Our managing directors Oliver Donner and Loren Heilig had a look around Silicon Valley. As part of the InnovationCamp BW they got to the bottom of the factors that make the technology and software companies there so successful. In the first part of the interview, they talk about the expectations they had for California and about their impressions on the ground.
Silicon Valley blog series
- Part 1: If you don't ask, you will never know
- Part 2: Chasing the unicorn
- Part 3: “Be a sponge and not a babbler:” Interview with Annika Hoeltje (1)
- Part 4: “Be a sponge and not a babbler:” Interview with Annika Hoeltje (2)
- Part 5: A special mindset
- Part 6: Properly set up for success
- Part 7: Lunch and Learn - Bites of knowledge
- Part 8: “The gold diggers from back then are the founders of today” – Interview with Oliver Donner and Loren Heilig (1)
- Part 9: “The gold diggers from back then are the founders of today” – Interview with Oliver Donner and Loren Heilig (2)
Which three words best describe Silicon Valley?
Loren: Fast, disciplined, creative.
Oliver: I need six words: Goldrush atmosphere, extremely expensive, super innovative.
Give us a brief insight into your tour group and what it was like there.
Loren: There were 18 participants in our group. As for the companies, everything was represented from the newly founded startups to established global corporations and industry leaders. The mood among the participants was excellent. Everyone was motivated and gained a lot of insight from the three weeks.
Oliver: During InnovationCamp we rented an apartment in Downtown San Francisco via Airbnb instead of staying in a hotel. Our goal was to learn how to successfully innovate. We wanted to create a creative atmosphere in which we could feel at home. That wouldn’t be possible in a hotel room. In the apartment we almost felt like we were locals and it was ideal for providing for ourselves. Our business basecamp was the Galvanize Coworking Space: a great location for productive work.
How did you experience the special spirit of Silicon Valley?
Oliver: To some extent you can still feel the spirit from the founding years of the USA in Silicon Valley. In the past, people embarked on a journey into the unknown to colonize the North American continent and to find happiness in the West, especially during the Gold Rush. The gold diggers from back then are the founders of today. They are people who are willing to do more than the rest and also take significant risks to succeed. Gold was once the motivation and today it is the pursuit of innovation and disruptive ideas.
Loren: It’s all about innovation in Silicon Valley 24/7. Everyone is looking for “the next big thing.” The entire daily routine is geared to the business. Networking plays a big role. People are constantly discussing their work. In the evening after work, people meet up at events that they use to educate themselves and make new contacts.
What goals and expectations did you have when you set out for San Francisco?
Oliver: I set myself the challenge of understanding how software is sold internationally for our SECMENDO product line in order to expand our customer base. In Germany, we have good direct sales, however for global sales only the internet is an option. One important thing we learned was that above all high-quality products are appreciated in the market. The cheaper a product is, the harder it is to sell. To promote their products, startups in Silicon Valley have a large budget for advertising on Google, Facebook, etc. In addition, they are prepared to accept losses for years in favor of strong growth. The goal is to turn the company into a unicorn. This means a market valuation of more than one billion US dollars.
Loren: My challenge was figuring out how to sell software to corporate customers online. There is no magic formula for it, instead you have to continuously work on the basic questions: Who is my target audience? What value can I offer to the customers? In Silicon Valley, the discipline and speed with which answers to these questions are found is extremely high. This allows companies to gain 1,000 customers and more in no time at all. In Germany we often need too long to do this.
Do you have any tips for free time in the Bay Area?
Loren: The Computer History Museum in Mountain View is definitely worth a visit. We also went to a San Francisco 49ers game. Americans always put on a great show at sporting events like that. When fighter jets fly over the stadium during the national anthem it’s definitely pretty impressive. For those who like things more quiet, go hiking in the mountains around San Francisco. It is absolutely no man’s land. Although you can still see the Golden Gate Bridge, there is no mobile phone network. The impressive landscape of California and the special flair of the coastal region have a high recreational value.
Oliver: San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides. On the one hand, this provides a great backdrop and on the other hand, year-round, moderate temperatures and mostly constant weather conditions. However, during our stay the Golden Gate Bridge did also disappear in the city’s infamous fog. What’s absolutely fascinating for me: Just under three hours’ drive from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is one of North America’s most beautiful ski resorts.