We are living at a pivotal time in history when technology is changing at faster rates than ever before. Gadgets, devices, and innovations considered science fiction just a few short years ago are now entering the consumer mainstream. Whether it is Apple’s latest iPhone or Tesla’s new generation smart car, or crowd-sourcing innovators like Uber and Airbnb, the possibilities are seemingly endless of where technology will take us into the future. Terms like The Second Machine Ageand The Third Wave are used to describe the epic technological shifts transforming the very nature of business and society. Effectively every company is a technology company in today’s business ecosystem, meaning that everybody, from the  C-Suite to a line manager must now wear various new hats and improve fluency in Big Data, Internet of Things, and Robotics skills.

One of the first lessons you can take from the new era of innovation and rapid-fire change is to study and observe the biggest influencers in technology and the features that make them tick. It is important to understand where these firms are located and the supporting ecosystem that makes them so successful, which is why there is no other place in the world like Silicon Valley.

From its earliest inception in the 1950s and 60s as a sleepy bedroom community south of San Francisco to the leading center of world-class innovation and invention, Silicon Valley imbibes the very spirit of technological disruption, progress, and opportunity. Silicon Valley is a frequent stop for all dignitaries and presidents visiting the United States, who want to understand why this patch of real estate is so conducive to technological growth and why so many companies start and flourish here – including household names and brands like Google, Facebook, and Apple.

As you begin  planning to visit Silicon Valley, the following Silicon Valley companies are a handful of the firms that best express the spirit of invention and innovation. Understanding how these companies got started, what sets them apart, and how they maintain an innovation culture are principles that you can use to drive change and bring value back home to your own organizations.

Why Visit Google

From its launch in 1998 by two Stanford Ph.D. students with $100,000 of venture capital funding, Google has become one of the world’s fastest-growing, wealthiest, and most recognizable brands. Google’s core product was its proprietary search engine, based on a patented algorithm called Page Rank. Soon after, the company scaled rapidly to offer a wider range of Internet products and services.

Google has long been synonymous with innovation and Fortune has ranked them as the best company to work for over the past 7 years. The “GooglePlex” is replete with outdoor cafés, a bowling alley, fitness centers, and sleeping pods for quick power naps. The long-standing corporate motto of “Don’t Be Evil” and many other out-of-the-box approaches to refashioning corporate life into a friendly and fun atmosphere are just some of the numerous ways in which Google has transformed the global technology culture over the last 15 years.

Google is ubiquitous; in fact, imagine going through the day without using its vast repository of products and services (Google AdWords, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Apps, Google Plus, Android, and much more). But as if that’s not enough, Google is also in the driver’s seat of the autonomous vehicle market. The Google Self-Driving Car project is working on a major effort to bring autonomous technology to the consumer market and is currently pending regulatory and legislative approval.

But who said world domination is a bad thing? Not to be outdone at the office or on the road, the search giant also wants to become the go-to resource for the smart home revolution, evidenced by investments in Internet of Things platforms like Brillo and the Nest Learning Thermostat.

A visit to the GooglePlex will be an eye-opener for you, just because it’s Google! But seeing how world-class innovation and out-of-the-box thinking happens on the ground at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View is sure to be as fun as it is rewarding and educational.

Why Visit Facebook

Building a successful business is a confluence of several factors: obviously a great idea, a well-developed business model, and a dynamic team. But when you look at Facebook, the growth is off the charts – especially considering that every 4th person on the planet is an active Facebook user and that it all started as a coding project in a Harvard college dorm room 12 years ago.

The reasons for the popularity of Facebook are not unlike those working in Google’s favor; it was an idea that happened at the right time, right when the Internet grew from information searching to social networking. Though other social networks existed in 2004, Facebook differentiated itself by focusing on making everyday communications more personal,  entertaining, and informative.

Who can remember Facebook before the “Like” button, or who has not benefited from Graph Search, or who has not used Facebook ads for business promotion? The answer is the majority of the world’s population.

The same qualities that made Facebook big, bold, and innovative in its first decade are sure to lead to exciting new innovations for the future. Every indication shows that Facebook is prepared to take social networks to the next level. The Oculus Rift purchase in 2014 – a virtual reality head-mounted display – for $2 billion gave some indication of the exciting direction the company is moving towards. And the June 2016 announcement of Deep Text, an AI engine that better understands the sentiment behind the vast messaging within Facebook, shows the company’s commitment to becoming a better search engine.

If you want to get the inside look at the largest business advertising platform in the world, you will have no reason to think twice about putting Facebook on your Silicon Valley tour itinerary.

Why Visit Apple

It’s hard to imagine the world without Apple. It certainly seems like they have been around forever. Remember the Apple II in 1977, the Macintosh in 1984, or the first iPod in 2001? And these were well before the iPhone came along. Age tends to wear on companies, but after recently posting as the world’s most profitable company and the first $700 billion one, we can be sure there’s no slowing this old giant down.

Apple’s formula for success is summarized best in the opening of its company mission statement: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world . . .” Apple’s products are elegantly designed and that same tenacious commitment to quality has made it a household name in personal computing and electronics for nearly 4 decades.

Apple is synonymous with “innovation” and this is why it will continue to lead the consumer technology market for the long run. Case in point is their commitment to wireless charging; sources say that Apple is working with partners in the U.S. and Asia to introduce a wirelessly charged iPhone as early as 2017.

Reports have also circulated that Apple is secretly working on an electric car to rival Tesla. Given its amazing run to date, don’t put it past the Cupertino, CA firm to do just that.

Visiting Silicon Valley? Then a stop by Apple headquarters will show you where the PC revolution started and where, 40 years later, it has come back full circle to the tune of $700 billion.

Why Visit Uber

When it comes to cool innovation culture and amazing scalability, few companies have achieved what Uber has in such a short time. Founded in 2009, this upstart online transportation company is now available in over 66 countries and 449 cities worldwide and has an estimated worth of $62.5 billion.

Uber has almost single-handedly launched the “on demand” economy. By finding an industry that was bogged down by over-regulation and high entry costs, Uber found a way to address  consumer pain points and make finding transportation quick, easy, and enjoyable.

Uber’s business model of on-demand service has become so successful that it has received its own moniker – “Uberification” – denoting the act of getting people what they want and when they want it at the tap of a button.

Uber’s next act is looking to be even bigger: driverless cars. ln February 2015, the car-sharing service opened an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, with the aim of developing its own fleet of self-driving vehicles.

Uber is so much more than transportation. Its business model is changing the world one industry at a time. This is why any trip to Silicon Valley is simply incomplete without a visit to Uber HQ.

Why Visit Tesla

Tesla is not an overnight success by any means. Its emergence into a difficult and highly regulated market as one of the few independent automakers in the world – with an affordable and award-winning electric car no less – is more a testament to the power of good timing, charismatic leadership, and a bit of luck.

Tesla sold 50K cars in 2015 and its new Model 3 sedan set for release in 2017 has already received nearly 400,000 pre-orders. That’s not supposed to happen with electric cars! But Tesla beats to the tune of a different drum. What makes Tesla a world-class innovator is best summarized in their own words: “Tesla is not just an automaker, but also a technology and design company with a focus on energy innovation.”

This same formula for success is driving Tesla’s future. The company’s Gigafactory complex in Nevada, set to open in July 2016, will produce Lithium-ion batteries and cut the production cost of its electric vehicles by an estimated 30%.

Tesla is also well-positioned to dominate the highly competitive driverless car market. The best-selling Model S comes with semi-autonomous drive and Elon Musk has predicted that fully autonomous Teslas will be available by 2018.

Tesla’s breakout into the electric vehicle market with self-driving features should be an inspiration to any business executive who wants to innovate and change the status quo within their own industry. A stop by the company’s Palo Alto headquarters is a must for any Silicon Valley tour.

Why Visit Slack

If you want the playbook on how to become a billion dollar company in less than two years then just follow #Slack. It’s the latest cloud-based collaboration tool that everyone is talking about. With a user base of 30K and notoriety as the fastest-growing company in history, Slack is understandably the envy of every startup founder, investor, and VC.

So what’s the secret to Slack’s epic success? In an interview with the co-founder Stuart Butterfield, Stuart shared that a combination of education, feedback, customer happiness and metric analysis were the biggest drivers behind Slack’s massive growth. Not to mention, the product offers a whole different look and feel than your traditional enterprise collaboration tool. Slack’s landing page best sums up its innovative approach: “A messaging app for teams that put robots on Mars!!” (With a picture of the Mars curiosity rover on the Red Planet). How cool is that?

Slack won its amazing customer base by making collaboration enjoyable – similar to what Facebook accomplished with social networking. Key features such as the colorful and intuitive design of the dashboard, a playful vibe (noted by the funny “Slackbot” notifications and emojis) along with an unparalleled user experience are what set Slack apart from the pack.

Slack users will enjoy more of the same innovation going forward; the company recently posted its roadmap on Trellocontaining a view of short, mid, and long-term features, including “interactive messages” and events API.

Slack reminds us of the basics of 21st entrepreneurship by giving customers an enjoyable and unparalleled user experience. A visit to Slack HQ will give you a fresh reminder of how to open any business to unlimited possibilities.

Why Visit Oracle

Oracle’s success is well summed up in its own words: “Oracle has a very broad portfolio of products to help simplify IT, encourage innovation and business success.” From being the first company to build an SQL database and sell RDMBS software, to scaling up Java enterprise software and the growth of the Internet and Cloud, Oracle’s success over the past 4 decades is a testament to the power of a strong product base, cutting-edge innovation, and the ability to pivot quickly and launch into new markets.

Oracle’s ability to constantly upgrade their existing products and adapt to the latest disruptive technologies is what helps the company dominate in the enterprise database, business intelligence, and Big Data fields.

Oracle’s vision for the future is to build on its legacy of success and surpass Salesforce and Amazon to become the  #1 cloud services provider.

What’s more, Oracle is well-positioned to become a major player in the emerging enterprise IoT space, especially by leveraging its Java ownership to unlock the value of IoT data on Java enabled devices.

Any trip to Silicon Valley would be incomplete without a stop by Oracle. Like Apple, the ability of this wise old giant to remain on top in its market is a solid testament that you can take back home.

Why Visit Airbnb

From its early days as a startup with only a website, three air mattresses, and a crazy idea, Airbnb has grown into a multi-billion dollar business with over 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. It has become the paragon of success in the crowd-sharing economy.

But to understand the real Cinderella story behind Airbnb one must go back to 2009 when the startup was actually failing. When their revenue was flat-lined at $200 per week in New York, the founders noticed something: all of the listing photos were amateur, taken with personal smartphones.  Realizing a solution, they traveled to New York, rented a professional camera, and spent time with property listers to help them replace amateur photos with beautiful high-resolution images. The result was a doubling in revenue, and the rest is history! Design thinking was the renovation that made Airbnb what it is today.

The primary market for Airbnb has traditionally been travelers on a budget. But it appears the next big move for the  home-rental company will be to leverage Big Data to match-make hosting and traveler personalities to provide a richer experience for anyone (budget conscious or not) wishing to immerse in  another culture.

Next time you are visiting Silicon Valley, skip the hotel and try Airbnb’s hospitality, and then follow-up with a visit to corporate headquarters on Brannan Street in downtown San Francisco. Once there, you will get a ground-floor look at how one of the world’s most disruptive companies creates business value at scale.

How To Visit Silicon Valley Companies

If you come to Silicon Valley for the “tourist experience”, keep in mind that most Silicon Valley companies are not open to the public, nor do they give campus tours. Without knowing an employee you will only be able to see the building from the outside. That being said, you can still have an extremely rewarding experience and look into Silicon Valley culture –  there is still a lot to see and do!

For example, if you are interested in technology and innovation, you can visit technology museums to gain a better  idea of Silicon Valley history, evolution, and technology developments. For example, The Computer History Museum in Mountain View is  quite impressive and educational and showcases computer progression and transportation over time. The kitchen computer, with it’s built in cutting board and binary display, is quite a hit with visitors. The Tech Museum, in San Jose, is also a favored Silicon Valley tourist destination.  For more ideas, see Steve Blank’s A Visitors Guide to Silicon Valley.

However, if you are more interested in learning about innovation, disruptive technologies and emerging trends and how to apply this knowledge to your industry, business, and your career, you can work with a company such as Silicon Valley Innovation Center and participate in one of our Silicon Valley Immersion executive programs. You will have the opportunity to hear presentations by influential technology experts and visionaries, contribute to provocative brainstorming sessions with like-minded innovators, and meet with Silicon Valley luminaries, as well as build  connections to top Silicon Valley companies.

Join our 5-day Silicon Valley Immersion Program  For Corporate Executives and Entrepreneurs to get the first-hand insight into the emerging technologies that will disrupt the way we live and work.  Learn more about this unique chance to connect with the top technology experts and visionaries in Silicon Valley. 1-650-274-0214