We asked Jo Oliver and Pete Daffern to tell us about the Octopus Ventures Annual CEO Summit, which sends 16 CEOs of portfolio companies to California for a whistle-stop tour of Silicon Valley.
Jo, can you explain to us what the CEO summit is?
“This will be our fourth US CEO trip, and this year it’s my turn to act as the tour guide for our group of 16 CEOs. It’s an intensive three-day event, and we’ve lined up a number of iconic Silicon Valley leaders, including Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn to meet them.
“This trip is a chance for the CEOs to relate to each other at a level rarely found in the day-to-day running of a business. It’s striking that so many of our top performing CEOs have so readily embraced the importance of continued learning. They’re willing to travel continents and spend days away from their business for the opportunity to learn from the best.”
Have you noticed any differences since the summit’s beginnings?
“In previous years we’ve taken a group of our portfolio CEOs out to California, initially with an emphasis on exposing them to US investors. However, since that first trip in 2015, things have changed. The European ecosystem now comes closer to matching the US in terms of available funds. So, over time we have been moving our focus away from investment, towards transformational wisdom.”
Pete Daffern, an Octopus Venture Partner, reminded the attendees at a preliminary breakfast here in London, that while things have changed globally, Silicon Valley remains the mothership of Western experience for tech start-up CEOs.
Pete, who will the portfolio CEOs be meeting?
“We’ve landed a number of key guest speakers, such as Jeff Miller, former CEO of Documentum, current Board member of ServiceNow and founder of Miller Center for social entrepreneurship and David de Walt, former CEO of FireEye and McAfee.”
Is there a theme for this year’s summit?
“This year the focus is on positioning. Like most start-up CEOs, many of our portfolio CEOs will be all about product. But if your customers aren’t clear on what you’re trying to sell them, you’re screwed. Getting clarity on positioning, then avoiding the pitfalls of going to market are where the wisdom of experience will be invaluable for our founders.”
Other key insights from the CEO breakfast
One of last year’s CEO Summit attendees, James Brooke of Amplience, briefed the group on what to expect. “Pivotal change” was the gist of his experience. “Eye-opening”, “jaw-dropping” and “forces of nature” were other phrases James employed to describe his experience.
More practical, down-to-earth advice was in there too, such as managing the eight-hour time difference. James cited John Hamm, another Octopus Venture Partner, and Bob Wright of Firebrick as particular guiding lights for him. Both will be among this year’s speakers. James also touched on the loneliness and vulnerability of the start-up CEO. In today’s ecosystem, where stress-management is a requirement of any successful CEO, emotional intelligence (EQ) has just as prominent a role to play as IQ.
Pete, as a final note, what’s your advice to the CEOs?
“I would encourage each CEO to be present, open and vulnerable. You’re going to meet some spectacular people, with some invaluable wisdom to impart.”