Von der Study Tour des CAS Digital Leadership in San Francisco bloggen Tanja Höhn, Markus Kummer und Stefan Lienhard:

The second day of our Study Tour in Silicon Valley – and it’s time to go out of San Francisco to visit „The Valley“. Of course, our second day has been nothing else than „AWESOME“ – especially the end of the day …


After a short transfer from our base at MetaDesign we reached our first stop of the day: the Evernote headquarter.

Evernote Headquarter

Evernote Headquarter

We started with a quick tour through the offices: open space, fancy inventory – as we expect it by now from a start-up company.

HWZ Digital Leaders

HWZ Digital Leaders

Afterwards we sat together for a Q&A-session in the cafeteria with one of their Heads of Product Management and another Head of Operations. Product Management is responsible to investigate and find out what customers really want, how Evernote can deliver better and more suitable solutions for those needs and define the best Customer/User experience. The Operations team is then responsible to create this final product.

It was quite insightful to learn that the Head of Operations used to work in big companies before joining a much smaller one like Evernote. One of his most important learnings was that within start-up companies, your perspective has to be broader and more focussed. You cannot delegate too many decisions to other departments as it is quite common in bigger companies. Furthermore, the evolution and transition that comes with growth in start-up companies is important: At the beginning, the founder of a company usually has most ideas and plans in his own head. But with a certain growth comes the time to introduce Product Management, Marketing etc. It is definitely not an easy task to manage growth, he confirmed with a smile.

How does Evernote prioritize where and how to grow? A key learning was that a company of any size should put priority on their core mission in order not to dissipate one’s energies and then lose speed and dynamics. In Silicon Valley you generally do not have a lack of ideas what you could do, so the real challenge is to keep the focus on what to do and what not to do.

Evernote e.g. does normally not pursue ideas that are off their core capabilities such as using its solution as a CRM system. There are already a lot of other competitors who deliver corresponding solutions and services. This has been an important learning process for them over the past few years. They also don’t want to build data centers because there are better providers such as AWS who are already into this business and therefore do have more resources. They focus on points that can differentiate them from others and create a value for their customers.

One big difference to box, our final stop for the day is: Evernote does not see itself as a platform to host regulated data such as financial or healthcare data so they don’t go after such customers.

A major difference to the “old economy” and to most Swiss companies is certainly the speed of innovations. In Startups, you will be laughed at when you spend too much time on preparing old-fashioned powerpoint-presentations to bring in new ideas and explain them to a senior executive. It is more important to be able to quickly bring the essence of your idea across and then go directly into the implementation process. Usually, a smaller new feature is implemented within five to six weeks. If it’s a more complex feature, then time-to-market is at a maximum of six months. If there’s further pressure from outside (e.g. competitors), this additionally increases the speed of innovations.

What’s the process for innovation management?

Usually there are a lot of ideas coming from internal usage of the product, discussions, workshops or forums.

  1. The first step is always to reduce complexity and to identify: What is the real problem? (e.g. “My content is trapped – I cannot share my notes with others”).
  2. The second step is to gather the “voice of the customer”, for example through focus groups. The Product Management team sees about 20 customers per week in this phase to get a better and deeper understanding and to derive possible solutions.
  3. The third step is to quickly provide possible solutions for the problem through rapid prototyping. If these prototypes fail, you create more and different prototypes until you finally have the right best solution.

Although there is no lack of ideas, Evernote still wants to keep their original and creative spirit. One tool to assure this is that one week per year, every employee can just do what (s)he wants without any management control. So on one hand you don’t want to crush the creativity, but on the other hand daily business should not be affected too much, as it was in earlier days.

Stanford University

We went on to the world’s famous Stanford University. Lilly, one of Stanford’s law students with quite an impressive knowledge of the campus (and a great talent in “walking backwards”) gave us an interesting amount of facts about the faculties and former students. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two founders of Google, are just one good example of former Stanford graduates.

Stanford University

Stanford University

Transfer & Sightseeing

Our touristic sightseeing activities continued with some short transfers to the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley”: the garage where William R. Hewlett and David Packard began developing their first product as founders of HP.

Furthermore, we visit Steve Jobs’ house where his family still lives today. It was quite impressive to see how down to earth he lived being the great boss of Apple. Funny enough to see that there are many apple trees growing in his front yard. Imagine it would be cherries or bananas! 😉

Out of the box

…and then, the magic happened: We went to box. The box visit was very impressive and we were all overwhelmed by the size of the (new) office, the brand culture, the mindset of the management and the professionalism of the entire staff.

Box is situated in Redwood City in two beautiful seven-floor buildings – they just moved in this spring. The entrance is breathtaking with the huge white logo above the front desk. Everything is very beautifully designed and you feel that this „startup“ is one of the (next?) big players in Silicon Valley.

Box offers file sharing and content management service for businesses and personal accounts. They were founded in 2005 by Aaron Levin (who is just 31 today, by the way!) and have grown to a team of 800 people until 2016. Box has many of the world’s biggest brands within their client portfolio; IBM, Procter & Gamble, Tesla, eBay and Airbnb among them. 59 % of their business clients are Fortune500 companies, which is an impressive number and shows that new as well as old economy businesses trust in box.

Box Headquarter

Box Headquarter

What makes box stand out from other storage and file sharing services?

Box’ mission is to transform the way how organizations work and collaborate. They are not just a storage service, but they aim at making work easier for their clients. Their approach was presented to us by one of their engineers who took us on a tour and showed us its very simple, quick and user-friendly utilization.

A second important point that box differentiates from other players in the cloud computing industry is that they have a strong focus on security and compliance regulations. Box supports global data residency requirements so that clients from all over the world can use box while still meeting their national law of privacy protection and data handling. This is why box can call many companies of high security industries such as financial services, healthcare and even governmental institutions their clients.

Box’ goal is to be financially profitable by January 2017 while still using their money to invest and grow further.

But now to the fun part …

The box spirit really comes across by having a look at some of their core values:

  • Make your mom proud!
  • GSD – get shit done!
  • Take risks, fail fast!
  • Think x10!
  • Be an owner. It’s your company!

Despite their size they are still a very agile and fast-moving company that supports a very ethical way of working whilst motivating their employees to give their best every day. The passion of the staff was electrifying at any time of our visit!

Their offices are open spaces where the CEO and employees work together very closely. They are – as most companies we’ve visited these days in the Silicon Valley – well equipped with large kitchens, lounges, Zen rooms to relax, a gym and all other amenities that make working at box a daily experience. Still the box staff is very driven by their value „GSD – get shit done“: Even though the staff benefits from flexible working hours and vacation regulations, we had no doubt that everyone at box is committed more than only 100 % to this great company.

Box Office

Box Office

We were all very impressed by box, their offices and how they GSD and were only left with one last question: Uuhhm … where can we apply??