There are good aspects to Silicon Valley culture.
Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley knows what they are and tells how to bring them into your community.
Guy Smith: Hello again, and welcome to another and a very exciting episode of the Tough Things First Podcast. I’m your guest host today, Guy Smith. As always, we’re sucking all of the wisdom and knowledge out of the brain of Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO, Mr. Ray Zinn. And today, we’re going to be talking about something that’s near and dear to my heart, which is how do we create Silicon Valley in your region. Your little neck of America should be like Silicon Valley, at least in all the positive aspects. It should have an entrepreneurship culture, it should have all the facilities needed so that anyone who wants to be a businessperson can be a businessperson. And so, we’re going to talk to who I think is a global champion of the entrepreneurship mindset, and see how we can do that to export it to the rest of America.
So hello, Ray. Great to be with you, as always.
Ray Zinn: Yeah, Guy. Yeah, this is an interesting podcast that you want to do, which is how do we create Silicon Valley in other regions, so let’s dive right into it.
Guy Smith: Well, one of the things I know is that you’ve got a passion for this. You have this side project known as Zinn Starter, you’re giving money to a number of colleges around the country to help seed finance student teams who have a neat business idea and need to get past that initial little leg up. Why don’t you talk about Zinn Starter, for just a second? Then, we’ll dive into Silicon Valley culture and exporting parts of it.
Ray Zinn: Zinn Starter came about because entrepreneurship is such a hot topic in universities. I don’t know of a single university or college around the country that doesn’t have some form of an entrepreneur program. So, we decided to get involved. We had, of course, Tough Things First, it was our main book that talks about how to run a company. So we thought we’d take that book as an entrée, and then encourage university students to come up with ideas. Not that they to be Earth shattering, ground breaking idea, but that they’d learn how to start a company and how to run it. So, we created a fund called Zinn Starter, which the students compete for at their university. If they’re selected, if their project is selected, then we help fund it to get it started.
It’s just they need mentors, people who are willing to work with them to help them through the process of learning entrepreneurship before they actually get out in the real world and have to actually run a real company. Again, it’s a university training program to help the students get the practice of actually starting and running a company.
Guy Smith: And, I’m enamored with the program because I’ve seen bits and pieces of it in operation, I’ve seen how the students react. I’ve seen how the schools react. And, there are people who may, in the past, not have had a lot of faith in themselves or their idea, but the moment that they get a little bit of mentoring, a little bit of money and a little bit of encouragement, boy it’s like a kid on Christmas. They light up, and they believe in themselves, and they really start punching about their weight and going onto the business world and making a go of it. I’m really happy with the Zinn Starter program.
But, let’s talk about Silicon Valley. I like to think of myself as a veteran because I was out there for 22 years, but you were out there pretty much from the start. You were out there in the days of Fairchild, and the Fairchildren, and I think it was the eight traitors, or the Traitorous Eight, I forget what it was. But, the people who went out and formed their own businesses after working for the market leaders at the time. So, what are the positive aspects about Silicon Valley? And, what should a region do if they want to build a Silicon Valley like culture? What is the first steps that they need to do in order to make that happen where they are?
Ray Zinn: Well, that’s a good point, Guy. What do they need to do? That is they have to have an atmosphere of can do. In other words, that’s the thing about Silicon Valley, if anybody has researched or looked into it all, know that Silicon Valley is a very can do attitude. They think nothing’s impossible, that the concepts that you come up with are limitless. And, that all you need to do is just apply some ingenuity and some elbow grease, and you can make it happen. It’s a very, very can do attitude that permeates Silicon Valley. And it also encouraged these financial organizations to come in and help fund these companies, because they felt the excitement, too.
The thing that I’ve noticed, having been in Silicon Valley for over 60 years, most significant is just how much excitement and can do-ism that exists in Silicon Valley. And, that goes back to the Zinn Starter program. Once you see these kids excited, you give them a little money and you get them a little mentoring, and they get excited and then, pretty much, the other students get excited and they want to do it. And, they want to get involved. So success breeds success, and just tends to build on itself.
Guy Smith: And, I agree with that because I’ve seen what’s happened at San Jose State University, with the Zinn Starter program. The first year that Zinn Starter was in effect, you had a few student teams who were definitely lit up, but they passed the torch. There’s a revolving cycle of leadership with inside of the Zinn Starter program there, so that excitement that they generate gets passed on, and passed on, and passed on. Each new generation out there tends to be lit up like a candle the moment that they step into the program and they see, “Oh yeah, other students did it. I can do it, too.”
Now, in terms of other regions trying to start that can do mentality, where do you think the seed of that passion can come from? My perspective is that local business leaders probably need to be more involved in spreading the entrepreneurial spirit. But, there are a lot of things that can influence the next generation. Who do you think should be taking leadership roles in any given region, to turn it into a Silicon Valley?
Ray Zinn: Well, I think the local educational facilities, whether it be a high school, or junior colleges. I think having an entrepreneur program in your particular region is crucial. And then, having business people who are willing to do like we do at Zinn Starter, willing to cough up a little bit of funding and help those schools in their entrepreneur program, is key to getting this excitement going. It’s just like Disneyland, what makes Disneyland Disneyland is its excitement. It’s that thrill. So, you need to create that thrill in your local areas.
I know that in West Virginia, at West Virginia University, which we’re also involved with Zinn Starter, that’s what they’re doing. They’re going all out to really promote entrepreneurism in West Virginia, because West Virginia is not known for it’s high tech. It’s more of a mining, gas and oil type environment. They want to change that, they want to develop a more entrepreneurial, more electronics and other medical type device environment for their state.
A way of really promoting Silicon Valley mentality is to get local educational facilities, like I said earlier, high school, junior colleges to start talking about putting entrepreneur programs in your high school and junior college areas. And then, of course, it spreads out to the universities themselves. It’s amazing how much excitement that I’ve seen, as I went around the country visiting these universities, we’re in about six or seven of them with Zinn Starter, how much this has really excited these kids. Listening to them talk about their various projects, they may not be the most exciting type programs that you would want, but you promote it. You encourage them. Let them know that you’re there to support them.
I think that’s what made Silicon Valley Silicon Valley, is that it just fed on itself. They could see, “Look what we did at this company, I could do it at another company.” And, it just bred. That’s the key to getting your region having its own excitement, is that you create that excitement through your schools and through other community activities.
Guy Smith: How do you see the local business community fitting in there? You’ve mentioned a lot about schools taking a leadership role and getting the excitement going. But, we’ve got local businesses, we’ve got local government as well. How do they fit in? And, who really should be carrying the mantle, taking the lead?
Ray Zinn: Anyone. I mean, it should be limited just to the government. Just someone whose excited about getting entrepreneurism going in their local community can take a lead on it. You can get a hold of us, we can talk about Zinn Starter in your community. You can just encourage local businesses to cough up a few dollars, just to kick it off and get it going. You don’t even have to wait for these kids to go through university or through college, you could do it with people in the trade environment, to just encourage people to start their businesses and to build a successful community.
Guy Smith: Well, let’s talk about Silicon Valley culture, and exporting parts of that to other regions. You already mentioned the can do attitude is one of the pillars underneath Silicon Valley and what makes it successful. Let’s toss, I don’t know, let’s say two more cultural pillars that have helped Silicon Valley be as successful as it is. Give me two more that any region should add to the list of cultural elements, in order to turn themselves into a miniature Silicon Valley.
Ray Zinn: Well, of course can do, have that I can do it, that’s the culture that is most prevalent that I’ve seen.
As an example, in Silicon Valley the way it got its name is because the material that is used to make a semiconductor is silicon. And at one time, in the very early days of Silicon Valley back in the ’60s, almost 80 or 90 percent of the semiconductor companies were right in Silicon Valley, and so they had a monopoly. The other way, of course, is to find something that’s unique to your particular local area, that you have some unique talent, educational talent, or some other area that you’re really good at. Whether you’re a paper mill making paper products, or whether you’re petroleum or whatever, find something that you have a monopoly on, or at least an edge on, and build upon it. It doesn’t have to be just an electronic. It can be in chemistry, it can be in automobiles, or automotive type products.
Just find something that is going, that has some excitement to it, and build on that. Obviously, stay away from buggy whip type projects, but garner the talent that your community has, whatever that might be, and build upon it. Monopolize on that resource or talent that’s available in your community.
Guy Smith: All great advice. But, I’m going to circle back a little bit to the can do, because I want to brag about your book Tough Things First. To the audience members who have not read this book, first, why haven’t you? It is arguably one of the best management tomes that’s ever been written. And, it’s called Tough Things First for a reason, because that’s part of the can do attitude, being able to look at a problem, tackle the tough things, get that out of the way because then that sets the foundation and the momentum for your company to go forward. So as you’re listening to this podcast, travel over to Amazon, find the book Tough Things First by Ray Zinn, by a copy of it right now. Because I guarantee you, you’re going to be infinitely more likely to be successful in business once you’ve read this book.
And, if you have other reading needs, grab a copy of Ray Zinn’s Zen of Zinn. That’s Z-E-N of Z-I-N-N. It’s more of a philosophical book, but ties together all the elements about business, people, employees, culture, your local community, your belief systems. And, it helped me make sense of the humanistic aspects of management and leadership. Definitely, a solid read for the softer side of leading people and managing a company.
Ray Zinn: It’s called the Tips and Tricks of Becoming a Successful Person. That’s what Zen of Zinn, is the tips and tricks to become more successful as an individual.
Guy Smith: And you know, we call could use a little polish. People like me maybe need a little bit more, but that’s okay. This book definitely will shave a few rough edges off of the way that you perceive your place in the world, and your ability to lead and encourage other people.
So thanks again, Ray. Enlightening as always. Let’s move out, and turn all of America, every corner of it, into the Silicon Valley we can do it attitude.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Guy.