John Chambers Preaches the Gospel of Startups

In a talk at Techonomy 2018, John Chambers championed startups as the future of American business and called for a national tech policy to encourage entrepreneurship and bridge the growing digital divide.

John Chambers (Photo: Paul Sakuma)

“It’s a startup world.”

So proclaimed John Chambers, former Cisco chairman, current founder of JC2 Ventures, and proselytizer for entrepreneurism.

Chambers kicked off day two of Techonomy 2018 with a fast-talking, audience-roaming call for dramatic change in how America views, encourages and manages startups.

“You have to go where the future is,” he said, contending that big companies will not add headcount over the next 10 years as automation and other productivity improvements take hold. Rather, he said, job creation will come from startups and small companies.  Big companies, he said, will have to learn to work with startups in a new way, even though most startups will likely fail.

“Today,” he said of how big companies collaborate with younger companies, “they either over-love you or under-love you.  We need a playbook for working together in both directions.”

No stage can hold John Chambers.
(Photo: Paul Sakuma)

Chambers’ enthusiasm could not be contained by the stage. He bound into the audience to take comments and questions face-to-face.

Chambers expressed great concern about the growing digital divide in the U.S., calling for a national tech policy and a rethinking of the country’s education system.

“People talk about STEM education,” he said. “You’ve got to teach technology, artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship. Those are the three cornerstones of the future.” He called for teaching entrepreneurship starting in elementary school.

Why? Because the best and the brightest students entering the workforce do not want to join big companies, he said.

Like any good preacher, Chambers ended the discussion with an uplifting message: Dream big, have the courage to make mistakes, and focus on strong, positive culture.

“You never have a great company without a great culture,” he said. “Start with what you’re trying to accomplish.  Find your end game before you make your first move. I made a lot of mistakes. I wish I dreamed bigger.”

Watch the Chambers’ talk:

 

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