We're Better Together: The Forum 2021

We're Better Together: The Forum 2021

The Forum is a place where some of the world’s greatest business and technology minds across the technology ecosystem come together under one roof to look at the futures of technology and industry.

News & Updates
 Min read
February 3, 2023

People often talk about who’d they like to have as dream guests at a fantasy dinner party. We’re incredibly fortunate to have had a true group of dream attendees for our Forum this October. The Forum is a place where some of the world’s greatest business and technology minds across the technology ecosystem come together under one roof to look at the futures of technology and industry.  

Pushing the boundaries that contain ideas

The Forum is built upon an ethos of collaboration and a melding of minds. In an atmosphere of diversity, alliance, and participation, people at the top of their game share ideas, build new relationships, and explore the future of business and innovation. The boundaries that often constrict ideas are dissolved, opening new pathways and perspectives on some of the hottest topics in business and technology.

In this year’s Forum, Vation Ventures had the honor to host four key panels filled with a diverse group of executives, including founders of cutting-edge startups, Fortune 500 executives, and venture capital partners. These four panels focused on:  

  • Venture Capital: looking at key investment perspectives  
  • CXOs: searching questions and answers for CXOs of the modern, data-driven enterprise
  • The Global Ecosystem: using the global ecosystem to expand smart business ideas
  • End Customer: a view on what a customer-led organization means

The Forum began the first night with an incredible keynote from Frank Calderoni, Chairman and CEO of Anaplan.

The Keynote Speech

“…how you show up, what you stand for, and what actions you take to that end, as an individual, and as a leader in your organization, are now gating factors to lasting success. Today, the degree to which what you say and what you do are tightly aligned, and this will be a stronger success indicator than traditional professional or business fundamentals” - from Frank Calderoni’s book, “Upstanding.”

Frank Calderoni, Chairman and CEO of Anaplan, and previously an executive at IBM and Cisco, has been described as a gifted and inspirational leader - we can definitely agree with that description. Frank gave a passionate keynote address at The Forum, in which he explored the link between corporate strategy, company culture, and individual character. Frank’s heartfelt talk was broken into three key themes:

  • The importance of character in your company’s culture
  • Ensuring your leadership connects with your employees  
  • Keeping your company afloat in times of change  

These inter-dependent themes chime with businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. Frank’s focus on ‘the culture of building a company” looked at factors such as the impact of the pandemic and changes to traditional working practices- and how this has affected business-employee relationships.  

frank calderoni of anaplan with dave o'callaghan of vation ventures

Frank talked about the need to listen to employees to help establish foundational and mutual relationships for the long haul. We hear this so often across our Innovation Advisory Councils and our Roundtable Sessions. So many organizations are struggling with retaining talent and sourcing new individuals; you need to focus on not just talking the talk around building relationships with the employees as a company, but really walking the walk and showing your organization you’re serious.

He noted that the ability to create strong, long-lasting relationships is essential after a challenging pandemic. Frank also spoke on establishing a strong company character, by linking to the individual employee, as a necessary ingredient for an organization to achieve hypergrowth, agility, and loyalty.

The Forum Panels

After an inspirational talk from Frank wrapped up the first evening, the next day focused on our panels. Below is a roundup of some of the main points made by panelists.

The Venture Capital Panel

“The innovation dynamic, meaning the demand for new technology was so important to survivability for most big companies or companies at large, that they were demanding from the little startups of our investments the latest new technology.”  

The Venture Capital market is buoyant with the pace of technology innovations continuing to open opportunities across the globe. The Venture Capital Panel broke discussion up across a few key areas:

Are we in a golden age of investment?

The panel discussion considered if this truly is a golden age for investment or not? The consensus here is that we are indeed in a true time of influx around investment opportunities. The panelists stated that back in March of 2020, they thought they’d be headed into a bleak time in the investment world and particularly that their startups would face some heavy headwinds to stay alive. And even to the possible extent that innovation would slow so that market investments would dry up – well, pretty quickly, they discovered that the opposite occurred. Because they were disruptors and focused on innovative new solutions, they were agile and thrived in the changing market.  

One of the investment trends that the panel spoke to was that, in general, funding is shifting earlier in company maturity as investors seek to maximize their returns – this, in turn, enables companies to stay private longer, giving them some added flexibility.  

What are the emerging trends?

When looking at the future, there was a strong agreement that the cybersecurity focus isn’t going anywhere. There’s a demand as there’s always a constant threat, the threat platform and attack surfaces are bigger than ever. These attacks have moved up from an IT-level conversation to an executive-level conversation to a board-level discussion. One of the emerging trends around this area is extensive automation within cybersecurity, for example, red-teaming through automation, continuous threat platform, insight, and data governance enhanced with AI.  

The other trend that emerged as a result of the cloud transformation shifts is the struggle of configuration, and this is opening a window for businesses to enter the market and capitalize on this problem.

Lastly, a trend is emerging in the maturity of the ecosystem, “Going down the data path, we're starting to see a maturity in the ecosystem, where the buyer was the data science team or the buyer was the dev team... We are seeing a “filling out” of the enterprise chessboard, where things are transferring back to it in data and in Dev and multiple areas. New platforms will be created so that people can go back to doing their jobs. It can go back to managing models or the code or whatnot.”

Are unicorns an easy ride?  

The panel discussed the misconception that a unicorn company is in some way a magical entity that springs up out of nowhere. Instead, the panel noted the hard work that goes into creating these so-called unicorns. “I think all of the unicorn and decacorn conversations, are to me, a little dull, in the sense that it's fun for venture firms to talk about how exciting the venture world is. However, in truth, there's a lot of heavy lifting before they ever get there.”  

The lift behind the scenes that VC firms are doing to filter out thousands of companies into just a handful of actual investments is a massive undertaking. There was a heavy focus on product-market-fit and the duty of the VC firms challenging entrepreneurs and their companies to whether or not they’ve actually reached product-market-fit or just heard some good feedback from a potential customer and extrapolating that too far.

Innovation as a competitive edge

The panel's final point was that innovation continues to be the vital competitive edge needed across all sectors. The advice was, “Become the most competitive in your industry at innovating. And to do this, you must incubate ideas faster, more effectively, more thoughtfully with more outcome and impact than your toughest competitor.”

forum attendees listening to keynote

The CXO Panel

“It’s all about data. And one of the biggest challenges that we have is what do you do with the data.”

The CXO Panel focused on data as a driver for innovation. Using four main streams, the panel discussed:

What to do with all that data?

I think we can all agree that there’s an abundance of data to capture, but more importantly, it’s what you do with that data to correlate the data actually to discover insights to drive competitive advantage. One of the panelists said that one of the things they’ve been working on is enabling their customers to be able to discover immediate insights to take immediate action on their data. It doesn’t matter what lane you play in or if you’re a hardware or software business, being able to understand how the enterprise infrastructure is working today and being able to solve problems really quickly is essential. This, in turn, creates an even better customer experience for your clients.

Another panelist mentioned the feedback from CIOs that they’re talking to are putting a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver the capability to solve the problem and correlate the data to ensure a complete experience. This ties directly into the approach above around understanding the client, solving the problem, and providing an enhanced data-driven background to how that problem is being mitigated and how future decisions can be made with that analysis.

The consumption-based model

Consumers like the consumption-based model as they only pay for the resources they use. The panel members looked at the way forward in developing technologies that fit this consumer expectation. The question was posed if that was driven by customers or companies implementing it, and a response to that was it was actually the ecosystem itself that pushed the world into a consumption-based model system. As these larger companies like Microsoft pivoted to the cloud, it was a necessary move to consumption and one that customers started to expect and then demand as it’s a way that the customer actually uses the technology. This continues to expand throughout the ecosystem in how users expect to interact with providers.

This as-a-Service world

Everything can be packaged up into an as-a-Service. But how is this done well? The panel discussed the challenges and opportunities that our as-a-Service world presents now and in the future. One of the highlights that a panelist discussed out of this that were less focused on the technology but more about the supply chain itself was how in the as-a-Service world, vendors and partners can connect digitally with them in ways that otherwise would not have been possible. Whether through their cloud marketplaces or just APIs, the as-a-Service world being digitally connected reduces some of the manual processes that consumed a lot of resources - opening the door to focus on the innovation side of things and going forward.

Partnerships are Key

One of the most important discussions to come out of the panel was a focus on the partnerships. When you think of the APIs and cloud, it’s never been easier to build partnerships, but there’s a lot of complexity out there. And it’s identifying the right partners for the right solutions and understanding that even some of the largest companies might not be able to supply everything you need to accomplish a goal. It’s a core problem with you’re a multi-billion-dollar company and need to rely on your distributors or other strategic partners to help you see blind spots. This is so important to us at Vation Ventures because this is one of the essential aspects in our business that we help our clients with by reducing those blind spots and helping companies know where and when to focus.

sunset over half moon bay, California

The Ecosystem Panel

“Finding local brains that already understand legal, taxation, and cultural issues is a key lubricant of an effective ecosystem.”  

The key question for the Ecosystem Panel was: “how can global orchestration help global expansion?” This panel found the answer using three themes:

The partner power

The panel explored the idea of using partners to empower expansion options, “leverage the ecosystem, instead of trying to build it all on your own, in this way you can stay fast and nimble.” This is so important, but companies often forget that there is an ecosystem out there to support you in business areas you might not be as well-versed in. You don’t have to go at it alone, and often it doesn’t make sense to go at it alone. By surrounding yourself with partners who can help you leverage a more extensive ecosystem to build global expansion successfully, you can avoid a lot of the struggles that might never have been on your radar.  

Culture and country

A significant focus of the panel was on the constraints and cultural impacts of business expansion. The panel concluded that local knowledge is the key to a successful expansion strategy. The panel members emphasized the importance of finding local partners to help grow a global expansion to prevent avoidable mistakes. This plays into the previous concept around the power of partners as you start to look global, the localized knowledge is invaluable when it comes to entering a new market – how you translate your product, how you communicate your marketing, how you deal with the legal and financial implications and regulations are all aspects that should be on your mind as you grow your business. The important thing to note is, at some point, someone has probably done what you’re about to do from an operational perspective and can help be on your team throughout that process.  

The test run

The panel emphasized the importance of testing out a market before fully committing. “As a kind of quick fix, get someone on the ground to test your product or start to work with a talent pool that is outside of your local jurisdiction. This is the go-to mode for startups.” The connectedness and ability to dip your toes in a new market is more accessible than ever, but it’s important to leverage a global ecosystem around you to help you dip into the market to truly understand if it would be a viable expansion as a company.  

The End Customer Panel

“You believe you must start with a culture of innovation and the ability to provoke ideas, right?”…Well, the truth is, you have to build a process around it; you have to be very intentional about innovation.”  

‘The customer is king’ is a saying that resounded with The Forum panelists. The End Customer Panel was split into four key themes, each exploring different aspects of how innovation must track customer needs.

Support for innovation

The quote at the beginning of this section summed up the view from the panelists. Innovation is not just about having great ideas; innovation that sticks is fostered through due process, and it must be ingrained in the  

Failure is not all bad

The panel discussed how failure is an intrinsic part of innovation; being allowed to fail creates a culture of experimentation that drives innovation. Therefore, remove the fear of failure and open the door to new ideas and exploration. “When we talk about innovation, we always talk about success. Let's talk about the failure, what it took to fail, and how can we learn from that failure?”  

When you enable your workforce to feel safe to experiment and fail, you open the doors for actual progression surrounding innovative initiatives. Innovation isn’t easy, and there’s bound to be mistakes and failures along the way when approaching new problems, but if your team fears failure because of punishment, they’ll take the safe roads and do what they can to ensure avoiding failure – which can significantly stifle innovation at an organization. You need to let your employees feel like they can try and fail and then learn from those failures to excel.  

Find time for innovation

Having the time to stop and think opens new channels of thought and ideas. The panel strongly suggested that people look at creating time slots in their busy schedules for innovative thinking.

“I think that the number one thing that can stifle innovation is that you just don't have enough time for ‘thinking time.”  

Know what your customer wants

The key theme of the End Customer Panel was to encourage a business to place focus on the end customer and what they want. A relationship based on trust and that solves problems and does not exploit the customer will reap commercial benefits. “In my business, I'm not looking for best of breed, and if you think about it, I just want to be able to do my work. Lots of units within many businesses are not necessarily driven by, or even require a best of breed product; they simply need something that does a job well.”  

half moon bay golf course

Insights from our Vation Intelligence Team

“You can’t move forward with innovation looking backward.”

The final section of The Forum was an overview from the Vation Intelligence team. This year, the team focused on two of the hottest trends we've heard throughout this year and clearly a significant discussion point throughout the forum: data and cybersecurity.  

Trends in data

Using the lens of where data has been and where it is going, the discussion looked at how data intelligence has come to dominate business platforms and decisions. Our intelligence team discussed how the Big Data revolution of the 2010s gave rise to the cloud data warehouse and modern data stack we use today for our AI-enabled tools. This data stack and the AI tools used to analyze big data provide business insights essential for a competitive edge in the modern business. This business intelligence forms the basis of better customer experiences, essential in the customer-centric and omnichannel delivery layer. The Vation experts expect futures to include MLOps and noted that modern data scientists spend more time on data engineering than building ML (machine learning) models.

Trends in cybersecurity

The pandemic has shone a light on the need for robust cybersecurity approaches by all organizations. During the Covid-19 pandemic, 71% of security professionals experienced an increase in security threats or attacks.

The Forum discussion revolved around the evolution of the cyberthreat and how malware infection has moved from the hacker in the bedroom to the control of nation-state hacking gangs. The growth of cyberthreats is always closely followed by countermeasures in a war of attrition between cybercriminals and security measures. Anti-virus and perimeter solutions are now being replaced by ‘Post Perimeter’ approaches such as Zero Trust, which is based on the principle of “never trust, always verify.” These new approaches and architectures are facilitated using robust identity services. Identity orchestration is handling the changes in the end-user ecosystem, with home working and secure remote access now an everyday requirement. To manage the massive complexity of the device and user ecosystem, security automation enabled through cloud delivery is vital.

We discussed the near futures in the world of cybersecurity and the need to fill the security skills talent gap. Our intelligence team expects security solutions to prosper by providing the best of suite functionality via fully automated solutions enabled using artificial intelligence (AI). 

What We Introduced


Navigating the intelligence your company needs to make educated and advised business decisions is a big feat without the right tools and resources. The power that research can bring to a company can really set them apart from its competition, but research just isn’t easy. The pain points we’ve seen our customers struggle with revolve around price, speed, focus, depth, and one-size-fits-all. It's too expensive, too slow, too vague, too broad, and actionless.  

list of research challenges organizations face including price, speed, focus, depth, and a one-size-fits-all approach

We’re excited to introduce our new offering, Intelligence as a Service.  

Intelligence as a Service was created to specifically address each of the pain points we’ve seen in the industry. This service powered by our Intelligence Team offers foundational, tailored, focused, and rapid research to keep your company focused on the future. With Intelligence as a Service, you’ll be able to navigate research focused on the why behind trends, built specifically for you and your exact needs, brings insights on tomorrow, not on trailing indicators, and made for the speed organizations need to keep up.  

vation ventures intelligence as a service offering

Innovation Uncorked

While the Forum happens once a year, we want to keep these important conversations and lines of communications open to driving innovation. After the success of our past virtual event Innovation Uncorked, we’re introducing Innovation Uncorked as a twice-a-year virtual event. We’re looking forward to keeping you informed at the forefront of technology and, importantly, your wine racks full.  

Innovation Uncorked is a semi-annual virtual event bringing you keynotes from industry-leading CXOs, panels hosted by executives from across the technology ecosystem, insights by our research team, trends from global venture capital firms, and world-class wine.

There’s no magic snapping of the fingers to create innovation

The Forum delivered two days of open-thinking, collaboration, and education. Executives came together to discuss today's key questions to ensure that tomorrow’s innovative ideas can bring value.

The golden thread that ran through The Forum was this: there is no magic snapping of the fingers to create innovation. The many moving parts of the innovation process and the people who seed and develop it need a well-oiled and orchestrated ecosystem, the result of which is lasting value for any organization willing to invest in its people and processes.

Interested in how we can take your ecosystem to the next level? Let's talk.

Spread the word.

Thousands of subscribers receive our newsletter every week breaking down what's happening across the technology community. 

Join them today.

Thank you! You've signed up successfully!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting, please try again.