Welcome back to DIGIGRAM! After a bit of a hiatus, I am back to give you an update on the latest topics, trends, and stories from Silicon Valley and beyond.
A lot has happened in the world over the last year. While a lot of gloom befell the world, there have also been some incredible milestones this year. There is much to celebrate that happened in 2022! For instance, in the last year, we’ve had these incredible technological and scientific breakthroughs:
- The United States Senate passed a bill to boost domestic chip manufacturing. The law also includes $67 billion to fund research into how to slow down climate change, a new record! I hope that a significant portion will go towards developing climate technologies.
- A new report found that if the current pace of wind and solar growth continues, the world will meet its climate targets.
- Switzerland qualified for the last 16 nations at the soccer World Cup. And was promptly eliminated by Portugal – oh well…
In this edition of Digigram:
#1: Mitipi and KEVIN’s USA Launching Pad: Interview with Patrick Cotting, CEO of Swiss IoT startup Mitipi who are creating something rare – a new category of product. Specifically, KEVIN is a new kind of device that deters burglars from breaking into your house rather than just alarming you after the fact.
#2: “Connected Life” was the topic of my class at UC Berkeley this year: Read why I am so passionate about the “always on” lifestyle and the technologies that enable it. And get to know the winning teams and their plans to launch their startup companies, “WorkerBee” Connected Me, “SAFEST” Connected Health, and “DAOcracy” Connected Community.
#3: Silicon Valley Mindset Post-Covid Takeaways: Account of one of the first groups of Digital Leaders visiting the Bay Area after COVID. Read what has changed and what remains the same.
I’m excited to share some of the things happening in my world, and it’s been a joy to work with passionate innovators again. I hope their words and stories inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.
Till soon, Gert
USA Launching Pad
To navigate these obstacles, I founded USA Launching Pad, which helps foreign companies build their sales in the USA and be more successful more quickly. Our team of experienced American business builders supports entrepreneurs every step of the way with our proven method and our personal networks.
This fall, we worked with a cohort of three tech companies to bring them into the US market. One of these companies is Mitipi, who are innovating the home security market by creating a deterrent from burglaries and home invasions. Their first product, KEVIN, is a plug-and-play smart device that simulates sounds and projects images that make people believe you’re still at home.
We sat down with Mitipi CEO Patrick Cotting, who is working with USA Launching Pad to start US sales for his successful Swiss business, to talk about his experience.
What is the Mitipi origin story?
For many years, our core team worked in the insurance industry in Switzerland. One of the main problems we hoped to solve with Mitipi was reducing the number of burglaries claims while increasing customer loyalty. Our original idea was to provide insurance packages with an alarm system. However, what we discovered in our research is that when an alarm system goes off, the damage is already done. Most burglaries are done in about five minutes, and an alarm system mainly just helps the burglar know when it’s time for them to go. So therefore, it shortens the time of the burglary but doesn’t prevent it. Additionally, alarms often come with expensive subscriptions and setups, and once they are installed, we found that many people forget to activate the system before leaving their homes. That’s when we knew we needed to come up with a solution that would actually deter a burglar, and that’s how we came up with the idea for our business.
What were some of the most shocking things you learned about the home security market when you came up with your value proposition?
We did extensive interviews with victims of burglaries, law enforcement, and even burglars themselves to understand the real factors determining how a criminal will pick your house to rob or move on to another one. What we found out were two very crucial things. The first was that a burglar makes a decision based on if they see or hear activities in the home. The second is that they make this decision when they are 10-20 meters from your house. So to actually prevent a burglary, it’s optimal to simulate activity in your home so that they’ll just move on.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Home Alone, there is a really funny scene where Macauly Culkin’s character, Kevin, sets up what looks like an elaborate party to deter the burglars from entering his home. That’s where we got the inspiration for the name of our first product – Kevin!
What was it like introducing Kevin into homes in the European market, and what markets are you hoping to connect with in the United States?
We’re proud to say we currently serve over 3,000 households in Switzerland and customers in the Netherlands and Italy. We have chosen Switzerland as our first market as Swiss customers are demanding, they’re wealthier on the whole and often travel, especially during ski season. So when we first started marketing in Switzerland, we ran a whole billboard ad campaign in ski resorts that people could see when they were on the lifts, and it got hundreds of people thinking about the safety of their homes. We are so proud to share that after surveying our first 3,000 customers, we learned that nobody had a burglary in their home.
Now that we’re branching out in the United States, we hope to reach 120,000 homes. We believe everybody deserves to feel safe, and we’ve conducted interviews with people all over the country to get their insights. A former police chief from Chicago told us that one of the largest problems is that burglaries can be a very highly emotional event for most families, but it is a very low priority for the police. We are trying to bring Kevin into the homes of those who travel often, but also older adults who are retired, so that every family can feel a sense of relief knowing that their home is safe.
How has the USA Launching Pad helped you to meet your goals for entry into the American market?
Working with the USA Launching Pad has saved us A LOT of time – years, even! I spent two weeks in San Francisco and shaved off a year of time I would have spent trying to understand the different channels we needed to be successful. USA Launching Pad excels at organizing an outreach to the people we need to interview to evaluate product features, messaging, pricing models and to give us recommendations. It’s a lot of different opinions and data, and advice can often be diverse, but this has been so helpful to us in that it paints a larger picture of the market. The potential customers we interviewed and told the product story to, immediately got it and applied the benefits to their own lives and why the product is built that way. It has been the most valuable resource for us to know we are on the right track.
“Connected Life” Startup Class at UC Berkeley
I just finished teaching my latest course at UC Berkeley, “Connected Life”. In this course, we examined our “always-on” lifestyle and how this expectation of being ever-connected in our social and professional lives continues to develop, especially in a post-COVID world that allows for work via connectivity. We examined connectedness from an entrepreneurial standpoint to solve previously unsolvable problems using apps, data, IoT for machines, AI for decision-making, robotics for automation, and beyond.
The course explored practical applications of e.g. 5G-connected smartphones, machines, and sensors, empowering entrepreneurs to solve previously unsolvable problems. For example, a surgeon can now use technology to save patients’ lives on the other side of the world, or anyone can be automatically alerted if a faraway family member needs help. However, questionable uses have also appeared, such as the constant battle to protect private data against illegal use for commercial, political, or criminal gain.
The course explored the use of technologies at the foundation of connectivity for people, communities, businesses, factories, and the environment and what happens when there is a lack of equity in technological access.
For the final project, students formed teams to develop a start-up with a scalable business model to develop solutions and leverage “always on” connectivity to improve lives in private, at work, at play, for companies, for communities, and for our planet.
Read on to learn what unique solutions the UC Berkeley students created. It is both enlightening what types of problems they deem important and what kinds of businesses they want to create: Making an impact is the common thread. And that is very reassuring to know about the next generation of entrepreneurs!
Congratulations to the winning team WorkerBee!
Team Worker Bee was the winning team of the Connected Life class! The team around Sergio Mazariego and Evelyn Tran wants to solve one of the most pressing problems – the labor shortage. Their user research in the hospitality industry led them to two critical problems for workers and employers to find each other. WorkerBee uses AI matching algorithms and mutual rating systems to overcome these problems. A dozen businesses and four culinary schools have already enlisted WorkerBee’s services. Such innovation and traction convinced the jury to reward WorkerBee with first place.
Meet the Runner-up Winners
Upon acceptance into the best public university in the US (aka UC Berkeley), students are met with the harsh reality of the shocking crime rate in the neighborhood of campus: Hate crimes, theft, and gun violence are plaguing students. SAFEST is an app designed for students, by students, to create a buddy system that helps students get safely home from late nights on campus by meeting up to walk together.
SAFEST hopes to expand from serving the student community to serving women in all urban areas.
The team members of team SAFEST are: Amanda McGraw, Eléonore Van Marcke, Niel Khadilkar, Dechathorn Rangsiyopash, and Chawin Viriyasopon.
DAOcracy is a civic tech platform that allows cities and councils to be aligned on important community issues. DAOcracy applies the principles of blockchain and decentralization to increase transparency around how local policy is created and how local funding is spent. DAOcracy interviewed over 100 officials across several cities to understand the most important issues affecting their communities. The team won the City of Sausalito near San Francisco as their pilot site, a seaside city that is facing multiple challenges, including climate change and rising sea levels. DAOcracy creates a decentralized community where members are engaged locally and can become shareholders of projects that increase collaboration and education about issues that are important to constituents.
DAOcracy hopes to launch not only in major cities in the United States but internationally with two of its founding team members from France.
The team members of team DAOcracy are: Brahim Belasri-Nogueira, Angela Johannsen, Thomas Biscondi.
What students say about the Connected Life Class
“Life begins outside of your comfort zone.” Although I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, hearing this quote from Professor Gert Christen during a lecture was important while being at UC Berkeley for graduate school. Being a first-generation college student is challenging. The Connected Life class helped the student body feel connected with the Berkeley community and encouraged us to leverage each team member with a business-driven mindset. This helped me grow as an entrepreneur as it built perseverance, grit, and an open mind.” – Amanda McGraw, SAFEST Team Member
“The class was incredible for helping me to understand beyond the concept of launch. Guest speakers, especially those involved in civic technology, helped me understand the progress needed to take my vision from conception to reality.” – Brahim Belasri-Nogueira, DAOcracy Team Member
SILICON VALLEY MINDSET – 5 KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM VISITING DIGITAL LEADERS
June 2022. San Francisco – A clear blue sky above and a sensational view of the Golden Gate Bridge below – finally possible again after two years of the pandemic.
* HWZ University Zurich is Switzerland’s largest part-time business university. Its Center for Digital Business pioneered academic educational programs for a digitalized business world. DIGIRAM editor Gert Christen is an alumnus of HWZ and founded their entrepreneurship department before returning to California.
Students of the HWZ University master study program “Digital Leadership” were once again able to travel to the capital of technology and startups to experience the famous Silicon Valley spirit up close and personal. Gert Christen, head of the HWZ University Silicon Valley Outpost, created an exciting program. Many conversations with startup entrepreneurs, pitches of digital business models, insights into Amazon’s corporate culture, amazing networking events, and reserved time for reflection sessions opened space for discussions and exchanges between students and actors of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Together the class condensed their most important insights of the study trip:
#1 New Work has definitely arrived – how will it evolve from here?
#2 Customer centricity – convenience first
#3 Networking and cooperation
#4 Be brave – a culture of learning, not of failing
#5 Think big – Mindset 10x: What if we could vacation on the moon?
#1 New Work has definitely arrived – how will it evolve from here?
While still being discussed in Switzerland, New Work is definitely being practiced in Silicon Valley. Very many companies work remotely. It has become a must-have criterion for workers who do not want to miss the flexibility anymore that they got accustomed to during Covid. The office as a central hub is a thing of the past. Companies are experimenting to find the right balance between being an attractive employer in the war of talents and allowing remote work vs. how to facilitate the informal and creative exchange of employees being physically together. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.
#2 Customer Centricity – convenience first
Customer benefits are at the center of the activity of Silicon Valley companies. Products have to absolutely delight customers and must offer convenience. Explorative customer research and learning from customers’ desires is a part of the DNA and a crucial success factor. Amazon e.g., has defined its mission as “we want to be earth’s most customer-centric company”.
#3 Networking and cooperation
A very open and active culture of networking is being practiced in Silicon Valley. Everyone talks with everyone else and takes care of their network: In co-working spaces, lunches, coffee meetings, social events, or online via LinkedIn and Zoom. People actively exchange and share knowledge. Companies that operate in the same markets often cooperate on important issues, following the motto “how to make the overall pie larger and not just the individual slices bigger”.
#4 Be brave – the culture of learning, not of failing
Being proactive and hands-on. Put good ideas into practice even if only some of the facts are known. Wanting to succeed and being ready to test fast, learn fast, and adapt fast. All of these attitudes are firmly anchored in the Silicon Valley mindset. Setbacks are accepted as opportunities to learn in an agile, iterative manner. While accepting a certain degree of risk, actors proceed with a goal in mind, not hoping for luck.
#5 Think big: Mindset 10x – what if we could vacation on the moon?
Ideas are preferred in big sizes, and dreaming is desirable. How to make something 10x better than today. The mindset of Silicon Valley and its working methods include drawing up big long-term visions, always becoming better, and finding ways to turn visions into realities. In the words of Astro Teller, CEO of Google X: “Big dreams are not just visions. They are visions paired with execution strategies. In this spirit: Hire people who are smarter than you”.
What can be transferred to Switzerland from these Silicon Valley insights? Do it on Monday!
There is always the question of whether these insights can lead to equal value add in Switzerland. The Silicon Valley culture is very different from the Swiss way of proceeding with precision, heavy, fact-based planning, more restrained manners, and the generally less liberal business environment.
These are the reasons literal copying would not lead to the same results and would not work: The Swiss work ecosystem has different foundations. However, taking a closer look at our five insights, we can see that they all deal with “mindset”. And this is the positive news: We can work on our own mindsets and establish strong routines step by step. What can you do next Monday that needs few resources and little effort? Approaches that everyone can try:
- Promote exchange: Active networking such as regular lunches or coffee meetings with colleagues, customers, and alumni.
- Promote trust: Having more confidence in employees and seeking their opinions and feedback.
- Digital products or processes are never finished: Launch new ideas, even knowing they are not perfect, and adapt them based on learnings.
- What do our customers love? Talking with customers and stakeholders about the things that trigger their excitement.
- Look at things differently: Writing the day-of-launch press release for the next concept and only then moving to plan and development.
To keep working on one’s own mindset will not only fuse the best of both worlds – Silicon Valley and Switzerland – but will also help with personal growth. This is the way to influence yourself in a positive way and your environment, too.
Just do it on Monday!
Top of the Month:
MIT Climate Start-Up Competition
I am delighted to help the students at MIT University expand their climate & energy startup competition to Europe and to more universities in the USA.
Let me know who should be included!
Flop of the Month:
I really hope the discussions held and commitments made by their delegate passengers more than made up for the CO2 spewed out by these jets. Couldn’t they lead by example and carpool, err “planepool”? My opinion: COP is important, but please hold it in a big, easy-to-reach city, not a hard-to-reach resort town with a delicate natural environment.
Meet me here:
SF Salon Music!
My super-talented musician wife Michelle started a new venture: SF Salon Music, with two goals: Revive the style of 18th-century French salons, which brought music, art, and culture into the homes of ordinary people. And these modern-day salons always blend several art forms in unexpected ways to bring together audiences and artists to build community and experience art with food, drink, and socializing.
The last salon took place at the Verdi Club in San Francisco’s Mission District and combined songs from two beloved musicals – “Into the Woods” and “Les Misérables,” with a local storyteller to weave these two tales together. It was a fantastic event.
If you’d like to attend a salon in the future, sign up for the newsletter at sfsalonmusic.com.