Revolutionary Measures

California Dreaming

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have been innumerable attempts to understand and replicate how Silicon Valley has become the centre of the tech industry – with Tech City being the latest one in the UK. What is the secret sauce that makes California in particular and the US in general such a fertile breeding ground for innovation? 

It’s something I’ve often wondered about, so it was great to hear a first hand account of a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Speaking last week at CamCreative, Liz Weston of Weston Marketing talked about what she’d learnt on an organised trip that saw her visit the likes of Google, LinkedIn, and Stanford University. She shared four big lessons from the tour:

1              The difference between an opportunity and an idea
Everyone has a different take on what makes an idea viable, from an addressable market to a strong founding team, but the big difference between the UK and US is the willingness to have a go, fail and come back stronger. If we can change attitudes in the UK to say it is better to try and then fail rather than fail to try at all, it will radically shift how companies operate for the better. 

2              Four key opportunities for business development
Execs in Silicon Valley outlined the environment, security, human health and digital/infrastructure as key markets for growth. Anything that reduces complexity in these areas and makes people’s lives easier has potential. Probably not a surprise to most people but worth bearing in mind when pitching any business ideas to investors. 

3              Look at the relationship between the customer and your product/services
It isn’t about the technology per se, but finding an emotional trigger with your customers. Serve a purpose and do it in a way that delights your customers and turns them into your advocates. So, in the same way that when Orange launched in the UK it positioned itself as the cool brand you wanted to be part of, LinkedIn offers the chance to be part of a cloud of intelligence, rather than simply positioning itself as a jobs site. 

4              The importance of innovation
Next year’s revenue won’t come from this year’s cash cow. So everyone in the business needs to be innovating – which can involve changing people’s mindsets. Encourage ideas and capture them – while they may not be immediately useful, they could be in the future. 

I’m sure most people have either heard or tried to put into action some of the lessons above. For me, the main takeaway (and potentially the big difference between the US and UK) is always be open, always be learning and don’t be afraid to take risks. This may not be Silicon Valley’s secret sauce but it is a better way to run a business.


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April 2, 2012 - Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thank you Chris – this is a great summary of my talk with Cam Creatives. It’s interesting for me to see what you took away, so that I can refine the next one to help people get the most out of it! Cheers, Liz

    Comment by Liz Weston (@TheLizWeston) | April 2, 2012 | Reply

  2. The point you make about risk-aversion is spot on. In the UK we don’t encourage risk-taking as a mind set and what a pity. We teach our children and later our employees to ‘be careful’, to ‘play it safe’ to ‘not stick out like a sore thumb’ and we pay the price for our safe living.

    Ideas are often quashed by managers who can’t think laterally and don’t encourage innovation. Once organisations encourage (and measure?) risk-taking, creativity and help their staff to be more resilient (continue to pick themselves up after repeated failures) we’ll have a fighting chance.

    Risk-taking is not just essential for business as you mention but more importantly, it’s essential for life. Who wants to get to the end of their life and say ‘well that was a good life, I played it safe’? I’d rather say ‘look at all the risks I took, the advetures they they led me to and where I am as a result’.

    But may be that’s just because I’m me.

    Comment by Shari | April 2, 2012 | Reply

  3. […] That’s one of the key missions of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK), a programme of events across the UK that brings across leaders from US companies such as Google, LinkedIn and Facebook to help, nurture and assist local entrepreneurs and their companies. Originally a Cambridge event it has now spread across the UK, covering London and Oxford as well. The theme of this year’s programme is scale – addressing the fact that while the UK and US are pretty evenly matched when it comes to starting up businesses on a per capita basis, the UK’s scale up rate is less than half that of the US. […]

    Pingback by Bringing Silicon Valley to the UK « Revolutionary Measures | November 7, 2012 | Reply

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