By: Manoj Mathew
Next year will mark 150 years since the last spike was driven into the final railroad tie connecting the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.
On May 10, 1869, supervisors and crew members from three railroad companies gathered a mile above sea level at Promontory Summit in Utah to watch Leland Stanford, the president of Central Pacific Railroad, drive the ceremonial 17.6 karat “Golden Spike.”
Private enterprise spurred the railroad’s development. The government supported it. And as travel time dropped from East to West and back again, the intended increase in commerce followed. As raw materials and finished goods could be transported much more quickly, industrialization of the West picked up speed.
What’s Good for Transportation Is Good for Commerce
Commerce constantly strives to access new markets faster, moving more goods and more people, more cheaply. That drives investment in improved transportation – safer, faster and more economical. Technological advancements in AI, robotics and faster machine-to-machine connectivity allow asset-intensive environments to optimize their performance, take decisive action more quickly, collaborate among themselves and collectively learn.
Take the automotive industry. Carmakers are already reimagining the concept of transportation using perceptual computing (machines that interact with their surroundings using five senses) and pervasive computing (embedded micro controllers to make machines ”smart”) to speed travel, promote safety, improve fuel economy and achieve sustainability.
As the world’s population grows, however, and more people can afford to buy automobiles and other forms of transport, infrastructure and the global environment are coming under intense pressure. Clearly, our planet would struggle if every inhabitant owned an automobile.
Today, digital innovation has purpose beyond commerce: to tie people together without more gridlock; to reduce energy emissions (since even electricity generation burns fossil fuels); to get people from place to place faster, more safely and economically; and to develop innovative products that improve the customer experience — and their lives.
To meet these dictates for transportation systems, no development looks as revolutionary as Hyperloop, a low-pressure tube in which passenger pods travel at a rate near the speed of sound. The transportation system is designed to be underground or supported on pillars above the ground to lessen accidents and natural disaster risks. And Hyperloop proposes to cut rail and automobile travel times between cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., by five or six times.
Certainly, Hyperloop faces engineering challenges. Not the least of these is the effect on the human body of rapid acceleration and deceleration while having to negotiate curves, peaks and troughs. Other practical challenges include energy, efficiency and sustainability. But these are technical challenges that engineers are addressing, including alternative fuel sources such as solar panels, lighter materials, and combining magnetic levitation (maglev) with propulsion systems that convert higher air pressure at the front of the pod into a propellant that supercharges pod performance.
Early Hyperloop experimentation is arousing interest from California to the Netherlands, and from China to Mumbai. As for the practicality of transporting people safely, a development team at the Delft University of Technology recently revealed its ATLAS 01 Hyperloop pod, a half-size prototype of its design for a vehicle to carry passengers inside the Hyperloop tube. TU Delft’s graduate-level engineering team began development of its current entry in September 2017, after the first Hyperloop pod design competition was completed earlier that year. In that earlier Hyperloop competition, which evaluated the best pod design, the TU Delft Hyperloop team won first place overall.
Meeting the Hyperloop Challenge
The recent public reveal of TU Delft’s Hyperloop pod, ATLAS 2.0, comes in advance of a SpaceX Hyperloop competition that will take place July 22, inside a half-size test Hyperloop built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. The team whose model achieves the highest speed wins the competition. This is a tough challenge, as the pod must accelerate, achieve top speed, brake and then come to a full stop in a single kilometer, the total length of the test loop.
Cognizant Digital Business is supporting the TU Delft team as a Prime Partner in the development of its prototype. Its Hyperloop pod’s control system depends on an enormous array of sensors and sophisticated algorithms. Our Connected Products team is helping the team refine and test model-based simulations of the interplay of sensors, the environment and the vehicle. These models of the physical environment — so-called digital twins — allow scenario-testing of the pod itself, with the goal of making it “fail-safe.” (Watch this video to see how.)
This parallels Cognizant’s work in the similarly promising realm of connected cars, rail, airlines, even bicycles. We are providing the TU Delft team with advice and technical support to help ensure the reliability and safety of its designs. The team writes specifications for ways to reduce risk; then they write the software. We test it for them, against our own hardware and software. As with all our work, we’re seeking to bridge the digital and the physical worlds to create real-world solutions.
A New Legacy
The legacy of “the Golden Spike” was easier movement across the country, greater market access and larger profits. Now, technological innovation is leading us forward again, to a future of transportation enabled by digital thinking and technologies built around sensorization, AI, hardware and software design, and human-centered product innovation and engineering.
Humans will continue their quest to realize cheaper, faster, more sustainable modes of transportation. Other mega-programs, like Big Falcon’s effort to provide point-to-point space travel (New York to Shanghai in 30 minutes), are already underway. For now, Hyperloop offers the promise of a Golden Spike in innovation in the 21st century – one that drives connections and commerce that benefit us all. We’re thrilled to be participating in the SpaceX competition. The world will be watching.
Raj Ravindranathan, Head of EMEA Cognizant Connected Products, contributed to this blog.
This article originally appeared on the Digitally Cognizant Blog
Cognizant (Nasdaq: CTSH) is dedicated to helping the world’s leading companies build stronger businesses — helping them go from doing digital to being digital.
Elevate Scaleup takes over Toronto Sept. 26
September is festival month in Toronto, and with TIFF coming to an end, the city’s next festival begins. Elevate kicks off its city-wide tech and innovation festival Sept. 21-27 to celebrate North America’s growing tech ecosystem.
Global thought leaders will take to the main stage at the Sony Centre, and content tracks will take place throughout the city, with thousands of attendees expected.
With the rise of scaleup companies, one of the featured tracks this year is, naturally, focused on scaleup companies. Taking place Sept. 26, Elevate ScaleUp gives startups the unique opportunity to learn from industry leaders who have scaled real businesses, and have the scars to prove it. Startup veterans will give real insights from years in the field, on everything from hiring, to financing, to distribution.
The track is presented by CIBC and Osler, and DX Journal is a community partner and providing coverage at the event. The event takes place at Osler (100 King St. West, 63rd floor)
What can you expect? Here’s a full run-down of the day and agenda. You can get tickets here.
Kickoff from Julia Kassam (CIBC)
Welcome from Fast Company journalist Lydia Dishman, who covers the intersection of innovation, tech, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
Seize the Opportunity: How Canada is Empowering Startups to Scale Globally
Dennis Kavelman, general partner at iNovia Capital and former COO & CFO of RIM/BlackBerry, shares his perspective on scaling in today’s environment, highlighting the various hurdles associated with transforming a startup to a growth stage business.
Kickstarting Your Business Into a Market Leader
Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO of Knixwear, ran a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign—raising over $1 million in 40 days—to launch an intimate apparel line. In this session, she will share her scaleup story and how she financed her way to success.
Scaling Up: How to Pick a Working Model – Panel
Toronto has a robust network of incubators and work spaces supported by a diverse mix of corporates, universities, communities, and VCs. This panel will explore the impact and value of different network and work space community models for companies scaling up. Panelists will answer: How do you choose what is right for your company?
How We Built Hopper
Frederic Lalonde (Hopper)
Serial entrepreneur and Hopper cofounder and CEO Frederic Lalonde shares the growth story of the fourth-most-downloaded travel app. Lalonde will focus on why product market fit is so important for scaleups, including how to get it, and what to do once you find it.
How to Finance Your Business for Long-Term Success
Ecobee’s Stuart Lombard and Cority’s Mark Wallace know a thing or two about how to finance a growing scaleup. Listen to these leaders of world-class, high-growth companies talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly decisions they made in financing their businesses over time.
What Matters Most When Building a Multi-Billion Dollar Business
Join Colleen Moorehead, cofounder and past president of E*TRADE Canada, as she chats with serial entrepreneur and technology leader Michelle Zatlyn about what matters most when building highly scaleable multi-billion dollar companies.
Scaling Lessons from the Trenches
Osler’s Chad Bayne will sit down for a chat with serial entrepreneur Ali Asaria. They will talk about scaling lessons Asaria has learned in various types of businesses—from RIM, to Well.ca, to his current role as CEO of Tulip Retail. A year after raising $50 million in a Series B led by Kleiner Perkins, Asaria will discuss differences and learning around scaling in corporate environments, startups, and scaleups.
Scale Success: Launch Now, Refine Later
Ray Reddy (Ritual)
Most people think you need a perfect product before you launch. Truth is, you don’t. Ray Reddy, cofounder and CEO of order-ahead app Ritual, has lived by the philosophy: “launch now, refine later.” During this session, Ray will share the insights he’s learned through his successful expansion into 10 U.S. markets in under two years with an “experiment, fail fast, and move forward” mentality.
Leigh Doyle and Chris Hogg will do a rapid-fire interviews on stage with keynotes.
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
#ScaleStrategy Q&A: Borrowell’s Co-Founder on Why Scaleups Need Values More than Culture
Eva Wong discusses how the credit and fintech company keeps applying their values to support growth.
“I remember having a half hour conversation about building a sales team with our OneEleven office neighbour. He took me into a board room and wrote out everything that he learned and the mistakes he made in the nine months it took to build out his team. That’s just one example of our first value: humility. Admitting there’s someone 15 years younger who’s been in business way less than I have been, but who knows way more about this than I do,” she recalls.
Wong says values and the culture that emerges from them can help companies scale by bypassing cumbersome process and bureaucracy that can slow growing organizations. As Borrowell has grown from 4 to 45 employees, Wong says she has learned that values are more fixed — and crucial — than culture.
“In the early days, we talked about culture fit. Now we talk much more about culture contribution. [New team members] don’t have to fit into the existing culture. As we grow and change, the culture will too. The values are more important to hold true to,” she says.
Recently, John Ruffolo, the chief executive officer of OMERS Ventures, caught up with Wong to discuss why scaleups need to pay close attention to culture, how it impacts hiring and how to scale it as the company grows.
John Ruffolo: Why is culture so key for scaleups?
Eva Wong: There’s a really popular quote that says “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is what keeps larger companies agile. If people don’t intuitively do the right things on their own, you have to add process and that slows companies down. For us, as we grow, a really strong culture involves ensuring people understand how they help us continue to scale in a way that avoids bureaucracy.
Ruffolo: How would you describe the culture at Borrowell?
Wong: Culture isn’t about perks. It’s not about things we do for fun. Or how the company has shared interests. For us, it’s clearly tied to our values. Our values are:
- We’re high-performing and humble.
- We’re trustworthy and team-oriented.
- We love learning.
- Act like owners.
- Diversity makes us better.
Ruffolo: When the initial team came together, did all of you share those values?
Wong: I don’t think it was as explicit. When you come together as co-founding team, you just click. It was more implicit. We did read the Netflix culture deck and said “that’s what we want our culture to be!” We knew we’d have to articulate it one day because people were asking what our culture is and we wanted to be consistent in how we described it.
Ruffolo: How did the culture shift as you grew from 4 to 45 employees?
Wong: We didn’t have our values established or written down when we were four people. That came when we were maybe 16 to 20. It was a collaborative, organic, bottom-up approach where we asked employees, ”What’s different about working here than other places you’ve worked?” People shared different things and we came up with the values that way.
But as we continue to grow, culture is naturally going to change and we’re okay with that. It has to change. What we don’t want to change are the values. We want to add people to the company who add to the culture, not necessarily stick in the lanes. We recognize that as we grow and become more diverse those values can manifest differently. We still want people to act like owners, but it just might look different compared to where we were when we started.
One thing our VP Talent, Larissa Holmes, launched within the company is a competency matrix, which explains what behaviours we expect from team members at each level of the organization. For example, if you’re a senior director what does it mean to be ‘high-performing and humble’? It’s also a way for employees to know what competencies are needed to move from a manager to a senior manager to a director and how those things are tied to our values. Employees have to get better at exemplifying the values to move up in the organization.
Ruffolo: Do you think culture is playing a role for talent wanting to work with you?
Wong: One hundred percent it is. A lot of people will check out Glassdoor before they come in, so they already have a sense of our culture and values. We take the interview process seriously as well, since it will be their first real taste of our culture. On Glassdoor, people can actually post reviews of the interview process, even if they’re not hired. There are posts from people who we turned down but who wrote positive reviews of their experience. We try to make sure that people we are interviewing see and meet various team members from different levels within the organization. That’s important to us.
Part of the interview process is doing an assignment, which exemplifies our values as well. It’s not just about who can talk a good game. You have to produce good work, too.
Ruffolo: In interviews, how do you describe your culture to a candidate?
Wong: Like any company, you can put values on a wall. But you need to give specific examples of how you actually live them. Our value ‘act like owners’ is a pretty good way of encompassing us. We really do encourage everyone to think about what they would do to make the whole company successful — to put on their CEO hat and think about what’s best for the business. It encourages people to avoid thinking in a very narrow sense about their role.
Our ‘high-performing and humble’ value is a big part of who we are too. Humility helps us recognize that although we’re all really smart and capable, you can’t just operate as an island. You’re dependant on your teammates, and we need to listen to our customers. Humility allows people to be able to take a step back and have their ideas challenged by others.
Ruffolo: Is there one of your five values that needs to be taken to the next level?
Wong: The value — ‘diversity makes us better’ — is something that we’re working to improve on. Our goal is to have a gender-balanced company, and we’re not there yet. We’re currently at 40%, which is not bad, but it’s not evenly distributed within our company. We’re continuing to track as we grow as a team at different levels and different departments.
Obviously, diversity isn’t only about gender. There are a number of different metrics we measure, including the percentage of employees that are born outside Canada. Since we have this focus on diversity and inclusion, I think we’re more likely to attract and retain diverse talent and to promote people with different backgrounds and experiences.
Ruffolo: Which entrepreneur inspires you the most and why?
Wong: There’s an entrepreneur named Kim Scott who has written a great book called “Radical Candor”. I admire her because she’s been very effective as a business person and operator without losing her humanity. She still cares very much about her team, and I think she would say those two things reinforce each other, whereas some people think you can either be a strong operator or a good person. She said in order to be an effective operator, you have to care about your team and have authentic relationships.
Ruffolo: Are there are books that helped you in your scaleup journey?
Wong: I read a book by Adam Grant called “Give and Take”. He talks about people falling into one of three categories: givers, takers, and matchers. Within givers, there are smart givers and there are pushovers — those who give but not in a smart way. They tend to burnout and get taken advantage of. Of all those groups, those who do the best are the smart givers. At Borrowell, we ask ourselves: “how do I give smart without burning out or being taken advantage of?”
Ruffolo: What is your number one piece of advice for a founder in the scaleup stage?
Wong: Constantly reevaluate what you’re doing and make sure you’re still working on the highest value things. When you’re scaling, things are constantly changing and you have to keep reevaluating your role. Are you spending your time doing the most high value activities?
3 Things to Know About Scaling Culture Through Values
Co-founder and COO of Borrowell on the power of values
As Wong has helped grow Borrowell from a team of 4 to 45, she has learned that being clear on values is more important than maintaining a culture through scale. Culture emerges from a company’s values, she says, and both together help companies avoid the need to create cumbersome process and bureaucracy that can slow down growth.
“Values and culture are what keeps larger companies agile,” she says. “If people don’t do the right things on their own, you have add to process and that slows companies down.”
When Borrowell was first founded, they didn’t have their values written down, says Wong. As they grew, they needed to articulate those same values clearly for the scaling team.
“We first did it when we were about 16 to 20 people. It was a collaborative, organic, bottom-up approach where we asked employees, ‘What’s different about working here than other places you’ve worked?’ People shared different things and we came up with the values that way.”
About a year ago, as growth continued and Borrowell raised another round of funding, Wong and the rest of the management team knew they needed to add one more value: diversity.
“We care a lot about diversity. Checking off a diversity box and getting them in the door isn’t enough. We want diversity of opinions and to retain diverse employees,” she says.
Today, Borrowell’s values are:
- We’re high-performing and humble
- We’re trustworthy and team-oriented
- We love learning
- Act like owners
- Diversity makes us better
For scaleups looking to refine their values and culture, Wong has three key lessons she has learned through the evolution of Borrowell.
1) Values Over Culture
“It’s more about values and less about culture,” says Wong. “We’re open to our culture changing, but want to keep our values consistent.”
In the early says, she says, the founders talked about culture fit, while now they talk about culture contribution. Employees don’t have to fit the existing culture or share the same personalities as current employees because those things will grow and change as the company does.
In fact, Wong wants to see a diversity of culture at Borrowell and is open to seeing their values manifest themselves differently as they continue to grow.
“We want to add people to the company who add to the culture, not necessarily stick in existing lanes. As we grow and become more diverse those values will look different. We still want people to ‘act like owners’, but it just might look different as we grow compared to where we were when we started,” she says.
2) Ask About Values When Hiring
One lesson Wong learned through trial and error was to be explicit in interviews about the company’s values and share what they mean.
“We take the interview process seriously, since it will be a person’s first real taste of our values and culture,” she says. “We embedded our values into the process and we have specific questions we ask during around each of the values to make sure people are aligned with them.”
Part of the interviewing process at Borrowell is to do an assignment, which helps the team see the work a candidate actually produces.
“It’s not just about who can talk a good game,” says Wong. In addition, candidates interview and meet with various people from different levels within the organization who discuss how values are executed throughout the company.
3) Empower Employee Success with Values
Wong and her management team have taken their values one step further in an effort to support the scaling company.
“When we started, people were in contact with the founders every day. But as we’ve grown, that’s less true. So we need to define what each of our values mean at different seniority levels and not just demonstrated by the management team.”
To address this, they launched a competency matrix that defines what skills and behaviours are needed for the values at each level of the organization.
“If you’re a director, what does it mean to be high performing but humble,” she says. “We’re communicating what it takes to move from a manager to a senior manager to a director and what is expected. It’s part of the promotion process. Employees actually have to get better at exemplifying the values to move up in the company.”
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