Every piece of technology that works seamlessly, every product that's designed without flaw, every business that solves a problem millions of people didn't even know they had - those ideas had to start somewhere. And while the business machine is infinitely complex and ever-shifting, many earth-shattering ideas seem to trace back to similar sources.
Some call them influencers. Some use more descriptive terms like 'tech titans,' but any term of reverence is likely to sell short the contribution that a few of the tech business world's elite have made on every aspect of business in the Valley and beyond. From product design to work environment to business models, these elite entrepreneurs continue to shape innovation in multiple facets, directly and indirectly.
All hail these seven movers and shakers:
1. Jared Spool, founder, User Interface Engineering
In Jared's utopia, design is king and currency. He believes organizations need to make user experience the top priority at every step of product development, which means everyone within an organization should be well-versed on what makes good design. And if they're not, Jared advocates for team members to spend time every six weeks observing users interacting with a product to see first-hand how design influences functionality. It's all part of infusing design into business, which also means that design is DNA in Jared's world.
2. Aaron Levie, CEO, Box
When Aaron switched his company to a freemium-based subscription model early in the game, it was met with some raised eyebrows from investors and tech insiders alike. Now, as Box continues to grow into new industries, the company is reaping the benefits of its CEO's aggressive move. Which makes sense, considering Aaron is one of the most productive founders in tech. A fundamental fear of being disrupted can either drive an entrepreneur crazy or drive them to stay ten steps ahead. In Aaron's case, there's no sleep until the next innovation.
3. Stewart Butterfield, founder, Slack
When innovation turns into ubiquity, you know you've done something right. The product team assembled at Slack under Stewart's leadership understood right away the importance of embedding personality into technology as a way of driving engagement. Boiled down to one word, Slack is about "Play." Ironic coming from an app that helps workplaces be more productive, but that's the secret to the company's success. A sense of fun and wonder is built into the working environment, is a job requirement for employees and is carried out in the product itself. Because what's the point of innovating if you can't have fun while doing it?
4. Ken Norton, partner, Google Ventures
As a group product manager at Google, Ken led his teams in initiatives for Docs, Calendar and Maps. So, in the course of a decade, Ken Norton fundamentally changed the way you communicate, schedule and get around. Now, at Google Ventures, Ken helps spot the next industry-altering idea. His essay on How to Hire a Product Manager has become a universal must-read for anyone interested in product, design or entrepreneurship at large.
5. Josh Elman, partner, Greylock Ventures
Before becoming partner at one of Silicon Valley's most influential VC firms, Josh made connections in social media. Specifically, he was behind many of the innovations in social apps that brought users closer to what they really wanted: finding available jobs on LinkedIn, discovering other users on Twitter, using Facebook ID to log in to other sites and find friends, the list goes on. If there are connections to be made in any industry, Josh is using his extensive product background to help them come to fruition.
6. Tomasz Tunguz, partner, Redpoint
Can data be sexy? That's what Tomasz tries to prove with his daily, wide-ranging articles about all things SaaS. For some VC's, sharing one piece of thought leadership a quarter would be pushing the limits of possibility, but Tomasz has quickly become a one-man information machine with posts that help SaaS companies estimate their initial valuation, check their disruption strategy, figure out the right pricing strategy and more. And all with infographics. Even if you're not in the service software industry, poking around Tomasz's brain will make you smarter.
7. Kate O'Keeffe, Director, Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs, Cisco
Back in the day, O'Keeffe designed bridal shoes in her boutique in Australia. Today, Cisco is her new house of design, where she helps Cisco and its customers address and solve problems through innovation. O'Keeffe created Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs (aka CHILL), with the specific purpose to drive disruptive innovation with Cisco customers on a global scale. Not only is the idea unique - the process is something to admire. The lab is a two-day lockdown of co-creation with Cisco engineers, partners, business units, and the end user. Called a "boot camp for innovation," the 48 hours include multiple sessions of customer feedback to help refine concepts with each round.