Tag Archives: Apple

Andy Bechtolsheim talks at Stanford about the Process of Innovation

This morning, I got up at 4am for an unusual event, a talk by Andy Bechtolsheim back at Stanford University. And it was great! I took a couple of screenshots and notes. For those who would not know Andy, here is more below. And I should also add that Bechtoslheim is from Germany, I had mentioned him in a past article: Europeans and Silicon Valley. There should be the full video on Stanford Youtube in a few days…

More than 30 years ago as a Stanford graduate student, Andreas “Andy” Bechtolsheim designed a simple but powerful computer workstation that would help define the modern technology era and launch Sun Microsystems. He’s since founded three more startups, including cloud-networking company Arista Networks, where he is now chairman. His investing foresight is legendary. Not only was he the first major backer for Google, but he’s also been an early-stage investor in VMware, Brocade and others. Bechtolsheim will discuss the process of innovation and describe its importance to Silicon Valley.

Bechtolsheim began his talk with some historical background on innovation. If you want to only read about the lessons, jump to the end! (I am aware some of the screenshots are low-res…). Recent (I mean in the last 50 years) innovations have their roots in semiconductors, networking and the Internet and (Open-source) software as well as in an acceleration in technology development (including Moore’s law and a faster adoption cycle of products.) These are two slides about the semiconductor roadmap:

Then he showed how the Internet from Arpanet, to the browser and finally to social networking has accelerated the innovation cycle.

More importantly, he gave some clues about what innovation is about, and why start-ups have an advantage here. Innovation is not about R&D not even about marketing. It is about bringing a needed product to customers:

And he illustrated his arguments with the Apple case:

– Apple does not make a lot of R&D

– Apple does not really study customers

So how does innovation work. Here are some clues:

And very importantly, he finishes with the innovation culture at Apple, Google, Amazon and the lessons learnt:

In conclusion, Andy had great lessons:
– Innovation is not about R&D or customers, it is about products.
– Timing is critical, so focus.
– Big companies are about evolution not revolution.
Be the expert in your field and understand the market, both gives you (self-)confidence (to attract people.)
– Failure is not an issue in SV but fail fast. However outside of SV, you may have to hide for 30 years when you fail. In SV, not trying is the risk, not failing.
– He also discussed patenting, “a sore topic”.
– Following another question, he considered a major threat to innovation is the current weakness of venture capital (there is money, but the returns are not good and a lot of money goes in narrow fields – cleantech a few years ago, web2.0, etc)

Well the title was misleading. Innovation is not a process, it is a culture! If you like this, you have to watch the video…

The Dark Side of Innovation

If you read the Englsih version of my blog, you probably do not know the excellent, brilliant Philippe Meyer and his Chronicles on France Culture. He is usually funny, but when he talked last Friday about innovation (which does not happen often), it was tough to smile. You can listen to his mp3 file here.

Philippe Meyer is in fact refering to an article from the New York Times: How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. Meyer mentions the famous Titan Diner, where President Obama invited some of the Silicon Valley personalities. He talks about the price we pay to have our electronic gadgets, the price paid by the Chinese workers at Foxconn or by the American middle-class and its high level of unemployment.

I do not have any (good) answer to the question. But it is sometimes good to think about the dark side of innovation and economy in general. I am currently reading a biography of Schumpeter. Already, more than a hundred years ago, the problem was addressed by Keynes, Marx and the free-market economists. Have we make any progress? Is the situation worse?

Andy Grove had the same concern in 2010 when he wrote How America Can Create Jobs for Business Week. The Americans are nationalistic, Intel was known to produce almost exclusively in the USA and now Grove is worried. Again I do not have an answer.

Triumph of the Nerds

When I published Start-Up, a friend and colleague told me: “Why do you want to write something about high-tech entrepreneurship and start-ups. Nobody reads anymore. Make movies, videos!” He may have been right. Now that I heard about a new documentary about Silicon Valley and I will talk about this later in this post, it gave me the opportunity to look backwards. Triumph of the Nerds is a 3-episode (50 mns each) produced in 1996.

It is great, sometimes boring, often funny. Its author Robert X. Cringely is also the author of the related and very good book, Accidental Empires. You can watch the videos on YouTube and read the transcripts on PBS. I found Part I, the best. Part II about Microsoft and IBM is more serious, Part III about Apple is in-between.

First I found the best definition of a Nerd: “I think a nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones. And a computer nerd therefore is somebody who uses a computer in order to use a computer.”

Then about the semiconductor industry: “Intel not only invented the chip, they are responsible for the laid-back Silicon Valley working style. Everyone was on a first-name basis. There were no reserved parking places, no offices, only cubicles. It’s still true today. Here’s the chairman’s cubicle… Gordon Moore is one of the Intel founders worth $3 billion. With money like that, I’d have a door.” […] “Only Intel didn’t appreciate the brilliance of their own product, seeing it as useful mainly for powering calculators or traffic lights. Intel had all the elements necessary to invent the PC business, but they just didn’t get it.”

“What was needed was a version of some big computer language like BASIC, only modified for the PC. But it didn’t yet exist because the experts all thought that nothing would fit inside the tiny memory. Yet again the experts were wrong.” And here came … Microsoft … and Apple

Steve Jobs: “Remember that the Sixties happened in the early Seventies, right, so you have to remember that and that’s sort of when I came of age. So I saw a lot of this and to me the spark of that was that there was something beyond sort of what you see every day. It’s the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. And I think that that same spirit can be put into products, and those products can be manufactured and given to people and they can sense that spirit.”

Part III talks about how Xerox missed the high-tech revolution and Apple or Adobe used Xerox inventions. The output? “A software nerd is the richest man in the world.” We are in 1996. Gates: “You know, if you take the way the Internet is changing month by month, if somebody can predict what’s going to happen three months from now, nine months from now even today eh my hat’s off to them, I think we’ve got a phenomena here that is moving so rapidly that nobody knows exactly where it will go.”

Yes, it was an Accidental Empire.

There is another documentary Pirates of Silicon Valley but it looks very similar to Triumph of the Nerds, without the humour or Cringely. But the reason of this post, is the recent released of Something Ventured. This I will watch soon and hopefully show at EPFL to students and colleagues.

Here is the trailer: