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How we experienced our learning journey in San Francisco

San Francisco was the perfect combination of business, sunshine and teamwork. If we weren’t at company visits with leading start-ups in Silicon Valley, we were enjoying the sun in a park overlooking the busy city, and if we weren’t doing either, well then we were cycling the Golden Gate bridge.

I think the saying goes, “you can take the Dutch out of the Netherlands but you can never take the Netherlands out the Dutch.” I believe this is the reason we all found ourselves on, and I quote, “a very exciting team building day, where we are first going to cycle the Golden Gate bridge and then go to this famous forest on the other side… don’t worry, it won’t take long.” Famous last words!! So I went along – I like forests and the Golden Gate bridge is beautiful, so off we went. Well, we did see the Golden Gate bridge and it was beautiful and we stopped, took photos and took in the sights – it was great. Everything escalated pretty fast after that, and I mean literally. What wasn’t explained to us is that the forest is basically directly uphill the entire time, and that it was also about 20km away. We found this out too late though, turning back was simply no longer an option. We went on, and on. Cars were even stopping us by this stage telling us that we should turn around, but we thought it couldn’t be that much longer now. Needless to say, we didn’t even end up seeing the trees. We took the wrong turn and ended up heading back to the ferry to take us home instead of seeing the trees we had so badly wanted to see. On the round trip we did over 40km.

The most prominent theme in San Francisco is technology and the use of technology in companies, if it isn’t running their entire companies, they are making money off it or both. But there were extremes, with the companies being either heavily tech related or nothing at all, which was very interesting to see in comparison. For example we visited a blueberry farm which has no internet and only a home phone (landline), but is the most successful blueberry farm in that area. They had gone back to basics by looking at what they could do differently to other blueberry farms. All other farms are using chemicals and technology to run their farms. So they said let’s do it without chemicals and technology. They then looked at their packaging to see what would make them stand out and did that. Start-ups in San Francisco have realised though that technology could have a negative effect and have worked around that. We visited Salesforce, which is entirely tech related, they basically invented the cloud. However they value the importance of their employees and have managed to maintain a caring culture while growing to 25,000 employees and are listed on the stock exchange.

San Francisco is a very liberal city, you can be whoever you want to be and you can do just about anything you want to do, even if that includes eating bugs. We had the privilege of meeting with the CEO and co-founder of Chirps, they make chips out of cricket flour. This is far healthier and more environmentally friendly than regular chips or regular meat. The CEO explained how it had been difficult and a lot of work but they were very passionate about the product and the future that it held. They are looking to move into different markets and they seem to be getting it right, as the product looked good, their marketing was unusual but hit the spot and the product tasted good. They have the perfect combination. She explained that the passion is what kept her and her co-founder going and now finally everything was coming together. This really emphasised the importance of finding your passion and following it, and remaining true to that passion. Nothing else will keep you going through the tough times if you are not passionate about the product or the change you are going to make. So if you are passionate about eating bugs and getting others to eat bugs, stick to it. Others will join, there are a lot of people on this earth, you won’t be the only one.

All-in-all, it was an incredible trip, with many eye opening experiences and inspiring people.

Claudia Deken

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