Executive MBA Year 2 Student, Jane Hicks, shares an update about the groups’ International Study Visit to San Francisco (Oct 29th – Nov 3rd)
Despite a few delays and jumping clocks we all made it to San Fran safe and sound albeit a little jet lagged. Luggage size ranged and Mel got the prize for the largest case, rumour has it Shane was hiding in there but he’s yet to make an appearance.
On Sunday night, we ventured out for a group dinner but it wasn’t long before people started to wilt. Naturally, some were more alive than others and managed to prop up the bar at The Last Drop!
For most, jet lag meant that 2-4am were the waking hours. Making the most of this, some hardy fools went for a dawn run across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Monday morning with USMAC kicked off promptly with an introduction to Silicon Valley and its innovation culture. The groups began to develop their pitch ideas in some workshops using the business model canvas.
We spent the afternoon in TechShop, which was amazing. There were many innovations at play and we were able to see a more tangible & practical side of innovation.
That night some serious group work ensued with groups burning the midnight oil.
Later on, we tentatively presented our business canvases and our innovations, which had been in development since the start of the semester. We got our first glimpse of the “shark tank” as Steve Adelman quizzed us on our business models and ideas, and Chris Burry teed up how to create the “perfect pitch”.
Barry O’Reilly, a DIT alumni, talked to us about Lean and his San Fran experience. This was a great example for everyone of an Irish person’s experience in Silicon Valley.
This morning started early for our trip to Intertrust, Palo Alto. It was far further than some of us realised and we didn’t envy the daily commuters. I was sitting next to Simon, who had us all agog with his impressive storytelling skills. Twenty-three grown adults with their noses glued to the windows, awaiting a glimpse of his fabled “Google Bus”. Which, as it turns out, is in fact a bus, with a G on the digital screen instead of a number! #underwhelmed. We rocked up to Intertrust ‘the biggest software company you’ve never heard of’. Their business is founded on IP, which has them fighting to stay relevant and afloat ahead of impending patent cliffs. The main themes were talent management and corporate culture, and Mark exuded enthusiasm as he spoke of his extensive experience in these areas. He described the challenges of finding & retaining in the competitive Silicon Valley hiring space where staying in the same job for more than 2 years is regarded as too cosy and comfortable. We all left Intertrust with a good insight into hiring and firing techniques as well as performance management, Valley style.
After lunch, we were back to the city to meet with Jay Onda from Orange who gave us the scoop on CVC – Commercial Venture Capitalists. This was really interesting in light of a recent meeting we’d had with ESB – we saw how two infrastructure intensive companies are going about sourcing innovation. The views were pretty sweet too:
By the end of the day we were ready for another night of pitch prep and unicorn hunting in RocketSpace ahead of Thursday’s run through.
We spent Thursday downtown with Chris getting some final pitch tips and attended lecture on culture and its effect on doing business. According to Chris’ own research, Americans are Linear Active meaning they they are decisive, cool and active planners. By contrast, we Irish are apparently a little more emotional! The basic message was ‘ignore culture at your peril’!
Then the curtain was lifted on the engine driving SV- the money. Unfortunately, our guest speaker was unable to attend but Chris spoke about raising capital and had some eyebrow raising tales of VC funding.
DocUSign were very good to host us and gave a product pitch and some information on their strategy:
Then followed a very candid, quirky and brilliant talk by Ali Rayl at Slack on growing a company and the role of management as you scale.
We were then joined by Sean Tsu from Tesla, who was a most brilliant whiz kid! His infectious entrepreneurial spirit, inquisitive nature and clever market research tips had people astounded and some even downright disgusted! He epitomises the notion of fail fast, fail cheap, and the importance of iteration. He really stood out as an embodiment of everything San Fran stands for. He was great!
True to form in tech land it was ‘Thirsty Thursday’ in Slack so we were all invited to stick around for music, food and drinks before heading back to do some final pitch prep with our groups. The stopwatches were out in force, with the teams putting the final touches to their slide decks ahead of meeting the investors the next morning.
The day finally arrived. The teams turned up suited and booted ahead of the clash with the investors. The morning was a run through with Chris , who didn’t hold back, delivering some strong feedback, and little time to pivot before the final pitch. The tension in the room was fever pitch (!geddit!) but we all put our shoulders to the metaphorical wheel, and the final comments from the investors were favourable across the board.
Then it was So Long to San Fran, as some of the group headed to the airport, and others to prison.
It was an interesting experience, a fascinating glimpse into the world of innovation and investment, and certainly a steep learning curve for all!