“Female Founders Mission to Silicon Valley” – that’s what I applied for. A simple name. But, reflecting on the last few days during my flight back from San Francisco to London, it dawned on me that this was so much more than just a ‘trip’. We were given the opportunity to soak up how successful tech companies had established themselves. How had they set themselves up and scaled? What the look and feel of their work spaces was like? How much importance they placed on culture and values? How these were created and disseminated as the company grew? Together with the introduction to an awesome network for people who genuinely want to help your business grow. It was unique. They say that the world runs on videoconference these days, but this would impossible to experience through any Skype call.
We were 15 female founders and entrepreneurs of tech companies based in the UK, from many different backgrounds. We were spread broadly across many industries – everything from healthcare, to property, to education. Sharing and learning cross-sector was incredibly empowering, and the messages were loud and clear.
At RocketSpace, where many of Silicon Valley’s most famous unicorns, like Uber and Spotify, started life, there was excitement in companies that were creating a new ‘category’ or market, and the importance of thought leadership, and laser sharp focus on doing one thing brilliantly. That means, being able to say ‘no’, and walking away…gracefully.
Sitting in the penthouse at The Battery with entrepreneurs Julie Hanna, President at Kiva, and Xochi Birch, Founder of The Battery, they shared the analogy that building and scaling a business is like gardening or sailing. You are constantly making small tweaks to get to your vision or goal. A cycle, where tweaks are made, results are output, and then fed back in for further tweaking. It made me think about the similarities to chronic disease management. A patient and their clinical team constantly make tweaks to interventions, medication and lifestyle, to achieve better health, quality of life, and fewer complications. These lessons are broad. They also cross many organisational boundaries. That includes internal barriers, where there were strong messages around breaking down internal department barriers, by encouraging people to work better together.
On a privileged tour of X, (formally known at Google X), we heard how X is focused on solving problems that matter. Obi Felten, Head of Moonshots (awesome job title btw!), squashed the myth that in the US, entrepreneurs ‘like’ failure. In fact, no human being in the world likes to fail – why would they? Failure of a business or product is treated like the death of a loved one at X. Death ceremonies are held and lessons from failure are celebrated. ‘Fail Fast’ is rubbish, says Obi, it’s about ‘learning fast’.
There were lessons in leadership, buckets of inspiration, and the final question left with us by Sherry Coutu CBE, “what will you do differently on Monday?” ….