Archive for the ‘Silicon Valley’ Category

A Chat with John Chambers

jchambers4I wrapped things up in Cisco at the end of May and moved onto Kansas for the last week of the Kauffman Global Scholars Program ’08. Before moving on however I completed my project on the Connected Technologies for the IBSG team at Cisco. Before I left I also had the privilege to talk with John Chambers (wiki, Bio, Time, Forbes) of Cisco Systems. Since January 1995, when he assumed the role of CEO, John has grown the company from $1.2 billion in annual revenues to its current run-rate of approximately $40 billion. In November 2006, he was named Chairman of the Board, in addition to his CEO role. I managed to get some of his time and attention thanks to a common friend of ours. The main question I had for him was simply what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs, and what motivates him now that he is CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is below, some of which is reiterating what I had heard throughout my time as a Kauffman Global Scholar, but coming from a MNC hi-tech titan such as John really pushes the statements home:
1. Markets
– Try to catch a market in transition
– Come with the capability to differentiate yourself from your peers in a market
– Be realistic – have you got a market in transition
– Be realistic – does your business actually differentiate you from your peers
2. Team
– Its all about the quality of your team
– If you have a great team that you can motivate well – its hard not to be successful
– If you have just very average players – then its very difficult to win

When I asked him about what motivates him:
3. Motivates him now:
– Building a company that has the chance to be the best for the world, and best in the world
– Cisco’s role in the hi-tech industry has the chance to really dramatically be different from any other hi-tech company in history, and also to be dramatically different in terms of how they’re viewed in the world, and not only how they give back, but how they’re able to partner with countries, companies and citizens in a unique way to really make a difference in their lives and the standard of living of their organisations
– He considers Cisco a family; one that works together towards common opportunities and common challenges, and its one that really cares about each other and one that is probably one of the best places to work. They watch out for each other like a family. Its making that difference that motivates him, and realising that it is a once in a life opportunity for everyone
4. Motivated him initially:
– Loves competition
– Loves building organisation
– Loves teamwork
– Loves to win
– Loves to sell (admitted candidly!)


Guy Kawasaki

In my last few weeks in California I used as many of my contacts as possible to meet with impressive business folk around the notoriously entrepreneurial bay area. One of these meetings was with Guy Kawasaki (About, Stanford, wiki, .com, blog, VC, LinkedIn, truemor, allTop, twitter). OK, so as is evident from the endless URL list this “guy” is all over the web. Guy is an evangelist, an entrepreneur, an investment banker, and a venture capitalist. He is better known for a couple of specific things: one of his books (‘The Art of the Start‘, Video), and also for being a software evangelist (i.e. Apple). So one would assume having the privilege to meet Mr Kawasaki would inspire and motivate.

Before I proceed, a very large thank you to Kathy, “Empress of the Universe”, for introducing me and arranging the meeting. If my narrative of the meeting seems a little concise this reflects the brevity of the answers and entrepreneurial insights offered by Guy – who I only can assume was having a particularly bad day.

He is a major evangelist for pursuing meaning in all aspects of business. In other words to follow ideas/concepts/businesses/plans with a fidelity that accurately reflects the meaning you see in them. His mantra both personally & professionally is to “empower people”. Its fair to say his startups are in line with this given that they include two news aggregators and a VC firm (20 Million fund). Mr Kawasaki may be an evangelist but he certainly is not a futurologist, nor is he interested in projecting technologies for that matter, something I found to be very strange for a VC immersed in technology. When I asked him about conservative IP strategies versus getting to market fast he wholly encouraged me to take option 2. Build the prototype fast and get to market faster. There’s isn’t a lot more to recount as Guy wasn’t playing ball at all! Given the disappointment from this encounter I probably also learned an important lesson – to remember to share and disseminate any acquired knowledge and experiences freely at all times with aspiring individuals who show interest. Despite this disappointment I wholly recommend his book, ‘The Art of the Start’ , as a must-read to anyone interested in starting a business of any kind.

Silicon Valley & Cisco Internship

Cisco Internship: OK its time I got back on the blogging boat and provided some updates on life as a Global Scholar interning in Silicon Valley! Having been in San Jose since Saturday 8th March, Marcus and I have settled well into our penthouse at the Four Seasons in San Fran. OK, only joking, we are actually based in a corporate wannabe-village called River Oaks in San Jose, only 20 minutes walk from Cisco City! It has been an absolutely fantastic experience here in the Valley so far. Not only does the permanently sunny weather make it a joy to live in but the mountains surrounding the valley make it a perfect location for a cycling fanatic! I started my internship with Cisco on March 10th and the other Global Scholar based in San Jose, Marcus, joined InCube Labs.

Dave EvansRick HutleyCisco Internship: My Cisco internship supervisors are Rick Hutley and Dave Evans. Rick is a Senior Director within the Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) at Cisco where his main role is in directing activities within the horizontal Innovations Group. He has more than 26 years of experience within the telecoms and IT industry including various roles at CxO level. Dave is IBSG’s award winning chief technologist and is a Cisco veteran having been there for over 15 years. He is an overall technology evangelist and genius. Basically they’re the kind of guys you want to be around!

Now a little about IBSG– the group provides free consultancy at CXO level to Fortune 100 companies as well as many international Governments. Interestingly IBSG does not promote or sell Cisco technology. In fact, to the contrary, they actually intentionally avoid mentioning Cisco products or services during their client interactions whatsoever! This seems strange as the salaries of the 300 or so IBSG employees are paid by Cisco! John Chambers’ approach here is that if IBSG promote solutions that in general utilise technology, these will in the most part utilise Internet connectivity in some shape or form. So in a round about way Cisco, owning about 80% of the router market, benefits from the group to an estimated tune of $2-3B in revenue PA! Chambers’ attitude, given his sales background, is focused on keeping the customer happy. What better way than with free world class CXO consultancy?! So this gives you an idea of the calibre of the people I’m working with here in IBSG. They all hail from an amazing diversity of backgrounds, and all have excelled in their fields in order to be fortunate enough to make Cisco’s IBSG team!

I was allocated a project, called the Connected Technology Framework, to manage and develop based on a concept of Rick and Dave’s called the Tech Tsunami (i.e. the imminent exponential development/availability/onslaught of advanced technologies, somewhat based on Kurzweil’s beliefs). Essentially this project encapsulates a model for projecting technological development in the future, the adoption of technology over a given period, and its availability for utilisation within IBSG solutions; these solutions being a result/part of interactions with IBSG’s clients. The model is primarily based on Moore’s Law and the many variations of it. The model is manifested as a GUI using the Xcelsius flash engine. Currently I have it working based on projected data for about 30+ variables related to computing processing speeds & cost, storage costs, and networking speeds & costs. I’ll provide an update on this after I finish it and possibly make a version of it available online.

Some of the highlights from the last 2 months in Silicon Valley:

  • Being invited into a personal discourse with John Chambers, Cisco’s Chairman & CEO
  • Meeting SAP’s SVP of Imagineering – Denis Browne
  • Being invited to an entrepreneurial workshop at Mike Milken’s hangout in Lake Tahoe
  • Having a perspective-changing candid conversation with Cisco’s SVP for Strategic Alliances
  • Having the opportunity to work with the IBSG team
  • Partaking in IBSG consultancies with several Fortune 100 CXOs and one Government
  • Being asked to speak at a cleantech conference about Explicit Energy (my main startup)
  • Attending the Web 2.0 Expo
  • Networking with INSF at various events
  • Being hosted by Swimming Pyramid entrepreneur Thomas Lyle in San Fran
  • BluGo (another startup project I’m involved with) being a finalist in a business plan competition in NE England
  • Meeting Mike Bateman, surely one of the most seasoned entrepreneurs Silicon Valley has to offer
  • Being part of the 1st float in San Francisco’s St Patrick’s day parade
  • Skiing at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe
  • Cycling up most of the mountains surrounding Silicon Valley


Rubbing Shoulders in $ilicon Valley

nickmckeown.jpgWeek5end 23-24 Feb: Over the weekend Stuart and I spent some time with Peter Davies, one of the most seasoned entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. We got on very well with Peter and as a result we ended up at his house having dinner with his family on Saturday evening. Nick McKeown who was also there gave Stuart and I some great advice on new ventures and startups. Nick is highly regarded within Silicon Valley for spinning many companies from Stanford, where he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (bio).

davidperry.jpgOn Sunday morning we also met Peter for breakfast in Palo Alto’s University Ave Café. On this occasion Peter brought David Perry along to chat with us. David is first and foremost a friendly and fun guy to chat with. Business-wise he is a titan, as is evident from his first startup – ( Chemdex still holds the record for reaching a $10B valuation in the shortest time, which was at the end of 1999. Following the realisation that here was no air left in the Internet Bubble, in early 2000 the company fell to a valuation of just over $100M, and from 500 to 100 employees! It was interesting to listen to David describe how he took the company to this amazing valuation and how he coped following the crash in 2000. Read the full Chemdex story here. Not content with this he has started two companies since then and is currently in the process of making an IPO. David has impressively raised over $½Billion in VC funding since the early 90s!!!

David had a few insights into how to be a successful entrepreneur:
1.) The first is to not worry so much about what it is you are doing as long as you fulfill 2 criteria. They are that you are always learning and you are enjoying what you are doing. This mantra is true whether or not you are perusing entrepreneurial activities, or working for a company.

2.) Secondly he outlined a perspective for pitching and raising capital. The idea is to basically spell out the opportunities of the project first. No opportunity comes without risk, and if you pretend it does, any VC will laugh you out of the room. Then you focus on describing how you are going to eliminate these risks, one by one. Present risks based on their severity and potential to prevent progress. This approach tells the investor that you’re not naïve about the presence of risk, and that you’re aware that they’re investing in your ability to mitigate these risks, one by one.

The ingenious part is once you have outlined the fantastic opportunity, prep’ed them with the risks, then instead of asking for money to pursue the opportunity, you ask for the money to eliminate the risks. So if you identify the risks in order of priority and necessity, and ask for X amount to overcome the top Y risks, you can show how strong the company will be at that stage. Inherent with this approach is transparency of preempted risks & your control of them, as well as knowledge of how much investment will be required at stages to continue to eliminate further risks. If done properly, you will organise the risks into stages (e.g. milestones within an Implementation Plan as outlined in Zoller’s last seminar), and at each stage it will become easier to raise the capital required to overcome associated risks.

Finally David also warned about a situation that currently seems a long way off, and that is raising too much money! Apparently he has encountered the situation, and Peter also, where VC’s wish to invest a much larger amount of capital than is required. This usually occurs when investor groups work together and all want a piece of the pie. In this situation, to support the higher valuation this causes, it is too easy to spread the company too thinly and work on products that aren’t core to your business, and therefore you can lose focus on the key areas. Not something that is immediately relevant perhaps, but something to think about nonetheless.