The dynamic new CEO of SVForum, Adiba Barney rolled out the red carpet this week for the 17th Visionary Awards. But despite all the glitz and glamor, there was a strong message: use tech to make the world better. Of course, each recipient has an impressive resume: Jessica Jackley, cofounder of Kiva; Tim O’Reilly, open source advocate and media producer; Tina Seelig, director of Stanford Tech Ventures Program; and Tim Draper, founder of Draper University and partner at DFJ Ventures. But how did each get where they are today and what can you learn from their journey?
Here are some of the lessons the visionaries shared at Tuesday’s event:
1. Ask: what if?
Jackley witnessed a new level of poverty while working in Africa and when she returned to Silicon Valley, she wanted to help change some lives, especially those with an entrepreneurial drive. She said, “People in Silicon Valley are always talking about the future…so ask: what if?”
Her inspiration? She was killing time at Stanford University one evening, and just happened to attend a talk by Muhammad Yunis, the Nobel Prize winning founder of “banker to the poor” Grameen Bank. His success helped launch the microlending phenomenon and inspired Kiva, a nonprofit microlender that’s now shared over half a billion dollars in startup funds with entrepreneurs around the world.
2. Have some accidents
Tim Draper confessed that he often discovered and backed companies like Skype by complete accident. Often he was actually looking for, or working on something else. His message: “If you want to be a visionary, go out and have some accidents!” And he proceeded to fling his glass of water into the crowd. Fortunately there were no injuries, though fellow journalist, Tom Foremski got the brunt of the baptism.
3. Go for love not money
Tim O’Reilly said “I urge you all: do things for love, with no expectation of return…celebrate the success of people who make a difference.” He described Silicon Valley as a place “for people who dream, who care…about stuff other than making an exit.”
Although he’s a big believer in the power of the markets, he underlined the obligation to “give back” and in his great literary style, he even quoted a passage from Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” to underline his point that an entrepreneur should think “much of others, and little of him (or her) self.” He’s recently embraced the vision of Jennifer Pahlka’s Code for America. It helps bring more top tech talent into government (e.g. the tech team that went to D.C. to help rescue HealthCare.Gov’s disastrous rollout).
“We need to fix government, not abandon it!” said O’Reilly.
4. Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous
Tina Seelig is the epitome of Silicon Valley passion for entrepreneurship and technology; and urges us all to ask big questions. Her mantra is “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous” and although she didn’t say it, her energetic body language seemed to be chanelling Adele’s line from Rolling in the Deep: “Throw your soul through every open door!”
5. Have a passion for “Yes”
Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired Magazine, and former honoree himself, introduced Tim O’Reilly and reminded everyone that behind every “no” is a “yes.”
“At the core of Silicon Valley is a passion for yes,” he said. “This is the place where people don’t look for reasons to say no…(instead) someone comes up with a crazy idea and they have permission to do it.”
Presumably he means, if you want to be a real tech visionary, there’s no place like Silicon Valley.
Check back soon for Fresh Dialogues interviews with Jessica Jackley, Tina Seelig, Jennifer Pahlka and Tim Draper.
This SVForum event took place at the home of Kelly Porter in Los Altos Hills on Tuesday June 3rd, 2014.
Photo credit: Tom Foremski