My visit to Silicon Valley: Myth and reality

Digitalisation & innovation, 21.03.2017

On Sunday afternoon, I got on the plane in Düsseldorf and touched down around 15 hours later in San Francisco. It really does feel like I'm on the other side of the world here. With it being winter time in Germany, the time difference is eight hours instead of the normal nine. Is it really worth it?

I've already been to Silicon Valley quite a few times. This is where most of the top players in the technology industry call home. Be it Apple, Google, Facebook – all of them are here in the Valley. And that’s not all: the lion's share of the world’s risk capital (over 75%) is invested here too. Consequently, many start-ups from all over the world end up in this location, and many German compa-nies are attracted to the Valley for this very reason. Deutsche Telekom, Mercedes Benz, BMW, VW, as well as Allianz and RWE are here and are immersing themselves in the world’s epicentre for innovation.

Make the world of customers easier

We share an office here with Munich Re. It is part of a block where other companies, especially start-ups, are based, too. It’s called Plug & Play and is located in Sunnyvale, roughly a 20-minute drive from Apple, Google and Facebook. I feel like I’m back in my college days: young people everywhere, not many suits, even fewer ties. The young people work on their business idea, using digital technologies to make the world of their customers easier and better. We meet start-ups on an hourly basis and discover if and how we can work together.

Two of these start-ups are SightCall and Livegenic. They enable customers to report a claim via video call, thus improving the damage declaration experience. However, the special added value is interacting with the customer – especially when he needs our help the most. Two other companies are Digital Genius and Inbenta. They work inartificial intelligence and speech recognition to develop chatbots. They respond automatically to requests in the customer chat and thus enhance our response speed and reachability.

When I think about the Silicon Valley “start-up myth”, it occurs to me that most of the companies have not been set up in Silicon Valley at all, but rather in London, Paris, Toronto or Berlin. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, they all end up together here in the Valley, meaning you meet many interesting contacts. After three days full of visiting companies, having digitalisation meetings and getting very little sleep, I head back to Germany. So was it worth it?

At the forefront of innovation

Our presence in the Valley means that we are at the forefront of innovation. We get to know what topics are high on the investors list and what technology is on everybody’s lips. But we need to achieve even more than a listening post in the epicentre for innovation: we have to make sure that we utilize innovations to improve our business here at ERGO. Intense exchanges of information are important for this – so the visit was worth it. And because this interaction is so important, I will con-tinue to be involved: I intend to meet more start-ups in monthly video conferences over the coming months. Some of these companies will undoubtedly help us to become significantly better.

I really look forward to receiving your comments, questions and suggestions.
Mark Klein

Author: Mark Klein

Mark Klein is Chief Digital Officer ERGO Group and Chairman of the Board of Management of ERGO Digital Ventures AG. Here you find Mark Klein on LinkedIn.

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