Over the course of 5 days in early August 2017, 6 Kyoto University undergraduate students, my Professor — Chihiro Suematsu— and I, visited 6 top technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were fortunate enough to visit my former colleagues and extended network at Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Airbnb, and Google.
- Day 1: Twitter
- Day 2: Facebook
- Day 3: Amazon & Apple
- Day 4: Airbnb
- Day 5: Google
In Part I, I will highlight the main takeaways of our visits at the first 3 companies: Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon. In Part II, I will share key information about the final 3 companies: Apple, Airbnb, and Google.
1. In Silicon Valley, Apple has been known to have an antithetical company culture to Google. As one good friend explained to me, Apple and Google are “fre-nemies.” Occasionally, they are strong political allies on initiatives such as pro-DACA and other overarching policies that promote the entire technology industry, but they are also competitive foes.
But at the end of the day, I would argue that both companies fundamentally operate in different sectors — Google makes 97% of its revenue from advertising, making it primarily an online advertising company — and Apple make the majority of its revenue from “integrated hardware-software products.” All of this is to say that Apple and Google advertise different features of their company to appeal to different types of people.
2. When we asked my friends, Ibuki Kamei and Eric Soohoo — both of whom are Product Design Engineers at Apple Inc. — about the company culture and work / life balance, they both focused on the exciting challenge of creating cutting-edge, technology for the best-in-market products, loved by people all over the world.
Like Amazon, the company demands excellence from its employees, meaning that people really do work on invigorating projects, but they also work longer hours than most. From my personal observation, I've noticed that employees generally look sleep-deprived, but it visibly worsens right before a product launch. Nevertheless, Apple never fails to impress, particularly with the latest iPhone X. Impressive!
1. When we met my friends, Joseph Ferrer — Corporate Development Deal Lead at Airbnb — and Jonard La Rosa — Asia Committee Association — at Airbnb, not only did we learn that Airbnb currently operates in more than 191 countries, but we also learned that it has over 1,400 castles available for rent on its platform. Incredible, right?
In our meeting, we learned that the company's future vision is to expand its current offerings to include events and more, so that it can become a comprehensive travel platform to provide an outstanding, end-to-end user experience.
2. To that end, Airbnb's values and mission are critical to its success. One of its values is to “be a host,” meaning that employees treat colleagues as they would a good friend through active listening, frequent communication, and encouragement. And yet another is to “embrace the adventure.” This phrase encapsulates the need to be bold, take risks such as asking for help and acknowledging any mistakes, and approaching all work with enthusiasm and positivity.
The one that I enjoy the most is “be a cereal entrepreneur,” because it comes with an incredible backstory. In this video, one of the founders — Nathan Blecharczyk — shares the founding story of Airbnb. And one of the most creative products they made out of sheer necessity was, Obama O's and CAP'N McCAIN'S cereal boxes.
Through this scrappy and fun idea, they not only sold more than 30,000 boxes, but they also gained free national news coverage and most importantly, created a fantastic founding story. To this day, there are extra large replicas of the original cereal boxes that they sold in their HQ. And it's a good reminder for employees to think outside of the box and come up with original ideas.
3. Airbnb promotes a flat and informal hierarchy with very few key decision makers. Thus, the company thrives on shipping products quickly, being extremely efficient with time and decision-making, and collaborating within and amongst teams online to accelerate work flow.
For example, in-person meetings are seldom conducted. They mostly occur, only when important decisions need to be made. And rather than a consensus-driven culture, Airbnb promotes working independently, and relying on only 1 key decision maker to call the shots. As such, this type of working environment fosters flexibility, leading to opportunities such as working from home a few days a week.
4. One of the most impressive aspects of Airbnb, was its commitment to being an inclusive culture, as evidenced by its gender-neutral bathrooms on every floor. Beyond the physical, Airbnb is all about helping others feel like they belong, both inside and outside the company. That's why it's paramount for them to create the most inclusive environment possible.
With more than 12 employee resource groups and company-sponsored, community events, anyone from any background feels welcome and accepted at Airbnb — a feature that I hope is embraced all over the world in all industries.
1. On our final day together, we visited my ex-employer, Google — the megatron of startups, the darling of Silicon Valley, the other company with a movie about it besides Facebook, etc. We met with three of my good friends:
All three of them work in disparate departments at Google, so it was a wonderful opportunity for us to earn how they differ, and how they are the same.
For example, the recent Google engineer's extreme perspective on the cause of gender diversity issues, caused an instant uproar in the entire tech community and beyond. Of course, the company responded immediately by firing the employee, scheduling an all-hands meeting to properly address the issue, and publicly addressing the media by both the current CEO Sundar Pichai, and the new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown.
How each team responded to this situation, was captivating for me. While Charles' team met briefly over the issue to discus any concerns, Eddie's team spent countless hours discussing the situation at both team-wide, and one-on-one meetings. Regardless of how each team reacted, this Google engineer's striking perspective on gender diversity struck a chord in the hearts of many.
And while it was a difficult mentality to swallow, I believe it will help spur a more positive, humanity-oriented, gender-neutral conversation. And I'm positive that Google will work 10x harder to create a more inclusive, supportive, healthy, and diverse environment for its employees, contractors, and community.
2. Being back at the Google headquarters, spurred up many positive memories, all of which helped to reinforce my desire to work in both Asia and San Francisco as a VP of Empowerment, Diversity, and Inclusion, or a similar role. Google's lively atmosphere, the overall friendliness, and the adoration of technological innovations that will positively impact the world, was icing on the cake. Ending at Google, was the perfect way to wrap up our 2017 Kyoto University Research Trip.
Thank you very much for reading Part II!
Enjoy other articles with female founders in a variety of industries.
- Shaherose Charania — Founder of Women 2.0, a Network of Global Female Tech Entrepreneurs & Supporters
- Akiko Naka — Founder of Wantedly, a Professional Networking Service (Link to Japanese Article)
- Yuka Fujii — Founder of Famarry, an Online Platform to Connect Photographers with Users
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- Mariko Fukui — Founder of Aalto International, a Global Branding & PR Firm
- Emi Takemura Miller — Founder of Peatix.com, a Mobile Event Platform & an NPO
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- Omima M. Miki — Founder of an NPO & a Tokyo Resort Onsen Opening in 2019
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- Atsuko Mori — Founder of a Traditional Matcha Tearoom in Kyoto
- Yukiko Yamamoto — Founder of a Design Studio for Kimono Accessories in Kyoto
- Harue Itoh — Founder of a High-end Women's Fashion Store in Kyoto
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- Sachiko Okamoto — Founder of an English Language School in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture
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- Miki Yamamoto — Founder of a Famous Bakery in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture