Plugandplaytechcenter’s Wu: “We want to give birth to the next big thing like dropbox”– #blogbus

On day two of our Blogger Bus Tour in Silicon Valley, we went to Sunnyvale, California in order to pay a visit to the Plugandplaytechcenter. This wasn’t my first time at this location for I had already visited the start-up accelerator more than two years ago (see that interview with one of their executive in residence, Howard Greenfield). I had found the visit so inspiring that I had decided to put it back on the agenda in 2012. We received a warm welcome from the staff and even the President of the centre, Canice Wu. Here is what I saw and heard based on the notes I took during that visit [post originally composed for my business  live.orange.com blog]:

clip_image002Saeed Amidi wasn’t meant to become a business angel, let alone the founder of a start-up accelerator. As often, and especially in Silicon Valley, businesses are started with a particular objective, and then things shift and move to the next iteration of a business model. Amidi started with real estate as he was renting space to entrepreneurs. His love affair with start-ups and high tech started with “danger“, a smartphone (see the danger hiptop model on the right) company founded by Andy Rubin. As Amidi developed an interest in technology, he even decided to invest in danger, then PayPal and others. A new business was born.

[Canice Wu, President of the Plugandplaytechcenter]

In 2006, the US entrepreneur purchased the current Sunnyvale building, an “old Philips Semiconductor facility” according to Robin Ardeshir, Corporate development manager at the centre; yet, “old” is a very relative adjective in Silicon Valley! The building’s big, with its 17,000 m² and it can host up to 350 start-ups, from early two growth stages. On average, the start-ups employ five people. There are also “virtual members” who have no fixed space but can enjoy all of the services. This building is one of several buildings which are owned by the Plugandplaytechcenter company.

5 things that plug-in plaintext centre offers

The centre is a start-up accelerator, not an incubator, and they work with partners such as Y-combinator for instance: “our focus is not on competition but partnership with people like that” Plugandplaytechcenter President Canice Wu added. So here is what the centre does, in just five points:

  1. office space: that includes pretty much everything, from facilities, Internet access, conference rooms to data centre on premises. This is the legacy business of Saeed Amidi.
  2. events and networking: the centre puts together 120 events per annum, that is one every 3 days!
  3. access to capital: this is typically done via the so-called “deal flow sessions”. The centre receives 3000 resumes each year, 200 are pre-screened, 10 are selected and 4 to 5 go through the whole process until they eventually are offered to see the VCs. Out of these 4 or 5, there is a 50% follow-up rate, the centre representative told us. As one can see, this process is fairly strict; this is a means of ensuring quality and, eventually, success.
  4. access to large corporations: is also one of the main ingredients of success at the Plugandplaytechcenter. Large enterprises like IBM and others are present onsite even though some of them are not in high-tech at all. The automotive industry is particularly well represented.
  5. last but not least, mentorship is delivered thanks to the centres executive in residence, while former sea level execs either in between jobs or even retired. They might even join start-up for a while in order to monitor its takeoff.

the centre abroad

Towards the end of 2010, while on visit to the Egyptian version of Silicon Valley I had noticed a booth which bore the logo of the centre. Unfortunately, Plugandplaytechcenter was launched in Cairo for only 3 days, right before the Arab spring Canice Wu told us. Yet, there many other locations in which a Plugandplaytechcenter can be found such as Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia

beyond Facebook

“This is definitely not the end of innovation” Canice Wu told us while we were there. “There is more than just Facebook going on here!” he said, “there are a lot of things going on in B2C and B2B alike”. “We even have a 15 year-old entrepreneur in the center” Wu added.

giving birth to the next big thing…

“We are looking for big things. We are ready to screw up a few, to give birth to the next big thing like dropbox” Wu declared in front of our bloggers. We don’t encourage failure, we encourage them to try, sometimes they fail but they manage the third time round! We can tell when we have found a good guy and then we encourage him” he concluded.

my views on the Silicon Valley Blogger Bus tour – #blogbus (2/2)

For those who don’t know yet, I (as Director, Web & Social Media at Orange), I will be part of the Silicon Valley Blogger Bus Tour 2012, which will take place in September (17-22) as a blogger … and the organiser of that tour. Here is my take on why I am participating and what I am expecting to do/see there:

I’m a Jack of all trades. I’m not just a blogger, I’m also the organizer of the Tour. On this Tour we’re dealing with blogger PR in a different way than it usually is done in big companies like this.

What we do here is we partner with the bloggers : we work together as a team, and the fact that I’m also a blogger makes it possible. It’s a matter of us going over there together, reporting and sharing our enthusiasm and content.

To me this is very important : it’s how good content is produced and engrossing stories started. And I’m not even talking about the friendships that are being initiated between members. Undoubtedly those who are taking part in these tours are invited to other tours, depending on their skills and focus.

my views on the Silicon Valley Blogger Bus tour 20    12 as an organiser

We also want to look at the way we organise the tour. A member of my team is going to have a subjective look at what other bloggers are seeing, through their blogs and contents. So we’ll be able to tell a story about the story as well.

And finally, how are we going to tackle the main subject, which is innovation in the Valley? I really wanted to give a different angle about this SoLoMo (social,local,mobile) approach in the Valley, so we’re going to see many innovators to understand whether or not innovation is still thriving in the Valley although I don’t have much doubt about that, knowing how it is over there.

It’s my 7th time there and I’m sure we’re going to have an exciting time. So stay tuned to the live.orange.com and don’t miss a thing about the Orange Blogger Bus tour 2012.

the Silicon Valley 2012 blogger bus tour (Sept 17-22)

the Orange Silicon Blogger Bus tour

This is neither my first blogger tour nor my first visit to Silicon Valley, but this is probably the most interesting tour I have ever put together. This is why I can’t help but share and relay Glenn’s excitement about the tour as posted on the Orange Live Blog which will serve as the platform for our reports in September. More will be said about the tour on this and other blogs, as soon as I’m back from vacations, recharging the batteries and getting ready for that new adventure.

Orange Blogger Bus goes to Silicon Valley in search of the future | live Orange blog

by guest blogger Glenn Le Santo

I’m excited! Genuinely excited, in that kid-the-night-before-Christmas way. Why? Because I’m one of the lucky 13 writers from Europe, Australia and China to have been chosen by Orange to go on a blogger bus tour of San Francisco and Silicon Valley in September.

The tour aims to find out what makes Silicon Valley tick. We want to examine the culture of the Bay Area and meet the companies, institutions and individuals that make the area what it is: a world leader in technological innovation.

The area spawned the giants such as HP and Apple – and latterly Facebook and Twitter. We want to know how the area does this. We also want to find out if it will continue to do so, especially as some observers (such as Y combinator’s Paul Graham) think the Facebook IPO might have signalled the end of the Valley’s long reign.

via Orange Blogger Bus goes to Silicon Valley in search of the future | live Orange blog.

Engine Yard’s Dillon: “a private cloud is an oxymoron”

As I was in San Francisco today, I managed to squeeze into a meeting with some of my former partners of the IT press tour organised by my friend Philippe Nicolas. Today we visited Engine Yard, a new player at the forefront of the implementation of platforms as a service (PaaS, i.e. the infrastructure side of cloud computing) for start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Engine Yard’s CEO, John Dillon (our photo), shared his thoughts with us on the future of cloud computing with a panel of international journalists.

“The most important change in IT since the invention of the PC!”

John Dillon started his visionary presentation with a very straightforward statement: “Cloud’s the most important change to the way we do computing since the invention of the PC” which address the points made by many of the detractors of cloud technology in the past few years. “All revolutions in IT start with listening to the user and what works is what starts small, in a trial and error sort of way, and then deciding what really works” he went on. “The cloud is scary is disruptive” he said but “it has the possibility to change the landscape for ever, and we are part of that change”

Describing himself lucky, Dillon said they had built a marketplace for the cloud and that they have two kinds of customers:

  • on the one hand, 2.0 start-ups who are looking to be the next Facebook. Dillon went on saying Engine Yard has 2,500 customers in 58 countries although they barely leave San Francisco. They can help our clients with the technology, but not with their business models.
  • Engine Yard’s other clients are Fortune 500 customers but it’s not about core IT, it’s about experimentation and innovation: and it’s working.

“We are very early with the cloud” John Dillon added, but “Corp IT are still trying to figure out what it means but most of the innovation is happening at the fringe, with systems that couldn’t be done 5-10 years ago” and “if it doesn’t work you can throw it away because it doesn’t cost much money” he commented. Most business executives who want to innovate turn to IT and that’s because of  the cloud. the impact will be profound and substantial. The pattern that the cloud is following is similar to past successful innovations I have witnessed in the past. “Big IT shops are nervous about the future” he said provocatively and with passion, “but the change will come and we’ll have to be smart and not tear up the current systems that work”. CIOs beware, “the tsunami is coming” he even added. Not surprising they are reluctant to jump on the bandwagon …

evolution or revolution

It is often asked whether cloud computing is an evolution or a revolution. Dillon’s answer is loud and clear: “If it’s evolution and it’s very fast, sometimes it means that things get broken. The consumerisation of the cloud is happening everywhere and some will see it as revolution, others as evolution. Some IT executives are very positive and embrace the change rather than fight it. A whole bunch of customers 1 mile from here are doing very crazy things [by that he meant Silicon Valley start-ups] but “most of the business done with cloud will eventually come from big businesses”.

IT departments are not liked

But there is one think anyone who has worked more than one week for a large company knows, and that’s the fact that “everybody hates the IT department” and Engine Yard’s CEO thinks that this is also the reason behind this (r)evolution: “users are fed up of asking for new things and IT departments answering either that you can’t have it or that you will have it next year” he added.

To him, a good IT department should say: “we should do something about it and use the new tools”. “A powerful IT department is one that is at the service of their users and shift more investment into innovation from 20% to 30% or even more” he concluded.

A statement no IT user would disagree with.

a private cloud is an oxymoron

But the other problem with cloud computing is the “old sheep in new clothes” syndrome, which we described lately in an interview with a Sugar CRM executive.

“If you a re building a private cloud, you are just shifting the budget from one department to another and it’s only a way for the IT department to survive”. he bluntly described.

However, Dillon is no IT department hater, he is merely trying to wake them up to innovation. “We are planning to become a very strong partner of IT departments in large enterprises” he said, “but they won’t buy anything now, it’s too soon; within 5 years from now, they will!”

The cloud is a paradigm shift

“When there’s a paradigm shift, legacy start denying it, then they try to highjack the idea (stating things like ‘the cloud is just like it used to look’) and eventually, changes will come”. “Some big IT vendors will make the transition, but the sales model familiar to big IT vendors in which you sell very expensive proprietary products, very complex and with add-on prices so high that the sales person can buy a new BMW will go!

This is the same thing that Dillon experienced whilst he was working with Salesforce. “10 years ago he said, CIOs wouldn’t want to talk to us, now they all do!” Having said that, cloud computing will not solve integration issues, and this is where IT departments will have an important role to play.

[photos, cc, 2012 by Yann Gourvennec http://bit.ly/picasayann]

Sujal Patel: “EMC shares a joint ambition with Isilon”

On November 17, as part of our November US press tour, we went outside of the Silicon Valley and took an early flight to Seattle in order to meet with the representatives of Isilon, a leading innovator in distributed storage for the past 10 years. We were greeted by Sujal Patel, President and Chief Executive Officer and founder of Isilon. One of the most exciting piece of news for today is the planned takeover of Isilon by EMC; even though this is not yet a closed deal at this moment, we were able to talk about that subject very openly with Sujal and his teams.

Sujal Patel is a former employee of Realnetworks, the company that pioneered media streaming on the Web in the mid 1990’s. All his work there led to the realisation that content creation was exponential and so was storage to support such content.

distributed storage and exponential growth

From such realisations, Sujal Patel deduced that Storage had to evolve and scale effectively and this is how Isilon was created in order to apply the concept of distributed computing to storage. The growth in the storage industry was and is even more and more overwhelming. Data is becoming increasingly unstructured with an evolution towards a 90% share of unstructured data in the overall mix.

And this is far from being finished, and there are predictions by analysts that there will be a 44 times growth in data storage from 2010 to 2020;  Gartner even announced that a technology like Isilon’s will therefore become critical in that increasingly chaotic environment. The company was founded in 2000 and it hit the market in 2003 with a focus on the Web and Web services. The size of the business is now growing very fast with a 77% year on year growth by the last quarter.

The problem of dealing with big data is a problem which all companies will have. In the future, all data centres will resort to virtualisation and fast networking will connect the storage systems so much so that Isilon views itself as the company which most clients will have to rely on. As it happens, this is already the case with loads of clients in and out of the Web 2.0 space. George Bennett, EVP worldwide sales exposed that France was Isilon’s most buoyant market due to the remarkable vitality of Web 2.0 services in that part of the world.

Isilon to become an independent division of EMC

The announcement was made on November 15 even though the deal is not yet completed. According to Sujal Patel, the deal between both companies makes perfect sense. “The EMC offer was considered the best offer for our shareholders” added Patel. “We at Isilon think that our technology is compelling, but only a larger company is able to take this business to the next level, mostly internationally” he went on.

Besides , Patel thinks we are entering a new stage of the IT industry and that the EMC-Isilon deal – in which Isilon will remain independent from the mother company – is a good means to help clients transition to that stage of the business. Today, new architectures are being brought in clouds, both public and private, the skills at both companies are different and the combinations of EMC and Isilon technologies will enable us to create a platform with which more value can be delivered to customers. EMC shares a joint ambition with Isilon” Patel concluded.

Know more about Isilon and the EMC deal in the following video interview recorded on location at Isilon’s head office in Seattle