Friday, September 16, I attended 3 “bilateral meetings”.The first one took place in downtown San Francisco, in Uber HQ.

The first one took place in downtown San Francisco, in Uber, which is in the same building as Square and across the street from Twitter.

That same morning there was a big story about how much money Uber is losing, and how artificially high their valuation is, but of course, nobody wanted to talk about that. Instead, we focused on big data analysis, regulation, and the interesting angles that Uber is taking.

As you can see from the photographs, they have amazing offices. They have put the truckload of cash they received from VCs to use: a ton of geeks walking around with laptops, huge screens with snazzy ads and dashboards, designer furniture…

After Uber, we took the bus to the number 1 public university in the world: Berkeley University. At the Walter A. Haas School of Business, we attended lectures and met with Prof. Alexandre Bayen, Prof. John Zysman, Prof. David Charron, Gigi Wang and Peter Minor.

Most of what they explained is public knowledge, although Prof. Charron’s packed talk about the history and idiosyncrasy of Silicon Valley was quite enlightening. Two interesting points he made:

  • The growth in investment was largely motivated by low interest rates, which led to an abundance of cash, and greed fueled by previous unexpected tech investment successes.
  • Corporate VC reduction in investment is not caused by a perceived bubble, but because it is cyclical and now they want to see how the big group of recent unicorns are going to fare out, before going back in.

After having lunch with them, we went to the Sutardja Dai Hall – Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, where they explained a bit more about the Citris Foundry.

To end the day we went to GE Digital, General Electric’s world HQ for software, where their Chief Experience Officer told us all about their new platform (Predix). Then we got to see first hand how an industrial-base company is trying to be “cool and hip”, by touring their Connected Experience Lab, and their Customer Design Center.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and love the fact that corporations that are over 100 years old want to stay relevant and cool. But somehow it feels “fake” and “forced” when it is not embedded in your company DNA. I mean a Yoda post-it portrait, an Arduino-dispensing vending machine (next to three never-used 3D printers), a retro-arcade, or a mural that says “insert garage here” can be seen as “decoration” and following (not setting) trends. But trying to convince visitors and customers that your researchers are top-notch because you can interact with Google Maps on a huge screen panel via a Microsoft Kinect, or asking your customers to play Candy Crush on a giant touch-screen so they can “relax” in a break between long work sessions, felt insulting to the spirit of true innovation and research. But then again, that’s clueless copy-cat marketing and mindless corporate clones following directives for you.

On the way back to San Francisco we got to experience one of SF’s legendary traffic jams.