Keeping Up

It can be hard keeping up with all the different companies working on autonomous vehicles!

I recently came across two lists of autonomous vehicle companies that I found helpful: The State of the Self-Driving Car Race 2020” (Bloomberg) and “Factbox: Investors Pour Billions Into Automated Delivery Startups” (New York Times).

The Bloomberg article summarizes the larger, better-funded efforts, whereas the Times covers fundraising by smaller startups.

Between the two of them, how many of these companies are you keeping up with?

Automotive Offices in Silicon Valley

This map of Silicon Valley appeared in Computerworld two years ago. Now there are even more automotive companies in the Bay Area.

One topic that has come up now and again for me is the intersection of Silicon Valley and the automotive industry. There are a lot of angles to this topic, but one thing I have generally been impressed by is how traditional automotive companies run their Silicon Valley offices.

There are a lot of obstacles to overcome: cost of living, new employees, veteran employees, communication with headquarters, division of labor across teams, multi-time-zone meetings.

The companies I’ve seen that do this well — and a surprising number of them seem to do it well — have the right mix of veteran managers and younger line engineers.

It’s hard to say exactly what that mix is, and it can vary considerably depending on the purpose of the office. Small offices focused primarily on technology scouting can tilt pretty far toward veteran managers on rotation from headquarters. Larger offices that are performing significant engineering work in Silicon Valley often succeed with a larger share of actual Silicon Valley engineers on the payroll.

The veteran managers provide access to the internal corporate social networks and informal power structures that facilitate progress in any organization.

The Silicon Valley engineers provide some of the raw engineering talent for which the Valley is famous, and perhaps also access to, “how Silicon Valley works”. “This is how we solved this problem at my last startup,” for example.

Another surprise is the number of junior engineers who went to school outside of the Bay Area, were hired by a traditional automotive company, and then shipped straight to California. These engineers have some of the attributes of veteran employees — their current automotive employer is the only employer they’ve ever known — and some attributes of traditional Silicon Valley engineers — youth and migration and audacity.

If I had to stick my finger in the wind and call a number, I’d say maybe 1/3 veteran managers and 2/3 Silicon Valley engineers (also marketers, business development, etc.) is the right mix, but it would interesting to have firmer numbers on this. It also seems like a good case study for a business school.

Ford Smart Mobility LLC

Disclosure: I work in the same building as some of the Ford Smart Mobility LLC staff, but I don’t work in the LLC and I certainly am not speaking for them here. In fact, I’m basically just regurgitating news reported elsewhere.

Design News has a writeup of a panel discussion including a pair of Ford executives, Patrick Ellis and Dave Kaminski.

According to the article, Ford has created Smart Mobility as a means of creating a more nimble organization that functions more like a startup. This is almost straight out of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Ellis also explained why Ford Smart Mobility LLC is excited to work with startups:

Ellis said that Ford sees working with startups as a mutually beneficial arrangement. Larger companies like Ford get access to new, innovative technologies, while startups benefit from Ford’s infrastructure. “Everyone in Silicon Valley is an entrepreneur, everyone has an idea they think is great and can develop and change the world. Which is great — it’s motivation, it’s passion, which is something that you just can’t buy,” Ellis said. “Most of the startups are removed from the traditional OEMs or the Tier 1 suppliers and that’s really one of the things that gives us a brand new scope of opportunity. Instead of the traditional methods that we use to either learn about a technology or start developing it, we’re actually going Tier 2 or lower right in the beginning.” It’s in this space where Ellis said Ford is really finding opportunties to partner with and potentially invest in startups.

So if you are a startup working in the automotive space, Ford would like to work with you!