LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman: On Entrepreneurship & Women in Tech

LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman: On Entrepreneurship & Women in Tech

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

LinkedIn Cofounder and tech investor extraordinaire, Reid Hoffman delivered some compelling entrepreneurial insights to an intimate group in Silicon Valley last week. It earned him a few more stars for his “visionary” reputation; however his insights on the drive to get more women in tech fell far short of expectations. See below…

The gathering was an elegant SVForum affair, led by CEO Adiba Barney.

Here’s some of Hoffman’s valuable wisdom for entrepreneurs:

1. Don’t keep your big idea a secret

According to Hoffman, if you don’t share your startup idea with people who can help you, it’s “a massive recipe for failure.”

SVForum CEO Adiba Barney, Fresh Dialogues Report2. Mine your network

As Hoffman emphasizes in his latest book The Alliance, “An externally networked workforce is critical to an innovative company.” What he means by this is:

a. nurture your wider network (give and take advice) and be active on social media

b. encourage your employees to do likewise

c. seek wisdom from the smartest people you know outside your company

Hoffman illustrated this with an anecdote about his “odd couple” alliance with PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, whom he initially considered “to the right of Attila the Hun” and who considered Hoffman a communist.

3. Don’t rush the IPO

Hoffman underlined that IPOs aren’t the holy grail they once were, thanks to late stage investors with large cash infusions. IPOs must make sense strategically for your startup.

“The key question for any company is how an IPO can help you build your company into something that may be around for decades or hundreds of years and help to transform the industry they are in,” says Hoffman.

This fits with what Elon Musk told me when I asked him about a SpaceX IPO. He pointed out that there are major disadvantages to going public, especially if your business has very long term goals (like going to Mars!)

Alison van Diggelen asks Reid Hoffman Q SVForumAnd now on to the subject of the dismally low number of women in Silicon Valley’s tech companies. Latest figures show only 25% of LinkedIn’s leadership is female, the number is even lower for women holding tech positions (17%).

Since Hoffman prides himself as a public intellectual, I asked him what LinkedIn is doing to increase the number of women in tech; and what the academic case is for doing so. Frankly, I thought he’d cite one of the many studies which show the positive correlation between the number of women executives and company success.

Here’s his response:

“Women on average are much more diligent than men and much more capable of learning a set of different things, so having them deeply engaged in technology, creating the future is important. And then there’s obviously the full ramp of sensibilities for how products should work…how those human ecosystems should work. So I think it behooves…the world is much better off… with having an industry that isn’t – as it’s historically been – very balanced on the male side, but to be trending toward a more evenly balanced industry. There are various initiatives – the Lean In one is just the most recent.” Reid Hoffman


That’s it.

He’s referring to the announcement on February 8th that, Facebook, LinkedIn and the Anita Borg Institute have created a partnership to expand Lean In Circles on college campuses. Reid Hoffman and the LinkedIn team deserve some praise for their involvement, but that’s it? I didn’t get the feeling that this topic is high on Hoffman’s agenda, or that he cares that much about it.

Here’s my vision: I’d like to see Mr Hoffman use his profound intellect and growing visionary platform to inspire more action and help get more women into the tech field.



Kiva cofounder Jessica Jackley shares 3 startup tips

Kiva cofounder Jessica Jackley shares 3 startup tips

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Kiva cofounder, Jessica Jackley received a Visionary Award at SVForum in Silicon Valley this month. She joined an impressive roster of former award winners that includes Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Padmasree Warrior.
Jackley took a few moments with me to share tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and some clues about her latest startup, launching this Fall.
She enthuses about Silicon Valley being “an incredibly special pocket of the world” where “people have a great capacity to imagine new futures.”
“So many people here have the resources and skills to make these new stories unfold, become real,” she adds.

Here are some highlights of our conversation.

Tips for aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. Be passionate

Do something you are passionate about and have a vision for.

2. Start small

Remember Kiva began with seven entrepreneurs and a little over $3000. It recently surpassed the $500,000,000 mark in microloans to entrepreneurs around the world, serving almost 2 million Kiva users in 76 countries. The average loan amount is $10.

3. Be excellent

Serve one person, or one community well and build from there. Be thoughtful, intentional and think about the details. Study and absorb what’s unfolding in front of you, and be present.

On her new startup

1. Focus

I’m excited to focus on serving working parents…I’m in the trenches right now and that’s the people I want to serve.

2. The Problem

I hope to consult with companies on their policies, culture that supports or doesn’t support working parents. There’s a lot of room for improvement in existing companies.

3. The Solution

My goal is to make it easier and provide options for working parents to prioritize and design their own work and lives around that. Parenting is one of the most entrepreneurial things that I’ll ever do. There’s so much that maps from my experience into motherhood that I want to share with other people. I want to work at the company level and with individuals to demand what they want.

4. The Context

In Europe, it’s top down, (working parents) are taken care of by institutions. I don’t want to wait for that (policy change) to happen here. It’s the better and faster way to go here, in this (US) culture.

Find out more about other SVForum visionary award winners and check back soon for interviews with Stanford’s Tina Seilig, VC Tim Draper and Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America.

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

Tesla Fires: Will GM Share Volt’s Protection Tips?

Tesla Fires: Will GM Share Volt’s Protection Tips?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Will GM experts share their wisdom with Tesla  to make the Model S less prone to fires? That’s the question I put to GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher last week at the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley.

You’ve no doubt heard that three fires have been reported in Tesla Model S in the last five weeks. As we all know, three’s a trend. Granted, they weren’t episodes of random spontaneous combustion. Instead they were ignited by one high-impact crash and two high-speed encounters with metal debris which acted like a “pole vault”  to puncture the undercarriage of the car and hence the battery. Although Tesla’s Elon Musk has declared, there won’t be a recall, it’s almost certain the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will investigate. What needs to be done to make Teslas more impervious to battery puncturing road debris?


As you’ll see in the video, Pam Fletcher confirms that GM has sold  58,000 Chevy Volts since its launch in 2010 and after 300 million miles on the road, not one has had a similar fate to Tesla’s Model S. She acknowledges that there were fire issues in 2011 at the crash-testing phase, but emphasises no real-world incidents similar to the Model S have occurred.

Fires, Electric Cars and Achilles Heels

First some background. In 2011, safety regulators investigated Chevy Volt crash tests resulting in one battery pack catching fire and one smoking and emitting sparks. The troubling issue was the week-long delay between the crash test and the battery pack catching fire.

During our interview, Fletcher confirms that after the investigation, GM made no change to the battery cells, but did put “some additional reinforcement on the outside of the battery.”

It also implemented a process with first responders that includes depowering of the battery after a severe crash.

Ironically, Tesla got the highest safety ranking from regulators and has a first responders guide in place, however all parties seemed oblivious to the vehicle’s Achilles’ Heel.  It obviously needs more durable undercarriage protection to prevent any more fiery “pole vaulting” episodes. To date, Elon Musk has been strongly resistant to such an approach. A recall will taint not only Tesla’s award winning brand, but entail extra costs and manufacturing delays for this relatively small auto company. To make matters worse, extra reinforcement will increase the weight of the Model S, and the extra pounds will have a knock-on effect on the vehicle’s range.

But it looks like Tesla’s Elon Musk may have to get some tips from GM on adequate car underbelly protection or find his own solutions.

It’s unlikely Tesla will change the configuration of its batteries. According to Reuters, Tesla’s battery pack stretches across the base of the vehicle and is made up of small lithium-ion battery cells, like those used in laptops. By contrast, GM uses large-format battery cells in a T-shape in the center of the Chevy Volt.

Fletcher was eager to move past fiery discussions and talk about adoption rates and “getting to scale.” She described the newly unveiled Cadillac ELR (a luxury electric hybrid based on the Chevy Volt) which will be available for test drives this week at the LA Auto Show. We also discussed autonomous cars, why EV adoption rates are so high in Silicon Valley; what to expect from the next generation Chevy Volt; and what surprised her about the thousands of Volt drivers on the road today.

Check back soon for more from GM’s Pam Fletcher.
Green Jobs Advice from Google, SolarCity, San Jose City, VC at Commonwealth Club

Green Jobs Advice from Google, SolarCity, San Jose City, VC at Commonwealth Club

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

This month, I moderated a panel of green jobs experts for the Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley. Experts included: Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager, Google; Josh Green, General Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures; Linda Keala, Vice President Human Resources, SolarCity and Nanci Klein, Deputy Director, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose.

You can listen to the conversation here. The event will soon be televised: Contact us or check back soon for details.

The panel shared insights about the green economy, as well as tips for finding and securing green investments and green jobs. Here are highlights of our conversation (edited for space and clarity).

What are hot sectors in the green economy?

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “In the current environment, we’re looking for less capital intensive deals (energy efficiency, LED lighting and building management systems), so that means we’re on the side of energy demand much more than energy production. People call this cleantech IT – Information Technology. I’m an investor in Xicato, an LED module company. The LED convergence will happen…the payback is less than two years and (it’s) equivalent to halogen light. You don’t have to replace them for ten years or more and especially in a commercial settings, you end up lowering your maintenance costs.”

On cleantech growth sectors in Silicon Valley

Nanci Klein, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose: “People say manufacturing has left the US…but manufacturing is very exciting here. When you talk about innovation and commercialization, Silicon Valley is a hub around new product introduction. Contract manufacturers will take a low volume, high mix of products. …the ten largest in the world – Tier One contract manufacturers – are all here in Silicon Valley, six of them in San Jose. They’re like a secret weapon resource. We try to link baby investors to these companies. You take someone with a hot idea and you put them with all of the accelerated services…if the product is good you can have a rocket in terms of acceleration.”

Nanci said the following Silicon Valley cleantech companies are currently hiring: Flextronics, SunPower, Solar Junction, Nanosolar, Lunera, Enlighted, Philips Lumilix, Coulomb/ChargePoint, Echelon, Cypress Envirosytems.

On Solyndra

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “The loan guarantee program is operating well within the loan loss reserves. Certain loans are going to fail…The Solyndra mess became a big political football…the good news is that we’ve passed the half life…Congress officially stopped all its hearings. There will be continued efforts to end the loan guarantee program…but Solyndra itself: it’s over in terms of an issue.  As investors, it never was an issue, it was a company that was not successful…I’ve got a portfolio with lots of companies that are not successful.  Out of 100 investments, if you have 10 that meet your investment objectives (10x your money or better) then you’re ‘wildly’ successful, that makes you a top venture capitalists. That means you have a 90% – under your expectations success – rate.”

Tips on getting a green job

Linda Keala, Director of HR, SolarCity: 

1. “A background in cleantech is not a prerequisite.”

2. “Differentiate yourself – what about the job (post) got you inspired? What resonated about the company?”

3. “I love getting handwritten letters. A personalized message tells me this is who I am, this is what I can bring to the company. Sometimes I get them in little pink envelopes…”

4. “Touch a spot in our hearts and we’ll take a close look at that resume.”

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “Have passion to change the world.”

How to get a job in Google’s Green Team (there are currently seven openings in the sustainability/green team areas)

Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager at Google:

Here are the qualities Google looks for:

1. “Be a self starter, work independently and drive forward a project.”

2. “Think about creative solutions. We value innovation and creativity.”

3. “Show passion and new ways of thinking about things…that is very valuable.”

How is the City of San Jose helping entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond?

Nanci Klein, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose: Here are some of the resources available – The Entrepreneur Center in downtown San Jose; Business Owner Space; Opportunity Fund. Check out She also recommends the Cleantech Open competition and SolarTech an association for those in solar and financing sectors. The City of San Jose is working in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and others to create Prospect Silicon Valley, a demonstration and commrecialization center for cleantech startups.

On storage and battery technology

Josh Green, Mohr Davidow Ventures: “Storage is the most important development that could happen for our grid at the utility scale storage level as well as the emerging EV market to encourage the widespread adoption of EVs. ON the grid side, there is NO storage…the second you produce an electron it has to be consumed…this results in the creation of “Peaker Plants” used for 5-15 hours a year (especially in August). Storage has the greatest potential to unlock value.

In the transportation sector, lithium ion batteries are the lightest batteries and they still weigh about 1400 lbs in the new Tesla Model S. To the extent that you can get these to be a smaller battery pack you can unlock incredible advantages.

For the next 10 years, lithuim ion technologies are going to be where batteires and storage are focused. There are about 50-60 venture backed companies in the Bay Area, working on advanced battery technology. Mohr Davidow has invested in extracting lithium from geothermal brine at goethermal plants in Southern California. Its the lowest cost producer in the world with the best environmental footprint. We believe that lithium will help fuel the storage revolution.

Guy Kawasaki: On Evangelism

Guy Kawasaki: On Evangelism

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Guy Kawasaki, the renowned Apple evangelist shares his top tips on how to become a great evangelist and how to leverage your success. This segment is part of a longer interview which took place in front of an audience of over 500 on July 7, 2010 at UC Santa Cruz Extension, and introduced my upcoming course in Green Entrepreneurship. First up: I asked Guy for TIPS ON EVANGELIZING

“The starting point for a great evangelist is to have a great product….” e.g. the Apple iPad: how hard could that be? Guy Kawasaki

“The thing that has made me successful is that – unlike a lot of people – I’m willing to grind it out.” ie long hours, hard work. Guy Kawasaki

On leveraging your success

“With a psych(ology) degree and a marketing background (diamonds), I’m living proof that you can fool most of the people all the time. I’m also living proof if you do one thing right (evangelize the Mac) – you can live off your reputation for decades.” Guy Kawasaki


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