For about a dozen years corporate Innovation in Silicon Valley has been synonymous Alan Boehme. From stints at DHL and General Electric, he moved to ING where he and Rachel first met. Alan went on to a spectacular career at Coca-Cola rising to become Global CTO, Chief Innovation Officer and Head of Enterprise Architecture. Today, he’s CTO for H&M and on our show!
For about a dozen years corporate Innovation in Silicon Valley has been synonymous with my next guest, Alan Boehme. From stints at DHL and General Electric, he moved to ING where he and I first met. Alan went on to a spectacular career at Coca-Cola rising and rising through that company to become Global CTO, Chief Innovation officer and head of Enterprise Architecture. After leaving Coca-Cola, he advised all kinds of infrastructure startup companies from Netskope to VeloCloud. Then he took on the Chief Innovation Officer role at Procter & Gamble. Today, he’s CTO for H&M group. But a recitation of his titles doesn't do justice to Alan and his impact. He knows everyone and is endlessly generous with his time and insight. He is a pioneer of the Innovation model in which a large corporation has eyes and ears on the ground here in the valley. It's hard to imagine anyone better qualified to talk about why corporate Innovation is hard.
Thank you so much for taking time with us today Alan.
It's a pleasure to speak with you again.
You have led Innovation for some of the biggest companies in the world from your home in half Moon Bay in San Francisco. In the decade I've known you, you have always been at the cutting edge of that relationship between Fortune 500 and startups. What does that relationship look like today? And how has it changed over the course of your career?
The valley has this culture of paying it forward. The valley has a culture of always listening and always trying to help. It's a very special place in the world. Many places have tried to mimic this and copy it in different ways. But the valley is special and I think it always will be. The relationships both personal and business just grow and flourish. Everybody's here to help each other because we know at the end there's going to be something better for everyone. I think what's changed actually more recently with the pandemic. It used to be the quick coffee in the mornings, you would stop in and say hi to somebody in the afternoon, or stop at the Rosewood for a drink after work.
Unfortunately for the last nine months that's all gone away and it's turned into virtual meetings. I can't tell you how many different bottles of wine I've now received for all these webinars this past year. I have 18 on my table here alone, and now it's turned to Whiskey and Tequila. Kidding aside I think these deep relationships help. I certainly enjoy working with young startups. I enjoy helping the entrepreneurs as well as working with the intellectual challenges from the large corporations and trying to bridge them together to build a better, or pick a better company. Make better Humanity for all of us and try to do something to change the world a little bit along the way.
Do you think the Fortune 500 is getting better at speaking the language of Innovation?
I wish I could say definitely yes, but I actually think it's a little bit of no here. Reality is, large corporations are set up based on processes and policies and its processes and policies are meant to resist change. Because the corporations are set up in order to just be repetitive in how they do things. In large corporations people change jobs a lot - the roles that you take you move from one school to another and therefore you have to constantly retrain people. People that are being restrained just fall back on what they've learned before. Certain corporations that have embedded people here that have now been here for years, have a heads-up or leg up on everybody.
But those are still trying to do it from afar - we still always used to joke around about tech tourism in the valley. That's still alive and well even with the pandemic, is just virtual. But it doesn't work - it never has worked. You really have to take that attitude of, “If you give something, you get something” - and most major corporations don't understand that.
Yeah, I constantly encounter this attitude of grinding employees. Just holding people's feet to the fire to make sure that they're producing and that just seems antithetical to me to the kind of work that we do here in the valley. Which I know makes us seem flaky Californians to the rest of the world.
I think it's because we understand the value of networks and maybe because we have so many companies that have built around the concept of networking and graphs and things like that. Most corporations don't understand that they're trying to protect everything. They're trying to segregate everything. It's on a need-to-know basis. Although IP is important we all recognize the importance of IP in companies that we build. The reality is things get done based on relationships and you get a lot more things done on relationships than purely on business structures and business deals.
Conversely, one of the things that I learned from your work at Coca-Cola and from the executives that I met when you brought them out to the valley - is that corporations have a lot to bring to the table in terms of diversity and inclusion. Some of the most dynamic and accomplished black women in Tech I've ever met were folks who had come up through the system at Coca-Cola because it's designed to support them.
I think that at a large corporation - Coca-Cola and others - the corporations have targets - they have a commitment I think more so than target's even. There's a commitment to diversify the staff and diversify the thought. What we've learned over the years, we've seen in the valley is that diversity matters. Whether it's race, whether it's gender, or whether it is diversity of thought. The more diverse views that you bring together, you actually come up with better solutions and better products and services.
I think the large corporations as you said have the structure in place to support this. They also have the brands. Guys coming in recruiting out of universities - it's a lot easier when you have a very large brand that's well-known like Coca-Cola and then some smaller company. That's an advantage they bring to the table and it's a great opportunity to work with those people and also introduce those people in the way of working in the valley as well.
Yeah! It's exciting to see some of the big valley companies finally coming on to the value of historically black colleges and universities. Particularly, now we have a vice president who attended one.
It certainly is. Maybe she'll understand how to also help bridge the corporations into large corporations in the Valley as well.
So exciting to have an Oakland woman on the executive team. When you look back on your work in Innovation, Alan. What are you proudest of?
I actually reflect on that question a lot. I think that I started off in my career thinking it was all about the change that I was bringing to a company. Or a product that was being created. But over the years I've realized it's really the impact on the people. The ability to help young entrepreneurs learn from my experience and learn from corporations. Having seen successful IPOs for people I've been helping over the last few years, many successful outcomes, acquisitions of others, and seeing how they're growing. The thing that I'm most proud of is I see them passing it onto the next generation already. The chain continues and so I think that's really what I'm most proud of.
Yeah, I think the real joy of this sort of coaching and mentoring stage of our careers. It’s just this disproportionate leverage on culture and the ability to work with these early stage entrepreneurs and then see that work amplified through what they build. It's a real treat!
It is and you're in the excitement, the enthusiasm, the energy that they bring actually keeps you young and it keeps your mind moving forward.
I always enjoy taking a few minutes - and every week or two weeks - someone comes to me and says, do you have 10 minutes to talk? I always take the 10 minutes to talk. Because I learn something and hopefully they learn something that they can carry forward.
Yeah, you and I know all of the ways in which everything can fail but they don't know that yet and that's really good to be around.
Around what life lessons are important!
Which is a great segway to my next question. If you had one do-over, what would you do differently?
I think it would have been born ten years earlier. I'm sorry 10 years later. I've been looking at it as there's so much that I know that I'm going to miss out on. I've been chasing things in the space industry lately. I have been very excited about what Elon and Bezos are doing and all the new possibilities there.
If I had to do it over, I probably would have gotten involved in the venture community earlier. It wasn't until 1995 which for many people here probably seems like a long time ago. But, it wasn't till 1995 that I jumped into the Venture community and started to work with some of the Venture capitalists - the firm's. I probably would have tried to jump in ten years earlier and maybe have had a little bit of a different ride.
Yeah. What do you think makes corporate Innovation so difficult? I've called it playing on the highest difficulty level.
Well, in many cases change scares people and Innovation is all about change. In corporations we have these things that I like to refer to as the frozen middle. Where I've been most successful and what I've seen most successful is working with the people in the field. So, people in the field actually can tie revenue to immediate benefit to what's going on. Where people are in a corporate office, they really don't understand what's going on. It's really strange.
I was at Coca-Cola and an executive there once told me - and I've kept this in my mind all these years - nothing actually happens in the corporate office. Money isn't made in the corporate office. Get out in the field and learn how the money is made and then you can know how to innovate and you'll know what to do next. By recruiting people that are on the ground and they're the ones that can break the lock jams. Because it's the bureaucrats in the middle that are stopping the progress and large corporations are filled with bureaucracy and nobody wants to attack it internally because they're afraid that the cogs in the machine and the wheels will just stop running.
So in the case of Coca-Cola, that would be the bottling companies, the distributors?
Well after the executive told me this I ended up going out on rides with the truck drivers and went out with the merchandisers. Everywhere that I went in the world, every country I visited, I made sure I took time to stop in and see. I did the same thing at Procter & Gamble. The first day I started at Procter & Gamble I was actually in Warsaw, Poland. Very first day they said, “What would you like for the agenda?” I said, “I want to go out to a store. I want to meet the sales team. I want to meet the merchandising team. I want to talk to everybody that's involved with stocking our product and selling our product and that's it.” That's how I'm going to learn the business. I'm not going to learn it by sitting around in a room listening to people. It's important whether it's the bottlers, whether it's the employees or the people that are touching the customers - and that's where you want to spend your time.
So I'm hoping for this new job at H&M that you've got yourself a new Swedish wardrobe, maybe some handkerchief skirts and an off-the-shoulder blouse?
It's already starting and it was interesting with the pandemic. The first thing I did was - I haven't been able to make it to Sweden yet. I'm here in Half Moon Bay. I'm working nights. I started about 10 o'clock at night and finished up about 10 o'clock in the morning. So it's dark for the Swedish winter, but it's also dark while I'm working. So I feel like I'm pretty much over there anyway. But I've been visiting stores. I've been visiting the warehouses. I've been talking to customers. My neighbors with their children across the street, are great customers of H&M. I've been doing my own market research and I've been sharing that information back and actually making videos and sending videos of what I'm seeing and what I'm finding back to Sweden. So, it's a wonderful opportunity and my wardrobe is changing. I guess I'm going to have to go through a whole restyling here pretty soon.
That sounds really great and I look forward to seeing the results of that. You talk about the frozen middle - the bureaucrats. What advice can you give to intrapreneurs who are trying to navigate that environment? They’re so constrained compared to startup founders. They have to keep their day job somehow while also pushing these ideas for change. Can you give them any guidance?
What I found is, you work the top, you work the bottom, and you squeeze the middle, which means get that executive sponsor or get the sponsor that has money because there's always an excuse that we can't do this because we don't have the money. What I can tell is when a company spends three to five billion dollars in advertising to find fifty thousand or a hundred thousand dollars - to try something, isn't really that hard. Sometimes it is just an excuse. Find the person at the top that will provide the air cover, that will provide the funding. Go out and pass the hat, collect money from multiple people. The more people that you have bought in - they have money in the game or skin in the game. Then work with the people at the bottom to implement. Once somebody is successful at the bottom the other people want to be successful and the people in the middle get caught between their boss and caught between the people they're supposed to support. It's always been a very good strategy for me.
Let me ask you about a specific case that a lot of the internal teams I work with run into. How have you persuaded account executives and sales reps to give access to customers for customer discovery? What scripts can you recommend for making that case that having an open-ended conversation with this customer won't damage that relationship?
Well, I think that it's picking the right person. I hate to say it gets down to the person that you're dealing with. The people that are open-minded are the best ones to innovate with. You also want to make sure you're not wasting your time because you need to know that there is somebody there - that there's a decision maker. A lot of it gets down to reading the people and telling a story. Storytelling for years has been a lost art within the tech community. It's been changing over the last five years. It is one of the things that I brought into Israel actually with Coca-Cola - the program that I set up there. That storytelling combined with identifying the right person. Go by gut feel. Because you'll know within 10 seconds if that person is the right person to be dealing with or not. And if not, just move on. It's not worth trying to go through and change somebody.
It actually comes back to the network. It's trying to build that Silicon Valley, Pay-It-Forward network within the corporation.
It really is. It’s knowing who knows who, who knows what, who knows who that knows what. Just navigating through that is how you get things done.
How else might you distill some of your experience into lessons for our listeners?
I think keeping your mind open, don't use the same methodologies that you use for judging large corporations when you judge small corporations. You can't ask for three years of audited financial returns. You can't ask for understanding the amount of money that they have in the bank that's invested. Sweat Equity matters. You also can't expect that you're going to have everything on time, all the time because you have a project plan, you have deadlines. You're talking about an iterative process and you need to learn from the entrepreneurs how to iterate. How to pivot in order to get to the end result. The most important thing to do is not look at purely the end result that you set out for, but look at what you've discovered along the way that you didn't know. Be able to change and modify yourself and modify your behavior in your expectations based on that. That's how the valley works.
Yeah, that's a very hard lesson for corporations to digest. I think it's the opposite of the way so many people inside large organizations work.
There is one other thing I did want to mention that was as important. Now that I'm thinking about, you have to be realistic about who you're dealing with. I unfortunately made the mistake many years ago and I put a small start-up out of business. I say I did that because I kept offering them more and more money to do things that they probably should have said no to. As an innovator inside a large corporation, you need to take the role of protecting the startup. Not just from the company but from themselves. Because it's very tempting to take a large amount of money because you think it's going to help you, but the reality is if it takes you off your product development plan, if it takes you away from you trying to get with your MVP, that takes you off your your future product roadmap and you're going to die.
And as I said, I did that by accident with the company, but they also refused to say no, so there's responsibility on both sides. But you really need to look out for the small start-up. If you're not willing to do that. If you're not willing to go against even some of your internal people in the procurement organization, or the legal organization. When you do that, you probably should pass on innovating first hand and just buy something when it's fully developed.
That's so true. We learned so much more from our failures than our successes. While the valley is famous for accepting failure. We don't really talk about it that much. There was a startup that I went into - and you know in my first week looking at the numbers and the uptake and the marketing. I knew this startup wasn't viable. If I had just spoken up then I would have potentially saved investors Millions, but it staggered on for another 15 months before being a fire sale.
I think you're absolutely right. But I think part of that also is the entrepreneurs have to be willing to listen.
That is true!
They're very passionate and that's what drives them is the passion. You should always be passionate about what you're doing. I have a friend that started a company and he asked for my honest advice. He told me about what he was doing and I said, “I don't get your go-to-market strategy. I don't think it's going to work. Here's the five reasons. Maybe you should consider pivoting over here.” He went ahead and did it anyway, and he and I talked to him two months later. He said the launch failed.
Reach out - there are so many people I know - I've known you for a number of years Rachel. You've been willing to share your experiences. Myself and all kinds of us that do. If you just reach out and listen, you will learn something. Take the advice that none of us will ever tell you - this is what you have to do. We always share it in story form and we always say, “This is what we've seen, this is what our thoughts are.” We're sharing it because we know that there's a way forward that you can be successful. We are trying to help you avoid some of the pitfalls we've come across.
That's it exactly. I think it's an acquired skill to be able to criticize the idea and not the person in a way that the person can hear. Because as you say, we're never really saying, “No, this is terrible. You are bad.” We're saying I don't think it's going to work like this. Have you tried thinking about it in another way?” I know from experience that it’s really hard to hear. I think it's on us as coaches and mentors to get better at giving that really radically candid feedback. It's certainly something I'm working on in my practice.
I think all of us try to do that and I think our biggest fear is that we're going to make the person feel bad, which is just being human. You don't want the person to feel bad. You want to keep them motivated, you want to keep them moving forward, but at the same time you want to make sure that they understand that there are lessons to be learned and they should listen. People get too close to what they're passionate about and sometimes ignore all the facts. I've seen it work actually sometimes but more times than not I've seen these things get off track and they've had to pivot. They've had to shut down sometimes and just sort of rethink what they're doing.
I know that for me, focusing on the fact that the money I have invested a lot of times is College Endowment funds or State Pension funds. It helps me refocus on the question of “Are we spending this money as wisely as we possibly can?”
I think corporations should actually adopt some of that. I think I've tried to bring into corporations some of the things I've learned about investors such as you and others - you look at a portfolio. You're balancing things and sometimes we look for straight Financial returns. Other times I think that we need to be looking at what's the impact on society and what good we doing in the world. I don't know that we're doing enough of that in corporations today. I think many times, many of the large traditional corporations go right back to what is that ROI? Sometimes these ROI’s are not quantifiable because they have a bigger benefit to society. We have to learn to adapt to that and understand that we're here for a bigger purpose in life. Not necessarily just to make money for our shareholders, but there's multiple ways to make money for the shareholders - in addition to just financial returns.
I think we are seeing corporations backup from their social responsibility function. It's because we're in an economic downturn and as a reference to the famous Sequoia debt - cash is King whenever the market is particularly volatile. These really are the times when you can lay down a legacy, where you can start to build really Innovative things. I would love to see more corporations investing in good and for benefit initiatives.
I think that gets down to the leadership. One of the reasons that I joined H&M was - I wasn't looking for a job. I was happy at Procter and Gamble and somebody said to me actually at a venture fund - “Would you mind talking to the CEO of H&M and just talk to them about Innovation? Talk to them about what they need to look at from a technology perspective and give them that valley perspective. So, I talked to them. I actually flew over to Sweden because I happen to be going to Europe anyway. We had a talk and I sat down and after hearing the story of H&M, after talking to the people, I said, “I like the people, I love the values. I like the principles on which they're operating. It's a company that really believes in circularity. It believes in sustainability.” I said, “I want to be part of this.” Even through the pandemic I'll tell you the company has been investing in all of the things that are right back to the values of the founders in the values that we're talking about everyday. I really admire the company for doing that - being there nine months. I'm very proud to see us be part of that and not just be looking at the bottom line on a daily basis.
That sense of mission to me is even more important now that we're working from home. Getting out of bed and getting yourself to your home office. You need a reason to do that and believing in the work that you're doing is the best reason there is.
It is and when you see this in that, we see it implemented and you can touch it and you feel it be it either virtually or in a physical sense. Then you know that you're doing something good for the world. You know you're doing something worthwhile with your life. It's great to pursue money. I think all of us need that to take care of our families and to be able to provide a better life for our children and things. At the same time, I've really focused more on what I can do for humanity and that's why my interests have been changing. Changing toward new technology and new ways of doing things that are going to have a lasting impact.
There is definitely that point in your career where you hit the point of enough money and incrementally more money is not going to substantively change your quality of life. It changes how you make those choices.
It does and I think it's the people that you associate with and the people that you can impact through these associations. They reinforce the right thing to do. Now, I have friends that have taken a different path in life and have started off in doing non-profit and they're very happy as well. But now I'm in a position where I can actually help them. It all works together. We create the circular society where we help everybody.
How do you think the pandemic might affect corporations in the long term?
It's interesting having spent time working with a European company and now living in the United States. There are different views of the impact of the pandemic in different parts of the world. I think that in some ways it's actually going to fracture us a little bit more because some of the societies are still very much yearning for going back and shopping the old way. They're not espousing convenience as being more important. The U.S. we see convenience is everything now. I don't know. As a global citizen I think there's more than one way, but I think it is having an impact on us. We can be a little bit more distant and use technology to bridge some of these gaps. We still have the social divides. We still have the economic divides that we have to deal with and certainly the developing countries are not faring as well as the more developed countries. I think we have to come up with the responsibility somehow to spread the way that we are working on things as well. But we're not going back. We're definitely going forward. It's just going to be interpreted differently in different parts of the world.
Your point about the geographic differences in the responses is really well taken. Of course, I've still got a lot of friends in Australia and New Zealand and the picture is so completely different there. But what I am seeing here in San Francisco as well as there is this resurgence of a sense of community. Things like the buy nothing groups on Facebook and mutual aid and mutual support. Which I'm find really inspiring. A lot of our guests have talked about the pandemic as the great accelerator of remote work. I'm seeing it as a great accelerator of this kind of community work as well.
I could see that when the pandemic hit there was a group of us that started tackling food deserts that were caused by the pandemic. We started trying things and testing some things and trying to see how we could solve those problems. We forget it's also the little things. I was talking to somebody who was sheltering - think she was in Romania and she hadn't been outside for a month and a half - and I was living down in Pacific Grove and spending time there. This happened to be during the birthing season for the seals and the sea lions. I went down and I realized she could hear that I was out doing the phone call and she could hear the birds in the background and she could hear the seals and she said, “Where are you?” I said, “Let me just put this on video.” She said, “Thank you for showing me a little bit of what's going on in nature.”
At that point I realized one of the things that I can do is use social media and just start posting videos of everything that's going on and all my friends and other people pass these on because everybody was sheltered in place. I think whether it's food deserts, whether it’s doing the little things of sharing, you're right. It has changed things dramatically.
Even here in the city in San Francisco and Oakland, there's been an enormous efflorescence of bird watching. All of my friends and a lot of the writers that I follow are talking about birds. I saw a study from Bay Nature saying that the song birds are actually singing louder and more diverse melodies now that they don't have to compete with as much traffic noise.
I’m wondering how the parrots - the San Francisco parrots - have fared through all of this as well.
The San Francisco parrots are not doing great. Actually, there's a disease that's starting to cripple a lot of them and there's actually a local bird rescue group that's working with the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill to help recuperate some of the parrots that have suffered.
That's too bad to hear that. So many of the others have thrived. It's sad to see them having difficulties during this time.
Alan something I've often wondered, as you and I have talked over the years. You do so much. How do you avoid burnout?
I was always brought up with the “work hard play hard.” I think that actually comes from DHL and DHL is probably more play hard, work hard. I think it's keeping busy. I think as I said earlier working with the young entrepreneurs of the startups, they provide me an awful lot of energy. That's what I thrive on is that energy. The peacefulness of living on the coast side provides me the tranquility I need to recharge. I'm constantly taking walks. During the lockdown in March I was walking 10 miles a day along the coast, every single day. Having the combination of nature along with that energy and then the intellectual challenge of working with the large corporations just the complexities that are involved, provides that balance that I need. That, I think, is how I keep from being burned out.
Another geographical note for folks who aren't familiar with the geography of the valley. Half Moon Bay where Alan lives is on the coast side of the coast ranges. It's probably a 40-minute drive from Palo Alto. Even though it's only a few miles as the crow flies because there is a big range of tall hills in between and so the coast side is pumpkin farms and farm stands and Wildlife refuges. The valley side is all of the strip malls and the corporate campuses. So you've literally built that work-life balance into your daily routine.
When I first moved to the Bay Area from Southern California 25 plus years ago. I realized that - I was working in Redwood City at the time - Redwood Shores. What I realized was, simply getting up to the top of the hill - driving home to Half Moon Bay - and I could see the ocean and I could see the fog. Then all of a sudden the stress of the Valley and the energy just went away. 15 minutes driving further down to get to the ocean. You were just in a completely different world, in a different place of mind. I think that's why I've never left the coast side, even though I've traveled and worked all over the world on a regular basis. I think that's what's happened.
And I think one of the less well-publicized advantages of Silicon Valley is that because the valley itself is so dense, and because transportation is reasonably good around here. You can have your European city experience living in San Francisco. You can have your pure coastal experience in Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz or Monterey. You can live in Tahoe and Ski and still be a contributor. There's so many natural assets built around this part of California that you can practice that work-life balance. If you put some work into it.
When you combine that with the great universities that we have here. Not going to forget the wine country since I have so many bottles of wine that I've received here lately. It really is special. The sharing and just diverse culture - this is a melting pot unto itself. America is a melting pot but the valley really is another melting pot. I think that adds so much to why we like to be here and why we enjoy it so much.
For sure, a lot of big-name investors and entrepreneurs are moving to Austin and Miami and Seattle right now. But someone was asking me about it the other day and I said Berkeley and Stanford aren't moving. They have deep roots here that make me confident about staying.
You have Berkeley and Stanford and you have Carnegie Mellon, you have Santa Clara. There are so many universities here that have contributed to the success of - not just things in the past but things going forward. You’re right they’re not moving. I think that we've seen exoduses from the valley before. I remember years ago the people up in Oregon were so critical of everybody moving from the valley up to Oregon and Washington and they really didn't like that and all these Californians driving up home prices - we went through all of that. Then there was a resurgence again. I think this is just part of that cycle and it'll come back around and the next next generation will find their way here. We will see more growth and more new startups and more great contributions coming out of the valley.
Yeah and rents have plummeted here in San Francisco itself. So hot tip to any aspiring artists or writers who would like to move to what I think - in my biased way - is one of the prettiest cities in the world. Alan, what is the best way for our listeners to connect or to follow your work?
That's a real tough question. I'm on LinkedIn a bit. I'm certainly on Instagram a bit. For the last two years, I've been working on two different books with some friends. Some of the time it's just to drop me a note. I tend to try to get back to people. I think my favorite story comes from just bumping into me. Just bump into me!
There was a start-up - a couple of young guys that were on Castro Street in Menlo Park a few years ago. They were at a Starbucks and I just happened to be in the Starbucks and they came up to me and they said, “Excuse me, but we’re doing some research for our company we are launching. Do you have 10 minutes?” I said, “Unfortunately, I don't. My train leaves in five minutes. I've got to grab my tea and go.” They said, “Great we will take three minutes of it and leave you two to get to the train.”
I thought this was just so great. It showed so much enthusiasm. I said, “Fine, you've got a couple minutes.” So they started asking me questions of who I was and I said, “That doesn't matter. Show me what you want to show me so I can give you some input.” They went through really quickly and I critiqued what they were doing. And then I said, “Look it's time for me to go. I've got to get going. I don't want to miss my train, here's my name, look me up on LinkedIn, see you later.”
So a week laterI got connected on LinkedIn. They said, “Do you remember us? We want to connect with you.” I said sure. Then all of a sudden I got a message asking to call me. I gave them my phone number and they told me that they needed to see me. “When are you going to be in Menlo Park?” And I said, “It's four o'clock in the afternoon, the sun is setting in Half Moon Bay. You're not getting me to Menlo Park. I'm overlooking the Pacific and just enjoying myself. If you want to come over here, I'll buy you a drink.” They jumped in their car and immediately came over.
They drove an hour and 20 minutes and walked up to me and I said, “So why are you guys here, what's going on?” They said, “We looked at everything that you told us. We talked to our advisors and we actually implemented the stuff that you said a week ago. I said “Well that's great I’ve been a lot of help.” They said, “But you've caused a big problem for us.” I said, “What do you mean I've caused a problem?” They said, “The throughput on the website went up 300 percent now we don't know how to scale. Can you teach us how to scale?” I said, “Sure.” I sat down with them and I spent time and I decided I really like these guys. We were having some fun, I was talking to them, they went through their program, and they launched their site. They said, “Would you help us raise some money?” I got some friends together and connected them with different people and they ended up closing the round. They're doing quite well now, they just closed another round here at the end of December. You just never know. So sometimes it's just bumping into people. I hate to say if you see me on the street but if you want to come over to Half Moon Bay when the pandemic lifts a little bit and we'll have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee overlooking the Pacific and talk.
That is a fantastic invitation and I look forward to taking it up myself. Alan, what does the future look like for you personally?
I have my hands in a lot of different things. I've also been an angel investor. I've been watching these things grow. I've been doing a lot of advising work over the years - H&M is a fantastic company. As I said, I believe in the values. I'm planning to stay there and help with the digital transformation of the company. As I mentioned I really have been chopping off into the space industry and spending a lot of time looking at what the possibilities are there. I think the amount of technology and the capabilities of the things that we've only dreamed of - My dreams growing up are now becoming a reality. I'm trying to find the best way to participate in that and I've been connecting with different people and spending time down at Space X at the Ad Astra School teaching some of the kids there over the years. I've been to the Kennedy Space Center where I saw the Falcon launch live in April, or I'm sorry in March last year.
Was that the Falcon Heavy, the big rocket?
It was the last non-manned flight before the first manned flight for SpaceX. I was in the VIP section there. Watching and meeting people and I think there is so much going on in that industry and there's so much change that's possible because of the privatization that I don't want to miss out on that. I want to be part of it. So I think that's next. Maybe one of these days we'll do an interview from the moon or something. You never know.
It’s a pretty cool time to be alive. Okay fast-forward five years everything in the industry has turned out exactly the way you hoped it would. What does technology look like in 2026 if all goes really well?
You can already see some of the trends. I mean, you know Quantum is here and then I'm involved with a couple of investments myself in Quantum. So that is certainly taking off. The ability to process information that much faster. Be able to distribute it throughout. By then we will probably be 6G not just 5G. Push more for things happening on the edge away from Central clouds. Mobility again being everything because we're never going to be sitting in any type of centralized facilities anymore. A world with VR and AR just part of our daily life. There is a great startup in the valley that is basically creating contact lenses that have augmented reality built right into them. The possibility of watching a movie while you're talking to your spouse at the same time, and he or she not knowing that you're watching the movie. I think it's a great opportunity for all of us to keep peace in our households.
I think everything and anything is possible and as I mentioned the stars, there's so much that is going to be happening in space. That's going to drive so many new things, new materials that are going to be coming out of the research that's going on there. New power sources that are going to come out. The ability to change how we're looking at sustainability. This is probably one of the most exciting times - the next five years for anybody. I think it's time for everyone just to jump in and be willing to try new things. Corporations need to try new things right now. Otherwise, they're going to be left behind and be replaced by the new tech companies and the new material companies that are going to be forming.
As someone who really appreciates the importance of nature to human psychology and as someone who's involved in the space industry. How do you see these colonies developing? What kind of gardens or biospheres are we going to build - not only to feed ourselves but to keep ourselves connected to that natural world?
There are people that are working on that. I've been working as an advisor with a small start-up called 4Space. They have a plant habitat that does not require any manual intervention. So seeds have already gone up to space. They've mutated in space. They've come down. They are doing work on what some of the new attributes of these types of seeds and plants are. As far as being able to grow and have food for sustainability and sustainable life, it's there. It's coming along and even just looking at the various capsules. It looked a lot different than the Apollo capsules and now private companies that are looking to build their own space stations that are no longer going to be relying on the International Space Station.
So everything is happening. I believe that the work that we're seeing from the boring company that Elon has of how he's tunneling in Las Vegas and putting in an underground Subway. We’re not going to call it a Subway - using Tesla cars to transport people. Is the same thing that we're going to see on planets in the future. All the technologies coming together. It's going to be great for people to think, what was impossible yesterday is going to be possible in the future.
That sounds fantastic. I would love an introduction to that company. I will follow up with you.
I'll be happy to.
Alan, is there anything else that I should have asked you?
I think that's always a question. I think the only other thing I would think is that, what's next for you or what's next-next. I think we talked about it, but I think it's in context of the pandemic. I think that we in the valley really owe it to society from the next standpoint to be not looking at how we're going to necessarily make money off the pandemic, but how we're going to help the world recover from the pandemic. There's a difference there. The money will follow, but if we do the right thing we can actually speed up the recovery and if we can speed up people getting back to work and create new jobs and take those risks now, then we're going to have a long run and we're going to have the ability to financially gain. I think next for me right now is trying to figure out how we help other people get out of this so that we can actually start progressing at a faster pace.
Well, if any of our listeners is in the market for a mentor, I cannot recommend anyone more highly than you Alan. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. It's been such a pleasure as always. Thank you for coming on the show.
Well, thank you Rachel. Thanks for inviting me and I look forward to seeing you in person as soon as the pandemic passes and grabbing a coffee either in the East Bay or in San Francisco somewhere along the way.
Looking forward to a glass of wine looking at the Pacific.
That sounds wonderful. You're welcome here anytime.
Thank you very much Alan.
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