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.

May 14, 2008

Teens plugged in! – SDForum showcases stars

Posted in silicon valley, tech tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:54 pm by siliconmom

 

 (Sejal Hathi)    Yesterday’s Teens Plugged In Conference, organized by SDForum, Silicon Valley’s excellent networking and relationship builder, was a feast of youthful exuberance. HP’s auditorium in Palo Alto was overrun with young geeks from 14 to 21 who were excited to share their thoughts, sell their companies (yes: some are already CEOs) and get more funding for their tech based philanthropic enterprises. Susan Lucas-Conwell, SDForum’s chief, did a masterful job keeping the peace when Internet connections stalled at 9 am, (how can this happen in the epicenter of Silicon Valley?), but technology prevailed and soon it was on with the show.

Anshul Samar, the 14 year old  CEO of Alchemist Empire launched his PowerPoint with the panache of a seasoned techy, explaining his biz opportunity: combining kids’ need to have fun with parents’ desire to educate their kids. After launching the idea for his battle-making game that teaches chemistry at last year’s conference, he’s already raised some capital and is poised to take it further. “Being in Silicon Valley makes it impossible NOT to be an entrepreneur,” enthused Samar. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that name in the future.

Notre Dame Junior, Sejal Hathi dominated the teen panel with eloquent answers and details of her philanthropic venture: Girls Helping Girls, an international girl empowerment program fostering links between US schools and developing countries. Go girls!

Talking philanthropy, I got the chance to interview Salina Truong for my Women’s Radio show. She works with Gumball Capital, a clever nonprofit based at Stanford that seeks to teach students about microfinance by giving them this challenge: here’s a loan for $27  and 27 gumballs, go out and use your entrepreneurial smarts and make it grow. The proceeds? They’re sent to enterprising charities like kiva.com If you want to hear about some of the creative projects and how much they raised, check out my radio show Silicon Valley Talks next week.

Finally and perhaps most impressive of all, I interviewed Alina Libova, the unassuming 19 year old who created an Easter Egg application using the Facebook framework, garnered 300,000 users and recently sold it to Thingi. A turning point for her was hosting a Vista Party at Foothill College, that drew over 300 attendees….this while she was still a high school student in Mountain View. Alina is transferring from Cal Poly to Cal next Fall and is bursting with ideas. With success like that, and her quiet yet compelling personality, she looks like a rising star. If you want to hear more from Alina about her inspiration and future plans, check out my radio show next week.

 And one last note for those who lament the end of kids reading real books and losing the art of face to face communication, one teen panelist gave a glowing endorsement for Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to win friends and influence people.” I wonder what advice Carnegie would give for navigating Facebook, winning online friends and not sullying your employment prospects, 5 years down the line?