Why Tom Siebel Got Behind the Design-Thinking Movement
There was a time when the tech industry had its own version of Henry Ford’s famous saying that he didn’t care what color customers painted their cars, as long they chose black. Beige was the color of choice for early PCs. Boxy was the preferred shape.
This was before a concept known as design thinking took hold. It’s a school of thought that means many things but most importantly that the needs of end users should be paramount when designing products. It’s an important idea in that design thinking can lead all sorts of people in all sorts of functions to make goods and services people will want to buy.
Several academic centers have arisen to teach design thinking, most prominently at Stanford (the famous “d.school”), as well as Yale and Georgia Tech. That prominence started to gnaw at a great entrepreneur and moneymaker, Tom Siebel, who graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—my alma mater, too.
Siebel is funding a new, $50 million design-thinking-focused institute at the university that he hopes will be a place many disciplines can come together. “The big trend at universities is interdisciplinary efforts,” says Siebel, noting that graduate and advanced research programs like medicine and bioengineering have benefited from the trend. “The design school is the undergraduate version of interdisciplinary thinking.” (Siebel is putting up half the money.)
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Siebel sold his namesake software company to Oracle 11 years ago. His current company, formerly C3 Energy, has executed a “pivot” of late, rebranding itself C3 IoT. Its software connects and monitors all the “things” connected electronically on corporate and government networks. Siebel, who is 63 and says the company is “really fun,” says C3 IoT has raised a total of $200 million in capital, most recently a $70 million investment from private equity firm TPG.
Being nimble enough to go from “customer relationship management software” to energy monitoring to keeping track of sensors connected to the Internet is quite a feat. So is giving back to a public university in the Midwest that gave him his start.
Have a well-designed day.