Today’s guest entry is by Singaporean MBA participant, Vivien Tan, who joined the Discovery Expedition to Mexico/San Francisco.

Sitting in the holding area of SFO, as we await our flight back to Lausanne, I thought I should take the chance to pen down my thoughts on the past 4 days we had in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Touted as a vibrant city and the place where I have seen friends live in and not want to leave, I always wondered what was the lure of San Francisco. I think I have found my answer.

The lure of SF is not in its foods and its Californian wines, which no doubt I enjoyed too, but I think the true answer lies in its spirit of possibilities- where people talk about ideas instead of what would not work. In it lies a culture that is open to failures and I think that is what makes SF such a unique and attractive place to live in. This spirit is like a virtuous cycle that encourages talent to try, fail and help others like them. This in turn pushes VC investments into the city simply based on the law of probability, as something is bound to take off when you try, fail and learn over and over again. No wonder Silicon Valley has been at the heart of technology innovation since the birth of the Internet to the founding of unicorns today like Uber and Twitter, both of whom we had the opportunity to speak with on this trip too. I liked the description of Silicon Valley that the Design Director of IDEO gave when we visited, as simply:

(creative people that make ideas happen) + (nerds with ideas) + (investments) = Silicon Valley

One message that resonated throughout the meetings we had, was the importance of trust through transparency, and customer centricity. These companies are razor-focused on customer experience, putting user experience at the center of their business design. Companies like Salesforce not only embraces design thinking but also helps their clients do so through their tools. We had the opportunity to experience Salesforce’s Ignite workshop, which is a customer driven innovation program, that we had a hand in identifying orthodoxies in a simple scenario like a tourist visiting a restaurant in a new city that he/ she is in. With 6 persons in a team and in just 30 mins, we came up with an idea on how we could enhance the experience of tourists through an online platform where you could record your food preferences/ restrictions and have menu items introduced to you, instead of the usual restaurant recommendations because every tourist is different! Given tools like these to generate ideas, coupled with secure and malleable platforms like Saleforce/ Tradeshift, it is easy to bootstrap a startup today with little required upfront investments. Seeing this changed my opinion on the potential of disruption that tech could have on traditional businesses like healthcare. With the sheer number of possibilities and people willing to try these days, I think big pharma and medtech companies do need to keep a closer watch on these smaller tech start-ups.

Of course, we never forget to have a little bit of fun on our trip too, after all these trips are good opportunities for us to bond! Our warm and friendly Peruvian colleagues, Victor and Andrea, introduced us to their local delicacies at La Mar, located right by the picturesque San Francisco pier. Chatting and laughing over a glass of pisco sour, I learned more about Peru and found similarities in its food and diversity to Singapore where I am from. I would definitely need to learn more about Latin America from our friends… perhaps over another glass of pisco J

San Francisco

Finally, checking off my checklist for this trip:

Meet with leading tech companies √

Immerse in the vibrant start-up tech scene √

Visit Golden Gate Bridge and Napa Valley √

Fun with colleagues √


Alright, time to board my flight home!

Till next time, signing off,

Vivien Tan @SFO

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