July 1, 2008

Silicon Valley’s Visionaries – Oscar party for techies

Posted in silicon valley, tech tagged , , , , , , at 10:17 pm by siliconmom

Glamor at the Visionary Awards aka The Tech Oscars    The only things missing were the red carpet and the paparazzi at last Wednesday’s SDForum’s Visionary Awards ceremony. It had all the trappings of the Oscars: glitz and glamor, champagne and cocktail dresses. OK, there were more business suits than bustierres, I admit. But I think the brain power at this Silicon Valley event was probably ten to the Nth power of its LA counterpart.  I kept expecting an announcer to say: “Reed Hastings is appearing with fabulous thoughts today, combining high IQ with the always elegant ideas for movie delivery.”

Held at the private home of Heidi Roizen and David Mohler in Atherton, the party kicked off with a VIP only event inside the Italian villa. Backed by a suit of armor, and looked upon by a giant Bison head and stag’s head, SDForum’s CEO Susan Lucas-Conwell (sporting one of her signature French silk scarves)  made the introductions, as everyone crowded into the wood beamed hall. Susan teased the crowd about revealing how the five visionaries are actually chosen, but the selection process remains a well guarded secret. Ann Winblad is giving nothing away.

Susan Lucas-Conwell

I chatted to Cromwell Schubarth, editor of the Silicon Valley Business Journal who reports that contrary to the fate of many newspapers, like the Merc, his paper is thriving. Exploiting a niche and doing it well is key, he tells me. Next up: The Green Mayor: Chuck Reed, who was unususally enthusiastic. “The best days are ahead of us!” he exclaimed. Perhaps the optimism of all those successful techies and entrepreneurs rubbed off on him. Or maybe it was his delight in driving his wonderful Prius to the event. He told me he gets a cool green 44 MPG. That would make anyone a wee bit jovial, the way gas prices are surging!

Talking joviality, the exuberant Heidi Roizen gave me some of the skinny on her startup: SkinnySongs (an interview for Women’s Radio seems inevitable). She was determined to get the visionaries to sign her “virtual” bookshelves, a masterful tromp l’oie in her living room, already adorned with Sergey Brin, author of “Googled” among other big techy names. A smart move by Heidi: no doubt adding many $’s to the value of her home, even in this down market.the next best seller

I was cheered to hear a visionary like Forest Baskett (former CTO of Silicon Graphics and Partner at VPs NEA) pushing the case for wind power and electric cas. Moving from 20c a mile (gas) to 2c a mile (electric) sounds pretty compelling to me.

Good friends Forest Baskett & Diane Greene

Diane Greene, pioneer of mainstream virtualization and CEO & co-founder of VMWare was the most modest of the bunch. She simply credits her ‘visionary powers’ to being an optimist. According to her intro, she established a company culture that is employee-focused and about being “nice people”.  Mendel Rosenblum summed it up by saying “she showed you can build a multi-billion dollar software company and not be a jerk.” Amen to that.

I look forward to exploring both her company culture and her great passion for sailing (she tells me she sails a trimoran) when I interview her for Women’s Radio later this summer.

Founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings had some interesting wisdom to share about growing a startup: success is all about employee freedom he says: encourage creativity, take risk, do things different…

And finally: Steven Levy, senior writer for Wired Magazine and author of “Hackers” was entertaining: he described all the poses Bill Gates goes through in the space of a two hour interview – from rocking madly, almost horizontal, to fetal position. Steven is proud of the fact he antagonized the richest man in the world so much that he threw a pencil at him! Only a geek would boast that claim to fame.

Heidi warned me the party goes on till the wee hours…sadly I couldn’t stay around to see if techies really can party like the Oscar party crowd. But with Heidi at the helm, I don’t doubt they’d give it a good try.


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