What No One Tells You About Silicon Valley

These days Silicon Valley (I am referring to San Francisco, area near it and Bay area) is taking over the world. If you still need proof then think of living without Apple, Google, Android, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Uber etc. In fact the hold of silicon valley is increasing daily in our lives. World is full of smart and intelligent people but somehow chaps from Silicon Valley are able to beat most of them. I have researched extensively for last 15 months to find the answer. Today I will share the secrets of Silicon Valley’s success.

Most of us believe that secret to Silicon Valley’s success is competence in technology, apps and coding. This is a very half baked explanation for Silicon Valley’s success. Yes they are very apt at technical areas but they have lots of weapons in their arsenal.

Weapon 1 : Design

We all know how Nokia was beaten by Apple in the smartphone wars. The secret weapon of Apple which we all know now was design. Apple’s design was best in the world. The design was not just good looking, it was functional as well as commercially better than Nokia. Apple’s multi touch gestures were something which Nokia could not support for a long time.

Good design is something which is visible in many product’s from San Francisco area. Startups focus on design as much as code. This is something which is not visible in Asian countries. In Asia: tech startup = coding. Design is something which is not focused by the majority of companies.

Even if the founders want good design (specially in India), the reality of engineering education is that engineers dislike learning about design since design is equated with arts. Designers do not know much about coding and thus you cannot maturely design stuff in small budgets. Only if you have big budgets or you are super focused on delivering customer value will you be able to provide good design.

In India, Vijay Shekhar Sharma (Vss) was one such entrepreneur who started focusing on design many years ago for his PayTM app. I was part of a meetup hosted by him on app design in 2011 or 2012 (I do not remember exactly). At that time I remember how ignorant I was about the design process. In fact most of my friends who were into app development and attended that meetup were also ignorant of the design process. I wanted to learn design but did not know the way forward. It took me many years, lots of reading and 2 visits to San Francisco to finally unlock the design puzzle.

Weapon 2 : Lean startup

Lean Startup movement is catching up around the world but Silicon Valley is the motherland of this movement. In his book titled ‘The Lean Startup’, Eric Ries talks about the management practices for startups. He talks about the the following concepts which I have found very useful:

  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Build -> Measure -> Learn loop
  • Iterations
  • Pivots
  • Experiments

His basic premise is that a startup should focus first and foremost on learning about customers and the product and then on anything including monetisation and building assets. He talks about building smaller products with some utility to test markets before scaling up.

Weapon 3 : Agile processes

We have all made concrete plans and then have seen those plans changing. Same happens with government in just about every sphere. So smart companies do not spend time on making concrete plans which anyway change based on circumstances. They use agile techniques like Scrum to prioritise work and then ruthlessly execute. The biggest impediments to execution are lack of team work and slow feedback loop. Agile processes take care of them.

Weapon 4 : Cross functional teams

A major source of strength for tech startups is having cross functional teams. Most of the their old world competitors are departmentalised and slow to act. Competitors are not able to form a 360 degree view of the customer because of departmental boundaries. Cross functional teams of small sizes are better at productivity and accountability. These teams are generally fast and autonomous. They promote collaboration and shared accountability. Having cross functional teams is very difficult in big companies especially because of multiple levels of hierarchies.

Thus any organisation which wants to beat Silicon Valley based companies should embed these practices within it’s DNA. Just building an app will not let you beat Uber or WhatsApp. App is just a medium. The real power of these successful companies come from weapons like these.