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X-Lab on Silicon Valley Innovations & Entrepreneurial Shifts

Xing Li, GMBA Class of 2017

On March 11, 2016, the X-lab held a seminar provided by Ms. Jessica Lessin, the founder and CEO of The Information. Before starting The Information in December of 2013, Jessica spent 8 years at the Wall Street Journal (the “WSJ”) covering the technology and media industries, following her graduation from Harvard University in 2005. At the WSJ she wrote more than 1,000 articles and news stories while covering Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and other global technology and telecom companies. She was part of the team that was a 2012 Pulitzer Finalist for a series on digital privacy. The team won a public service award from the Society of Professional Journalists for the same series.

During the seminar, Jessica explained the shift of business models of those high-tech startup companies in Silicon Valley, which previously focused on more advertisement-driven business models. This change is primarily due to the further development of new technology (e.g., Voice Tech and Virtual Reality). The percentage of ads-oriented startups dropped from 11% (2013) to 3% (2015). On the other hand, Jessica shared the insight of Facebook’s further development plan to promote its own instant communication service as well as its value-added functions like online payment service and news pushing. A typical ads-oriented high-tech company is now moving towards the value-creating business model, just as Wechat is doing in China, capturing new business opportunities. 

Jessica also shared some personal experience as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. She explained that the fundamental difference between working in a big institution and operating one’s own business is the target client base. In a large organization, like WSJ, the value created by the journalist is provided to massive readers. Therefore, more resources are allocated to gigantic companies, such as Apple, Google, and Facebook, as most clients are concerned with the information directly linked to the stocks trading in the market. The service provided by The Information, although packed as a Bloomberg Terminal, is access for a small group of clients who expect fast and in-depth news about Silicon Valley. After years of growing, The Information’s subscriber base has included executives, entrepreneurs, and investors from tech, media, and finance, and they hail from more than 65 countries.

Regarding questions of copyright and intellectual property protection, Jessica expressed her view that even though this issue can pose pesky challenges, she is at this stage focused more on increasing client volume and is inclined to focus on network building as a priority that may at times trump airtight IP protection.

Lastly, Jessica left her audience with her own golden rule formed out of personal experience as a young entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley, advising her fellow entrepreneurs to maintain a constant stance of openness to adopting new solutions while collaborating more openly, even outside their own organizations, around shared problems.