I just returned from my German Valley Week trip to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. German Valley Week is an organized trip where entrepeneurs, investors and politicians from Germany visit disrupting startups ranging from new ones like Uber or Stripe to established companies like Google or Facebook.

Each day we visited two or three companies and got an idea how they started, grew and eventually scaled out to unicorns.

Culture

The first thing you notice when visiting one of these companies is that they radiate a special company culture. Company culture is the most important thing besides having a great idea and kick ass engineers. John Collison puts it straight: “You want to work with enjoyable people. And nowadays companies don’t hire the best talent. People are joining companies.’ A lot of these startups create workspaces that focus on self expressiveness and creativity. Some foster living a healthy lifestyle: most of them had a cafeteria that served fresh healthy food. The borders between working and living blur. Radiating the company values is important, so they have motivational posters or art in their offices. (Facebook: No problem at Facebook is someone elses problem).

Educate

All startups we visited try to keep their employees educated all the time. Teams present their learnings, often across departments. Sales learns from devs. Devs learn from sales. And it never stops. If you use the men’s bathroom at Facebook there is a “Developer Learning Snippet’ and a marketing update above or in front of the toilet. They have walls that reiterate what value means for their customers. They’ve streamlined the onboarding process for new employees to perfection. Most startups have multiple big infoscreens showing progress, traction and sometimes even sales data. This kind of communication embraces deep understanding of the business in all units.

Think big

There is a german rap song by Deichkind called “Denken Sie Groß” (Think Big). One line goes: “Don’t build a terraced house, build a suburb… where you rule like a warlord. Think big!’. It’s true for everything that I’ve seen. Uber has big info screens that show realtime usage in every major city that they have expanded to so far. Facebook built a fucking Disney-esque campus to retain and entertain their employees. Sometimes a company has a very simple product - but it still takes a hundred engineers to improve it to stay ahead of the competition.

Thanks

These were my key impressions. There was more like meeting great people like Andy Bechtholsheim, Tim Chang and many more. It was overwhelming and too much to put it in one blog post. Big thanks to Kathrin Zibis, Chris Tegge and Nathan Williams for organizing such a great event. Also thanks to Stefan Peukert and Tom Bachem for nudging me come with you. I would definitively do it again.