“They had almost a life-size football pitch in the middle of the office,” says Jeanine, who joined Cass Business School last year. She was sampling Silicon Valley as part of a full-time MBA trip. The other half of her class was on a marketing trip in Las Vegas.
Jeanine is the president of Cass's Marketing Society. Much of functional opportunities in Silicon Valley were focused on growth hacker marketing, the secret weapon behind the launches of some of the hottest tech companies.
Growth hacking, hailed by Facebook and co, is a new type of marketing which "breaks the rules", according leading tech entrepreneurs. “That’s something that you can really see in action and strategy, and what companies do to grow,” says Jeanine, who ultimately hopes to work in an SME after graduating.
The Cass MBAs visited four different companies a day for four days – including Google and Salesforce Inc. A bevy of start-ups were also on the agenda. “We tried to cover each stage of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, including the early stage start-ups that have grown rapidly,” says Jeanine.
They also visited Silicon Valley Bank and Stanford University, which houses one of the United States’ best business schools. “We tried to understand what makes it so successful,” says Jeanine, explaining the tech hub. “What makes this ecosystem as successful as it is? How does innovation work?”
The closest thing Europe has to Silicon Valley is Tech City in London, a stone’s throw away from Cass’s campus. But the U.S version is much more than a big entrepreneurial hub, says Damon Koo, a Cass MBA student who took the trip.
“Companies were not shy to admit they are not making any profits at the moment,” says Damon, who worked in financial services in Korea. “Instead, they are focusing on scaling up as fast as they can, and building the framework for what will eventually become multi-billion dollar businesses.”
He plans to launch his own start-up after graduation. The trip was inspiring and has cemented his aspirations. “It opened my eyes to a new horizon of creativity and I witnessed a community of people that will drive the growth in global technology,” says Damon, who will graduate from Cass’s MBA this year.
He met Oracle, Cisco, Rocketspace and Eventbrite, among other top tech companies and accelerators. Start-up founders in Silicon Valley are facing stiff competition for promising talent, but no one “applies for a job”. “Start-ups invite students to pizza parties, hoping they will ‘get to know’ the right candidates,” says Damon.
“Or they will reach out to friends and ex-colleagues, or even cycling buddies, to receive recommendations.”
Damon developed new contacts through the visit’s networking opportunities. The highlight of his trip, however, was visiting Eventbrite, the online ticketing service. “I had no idea that they were trying to change the landscape in the event industry from the bottom-up,” Damon explains.
“Now, there are events, audiences, music bloggers, friends, backyard barbeques, and retailers all connected via Eventbrite. This is what is so amazing about Silicon Valley; you are surrounded by people who want to and are capable of making a meaningful impact on the world.”
In Europe, start-ups are more reserved. But in Silicon Valley, the MBAs were treated to an open culture. “Everybody wants to show you what they’re doing. The logic is that an initial idea is never what you start a business with; you will revise the idea over and over again,” says Jeanine, who worked as a freelance marketing consultant before beginning her MBA.
“Everybody shares and collaborates, and it’s all about execution.” Many of Cass’s MBAs will likely enter entrepreneurial ventures. But Jeanine wants to stick with digital marketing.
For Damon, the trip has changed his vision. “The biggest takeaway from the trip for me was that Silicon Valley is not just a ‘bigger’ entrepreneurial hub,” he says.
“The Silicon Valley trip was not only inspiring in that I had opportunities to hear from people who built multi-billion dollar businesses from scratch, but it also changed my perspective of entrepreneurship.”
The MBA student is unsure whether it will open up job opportunities in the tech hub, but he is optimistic. “For now, I'm just very excited that I got to know some of the most interesting people I have ever met.”