Garg, founder and CEO of Gobble. A few sound bites:

  • “To build a great business you’ve got to be fighting conventional Wisdom.”
  • “I’m very stubborn about being creative and finding that in all of my hires.”
  • “A lot of people in the startup community are trying to change systemic bias that disadvantages women & brown people.”
  • “Entrepreneurship is a very very big long journey! The story the press tells you is always accelerated.”
  • To the question “Should entrepreneurship be hard?” The answer “Yes, because from great pressure comes the diamond.”

The panel spent some time dissecting the nature of Silicon Valley, the global entrepreneurship environment, and the fact that a lot of people in the Valley are ‘trying to change the world/people’s lives’ for people whose lives they have very little experience of. That gap needs to be closed. “There is an arrogance to Silicon Valley” said one of the panellists, but the U.S remains at the forefront of growth due to the abundance of capital. Nevertheless, Silicon Valley is starting to look outwards and realises that the next $1bn company may well come from abroad.

Then the CMO of Dell, Karen Dell announced the outcome of Dell’s Women Entrepreneur Index, finding that the top Cities in which to be a female entrepreneur are New York, the Bay Area, London, Stockholm, Singapore and others. 

Next up was the venture capitalist John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield. The man has seen a lot of entrepreneurship in the valley, and played a key role in the tech rush. Some key points:

  • Seek opportunities to learn and grow, not compensation
  • If you want a job, get in at the ground floor of a rapidly growing company – that way you’ll be given more responsibility
  • Always network!
  • Talented, experienced leaders are always in high demand
  • Culture matters!

On the final point he explored the difference between Mercenaries and Missionaries. The two are culturally VERY different, but he has seen both succeed. Mercenaries are, as the name suggests, mercenary in their dealings – competition obsessed, finance obsessed, driven by finance. Missionaries are passionate, meritocratic, holistic, meaning driven. A few other things:

  • "Diversity in global Venture Capital is pathetic”
  • “I’m negative on Artificial Intelligence for the next 5 years”
  • “Silicon Valley is not a place, it’s a state of mind” [in the running for quote of the week]

A few breakouts followed, firstly with Robin Albin the SVP of conceptual innovation at Estee Lauder in New York. She explored personal branding, looking at Karl Jung’s 12 Archetypes, and how they apply to both the individual and the corporate brand. Key message – be who you are and own that. After Robin’s excellent session came “Pitch the Press” with Emily Chang (the host of BloombergWest who hilariously featured on HBO’s Silicon Valley recently talking to Ulrich & Richard) and Al Jazeera’s Kamahl Santamaria. Some great insight into dealing with the press and getting coverage. Be interesting. Don’t piss them off.

The afternoon was spent at the Stanford Design School working on Design Thinking. The process, in a nutshell:

  • Empathise (understand the people you are working with)
  • Define (what is the problem?)
  • Ideate (come up with ideas, no matter how impractical/crazy)
  • Prototype (pick a few good ideas and build a basic prototype)
  • Test (try the prototype out with the people its built for)

The broad stroke is get to solutions quickly and cheaply, and repeat until you get what is needed!

The final session was presented by Marne Levine, the COO of Instagram, followed by Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO of Stripe. Marne urged entrepreneurs to “embrace their rookie advantage” and to think more like children – in the sense that nothing is impossible, and there is deep clarity of vision. Patrick announced Stripe’s awesome new platform called Atlas – a one stop shop for global entrepreneurs setting up e-commerce businesses. Sets you up with payment provision in multiple companies, a Delaware Corp in the U.S and a bank account with Silicon Valley Bank. Really Awesome.  We use Stripe for inploi!

The day closed out with an opening cocktail party for the full GES summit, feat. U.S Secretary of State John Kerry who flew overhead in some exciting helicopters before arriving to say hello. He’s opening the summit tomorrow. 

It’s a pretty amazing group of people from all over the world. Apparently it was harder to get into GES than it is to get into Stanford. Good job team inploi!

A tour de force from silicon Valley’s A team

I went to bed to the breaking news that Britain had decided to leave the EU. There’s a lot of nonsense and alarmist on the fly – all will be fine. We, together, must make it so. This, in addition to the GES programme, made Thursday at the GES a pretty monumental Day!

The day kicked off with a welcome from Richard Stengel, former head of Time magazine and now Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. I have particular admiration for him because he co-wrote Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. He introduced John Kerry the secretary of state. Kerry stressed the importance of entrepreneurship as a force for good, and the link between economic and political stability. He highlighted the importance of transitioning to a low carbon economy (thank God) – having gone to see the Arctic last week the signs of climate change and the melting of the ice fields is undeniable (…) and refereed to the good working being done by entrepreneurs from all over the world to improve the global condition. A few extracts:

  • "There is an intimate connection between economic stability, foreign policy, and global order."
  • "The world now is far more complex than it was during the Cold War." In part due to some of the stuff built out here in the Valley.” [social media, ease of communication, etc].
  • Climate change is a serious, undeniable problem. We need to move to a low carbon economy as a matter of urgency.
  • "Your optimism provides an alternative to the nihilism of violent extremists".

Kerry was followed by a string of Silicon Valley’s big names – Reid Hoffman, Co-founder of LinkedIn, Travis Kalanick, co-founder of Uber, and Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb. 

Hoffman discussed the importance of networks, and the fact that the distance between all of us has been dramatically reduced. "Make the world global, but trust local. Networks make things happen".

Kalanick, a pretty controversial figure generally, was interviewed by Valerie Jarrett, a special advisor to Obama. They discussed Uber’s labour issues mostly. Travis argued that for the first time people were able to have total flexibility of their work schedules, and that a lot of the controversy around Uber (fingerprinting etc is an effort to keep them out of cities). He made some good points around background checks and the structure of the U.S labour market which effectively keeps people who have done their time in prison and paid their dues. Overall though I think his arguments in favour of labour are pretty baseless, particularly when Uber is rumoured to have placed an order for 100,000 autonomous vehicles with Mercedes. Bye bye drivers. He highlighted one of the realities of entrepreneurship – that one needs to determine what they are going to do, and if they have conviction in its potential for success, stick it out. It will be hard – people will think you’re crazy, but therein lies the opportunity to disrupt. "The distance between perception & reality is the innovators playground. Entrepreneurship is understanding the difference".

Other soundbites:

  • “Uber acts as a safety net for cities - anyone can work”
  • "Systems like fingerprinting are used by incumbents to keep people out of work" (and to stop Uber).
  • "Government and pvt sector have to work to get people back into work, overcome injustice in the criminal justice system."
  • "Prior to Uber I had as much failure as success. I've been there."
  • "Entrepreneurship is about persistence. If you believe in what you do stick with it, even if people think you're crazy"

Airbnb’s Brian Chesky was up next, and was awesome! He was an arts student, with no technical background. Loads of people said they’d fail. They launched 3 times with slightly different iterations. He was clearly pleased at showing up investors who told them they’d fail.

  • "How do you know to keep going?" Really tough to know! Find a few people who absolutely love your product. If you can't then you’re in trouble.
  • A problem with investors - they look for patterns. Rather - look for a great entrepreneur!
  • To investors- "Be open to diveristy! They know the opportunities in their communities better than you do"
  • And: “Look at people’s backgrounds. Try and find creative resilience! By the time the graph is up to the right it is too late.
  • Most important thing - Learn how to learn quickly. Use 'shorthands'. Be shameless.

Later in the day I attended a panel on growth, with the founders of DocuSign, Stripe, Pivotal & Circular Board. Some good, differing perspectives:

  • Build a high performance team. Company with best people wins.
  • Focus on the customer.
  • Build a noble cause to impact the world
  • Pick the right market, and a growing market
  • Pick the right metrics and be disciplined in optimising for them
  • Have a culture of experimentation on the decisions that are reversible
  • To achieve continuous change you need continuous feedback
  • Build barriers to entry & leverage in the business model
  • Leverage partnerships
  • The frightening thing about disruption is that cumulative rationality can leave you ripe for it

In the afternoon, Frank Chen from Andreeson Horowitz spoke on how to pitch a VC. His points on what they look for in a company:

  • An enormous market
  • Ambitious founders who want to build independent companies
  • Sense of mission
  • People set on changing the world
  • Product-Market fit
  • Product that solves a real market need, and does it well. Proof of this? People will pay for it.
  • If you have product-market fit you will grow really fast.
  • Founder-product fit
  • Missionary fit to product // Mercenaries – don’t generally go the distance. Hearts not in it.
  • Find the guys who will stick it out; complete the dream (numerous huge companies tried to buy Facebook along the way – Zuckerberg had the vision and the determination to stick it out and build what we have today)
  • Do you have a “Durable defensible moat”
  • Network effects
  • Attractive unit economics
  • At the end of the day it boils down to cashflow – all eventually boils down to discounted cash flow.

I attended a session on the Future of AI in the evening, but was too distracted by the unveiling EU referendum story to take any sensible notes!

DAY III with the POTUS

The third day was pretty intense, with pretty tight security due to the President’s speech. I have included a few quotes from the respective speakers speeches:

Sundar Pichai – CEO Google: “We don’t know what’s next or where it will come from, but we know that the barriers to entrepreneurship are tumbling around the world. “I see ecosystems, hubs, developing in many many locations”.

Obama opened the plenary with his first comments on the BREXIT outcome, saying: “I spoke with PM a moment ago. I am confident that the UK will manage the transition responsibly and with stability.” “I do think yesterday’s vote spoke to the challenges of globalisation.” “The special relationship between the US and the UK will remain.” His line was markedly different to the “UK to the back of the queue” position he’d taken when he was in London. Having got that out of the way he moved onto the GES initiative, and entrepreneurship more generally, saying:

  • “Entrepreneurhsip remains the engine of growth. Creating jobs. Putting economies on the path to prosperity.”
  • "Entrepreneurship allows people not in the ‘old boys network’ to break in. “ 
  • “It creates a culture where creativity and innovation are valued.”
  • “There is enormous creativity [everywhere in the world], just waiting to be unlocked. Our job is to see that more resources are getting to [entrepreneurs].”

He stressed (in line with much of the underlying points of the rest of the week) that “Accessing networks and opportunities difficult for women and minorities. We can’t leave more than half of the team on the bench. [hear, hear]”  

Mark Zuckerberg then joined Obama and a few entrepreneurs from various parts of the developing world on the stage. Zuckerberg suggested that  “Entrepreneurship is about creating change. The most effective entrepreneurs care deeply about some mission." He then said that he’d started Facebook with the idea of connecting people in mind, [which is (arguably) nonsense as the first thing he did was called Facemash which allowed people to rate girls on their looks].

In a nutshell, all argued that entrepreneurship is really really tough, but is essential in an increasingly globalised world as a means of addressing the problems that come with this.

Then it was inploi’s big moment! The panel session went well and gave some good airtime to inploi, with a good slot dedicated to telling the audience what we’re up to.

Afterwards I had lunch with Steve Case (the co-founder and former CEO of AOL) before hightailing it to the airport and back to the UK.

I suspect inploi will be back in the Bay before long…

About the author: Matt de la Hey is co-founder & CEO of inploi.

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