Where business dreams come true...
The FHNW organizers welcome you to the grand diary of the Silicon Valley Study Tour 2019!
The Diary structure is such that for each company/university visit there is an article, followed by its authors (i.e. students to whom the visit was assigned), and some photos taken during the visit. For each extra activities only photos are shown. Visits are shown in chronological order from the first event to the most recent one.
Enjoy, and let yourself inspire...
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Initial Briefing Session & Kick-Start Dinner - 19.08.2019
Each student was assigned to two company/university visits, for which she/he was in charge of (a) introducing the company/university reality to the rest of the students and (b) writing a short article.
B8ta - 19.08.2019
There's a big gap between the innovative products available online and what can be seen or tried in person. In 2015, b8ta was founded to create spaces where shoppers could try the latest products out of-the-box. To support the stores, b8ta pioneered a model called Retail as a Service, whereby brands can easily sign up online to place their products, and use software to manage and analyze their store experience. What started as an experimental store in Palo Alto has grown into a network of stores nationwide that together make up the largest experiential retail footprint in the world.
In 2018, b8ta opened up a Retail as a Service model and software platform to other retailers so that they could bring the best products and measure meaningful interactions in their own stores, and in 2019, b8ta acquired Brickwork to extend the software platform online. Today, b8ta works with hundreds of product brands and retailers, enabling and powering their retail. In addition to operating dozens of b8ta stores across the United States, b8ta powers the re-imagined Toys“R”Us stores.
Juan Pablo Castañeda Mejia
Ecosystem Ventures - 20.08.2019
The FHNW study group visited Alex Fries at Hero City (http://www.herocity.com/) – a co-working community that promotes creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship sponsored by Draper University, on 20th August, 2019, to get some insights about the venture capital world. Alex is the founder of Ecosystem Ventures LLC (http://www.ecosystemventures-ice.com/), which is based in Silicon-valley, but has also a branch in Switzerland as well. Alex invests mainly in European based startups; however, entrepreneurs contact him from all over the world to get his attention and support. Hero City at Draper University is a very inspiring co-working community that offers startups a fast-paced environment with several VC networking events, world-class speakers and entrepreneurship programs.
Alex talked about the several differences like the cultural behavior between VC investors based in the US and in Europe. We got some insights about how startups find investors from the family, friends and fools (FFF) and information about angel investors category, through different Series A, B investments, until it is ready for the Initial Public Offering (IPO).
Alex also revealed some secrets, how to be a successful entrepreneur and when he will invest in a startup. It is important to believe in your idea 1000%. Your product should be 10 times better, cheaper and faster, than the other similar products on the market, in order to get the attention of the clients and the investors. There is no necessary for innovation, when you can make something 10 times better than the existing product, you will win the competition.
Ecosystem Ventures offers opportunities for both startups and investors, so that the European innovation can grow and thrive.
Swisscom is a giant by Swiss standards, but in the global environment of the IT and communications industry, it is just one company among many. Nevertheless, Swisscom has an offshoot in Silicon Valley. Since 1998, the company has an outpost in the home of Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel and other industry giants.
The outpost is in Palo Alto and is located in an house with a pleasant atmosphere near the birthplace of Silicon Valley - the HP Garage. The Swiss flag on the roof makes Swisscom Outpost recognizable from distance and a Swisscom logo on the front gate shows the way.
In the late 1990s, Swisscom lured people to the rapid development of new technologies in Silicon Valley. It was explained that the idea behind the Outpost was first to look closely at the internet hype at the time. They wanted to know, which influence the technological development has on the business with the telecommunication.
Now, Outpost identifies technology development and new business opportunities by fostering the exchange and cooperation with existing major technologies firms and ambitious young startups to satisfy rapidly developing customer needs and market requirements. It is structured in four business streams: fast innovation, venturing, new business and innovation lab. Swisscom Silicon Valley observes and partners with startups to bring innovative technologies to the Swiss market, create and accelerate new business and help startups to develop their minimum viable product to validate their business model with consumers.
Nathalia Bontempo Salgueiro
Extra Activity - Historic HP Garage - 20.08.2019
UserTesting - 21.08.2019
UserTesting has developed a platform that helps application and web developers to get user feedback and human/centric in short time by involving testers with multiple demographic profiles. On morning of 21.08.2019 we visited UserTesting. We were greeted by person who was responsible for “Employee onboarding success”. The company has been growing fast and they needed to make sure that new employees can be integrated into organization fast.
We were first given an introduction to the platform. Key distinguishing feature of the platform is access to diverse and strong panel of thousands of testers. Unlike many other companies who are moving towards bots and UX analytics tool, here emphasize is on human interaction and human insight. Anyone can register oneself as tester and create the profile. Once mobile apps or web applications are submitted to the platform, targeted set of tester profiles can be contacted from platform panel or application developers can recruit their own testers. Majority of the feedbacks are provided within hours. 80% of tests have been completed within 2 hours. Further insight can be gained using videos and live sessions with the testers. Anyone can drop in and work as a user tester.
The company’s revenue mainly comes from subscription fee for the testing services. A part of revenues are also generated from activities of “Professional Services” team. This team helps customers to build the test cases using platform and provide technical guidance to the customers of UserTesting.
We had a very informative session on design thinking and UserTesting team also shared their experiences on the topic. Later on we were given an introduction to company’s own analytics solution analyzing company’s overall performance and profitability of different products and services.
IBM Watson - 21.08.2019
We visited IBM on Horward street after lunch on 21.08.2019. In the beginning we were briefed about recent developments at IBM. These were both about new business models as well as cultural changes in the company. IBM has transformed its business model in multiples aspects. On one hand it has acquired RedHat and contributing to various open source communities. On the other hand IBM is moving into cloud and AI space with IBM Watson. However, we learnt that the mainframe business is still one of the major sources of revenue.
It was amazing to see how IBM has moved from a traditional consultancy to design thinking and agile methodologies with its IBM Garage initiative. We did not see many black suits and white shirts. Our hosts and experts were very casual, open and friendly. For smaller companies, starting from a “green field” it is probably more straight forward to get right into new trends. But for a company with an established brand and products such as IBM, it is a challenging task and we could learn about how those two worlds can co-exist in one company.
We then had opportunity to see IBM Watson at work: see how AI can solve complex problems, see different applications and experience a powerful tool that mankind has in its hand. In a specially designed room, we were shown in a very interactive way what IBM Watson is capable of. At the beginning a video of a use case in a Brazilian art museum was faded in Using Watson, stories and backgrounds about the exhibits were shown and explained, thus increasing the public's interest for museums. Subsequently, we were shown how Watson can be used within research of new active ingredients in the pharmaceutical industry or where and how it can be applied in gastronomy. This was done using a 360-degree screen in a darkened room. The information was presented in the form of a neural network and there were extensive filtering possibilities. Watson is also able to track the current news landscape, categorize the reports and interpret whether the report is positive or negative.
All in all, it can be said that IBM is – in comparison to our general expectations - highly innovative and was able to “modernize” not only their business model but as well their company culture. As one of the oldest and largest players in the market, they are still very close to the pulse of time and on the right track, especially in the AI sector.
Swissnex - 22.08.2019
The morning of the fourth day in San Francisco was dedicated to Swissnex - an institution founded based on an initiative of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation. Furthermore, it is part of the Confederation’s network in foreign countries, managed by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Swissnex is located in different locations across the world (e.g. Boston (USA), Bangalore (IND), Singapore etc.). As part of our Silicon Valley trip, we got the opportunity to visit their site in San Francisco, which is located at Pier 17, next to the consulate of Switzerland.
During our visit Benjamin Bollmann, CEO of Swissnex site in San Francisco, guided us through a presentation to give us insights about the institution, their missions and some past exhibitions where they were heavily involved. Quickly the presentation changed into an interactive session, where we students started to ask specific questions around topics like Swissnex support for Swiss startups, perception of swissness in the States or difficulties swiss startups might face in foreign countries to expand their business.
After the Q&A session, Mr. Bollmann escorted us through the San Francisco site and explained us that the different facilities. Notable is the fact that several facilities in their site have swiss company’s involvement (e.g. VITRA for chairs and tables) or swiss startups (e.g. self-dimming windows).
Worth mentioning is also their “Wall of Success” where successful startups with Swissnex support are highlighted. It is part of their mission to constantly keep contact with persons from well-known key players in Switzerland (e.g. SwissPost, Swisscom, Logitech etc.). We determined this based on the fact that each of these key players have a kind of a postbox at Swissnex, where they potentially obtain their correspondences.
At the end of our visit we met Finally, we also met – more on a coincident - people from SwissPost and Swisscom at the Swissnex site. The person from Swisscom was an exchange employee from Switzerland, who we met during our vitsit at Outpost (Swisscom Garage in Silicon Valley). This fact showed us that there seems to be a heavy interaction between Swissnex and swiss companies abroad!
ShiftJS (Reshuffle) - 22.08.2019
“Shift JS is a startup that at this very moment, remain as a project. Their project provides language support for most swift data & collection types of mathematical & logical operators, control flow, and functions for app developers. It fully integrates backend and frontend coding, so that painful code separation goes away. A further service will be, that the platform offers the possibility to share and use End-to-End reusable components (login, payment, etc.) that can be uploaded by developers. They will provide platform services for free. The idea is to build up an active community to reach the attention of developers in big companies. Shifts JS will then charge companies a fee to for the use in their business.
One of the founders gave us a fascinating new perspective on product development. He told us to move away from MVP (minimum viable product) to focusing on an MLP (minimum loveable product.) Meaning that one should focus on one small group of costumers and make a product awesome for them. The idea behind is, that when focusing in an MVP, one no gathers a massive enough "WOW"-effect that motivates costumers or investors to spend money on that product.
The founders gave us also fascinating insights on how to set up a startup. We also saw many similarities with the idea from Alex, the venture capitalist, that told us which the criteria are to invest in companies. For instance, the necessity to be convinced to 1001% of your product and the idea.
We would like to thank the founders for the fascinating insight into a newly founded startup and wish them all the best."
Juan Pablo Castañeda Mejia
Extra Activity - Sausalito - 24.08.2019
Extra Activity - Wine tasting in Pichetti- 25.08.2019
Extra Activity - Santa Cruz - 25.08.2019
Facebook - 26.08.2019
Facebook was founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard colleagues. It is a social media and social networking service company. The mission of Facebook is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. They have offices around the world with their headquarter located in Menlo Park. It has 76 subsidiaries including some well-known such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus VR. The philosophy of the company lies in talent acquisition rather than product acquisition.
- Employees: 39,651
- Stock price:179.26$
- Users: 2.7billion active user
We started our visit at the headquarter and were welcomed by three Facebook representatives. It was a sunny day and we were taken right to the campus to receive a brief introduction about the representative and how the Facebook campus looks. The students asked a few questions regarding culture, their interests and other areas. Then we proceeded to lunch. All meals at Facebook are free for the employees as well as other facilities like a barber, gym, washing, dentists and so on. After having a great lunch, we proceeded to a meeting room where the representative gave a presentation about the Developer Circles at Facebook. These Facebook communities strengthen the local developer community through knowledge sharing with tech experts and learning from each other through talks and workshops. Participants can learn the latest Facebook technologies and build with other developers of all types. For Facebook it is a good way to find talents and keeping a dialogue with developers around the world.
NVIDIA - 26.08.2019
After visiting Facebook in the morning, we drove on towards Santa Clara at NVIDIA's recently completed headquarters, we were invited to attend a presentation. There, we continue our company visits to Nvidia, which is one of the largest developers of GPU's. Besides the GPU's they also design SoCs for mobile computing and the automotive market.
In the last years, Nvidia has shifted to become a platform company that focused on four markets: gaming, professional visualization, data centers and auto. They now also focus on Artificial Intelligence. This new activity field was one of the key topics at this visit and the company representatives allowed us to ask a question about this interesting area.
The employees of Nvidia were very engaged to make our visit at most valuable as possible and invited several staff members of the company from various fields of activity (sales, marketing, development). After a short presentation of the company, all employees introduced themselves and gave us the chance to ask questions. The openness and enthusiasm of the staff were very remarkable. It reminded to very mature start-up culture. Also, the employees praise the top management, which encourages people in the company to such a culture.
To sum up, we are very grateful that Nvidia has allowed us to gain some insights into their company, products and projects. We see Nvidia as one of the important enablers of future disruptions and look forward to hearing more from them.
Extra Activity - Computer history museum - 27.08.2019
Stanford University Guided Tour - 27.08.2019
Google - 28.08.2019
The FHNW Silicon Valley study group had an opportunity to visit Google’s Headquarter in Mountain View. Google was founded in 1998 in Menlo Park, California and in 2019 it has one of the highest brand values in the world. Google is a multinational company that operates in the technology field, providing internet-related services, with its main revenue coming from advertising.
During our visit we got great insights from Nilay Yener about Flutter, Google’s UI toolkit that helps developers to build mobile, web and desktop applications from a single codebase. Nilay said that anybody can build an application with Flutter, even people coming from the business side after finishing a three months online programming course. Nilay also shared, how they work together with the different developer’s group all around the world.
Uttam Tripathi, the head of Global Programs, Developer’s Relation Ecosystem talked about the company culture at Google and highlighted empathy and compassion, as the most important values of Google.
At the enormous Google campus, we could see a library truck, self-driving cars (under training mode), several food trucks, a volleyball field, infinity swimming pool and so on. After an interesting tour on the campus, we were spoilt by a delicious lunch, followed by an expensive shopping at the gadget store.
Impossible Foods- 28.08.2019
On the second last day of our Silicon Valley trip, we visited a company called Impossible Foods located in Redwood City. Impossible Foods is a company founded in 2011 by Patrick O. Brown. The company’s objective is to provide the mass market with vegetarian meat which looks, tastes and contains the nutritional benefit of meat without having the negative health and environmental impact. To achieve this goal the company invented - based on research of animal products at molecular level and combining selected proteins and nutrients from plants – a product which delivers a similar experience to meat products without harming animals and the environment. With their products the company targets people that enjoy the taste of meat, while also caring about their health and the environmental impacts of having meat in their dishes.
As part of our company visit, Malaika Murphy – Internal Communication Specialist, introduced us to the company and their mission and goals. Furthermore, we obtained insights into their future plans (e.g. new products, expanding to other countries, etc.). We also walked through the company to see their office spaces and research labs.
As the highlight of the visit, we obtained the opportunity to taste an impossible burger to get an impression about the taste and the texture. Furthermore, they also prepared one sample of the impossible burger in front of us, so that we could see how the burger behaves while roasting in the pan.
Another notable fact is that Impossible could achieve a cooperation with the fast food chain Burger King by early 2019. This is considered as an enabler to extend their market and reach out to the mass market. For this purpose, Burger King introduced the Impossible Whooper in early August 2019, which extends Burger Kings Whooper offerings.
On the same day the majority of the Silicon Valley trip participants decided to do a blind testing by tasting both burgers from Burger King. We ordered 14 Whoppers with Impossible meat and 7 with regular meat, some people didn’t even want to taste the regular burger and just tried the Impossible meat.
Although most of the participants - except Holger! - could differentiate the burger varieties, it is worth mentioning that the impossible whooper was determined as having a better taste in most of the cases!
Nathalia Bontempo Salgueiro
Extra Activity - Apple Park Visitor Center - 28.09.2019
Weavr.ai - 29.08.2019
On the second last day of our study tour, we had the pleasure of meeting Avinash Harsh, the Co-founder & CEO of Weavr AI.
Weavr is a developer engagement platform and was established in 2018. Their software collects intelligence and conversations of developers across the web and offers related analytics. Through Weavr, companies get an overall view of developers’ issues, likes and dislikes related to one’s products. Some of the sources scanned for relevant information are GitHub, Stack Overflow or Reddit. Weavr is currently working with some selected customers, who use their product and give further feedback for improvement.
Avinash had previously co-founded another startup which was successfully sold. In the course of his presentation he shared some important lessons learnt, when starting a company. For example, he told an interesting anecdote of how pretending to be a big company backfired in his previous startup. His advice: if you are still a small company, be transparent about it!
Stefan von Arx
Meeting with VoiceBase - 29.08.2019
The company Voicebase was founded in 2010 by the Swiss Walter Bachtiger with the idea to give other companies and people easier and better access to information in audio format. It provides simple API's for automatic speech-to-text, speech analytics & predictive insights. Voicebase wants to be the same for voice what google is for text. It offers different kinds of products: speech-to-text, speech analytics, knowledge extraction, AI predictive analysis, API Platform.
The afternoon started with the talk given by very dynamic and motivating CEO of Voicebase, Walter Bächtiger. Mentioning the general statistics that 70% of billion-dollar startups are located in Silicon Valley, he gave his talk for all the lessons learned and how to be successful in this billion-dollar environment as a startup from his own experiences.
According to Walter, Silicon Valley is all about growth. To be able to lead the race, Voicebase needed to invest large sums into their company, which had to be raised through investors first. As a company, you have to grow as big as possible as quickly as possible to be "the first on the moon". That's why every investment in VoiceBase continued to be direct in order to expand the company. Since the company was founded, there have only been very few times when large financial reserves have been available. About half of the time the solvency was only enough for less than 3 months. In order to be able to compete with large enterprises such as Google and Amazon and to be the first company “on the moon”, Voicebase needed in addition to the investments also to have a world class speech team.
Also, it is essential to operate at low cost (f.e. by buying used servers), keeping in mind the security and economies scale in the future to win the race. Acquiring capital from investors at the right time remains one of their major challenges to date.
According to Walter founding a company is like being in a race, where the winner takes it all. And this is what Voicebase is trying to achieve.