How to be a Tech Visionary? 5 Lessons from Oscars of Silicon Valley

How to be a Tech Visionary? 5 Lessons from Oscars of Silicon Valley

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

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.

Steven Levy interviewed by Alison van Diggelen, SVForum Visionaries 2014, photo credit: Tom Foremski4. 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

Cisco’s Warrior Shares 7 Secrets of Success

Cisco’s Warrior Shares 7 Secrets of Success

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Cisco System’s CTO Padmasree Warrior discusses the “Lean In” Movement, and what lessons she’s learned in her remarkable career. Warrior, an influential Silicon Valley tech leader, on the Forbes List of 100 Most Powerful Women, says women shouldn’t hold themselves back, they should be “out there and leaning in to opportunities.”


Warrior emphasizes the importance of authenticity in leadership, letting people see “who you truly are.” Of course, being approachable…coaching, mentoring, and brainstorming ideas with your team are also key, she says.

On the question of finding balance in your life, Warrior is blunt. “I don’t like the word ‘balance,’” she says. “To me that somehow conjures up conflict between work and family…as long as we think of these things as conflicting, we will never have happiness. True happiness comes from integration…of work, family, self, community.”

Warrior dedicates Saturday as her digital detox day where she puts down her smartphone and busies herself with family and gardening, painting, cooking, even haiku. Check out her eclectic Twitter feed to learn more.

She told me that letting go of guilt is a vital lesson. “When my son was growing up, I was always guilty, no matter what I did, ” she says. “Make decisions and be happy with the decisions you’ve made. I tell myself in the long run, it’s the love, the quality of relationships that you have with your family, your friends and giving back to the community that matters.”

Here’s a summary of Warrior’s Seven Secrets of Success. Watch the video for all the details.

1. Be authentic, approachable
2. Mentor and coach others
3. Be out there and “lean in” to opportunities
4. Forget “balance” – integrate work, family, self, community
5. Avoid guilt
6. Be happy with your decisions
7. Think long-term and focus on relationship quality

The interview was recorded at SVForum’s Visionary Awards in Silicon Valley, June 26, 2013. Warrior was one of four honorees. Find out more about Warrior and her advice for getting more women in STEM.

Alison van Diggelen asks Fresh Questions and gets Fresh Answers. Find out more about her green interview series. And join the conversation on Facebook

This is part of a special “Inspiring Women” series at Fresh Dialogues featuring Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, Jennifer Granholm, Maureen Dowd, and Belva Davis.

Why is Tesla Focused on Big Touchscreen Connectivity?

Why is Tesla Focused on Big Touchscreen Connectivity?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

This week, I spoke with Diurmuid O’Connell, VP of Business Development at Tesla Motors and he confirmed the company is not just focused on sexy fast cars but connectivity and energy storage.

“The totem of social acceptance is no longer personal mobility, it’s personal connectivity…the smart phone,” says O’Connell, citing the company’s massive 17 inch touchscreen which offers everything from navigation, to climate control to web browsing. He describes how it gives consumers the ability to upgrade a vehicle immediately and remotely; a useful benefit especially for what he calls “the perfect navigation system.”

“The screen can be updated in real time to improve not just the entertainment and climate control aspects but actually the performance of the vehicle,” he adds.

O’Connell also shared some details of Tesla’s push into energy storage. I asked him if the focus was on utility scale storage or distributed energy storage and he made reference to Bloom Energy – the Sunnyvale based fuel cell maker – that has a business model aimed at both sectors. Energy storage is something that many experts describe as the holy grail for advanced energy systems and Tesla has a large team of engineers working hard on the challenge at its Deer Park, Palo Alto facility. When I pressed him on future breakthroughs, O’Connell admitted the team is making good progress and said an announcement was likely within the next 12 months.

The video was recorded at SVForum’s CleanTech breakfast, moderated by Rob Shelton of PwC, in Silicon Valley on October 16, 2012. Check back soon for more on Net Zero buildings and other clean tech innovation trends.

Bloom Energy: 2012 Update

Bloom Energy: 2012 Update

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Bloom Energy‘s Director of Product Marketing, Asim Hussain, made a rare public appearance at SVForum’s Clean Tech Conference last week and shared some details about Bloom’s 2012 plans:

New manufacturing facility in Delaware.

“Here in California, we’ve created 1500 clean jobs and we’re going to do the same in Delaware when we build that (30MW) manufacturing facility.” Asim Hussain

Manufacturing  in California

The privately held company currently has three manufacturing facilities – including its testing facility – and they employ two Bloom Boxes to power one plant, using a biogas source. They plan to extend that capability to the recently built second plant. Unlike many Silicon Valley companies, manufacturing operations are here in the valley, although they have a global supply chain.

Bloom Electrons

Fresh Dialogues asked about the future of Bloom Electrons, the energy-only purchase model the company announced last year. Instead of paying the hefty $800,000 upfront cost for a Bloom energy server, customers sign a ten-year energy purchase agreement at a fixed price. Hussain confirmed that this model allows Bloom to access a new market segment: the nonprofit sector. The poster child for Bloom Electrons is California Institute of Technology Caltech – which began a 2 MW Bloom installation in 2010. The program has also allowed commercial clients like Walmart to expand their Bloom installations from two to twenty eight stores.

Post Solyndra

In the Post Solyndra era, Bloom Energy is not immune to scrutiny. The numbers have been crunched; the energy supply sources have been analyzed (on which planet is natural gas – the fossil fuel – a renewable resource?); the accusations of too much reliance on tax credits and subsidies have been leveled.  Can the company, which has been valued at close to $3 B, meet all its cofounder, KR Sridhar’s ambitious dreams and change the world? Watch this space.


Hussain was part of a panel discussion on green building, moderated by Abby Johnson of Abacus Property. The experts included Alain Poivet of Sunplanter, Swapnil Shah of FirstFuel and PG&E’s Andrew Yip. The conference was hosted by SAP‘s green gurus Peter Graf, and Rami Branitzky

For more coverage of Bloom Energy, check out our exclusive interviews, transcripts and stories.

Bloom’s KR Sridhar Interviews:

On Technology and Efficiency

How to Change the World

Bloom Box Affordability Essentials

Read transcripts, see photos and check out our ARCHIVES featuring exclusive interviews with Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many more green experts and visionaries…

and join the conversation at our Facebook Page

Check out exclusive VIDEOS AT THE Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel

TJ Rodgers, Cleantech Investor a Global Warming Skeptic

TJ Rodgers, Cleantech Investor a Global Warming Skeptic

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

TJ Rodgers, the outspoken CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, was one of four Visionary Awards recipients at the Oscars of Silicon Valley June 21st –  a gathering of Silicon Valley elite presented by SV Forum. He was introduced by Eric Benhamou of Benhamou Ventures  who described Rodgers as “a tough boss, argumentative and very competitive,” and added “I’m using polite language here.”

Renowned for his libertarian views, and highly critical of government “meddling” in the economy, Rodgers, who led the acquisition of SunPower by Cypress in 2004, shared some of his business philosophy with Fresh Dialogues. And check out this VIDEO CLIP to hear why Rodgers almost named Cypress “Pear Tree” and how he maintains his passion for learning…in his hot tub, with the newspapers, a floating desk and LEDs.

TJ Rodgers on global warming

“Global warming is a secular religion…I call it the Church of Greenhouse Gases.”

TJ Rodgers on New York Times columnist and author of Hot, Flat and Crowded, Tom Friedman

“Friedman is doing a disservice to the American economy. He’s a writer. He knows nothing about cleantech and creating businesses and jobs.”

TJ Rodgers on the role of government in stimulating the green economy

“I believe in a level playing field. Scrap subsidies for oil….I’m against laws like AB 32.”

Note: In 2010, TJ Rodgers took a strong and vocal stand for California’s Proposition 23, which sought the suspension of  AB 32, the law that regulates greenhouse gas emissions. He quit his position on the board of SunPower, adding, “I was at odds with the management of SunPower…they knew who I was when I saved their ass.” (referring to Cypress Semiconductor’s purchase of Sunpower in 2004 which proved to be a mutually advantageous choice for both companies)



TJ Rodgers on why you should invest in cleantech

“A ‘greater good” motivation is not a good argument. Business isn’t charity. Create products people need, efficiently and produce profit for shareholders. Profits give you the moral high ground…they make for a good economy and more jobs.”

TJ Rodgers on cleantech entrepreneurs who want to ‘save the planet’

“I’d be more skeptical about investing in cleantech entrepreneurs who are motivated by global warming…it’s like a religion. It’s not good business.”

This is part two of Fresh Dialogues coverage of the Visionary Awards 2011. Read part one,  What Makes Silicon Valley Unique

Check out many more PHOTOS from the Visionaries and Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel Videos here

More on Silicon Valley events here