The Xconversation: Software CEO Meets University Innovation Leader, Part I

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the Valve handbook. So, another company here in Seattle, and we loved that so much that we borrowed it from them. Really it’s the idea that someone has an area that they should be a deep expert in. What we’re not talking about is generalists. We don’t want generalists. We want someone that is a true badass in their field, we want among the top 2 or 3 percent, but that they should participate on the [horizontal] part of the T in other conversations.

So you might be a computer science, machine learning expert, but you should have an opinion on what we do in marketing.

Part of this is, we think one of the cultural pillars of innovation is organizations that have very few silos inside them. So what we’ve found is that T-shaped point of view helps get people that have these cross-company connections. Vikram was talking about it from a different point of view, but I think those are very related things.

X: You both care deeply about the local economy, and believe in innovation as its fundamental driver. What do you see as the biggest threat to Seattle’s innovation economy right now?

BC: We live in a very dynamic, disruptive time. And so it’s back to our starting discussion, which is don’t shy from innovation. Push through it, because what would actually threaten us is other countries, other cities, other geographies, that they can create a climate, a culture, that’s pushing innovation and more investment. Because it’s a couple pillars. It’s culture, it’s technology, it’s having capital that can fund ideas. All these things come together in a natural way.

Seattle, there’s amazing things going on. I think there’s an argument that this is the cloud center of the universe right now. People are spinning out, doing ideas. Chef is an example of one. The founders came out of Amazon. But there’s no guarantee, even with capital, even with culture, that that continues. And so, you have to continue to disrupt yourself and push forward through that.

VJ: I totally agree with those things. I think making sure that we’re broad enough that we are diversified—

BC: Yes.

VJ: —because the next innovation will come from somewhere else. The broader the base of expertise we have here, the better, which we are doing. That is something to make sure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket, which tends to happen with investment. Investors have to do that, but I think an ecosystem doesn’t need to do that. We can do more.

The other, I think, is the role of partnerships. The more we can partner—whether it’s with the Bay Area, whether it’s with China, whether it’s with the government and nonprofits—I think the better we’re going to be.

And the third is our infrastructure has to keep up. If we’re really going to double our population over the next 10 years, transportation, technology, housing, everything has to keep up, otherwise that’s going to be the bottleneck.

BC: I strongly agree with that. The Seattle infrastructure is strained, clearly.

X: It’s incredibly difficult to get anywhere at certain times of the day. That’s an issue. Another issue is this sense of shared prosperity, and ensuring that everybody has a shot at it. I think most people would say that’s a place where not just Seattle, but the broader innovation economy has some room for improvement. Is there still low-hanging fruit out there that can broaden access to the skills or opportunities for more people to get involved?

BC: For me, on this inclusiveness topic, it’s sort of the best of times, worst of times. The best of times is, technology is the great leveler. One of our UW computer science [graduates] grew up in very rural Washington, a place with a broken, post-farming economy, that was really struggling. If you look at this at the micro-level, there are these great examples.

At the macro level, in aggregate, the picture gets less rosy, and that’s something that as a society we’re going to really struggle to sort out over the next 10 or 20 years.

VJ: The so-called digital divide or digital access, I think that’s a big one. Everyone’s trying, grappling with that from the high school level to college, and college tuition is part of that as well. I don’t think there’s a solution to that yet, but we just have to keep pushing and pushing on it.

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