5 Game-changing Lessons Filipino Companies can Learn from Silicon Valley

Every year I go on a trip to take a look at what the best the technology and digital world has to offer. I started with going to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona annually and eventually graduated to custom tours in Silicon Valley to get briefings on the latest trends. I was also fortunate to have attended both Google I/O 2016 and Facebook F8 2017. Over the course of my immersions, I’ve distilled the learnings into 5 essential tips that I believe Filipino business owners can learn from the greats in Silicon Valley.

1. Complimentary Innovation as a Shield

When you say “innovation”, you usually think of bold risky moves that go outside of your core business. While the “disrupt or be disrupted” concept is still true, a less risky but equally important strategy is to build complimentary innovations to your core business as a shield to disruption and to get ahead of competition. This was a lesson I learned from both Google and Facebook when I sat down and listened to the keynote talks of Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

With Google CEO Sundar Pichai at Google I/O 2016

At the core, Google is supposed to be a “Search Engine”. No one can catch up with them now though as they’ve protected that brand and core business by creating/acquiring complimentary products such as Android, Waze, and Youtube among others. They’re still on the mission to organize the world’s information and all of those products deliver on that promise.

Facebook is pretty much the same. They started as a social networking site with the mission to connect the world. The features that they’ve created over the years have shielded them from disruption and made them even more relevant to their users. Messenger, Instagram, and Whatsapp were clearly big wins for them and they’re now building on top of those services by introducing machine learning and artificial intelligence with Chat Bots and their ad technology. Now they’re focused on Augmented Reality with their camera application and Virtual Reality with Facebook Spaces. Both products are still complimentary to their core business and mission of connecting people the best way possible.

Innovation is a must but it doesn’t have to be high-risk and always “blue ocean” in nature. What’s important is that it makes business sense, compliments your core, delivers your brand promise, and ultimately addresses a consumer need or pain point.

2. Hack, hack, hack, ship, ship, ship

At the Facebook Campus in Menlo Park with my former colleagues in advertising

When we were touring the Facebook Campus in Menlo park, our guide shared with us that Facebook regularly did “hackathons”. They gathered all the engineers to build different prototype products or features over a weekend and a panel would then decide which one would “win”. The winning engineers would get the resources and staff to build it and roll it out on the main Facebook platform with 29 days.

There are three key wins here:

  • New products and features rolled out regularly.
  • Equality. Everyone has a voice. Even the younger co-workers.
  • It builds and reinforces the hacker culture.

These three wins can are the benefits of not being complacent and working in a state of perpetual “business as usual”, something that a lot of Filipino companies and business owners are still in today. The hacker spirit and culture of Facebook allows them to be relentless innovators and disruptors while constantly tapping and empowering the younger generation of workers to contribute and make a positive impact in the company. Here in the Philippines you usually just hear Gen X’ers and baby boomers complaining and moaning about millennials. The challenge is to create a process or system that will allow for innovation, empowerment, and shipping*.

*shipping means delivering a product to the market

See Also: Creative Destruction is the Enemy of Business as Usual

3. Data Rules All

During our visit to the San Francisco HQ of SalesForce, we were briefed by one of their Sr. Product Managers on how they build their products and services. In a nutshell they draw consumer insights from the wealth of data and analytics that they have from their existing users. This allows them to deliver relevant products with less risk of failure. It sounds easy right? But it’s really far more challenging that it looks.

At the SalesForce HQ in downtown San Francisco

You need three key things to get this to work.

First is gathering the CORRECT data. There’s a lot of analytics available on various digital and analogue business platforms. On the digital side you have Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, and custom data sets from internal CRM tools. There’s also your business data points: revenue, average revenue per user, frequency, and you can even take that deeper by going by geography (if your business is nationwide or has multiple branches).

Next you need to make sense of the data. Interpreting the data sets that you have can be one of the most challenging parts of this process. You need data scientists or analytics experts that can translate the numbers into actionable insights that will help you be more efficient, increase sales, solve customer pain points, build new features, or confirm expansion plans.

Lastly, the leadership and will to change and move things forward. Ideas are crap if they don’t get executed. You need shared accountability and responsibility in your top management team so you can implement the changes needed to drive your business and your sales forward.

4. It’s Not the Highest Paid Dude in the Room that Decides

At MWC 2016 in Barcelona, Spain

Usually what we see in the boardroom is that the highest paid officer makes all the big decisions on innovations and where the company goes. While this is ultimately what happens, what’s important is the process on how we actually get to those decisions. Hundreds of millions of pesos have been wasted by a lot of Filipino companies on product acquisitions, partnerships, and GTM strategies that failed miserably because they forgot one critical pre-requisite to innovation — studying their customer. Often times business leaders make bad decisions because they just rely on their gut while they’re under intense pressure by their bosses or their competitors.

So how do you decide? Take a look at your data/analytics and obsess over your customer. What are their pain points? What do they need? How can you make your brand live up to the promise you made to them in different ways? Date your customer like never before. Most of the companies we visited in Silicon Valley (Twitter, Facebook, Google, Salesforce, LinkedIn, etc.) all do this and that’s the reason why they’ve been successful through the years in their respective innovation and business roadmaps.

See Also: What Filipino SMEs and Start-ups Should Know About Digital Marketing

5. Culture is Mission Critical for Success

With Facebook Chief Operations Officer and best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook F8 2017

Our Chief People Officer in the PLDT Group, Liza Sichon, quoted Peter Drucker in one of her internal talks that “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.” Liza was drawing from her years of experience as an HR executive in Silicon Valley and based on what I’ve seen in my trips, she’s on the money on that one. Digital transformation cannot happen without strong company culture. A weak culture that’s ripe of silos, backstabbing, and crab mentality will not allow a company to thrive in the digital age.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker

Digital Transformation and change management falls under the shoulders of the entire management team. It’s not just the responsibility of the Product Team or even the CEO. It’s a shared and equal task that everyone has to take on and it won’t happen unless everyone is towing the line.

One of the striking conversations we had during our Google immersion was how data-driven and digital their People (HR) department was. They have this peer-to-peer commendation system where Googlers can reward fellow Googlers who go above and beyond to help them in their work. They log on to an internal website, pick the Googler they want to commend, write a note, and it gets sent to the Googler and their immediate supervisor with a nice financial incentive bonus.

See Also: To Accelerate Digital Transformation Reduce Management Politics

True innovation happens when the entire team is pushing for it. Again, it’s not just the Product guys who will transform. It’s the entire organization.

And there you have it! To end this post, here’s a short highlight video we made of our Googleplex tour. Hope you guys enjoy it!

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Carlo Ople

Author Carlo Ople

Founder and writer of Unlocked.ph and for full disclosure I'm also the Vice-President for Digital Marketing Strategy of PLDT/Smart, the largest telco in the Philippines. Prior to this I co-founded a digital advertising agency (DM9 Digit) which we sold to Dentsu, the largest single branded agency in the world. I also co-founded one of the biggest tech websites in the country, Unbox (unbox.ph). Views do not represent PLDT/Smart and are purely my own.

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