The 2011 Visionary Awards Ceremony was held at the home of Kelly Porter in Los Altos Hills on June 21, the longest… and also the hottest day of the year. This annual ceremony – the Oscars of Silicon Valley – honored four distinguished technology innovators – Dr. Hermann Hauser (Amadeus Capital Partners), Promod Haque (Norwest Venture Partners), Bud Tribble (Apple Inc.) and TJ Rodgers (Cypress Semiconductor Corporation). Presented by SVForum, previously SDForum, “SV” Silicon Valley – was an important theme of the evening. In accepting their awards, honorees attempted to answer the question: what makes Silicon Valley unique? Or in the case of TJ Rodgers, what makes him unique?
The energetic Susan Lucas-Conwell kicked things off by announcing the new-look SVForum – which has outgrown its SDForum, Software Development status – and is now focused on its Silicon Valley roots. “We continue to grow and evolve,” she said. “We serve a broad footprint covering the entire technology industry.” Interesting to note that cleantech was the first sector she cited, along with the usual suspects: healthcare, IT, software, social media, cloud etc. With a jazzy new logo and a succinct mission to connect, engage and excel; SVForum looks poised for an exciting new chapter.
Promod Haque was introduced by Ken Comee of IBM who promised a “This is your Life” moment. Much to the relief of the audience, it was more of a 21st Century Twitter version (ie short and pithy). Promod began by reflecting on the uniqueness of being a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley – its philosophy and values. There was a collective holding of breath. Were we about to hear the Holy Grail of Silicon Valley?
“The freedom to fail is unique about Silicon Valley,” said Promod. “It’s an essential piece of innovating.” Déjà vu anyone? It’s a popular – even over-used – refrain these days and one that has surfaced previously at the Visionary Awards. Anyone remember Vinod Khosla expound the same philosophy at the 2009 Visionary Awards? Déjà vu or not, Promod’s comments underlined the consensus that it’s a vital part of Silicon Valley’s magic.
Promod then elaborated…“I tell my kids…my entrepreneurs, ‘when you do have failure, it’s not a person, it’s an event in their life. Don’t let it scare you…don’t let it define you.’” Well said. But is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley no longer a big secret?
Next up, Apple’s Bud Tribble, who was introduced by Dan’l Lewin of Microsoft. Dan’l gave us an odd lesson in our A,B,Cs before he got on the crux of the intro: “When Bud speaks, people – like Steve Jobs – listen – and that’s hard!” Dan’l alluded to Apple’s Location-Gate drama, but Bud wisely eschewed the subject, instead enthusing about the special qualities of Silicon Valley. He emphasized the importance of perspectives and how we connect . In Silicon Valley, “the connections go beyond companies – that’s the magic of this place.” As for vision? That all depends on your perspective and he quoted from Alan Kay (the pioneering computer scientist): “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” He also took us back to the early days of Apple in the 80’s and described the wide variety of perspectives around the table, including an archeologist and even a Marxist (!) as well as the inevitable computer programmer. Understanding what computers are really good at is key, said Bud. And what is that? Communication. That’s his focus. As for the future, Bud wasn’t giving anything away. True to his solid Apple pedigree, Bud concluded by saying, “I can’t really talk about the future… since I’m at Apple.” A visionary who is keeping his vision tightly under wraps…for the time being.
Later, I asked Bud how Mr. Jobs is doing and if he thinks Jobs is going to come back to the helm on a full time basis. “He finds it hard to stay away,” said Bud. Indeed.
T.J. Rodgers was introduced by Eric Benhamou of Benhamou Ventures and described Rodgers as “a tough boss, argumentative and very competitive,” and added “I’m using polite language here.” The audience was well amused .
June 24 marked the 13th annual SDForum Visionary Awards, a celebration of the innovators and chutzpah that make Silicon Valley unique. Although the four visionaries come from diverse backgrounds, Silicon Valley was the common theme for the evening. The visionaries gave a revealing glimpse into the Silicon Valley State of Mind. What exactly is Silicon Valley? What’s its role in the world?
This week, we look at Reid Hoffman’s viewpoint. He’s co-founder of LinkedIn and a renowned innovator in Silicon Valley. He had some strong words to say about the power of entrepreneurship and its ability to jumpstart the economy.
Jeff Weinerof LinkedIn introduced Reid Hoffman as someone with a brilliant strategic mind and ability to invent the future. As well as being Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, Hoffman is also a partner with venture capitalists, Graylock Partners. Pointing to his colleague’s multidisciplinary background (Hoffman studied symbolic systems and philosophy at Stanford and Oxford respectively), Weiner concluded that education provided the building blocks to create an outstanding public thinker and social networking pioneer. Weiner reminded the audience that Hoffman understood the ability of technology to inform and connect people, inspiring him to launch Socialnet (a precursor to LinkedIn) before Facebook and MySpace existed.
Hoffman walked to the podium with some reluctance, saying that listening to the introduction made him “want to run and hide”; yet he started his speech off by grounding us in time and place.
“It’s an enormous privilege to be at this center fulcrum of how we change the world, that we call Silicon Valley,” he said, and posed the powerful question, “What more should we do with that?”
Talking like a true Silicon Valley techie, he suggested not two “answers,” but two “vectors” to his question. And, the visionary he is, Hoffman thinks BIG. First, he recommended leveraging entrepreneurship as a powerful way to get the world economy back on track. Drawing from author, Tom Friedman’s thesis, Hoffman said,
“We live in a world that is increasingly flat and increasingly accelerating. When you have challenges like economic turbulence and uncertainty… entrepreneurship is a really good pattern…we need to make it more available globally.”
Provoking wry laughter from the crowd, he pointed out that there is no entrepreneurs’ lobby in Washington DC, and implied there should be one to encourage entrepreneurship as part of the stimulus package, both here in the U.S. and around the world.
His second “vector” or call to action was: how can we take business models to the non-profit sector? Drawing from his work at Kiva.org and Endeavor.org, he suggested hybrid models of self-sustaining nonprofits that can help spread entrepreneurship and create high impact change.
“I love to play at the heart of what we do best in Silicon Valley,” said Hoffman. “To take risks, develop technologies and use financing and inspire entrepreneurship to create a lever by which we move the world.”
I caught up with Twitter officianado, Adam Jacksonat SDForum’s Teens Plugged in Conference last year. Since then, he’s founded TweetForMyBiz, a social media consultancy, based in San Francisco.
Moderator at this year’s conference, Mike Cassidy wrote an excellent column in the San Jose Mercury News about how teens embrace fearlessness in Silicon Valley. He writes:
“Tech CEOs have done plenty of hand-wringing about our schools’ declining ability to turn out the thinkers we need to keep innovation robust…The young entrepreneurs at the SDForum conference don’t make those worries go away, but they are a reason to hold onto hope. They are a generation that embraces the optimism, fearlessness and drive that have built Silicon Valley.”
Adam Jackson, who uprooted from Florida to San Francisco to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams as a young teen, is a great example of this fearlessness.
In this interview from the Fresh Dialogues archives, Adam talks about how to become a green influencer.
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“If you have an idea to be more green, help the earth, then go for it, and try it out. See what happens and talk about it. That’s how you become an influencer, that’s how you become an expert. It’s not by re-quoting other people’s things. Or by trying to figure it out, maybe dabbling in it. You just have to jump head first.”
SDForum attendees got a glimpse of the future last Friday. Microsoft hosted the 4th Annual SDForum Teens Conference – an assembly of some of the most dynamic and creative young minds in Silicon Valley.
I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of high energy high school students who are using technology to pursue their dreams of, well, simply: changing the world. Why not indeed?
Katherine Nasol, a junior at Notre Dame High School, who aims to eradicate child trafficking in the Philippines through her Pagkabata Project, put it best:
“In a time where youth have a bad reputation of going on Facebook all day and spending most of our time playing video games, this conference challenges that notion. Youth have the power to do anything, whether it be building a global network or changing the world views to care for the environment.”
Her colleagues were equally impressive, from Emily Gran, who wants the world to take action in response to climate change (and has created a high school syllabus to trigger that change); to Daniel Brusilovsky who founded Teens in Tech Networksto help launch young entrepreneurs in business (and wants to replace Steve Jobs at Apple when he grows up – there will be no stopping this guy !); to Veronica Hume and Diana Chen who have created the GirlsForTech site to connect techie girls around the world; to Emily Munoz and Natalie Hon,Freestyle Academy students, who made a documentary about the importance of arts education in schools.
Panelists include, from the left: Diana Chen (Mountain View) , Veronica Hume (St. Francis), Katherine Nasol (Notre Dame), Emily Gran (Menlo Atherton) and Daniel Brusilovski (Aragon) and not photographed: Emily Munoz (Mountain View) and Nathalie Hon (Los Altos). Moderator: Alison van Diggelen
This is a transcript of my interview with influential venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. The interview was recorded at the SD ForumVisionary Awards on June 25, 2009. To listen to the interview or read the summary post, click here
Alison van Diggelen: I’m with Vinod Khosla, one of the Visionary Award winners for 2009. Vinod, firstly I want to congratulate you. How does it feel?
Vinod Khosla: Thanks! Embarrassing…(laughter)
Alison: So this is not your cup of tea, to be the center of attention?
Vinod: Not really
Alison: So first of all, I want to ask you about your lead in clean tech. You were one of the first venture capitalists to see the opportunity in clean tech. Can you talk about where that motivation came from?
Vinod: Well, in 2000, I started looking for something new, something different and something large, and something amenable to technology disruption, and clean tech was one of those areas that popped up right away. So, right after I gave a talk about the optical bubble in 2000, when the stock market was still high, I said I should be doing something other than telecom, and that’s when I started looking and this is what popped up.
Alison: What was the first company that popped up, or was it just the sector in general?
Vinod: Well, in 2001 at Kleiner, we invested in Bloom Energy, and KR (Sridhar),who’s going to be introducing me tonight, was one of the first clean tech investments I pursued.
Alison: Is that looking good to you?
Vinod: Well, the company is very well funded, doing extremely well, and has been able to get great valuations in the market place, so I guess that’s a precursor to success. (laughter).
Alison: And where does this motivation come from? I mean, are you concerned about global warming first and foremost, are you concerned about the planet, or is it: here’s a great economic opportunity?
Vinod: Well, I am definitely concerned about global warming, and I am definitely concerned about how five billion people enjoy the lifestyle that 500 million people do today, out of the six and a half billion people we have and the nine billion we’re going to have. So it’s clearly that. But that itself creates an economic opportunity, so that concern about a crisis happening there creates the opportunity and then we muddle through and hope we can find the right answer.
Alison: And you’ve helped a lot of entrepreneurs along the way. I understand you’re very involved in the companies you invest in. Can you talk about how you’ve helped them?
Vinod: Well, as our website says, we’re not in the venture capital business, we’re in the venture assistance business. That’s all I do, that’s what our website says, and frankly, that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy sort of being a coach and mentor to young entrepreneurs, and that to me is the most rewarding thing you can do. The fact that it’s a way to make money is almost incidental at this stage.
Alison: On your website, it also says that you had a dream to bring soy milk to India. What is your dream today?
Vinod: Well the dream clearly is to replace the four major emitters of carbon dioxide: oil, coal, steel and cement with much more carbon efficient technologies, and I think that’s the kind of new invention and innovation that we need to help the planet and create a whole new economic ecosystem. That’s the dream.
Alison: You were an early backer of biodiesel and it’s had some bad press because of deforestation etc.
Vinod: Actually, we never did invest in biodiesel. That is a misconception. We never did invest in any biodiesel company.
Alison: But you were a strong advocate of it I understand…no?
Vinod: No. I was always an advocate of cellulosic fuels, but people have used my name as if I’m supporting biodiesel, like you mentioned. I’m generally against all food based fuels.
Alison: I see, good to clarify that. And you are an investor in Ausra? Tell me about that investment and how that’s looking for the future.
Vinod: Well, it’s looking…You know, Ausra is pioneering a new kind of solar thermal technology for large power plants or additions to existing power plants and I like the fact that they can do a small add-on; a $10 Million add-on to an existing power plant, so you can reduce the amount of coal you burn or the amount of natural gas you burn. So that’s very neat about that technology and you can also build a 200 Megawatt power plant with the same technology, so I like that characteristic.
It’s early in the solar thermal race, but we’ll see how things go. We are optimistic.
Alison: And some people have already been talking about a clean energy bubble. Do you see that? Is that how you’d typify the market with this huge downturn in venture capital funding in the first quarter of this year.
Vinod: Well I was concerned about a clean energy bubble last year and though this economic downturn that’s happened is not good, it has helped slow down the bubble or pop it and I think we’ll hopefully have more reasonable development going forward.
Alison: So you feel the bubble has popped?
Vinod: Well, I wouldn’t say it was a bubble but it was in danger of becoming a bubble and I think that danger is lower, is reduced, is dissipated somewhat. But look, anytime greed starts to play these things pop up again, so it’s something we have to warn against.
I think it was in 2003 I warned against the nanotechnology bubble and that helped. I almost got sued for it.
Alison: Did you really?
Vinod: For saying nanotechnology was not right for public offerings and there was a couple of companies ready to go public. I think we have to avoid those bubbles because they’re not productive for anybody.
Alison: Yes. And what are your warnings today?
Vinod: Warnings about what?
Alison: About potential future bubbles?
Vinod: Well every rush turns into a bubble. It’s something we have to just…it happened with the railroads in the 1830s, it’s happened with almost every new technology and we just have to be cautious.
Alison: Right. And are you optimistic with the Obama administration in power now and their backing on clean energy?
Vinod: Yeah. I’m generally quite optimistic. I’m very optimistic that both we’ll find the technologies as well as the fact that we’ll have a huge impact.
Alison: Thank you very much Vinod.
This interview was recorded on June 25, 2009 at the SDForum Visionary Awards. To read the summary post or listen to the interview, click here