At the 2020 Geo Buiz Summit in Monterey, CA, Esri CEO Jack Dangermond gave an address and participated in a discussion focused on the history of Esri and its ties to the future of the geospatial industry. He provided three specific areas of advice as he described his experiences, crediting investments in innovation as being a key driver of Esri’s success. As the amount of technology companies continue to proliferate, his advice at the head of a long-term innovation company is particularly timely.
1) Let customers define your purpose
Dangermond’s first piece of advice is to allow users to guide him – leading the company in the direction that the customers want, not necessarily what you think that they want.
“I chose to serve my users, and my customers define the sense of purpose that I have,” he said.
2) Grow organically and partner whenever you can
He also encouraged entrepreneurs to rethink their ideas of growth. While fast, infinite growth is appealing, the key to longevity, Dangermond advised, is slow and steady growth, which he finds is a healthier, and a more stable long-term strategy.
“Take a look at the trees around here and you’ll see they slowly grow organically. And they need to be nurtured as they keep changing and evolving. Grow your business like a tree.”
A theme of the conference was partnership, and Jack had added that in addition to organic growth, partnerships can be very strategic, even if that’s counterintuitive.
“I’m not into acquisitions and I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. Acquisition companies seem to survive very well that way. But for me, my philosophy has always been growing organically. So I now have 2500 partners, and they’re part of a vibrant ecosystem.”
3) Continually invest in innovation
His final piece of advice was to invest “absolutely as much as you possibly can” into research and development. Today, Dangermond reports that Esri has about 1,500 engineers that are working on technology development, and that about a third of Esri’s revenue is directed back towards innovation.
“I spent all my money on driving technical innovation… I keep pouring it back in to R&D and advancing the method. Invest, absolutely, much as you possibly can in R&D, and advancing the method. Don’t be the effect of technology change, be the cause.”
It doesn’t matter if you work at a nonprofit or a profit based company, says Dangermond.
“If I had stayed in Harvard, in the research lab I would have done the same thing – try to innovate and push. If I was in government, I would try to continue to push innovation. Innovation is in my soul.”