CEO Summit – San Francisco September 2016 Blog • Published 2016/11/10

After the success of our West-Cost portfolio tour in 2015, this year we took a further 12 CEOs and Founders to San Francisco to spend time with a range of world-class entrepreneurs, investors and people that may take some of the pain and complexity out of scaling in the US.

It is hard to sum up the range of valuable discussions and conversations given by the amazing range of speakers we heard, but the most memorable include:

  • Larry Sonsini, Chairman of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati discussing how “Venture capital does not travel well” and how sometimes there is often a higher hurdle to raise capital in the US with much of this coming down to efficiency, and the link between the size of the investment and the willingness for the investor to travel.

  • Godfrey Sullivan, Chairman of Splunk gave a very candid picture of how often the hardest part of building a business is going from $0-$10m and the power of a repeatable sales machine; “essentially you need repeatability in the machine; your sales guys should just be selling the same thing every time.” He also gave a fresh perspective on the term platform, holding the view that “Platform is a scary term” and the importance that you speak the same language as the target customers; “call your product whatever your customers call it. Start as a tool, then become a solution.”

  • Barbara Massa, HR Director FireEye spoke about the power of a mission-orientated culture at FireEye. “The aim is to stop bad guys, this makes your heart beat a little faster.”  She also gave an overview of the challenges involved in scaling from 200 employees to over 2,000 and their approach to building in-country recruitment. Her view on the importance of great culture and its link to quality new employee referrals was also impressive with over 40 per cent. of new employees through referrals at FireEye.

  • Jeff Miller, previously CEO of Documentum, talked through the key elements of how Documentum became a market leading business before listing in 1996 and then being acquired by EMC for $1.7bn in 2003.  Clarity on having a consistent sales message and transparent objective setting were key points in this as well as identifying vertical by vertical where the technology could be applied and selling to a very specific end user.

  • Karl Tsukahara, CMO at Birst, gave a straight-talking overview of what metrics he listens to and which he doesn’t when it comes to running a sales team and marketing for B2B software companies. He covered the dangers of “empty burn,” that is the marketing with nothing on the end of it, and how to identify this. His list of areas that he is allergic to included; tracking “followers” as a metric, the necessity for companies say something interesting given that your customers will be bombarded with endless content and how “everyone likes kicking the tyres.” The overall conclusion being “measure the hell out of everything” and “know what content works and when.”

  • John Hamm, a leading executive coach who has worked with numerous outstanding entrepreneurs, gave his views on what the most important leadership traits are in successful CEOs. He reduced the many different schools of thought down to the fact that every CEO must be able to deal with People, Strategy and Execution. Everything else is secondary. He also differentiated between a difficult decision and an uncomfortable decision- difficult is where you don’t know what to do, uncomfortable is just where you don’t want to do it.

  • Alison Johnson, ex-CMO of Apple, opened with the fact that the lid on an iPhone packaging takes exactly 4.3 seconds to float down when placed closed! Ideas like this went to the heart of the concept that success at Apple was down to attention to detail and the importance of a culture of excellence.

  • Bob Wright, Partner at Firebrick Consulting, spoke about the challenges of optimally positioning a business and the commercial impact if you get it right. He flagged that “If you have 38 slides in a deck explaining what you do, or if you mum doesn’t understand what you do, then you probably have a positioning problem.” The value of razor sharp customer profiling and building a business that has a point of view or stands for something is crucial. He also had interesting views on how little many customers care about the “how” behind products or technology. Rather, leading with the impact a product can deliver, was something that Bob felt strongly about and works with a lot of companies to refine this.

  • Philip Lay, Partner at Chasm Group and author of Crossing the Chasm, led a discussion on the difference between “playing for performance,” that is typically, increasing sales of a single product, versus “playing for power” which usually involves taking a broader view on a given market and looking at how businesses can feed new products into the product mix to ensure long term growth. “Performance is doing the day to day, power involves the big picture.”