Sixteen years ago, my wife, my 9 month-old son and I left the San Francisco Bay area to live in the UK. I was still at Documentum, but I had always wanted to return after starting a company, which ended up being Documentum. Since then I have constantly flown back and forth between the UK and SFO.
Friday before last, I returned from one month in the bay area with my family. This is not something I tweeted about or put onto Facebook. There were enough warnings about this on the Internet to make sure I didn't say "Hey burglars! You still have 31 days left to rob my house!" In fact, I unintentionally made it a one month holiday off of Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and most things SocialNetwork.
The purpose of the trip was to re-establish connections in the Bay Area (I'm a Cal grad!), to network in Silicon Valley and do a reality or "sur-reality" check on the state of technology. As William Gibson noted "The future is here, just not evenly distributed." Living in Europe has its own interesting sur-realities and in most cases stuff just moves faster (too fast?) in the valley. I have tried to take an extended period of time every 5 years or so and the last time was much longer than that. Besides, I have a lot of family in California and a day trip into SFO or San Jose just doesn't allow any sort of good catch up time.
I guess the way to think about it was that I was doing good old fashioned social networking, not internet social networking. I also had a few objectives that I wanted to accomplish.
First, I wanted to understand how consumer and enterprise were intersecting. As Geoffrey Moore noted in working session with AIIM, end users of software are asking "Why am I so powerful as a Consumer and so lame as an Employee?" The conclusion that most enterprise software companies have come to as the antidote is to make their software more like consumer software. "We are the Facebook for the enterprise!" they will exclaim. I have never been convinced of this and wanted to get other opinions, particularly of consumer internet companies. I also wanted to see if the traditional enterprise software guys are staring to get it.
Second, as we are approaching the launch of our Software as a Service later this year, I wanted to explore what the best practices are in operating SaaS in the Cloud. What are the adoption rates? What are the hardware requirements? What are the best practices in pricing and billing? How do you value a Freemium service? Etc., etc., etc.! Interesting there is more experience of this in San Francisco than on the peninsula. A real reversal of fortunes from when I left the bay area in 1995, not that either is doing too badly!
Third, I wanted a first hand observation of the Clockspeed effect first introduced to me by my friend and Documentum co-founder, Howard Shao. (It's too bad he was skiing in South America, which he always does during the North American summer.) The book Clockspeed (http://www.amazon.com/Clockspeed-Winning-Industry-Temporary-Advantage/dp/0738201537) by Charles Fine says that markets consolidate to a point of unsustainable Oligopoly or Monopoly until their whole ecosystem is exploded by a new wave of either vertical or horizontal integration. One example given was the horizontal integration of the Wintel platform that is now being challenged by new vertical integration platforms. These new vertical integration platforms have everything to do with cloud, mobile, social and consumer. This is going to lead to radically new ecosystems and I wanted to meet and work with the participants in these new ecosystems.
Finally, it's hard to overemphasize the role that personal life can have on professional life and the need to balance the two. I am of a generation that didn't do this very well and I can only try my best. Normally, I fly into SFO, try to see some of my siblings, niece and nephew, and the then head out to non-stop meetings as jet lag takes it toll. This is no way to do either. As my sister said last year, "Of course John, we love to meet with you and watch you fall asleep over dinner. :-)" I not only want to get some quality time accomplishing my professional goals, I wanted to see old friends and spend time with my family. I wanted my kids to see where we used to live and what it's like living in the bay area. In the end, I could have done better on this and everything really, but the trip was very fulfilling.
I will be blogging (I hope) about the first three points over the coming days and weeks, but not the last part. If we are connected on Facebook, you can learn all about that side of the trip. However, in the meantime, I thought I would include this photo of some of the old-timers from Documentum. We were able to meet up at the Hopyard Brewery in Pleasanton. It was great to see everyone so well and so healthy given how old we all are. ;-) I hope we can get more people next time I do this.