Behind-the-scenes at Facebook and Google X: Lessons in management
Devika Wood, founder and director of Vida, went behind-the-scenes at Facebook and Google X to learn their management lessonsElizabeth Oliver
It's not everyday that you get an exclusive tour around Google X's Silicon Valley headquarters, or visit Facebook. As part of the Mayor of London's International Business Programme, founders from the capital's top women-led tech start-ups headed to Silicon Valley, to learn from – and network with – some of the region's leading experts.
One of the founders on the trade mission was Devika Wood, the founder and director of home care provider, Vida. At just 28, Wood is one of London’s pioneering entrepreneurs. Listed in Forbes’ 30 under 30 as a rising star in the science and healthcare sector, Wood founded Vida after battling to secure adequate home care for her grandmother. With a role that encompasses everything from developing new technology to fundraising and people management, Wood applied for the Female Founders mission to learn from other female leaders. “You can sometimes feel quite isolated as a female founder, so getting the opportunity to represent our country and access some incredible companies was phenomenal,” she explains.
As part of the four-day programme, the founders had the opportunities to meet senior executives at companies including Instagram and Slack, pitch their business to venture capitalists and learn how to scale their business globally. Here, Wood reveals the lessons she took away from some of the companies she visited.
MANAGEMENT LESSONS FROM FACEBOOK
Complete with gaming studios and roof gardens, Wood explains that it’s hard not to be awed by Facebook’s headquarters. One of her highlights of the visit was meeting Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Described by The Telegraph as ‘the most powerful woman in the tech industry’ Mendelsohn’s career has spanned across advertising, marketing and technology.
“She was so strong and effortless in the way she put herself across,” Wood says, “she gave us a talk about how she built up the team, and she’s really inspired to promote diversity in business.” During her time at Facebook, Mendelsohn has set up women-focused employee events, and has spearheaded the campaign: SheMeansBusiness, an initiative between Facebook, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, which supports female entrepreneurs.
CHAMPION COMPANY VALUES
Wood mentions that Facebook’s workplace values resonated strongly with her. They are: focus on impact, move fast, be bold, be open and build social value. These are featured on the office walls and on postcards. “Having the company’s values visible means that you start to empower those values as a worker, and feel like you are part of the culture,” she says.
Following the visit, Wood is creating a mission statement, which outlines the values she wants Vida to embody. It’s important to her that her employees feel “empowered, safe and strong,” and have opportunities to grow with the company. “A mission statement is something that has to stay true to yourself as a leader, and that you want to resonate with your employees,” she adds.
MANAGEMENT LESSONS FROM GOOGLE X
With a background in science, Wood explains that she was eager to visit Google X’s campus, the company’s research and development facility. “We got to see a prototype of the world’s first driverless car, and we learnt about a high-altitude balloon that provides Internet to developing countries,” she says, “it was really inspiring.”
CELEBRATE FAILURE – AND STAY STRONG
As a female founder, Wood says that it’s crucial to remain strong. She explains that she was interested in hearing Obi Felten, Google X’s leader of early stage projects, speak about how the company cultivates a culture of celebrating success and failures. It achieves this through strategies including bad ideas brainstorms, and ‘pre-mortems’, where employees express their concerns about potential projects. In advance of a project, employees also create a page of risks and ‘kill criteria’, which allows an idea to be pulled if it is not proving successful. This encourages workers to face their fears, which then paves the way for better ideas.
For Wood, the standout moment of the visit was a talk given by advisor Julie Hanna. One of Silicon Valley’s most influential entrepreneurs, Hanna immigrated to the United States after fleeing civil war in Egypt, and went on to found five tech companies in San Francisco’s tech hub. President Obama made her the Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship in 2015.
Wood explains that as a CEO, it can be hard to overcome imposter syndrome – the fear of feeling like a fraud – but Hanna revealed that she still struggles with this. To overcome self-doubt, Hanna mentioned that it’s crucial to develop a strong support group. “It was amazing to hear someone who has made it to Obama’s group say those things,” Wood says, “she was open and honest.”
The support of the other female founders on the programme proved invaluable, Wood explains: “having them around you to give you that advice and support was incredible.” She elaborates on the benefits of the programme: “it goes to show how much talent we have in the UK – it’s a true representation of what the country is trying to achieve.”
Devika Wood is the founder and director of Vida. For more information about the Mayor of London’s International Business Programme, visit gotogrow.london. The CMI has its own network for female managers: CMI Women