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Lessons to be learnt from Google, Storify and Beyond - Blipfoto CEO's Silicon Valley diary


By The Drum Team | Editorial

March 13, 2012 | 7 min read

Earlier this month Blipfoto founder and CEO Joe Tree spent a week in San Francisco visiting some of the world's top technology firms operating in the Silicon Valley.

Joe Tree reports back from San Fran

Blipfoto allows people to tell their stories, through pictures, one day at a time. With over 15 million monthly views, it's a fast-growing social media hub, it allows its users to post just one picture a day to their journals.

Joe's been guest at the most exciting, creative and innovative companies in 'the Valley', from household names like Google and Nokia to the energetic start-ups (Boxfish and Storify) that will be the talk of tomorrow.

So, as he wings his way over the Atlantic, we share some of his learnings from the trip, from Edinburgh to Palo Alto.

San Francisco: Day 1

I'm in San Francisco for the culmination of Cross Creative - a programme I've been enjoying back in the UK over the last nine months. Nine of us have flown in for three jam-packed days visiting companies in the city and the valley, soaking up a little of what makes this place the global epicentre of just about everything new and cool.

Things kicked off properly today, with a visit to Telltale Games - a unique developer producing 'episodic' games with well known brands like Jurassic Park, Back To The Future and Wallace and Gromit. They have a fascinating model, which sees customers subscribing in advance to new chunks - or 'episodes' - of game content over several months, rather than buying it upfront all in one go.

Their games are all based around strong stories and lend themselves well to this approach, but in that industry it's brave to sell something you haven't quite built yet.

YouTube were meant to be next on the list, but disappointingly they were forced to pull out at the last minute. So, after a leisurely lunch in Palo Alto, we dropped in on a very young startup called Boxfish.

They've been in stealth mode for the last six months, quietly developing their product for a beta launch this year and it's almost impossible to find anything out about them. But they let us in on their secret, and it really is quite incredible.

Boxfish gathers every word spoken on television in the USA, UK and Ireland, and makes it searchable in real time - just like Twitter. Bonkers, but unfathomably useful (and arguably more so that Twitter because you're searching edited content from professionals rather than waffle from individuals).

It's the brainchild of two guys from Ireland, who uprooted and moved here because it's the only place in the world they wanted to make it happen. Maybe it's just because it's home to so much of the stuff which dominates my life, but the energy in Palo Alto is palpable.

San Francisco: Day 2

First on the list today was the Googleplex, for a two hour tour and lunch courtesy of the Android Games product manager.

Bonkers. Just bonkers. Completely and utterly bonkers. The scale of the place, the quirky stuff around every corner, the multi-coloured communal bikes, the dogs people bring to work, the weird bits of experimental tech dotted around, the staff eatery. All bonkers.

There's no other word for it. The geeks really have inherited the earth. Next, it was on to Nokia's Palo Alto research lab, which is another big building full of incredibly clever people inventing the things we'll all be using in the future. We were lucky enough to arrive in time to sit in on a talk being given by the guys who shot the first full length feature to be shot entirely on a mobile phone. Fascinating stuff.

The final call of the day was at IDEO. A company I've known about for years and one whose designs I guarantee you've used many times over. Their culture and process is their product, and they apply it to solving an incredible array of problems, from medical devices to toys to branding to corporate strategy.

Three global giants doing quite different things, but all flourishing because of their people and the environment they provide for them.

San Francisco: Day 3

I hooked up with the rest of the Cross Creatives for a quick stroll down Post Street to visit Beyond, our first meeting of the day. David Hargreaves and Matt Iliffe explained their unique approach to online marketing, which revolves around 'sentiment analysis'. They scrape social media, blogs and the wider web with a bunch of sophisticated tools to find out what people are saying about a particular topic, before working out how to build a marketing campaign which fits neatly around the existing conversation. Incredibly sophisticated and effective stuff I'm sure we'll see a lot more of in the future.

Second on the list was Storify, one of the companies I've been most excited about meeting. Burt Herman honoured us with a couple of hours of his time, talking us through his background in journalism, hooking up with his co-founder and why they launched the product. The synergies with Blipfoto are immense, because we share a belief that there's just too much content created through social media for it to be really useful. We address that by limiting people to one photo a day, they address it though a tool anyone can use to build and curate sensible stories from the mass of social media.

Third was Launchpad Toys, a very small, young team who produce an incredibly slick iPad app called Toontastic. They're punching way above their weight and they've loads more on the way. If what we saw is anything to go by, they deserve to be super successful.

The final visit of the day and, sadly, the whole Cross Creative programme, was to Inkling. They have this huge, sprawling office in the city with 85 staff, and I was expecting to find they were a long-established digital publisher. But they're younger than the iPad, and (at least for the time being) depend entirely on that platform. Amazing.

If yesterday was a day of giants, today was a day full of start-up energy. Hugely driven people with great ideas making them happen. I'm proper full of that energy now, and you'd better watch out, because I'm bringing it home to the UK.


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