Vivid Vision presents on startup innovation to Zeiss at their annual leadership retreat

I had the unique opportunity to present to 120 of Zeiss

I had the unique opportunity to present to 120 of Zeiss's leadership, including their new CEO, on startup innovation in Silicon Valley. It was a great experience getting to know their new CEO, Karl Lamprecht, and the founders of three other Silicon Valley startups over the course of the afternoon. The startups invited to speak all had a link to Zeiss's business. They were:

Oren Yogev, Co-Founder & CEO, Blink Technologies
Developer of eye-tracking technology designed to reshape human interaction through machine learning.

Ian Shakil, Co-Founder & Founding Chairman, Augmedix
Developer of a physician productivity platform intended to re-humanize the doctor-patient relationship and address the burden of documentation.

Meghan Conroy, Founder & CEO, Captureproof 
Developer of a clinical media platform designed to improve the clinical photo and video communication system.

James Blaha, Co-Founder and CEO, Vivid Vision
Provider of a virtual reality system designed to treat vision disorders such as lazy eye and crossed eyes.

What can Zeiss learn from startups?

Here are the questions Zeiss asked the panel, showing their interest in how to move faster and innovate:

  • How do you shape a new market? What is the most effective go-to-market strategy that you adopted?
  • What approaches are needed for an innovation to become market shaping?
  • What does it take to stand out in Silicon Valley? 
  • Why are you at a startup rather than at a larger company?
  • Why choose Silicon Valley? Why not the Midwest or China?
  • How can traditional companies be more attractive to retain top talent?
  • What advantages to smaller companies have compared to established players?
  • What can Zeiss learn from you?

When asked this final question, I needed to pause and consider it. It is difficult to answer what a large company, with more than $6B in revenue and 30,000 employees, can learn from our small team of 15. My answer was that as you get larger, the average distance between your employees and the customers gets larger. When your customers are doctors, but the users of your products are patients, you have even more distance. One of the metrics we track is how many hours of human experience happen inside our devices. Although our company is small, people have spent several collective years inside our experiences in just the last month. For Zeiss, this number must be many thousands of years of human experience inside their devices every month. I encouraged them to track the amount of time people spend interacting with their tests and to think about the responsibility they have to make this time more enjoyable -- simply for the reason of enriching the lives of the people who interact with their products. 

Although our company is small, people have spent several collective years inside our experiences in just the last month. For Zeiss, this number must be many thousands of years of human experience inside their devices every month.

What can startups learn from Zeiss?

While speaking to Karl Lamprecht I was really impressed with how their company is structured. Almost every person in a leadership position has a scientific background, often physics. This means that managers are able to have technical discussions with their team. Half of Zeiss's board is made of employees, and the tie-breaking vote goes to the leader of their union. Their company is owned by a non-profit which receives a percentage of their yearly revenue. The rest is reinvested into R&D. While I think it would be difficult to structure a Silicon Valley startup like they structure their company, I think San Francisco could learn a few things from their set up. One of the benefits they gain from this structure is retention of smart and motivated talent, something that is normally only the advantage of small startups. At the larger tech companies in SF, it is common for people to move once every 18-24 months, and retaining talent is one of their top problems. At Zeiss most of their employees work with them for decades.

Our CEO James Blaha presenting to Zeiss's leadership on startup innovation in Silicon Valley.

I walked away from the meeting with a lot of respect for Zeiss and their organization. Although we are a small startup now, it helps frame our thinking on how we want to grow as we innovate and shape new markets.

~ James Blaha, CEO

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