Kevin Smith of The Vault - Innovating Silicon Valley

Kevin Smith, Founder and CEO of The Vault, was kind enough to let us hang out in their beautiful collaboration workspace for a day and book a whole day of interviews with their members and others.

Kevin describes The Vault as an experiment founded with an original idea to create a better place for startups to grow and accelerate. The space itself is beautifully designed with a sophisticated retro speakeasy feel. You walk downstairs into The Vault and are surrounded by exposed brick and beams in a building that itself goes back before the big SF earthquake of 1906. Now in its 4th year of operation, The Vault has grown into a full stack innovation ecosystem with hundreds of events and thousands of people flowing through its spaces every year. The focus is on helping startups accelerate their growth by creating an intentional space that creates opportunities for collaboration as well as hosting a robust platform of events, workshops, bootcamps, founder happy hours, and invite only events for investors.

Another key focus of The Vault is its VIA (Vault Innovation Academy) and VIS (Vault Innovation Services) programs roll out, with Bill O’Connor at the helm, formerly the head of Autodesk’s innovation strategy team, Bill leads bootcamps around the world teaching corporate executives scalable and repeatable practices for developing innovation. If there’s one thing that’s hard for large corporations is the ability to innovate regularly due to structural limitation as well as limiting cultural factors.

With all this under one roof and more, Kevin sees The Vault globally as the home depot for the tech world, delivering whatever is needed for startups in the US, replicating The Vault globally in several locations, serving as a launchpad into the US and delivering programs that help startups and corporations alike innovate faster and smarter through shared values in collaboration and learning.

While large organizations typically suffer from not moving as fast as the world around them, and startups no matter how focused they are on disrupting industries still need existing players, Kevin wanted to bridge the two worlds in ways that would be useful for both. Bill’s work adds an interesting element into The Vault’s offerings. Having worked on the Innovation Genome Product for the last decade, Bill has researched the last 3.5 billion years of innovation across every sphere and pulled out the commonalities to teach people how to purposely innovate and to create an innovation focused culture.

One of greatest things to happen in recent years according to Kevin, is the transition of capital in Silicon Valley from the South Bay (Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Jose) to San Francisco. The shift is primarily due to the types of new companies being formed that make up Silicon Valley and the makeup of the labor pool, which prefers living closer to urban centers. This shift has also brought with it a change in hierarchies, and a break with the the old school stereotypes that used to be synonymous with Silicon Valley, white Stanford dropouts no more - San Francisco is as diverse of a city as it gets. That diversity is a great thing because it brings with it not just diversity of culture, but of thought, experiences approaches all of which come together in a better way when applied to technological innovation.

The goal of The Vault is to be able to bring companies in to grow, help them flourish and if the job is done right, they will move out when they are all grown up. To date, The Vault has done a pretty good job in its role as startup parent, three companies have been acquired, 1 has gone public, another is preparing its IPO and over $1.5 billion has flowed through companies in acquisition consideration.

Some of the lessons Kevin’s learned along the way both from obeservation as well as through his own serial entrepreneurial endeavors is that sometimes companies can grow too fast. In fact, really fast growth can be more dangerous than slow growth. A better way to think of it is in terms of momentum.

In every minute you are either getting better or getting worse, you are never exactly the same. That’s true for startups as well, everyday either moving ahead or backwards. important not to be going backwards b/c that picks up its own momentum that’s hard to reverse. Must make sure constantly growing , moving ahead in right direction while still not getting out of control, but always gearing up.

One of the most interesting things that this 200 year American experiment has produced. The realization that we have become a much greater place by virtue of taking in people from all over the world. All kinds of experiences, backgrounds, data points knowledge that vary. In many ways this is a focus on CA and SF. For Silicon Valley and for SF and for the United States to continue to hold leading position in all areas of human achievement, we must continue to bring in more people. The Melting pot is one of the greatest inventions of human history.


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