Scales fall off entrepreneurs’ eyes

The final plenary session of Silicon Valley comes to Oxford was all about “scaling”.  This is biz jargon for coping with your company as it gets bigger and bigger. And the first to speak was Tom Hayes, who works for Marvell now but has also worked for HP, Applied Materials and AMD.

He pointed out the seemingly rather obvious point that not every company should get bigger. “You shouldn’t go down a path that may ruin you,” he said. Then followed what must surely be the equivalent of Zen and the Art of being an MBA. “When Applied was tiny we acted like we were a $10 billion company. Success kills more companies than failures do.”

Next up in the hot seat was the winsome Julie Hanna, chairman of Kiva.  She said that whatever market you are in, everything has to be done faster, better and cheaper. But the internet has changed everything radically. The power of peer to peer cannot be underestimated, she said. “Morality is not an add on feature,” she said, possibly another quote from Zen and the Art of being an MBA.

Frost & Sullivan hove into view in the shape of David Frigstand – he frankly acknowledged that it had never preducted the success of Apple and Skype. And here’s more from what is rapidly becoming a runaway hit,  Zen and the Art of Being an MBA: “We’re seeing an increase in chaos. We started off with a blue ocean strategy.” He thought that most companies failed because they failed to understand their customer base. It’s difficult to talk about scaling if a company doesn’t know its customer base.

Next up was the magnificently named Padmasree Warrior, from Cisco. You’ve encountered her in these pages before, at the Oxford Union. Cisco, she said, had got bigger (“scaled”) through acquisition, in fact by buying 125 companies. She asked herself how easy it is to keep the entrepreneurial spirit in a large company. Innovation is obviously not the answer, for once. “We went too far on the innovation side. That’s a lesson learned.”  And her contribution to Zen? It has to be: “Research tells us [that people between] 18 to 30 would be willing to work for less money as long as they could use their favourite social networking site at work.”

LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, who was so eloquent in the Oxford Union debate the other night, had nothing to say at all. A very Zen statement, that.

Kal Patel used to work for Best Buy and when Circuit City went out of business in 2008, his company got complacent. Zen? “When you’re very successful you have to replicate substance, not form”.