Blogging from Silicon Valley: Lessons from Salesforce

University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA students swing by CRM giant

Editor's Note

This article is part of a series on the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management Executive MBA annual class trip to the Silicon Valley. The recent trip was part of the EMBA curriculum on “Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”


The class of 2017 arrived in San Francisco on a Saturday and enjoyed some leisure time in the Bay area as we waited the start of the business week.

We were all anxious and excited to get to work in the morning and gain the insider’s glimpse into the companies this city inspires. Walking through the financial district and into the Salesforce building, we were welcomed by images of the redwoods on the “digital wall” and the Salesforce DJ spinning tunes that set the beat for the day. In a setting like this it is hard not to get the feeling that, today, anything is possible.

True to Salesforce’s client engagement strategy, the presentation was an immersive experience. After being provided with a quick history, which included Salesforce’s rise from humble beginnings to making the Forbes “Most Innovative Companies in the World” list for the past six years, we broke into teams to work through a re-framing exercise.

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

We were all asked to take a problem and turn it on its head using our creative and strategic mind. We were challenged to think from the Silicon Valley perspective and to push the boundaries of how we traditionally think, consider our biases and unpack our assumptions by identifying insurmountable problems. This is the same methods Salesforce uses to engage their customers more effectively.

From Salesforce, we walked over to TechShop, the creators of the maker movement.  TechShop is a member-based makerspace with a mission to drive global innovation by engaging, enabling and empowering the creative class by providing access to the tools within the do-it-yourself machines and fabrication shop and the education to use them.

TechShop has warehouses in nine cities across the U.S. and has essentially inspired a community of creatives to come together and create their products.

We had the opportunity to tour their San Francisco location and view the equipment and working facilities that they provide to their clients to “build (their) dreams.” Manufacturers and service providers are continually looking for ways to tailor their products and services to each consumer’s individual needs and TechShop is fueling this fire.

Techshop founder Jim Newton predicts that in 20 years, we’ll look back at ourselves and ask “Why did I buy clothes and furniture that don’t fit right?” The opportunity and outcome from the maker movement is customization.

Our last visit took us to 500 Startups, an accelerator program that provides both seed funding and the mentorship to organizations moving through the stages of IPO. Marvin Liao, a partner at 500 Startups, presented views that challenged our traditional Canadian values but he left us with a key takeaway that inspires us as we closed out our first day of executive briefings: Follow your passion.

A component of the the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Trip to Silicon Valley is the second consulting engagement in the Telfer Executive MBA’s curriculum. Our team, Procyon Consulting Group, has been working with Silicon Valley-based start-up FarmWise over the past few months to provide recommendations on a business opportunity they have asked us to address.

Our team took advantage of some downtime in the evening schedule and departed from the cohort to meet with our client. It turns out that our clients, Sébastien and Thomas, got their start at TechShop and recruited their first employee, a mechanical engineer, at the shop.

The key learnings for our day: Find the right problem to solve, prototype and iterate relentlessly, and never leave any communication uncertain.

– By Joanne Gardner

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