As the world shifts paradigms into the era of voice and video authentication, cybersecurity, drone analytics and groundbreaking radar technologies, there are tremendous profits to be had for entrepreneurs if they move quickly. The global impacts of these massive market changes challenge successful companies to acquire a whole new arsenal of skills and look at growth in unchartered markets.
“Successful companies in the past were driven by the customer, placed a high priority on culture, set a vision of what is possible and stayed true to that vision utilizing technology to achieve its goals,” says John Chambers, Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures. Chambers was featured as a resource during YPO Innovation Week.
“What’s new and what will be needed to be successful in the future, are speed of change, digitization and communication. Digitization will occur three- to five-times faster than the speed that it took the internet to become integrated into our businesses. Every company has to be a digital company first with all the implications that come with it, and be great at communications.”
Prior to founding JC2 Ventures, Chambers served as CEO, Chairman and Executive Chairman at Cisco Systems. During his more than 25-year tenure at Cisco, he helped grow the company from USD70 million when he joined in 1991, to USD1.2 billion when he became CEO in 1995, to USD47 billion when he stepped down as CEO in 2015.
“The keys to success are no longer the enterprise companies on the leading edge of technology and the companies focused on the consumer like Google or Facebook. Success today means a blending of the two dominated by the enterprise side.”
Every business is a technology company
Chambers, whose mission is to change the world through digitization and startups, stresses that artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay and business leaders must utilize it and machine learning to their advantage to profit from both. “Whether you know it or not, you are all leaders of tech companies and you need to properly position your business for the future.” Rather than be afraid of technology, Chambers says, chief executives need to learn to understand.
As companies go digital, AI allows each to move with tremendous speed and everything becomes automated. Business leaders must understand their core capability, what is fundamental to their differentiation, and what context from high-tech vendors they can use. “Then as a leader, you need to raise the skill levels whether you have 200 or 25,000 people in your organization. Understand what and how you will do things differently from your peers so you can properly position your company for the future.”
Chambers advises looking at market transition and growing economies for future investments and areas to expand. “And don’t forget, you’re more a product of your setbacks than your successes.” While it is key, he explains, to look at market adjacencies, some of the qualities he looks for in startups to invest in include:
- Does the company sit in the middle of a market inflection point and do they have a market transition strategy?
- Does the CEO have a crisp vision of their company?
- Can identify what differentiates them from the rest?
- Has the CEO secured a strong team?
- Has the startup’s customer been asked for feedback?
- Does the CEO have a sustainability plan?
Currently, Chambers is focused on startups in commercial real estate, manufacturing, security in data and voice authentication, and drone defense.
Solving world hunger also excites him. “You need to take a leap and think about what is possible when looking to invest in a startup.” He is currently involved in a startup that hopes to eradicate hunger with advanced robotic cricket farming. “Crickets may make hunger obsolete and become the protein of the future.”
Scalability and growth
Uber’s recent troubles can be a case study for all leaders in how not to grow a company, says Chambers. “To move fast, you need to have replicable innovative processes that enable you to work quickly and the company’s culture has to be the foundation for strategy,” he says. “That’s where Uber went wrong.”
When growing your startup, Chambers suggests looking at the following:
- Make sure to have replicable innovative process in place that enables you to work quickly.
- Every great company has a great culture. “Culture doesn’t eat strategy for lunch, but it is key to the success of your company.” He recommends the HR director report directly to the CEO when beginning a startup so you don’t lose control of this responsibility.
- Use an ecosystem of partners for other HR roles such as recruiting, social media and crisis management, if needed.
Uncovering the markets of the future
What markets should you be looking at? “Focus on where the market transitions are happening and at the moment, it’s France and India,” says Chambers. France has become the innovation leader for Europe. Three years ago, this was not the case. “It is quickly becoming the No. 1 startup nation in Europe and it’s because of President Emmanuel Macron’s visionary leadership.”
With 1.3. billion people in India, it’s also a place to look to invest in. “(Prime Minister Narenddra) Modie is an amazing leader who is digitizing his country and growing a healthy business community,” he says.
For Chambers, these two leaders share a common philosophy that has sped the growth of innovation in their countries. “In the end, it’s all about your leadership. If you have great leadership, you can move at the speed needed. If you don’t, you will struggle to differentiate your business.”