The Red Herring NDA, 40 foot Crocodiles, pond scum, and other forms of life.
Tony Perkins Subbing for George Bush
The nice people at the Red Herring have had the bad taste to invite me, once again, to a conference and this one was a stunner. Two years ago all the talk was head-shaking-wonder at the glory and the power of the New Economy, but this year there was wonder but of a very different sort. The purpose of the conference was to discuss mega trends in the future in telecom, venture capital, biotech, and the net.
The night before the conference Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago spoke about his rooting around in the desert for old bones. He is the paleontologist who recently went public with his discovery of a forty-foot crocodile, which lived a hundred million years ago and could leap out of the water and take on a T-Rex. He spoke so compellingly about his passion for science but I was disappointed to learn that he was actually a character actor hired by the University to bring in the stupendous grant money his activities have been attracting. OK. I made that up. He was as real as the fossilized finger bone, which supported a 16″ claw from one of the beasts he has discovered (the largest claw ever found). His subtext was to exuberantly peruse your passion.
Tony Perkins (who with his brother Michael called it with the Internet Bubble) led things off and he reminded me of Mel Brooks a bit. They’re both funny sure, but that isn’t it. Mel Brooks with his smash hit, The Producers, has reinvented Broadway by actually poking fun at Broadway in much the same way that Tony has called the internet’s bluff while at the same time being the spokesman for his industry. Bizarre, no?
Paul Jacobs the CEO of Qualcomm told us how his firm has survived and flourished during these trying times. Wasn’t it Qualcomm, which had the record stock price growth in 2000 of any company on the NASDAQ? Paul referred to the recent past as “the dot com era.” Put it on the shelf with the old Buffalo Springfield albums.
Jerry Weisman, of Power Presentations led a spirited panel discussing the nature of creative thinking and the future of broadband. Paul Jacobs, Dave House, president and CEO of Allegro Networks and Henry Samuelli the CTO and co-founder of Broadcom collectively conjured up the gods of new ideas.
Chris Byron, columnist, Red Herring chaired the group of trend deconstructors including Roger McNamee, founding VC of Integral CVapital and Silverlake. Steve Jurvetson, managing partner of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Ester Dyson, chair of EDventure Holdings, Jason Pontin, editor of the Herring and Blaise Zerega, deputy editor of the Herring. The Red Herring guys set out to defend their picks of the top 10 new ideas predicted by the Herring and the group had a vigorous divide over when and what constitute, the next big thing. At one point a panelist asked that the rest to stipulate that they were all in agreement about one trend and move on to the next one, but what was a slam dunk to him was a non starter for another panelist.
At one point a panelist (who I happen to know is damn tired of his cell phone dropping his calls right in the middle of Sand Hill Road) referred to cable operators and the wireless industry as several forms of life lower than pond scum. Chris had a virtual applause meter to record those who agreed. Most did. We now have a new industry we can use as whipping boys now that all the online pet food folks are gone. When Roger was asked what he would invest in he said that if Steve Jurvetson was investing in it he would stand aside. He meant that respectfully because the VC’s specialize. DFJ is getting deeper into radical nanoscience and Roger prefers to pick up on an industry when has a history of a few development years under its belt. Ester pointed out that one can’t invest in trends but rather in companies so there is more do-dil being done than ever.
John Scully, Jamis Something and James Joaquin
During a break James Joaquin (Ofoto [just sold to Kodak] and When [sold to AOL]) and John Scully (Pepsi and Apple) were talking about their mutual Apple days and what John is doing now. John is running a private fund with his brothers and they are into really boring things, which make bad copy but lots of money. John looked a bit stressed during his days in Woodside but now looks like 100 million bucks.
Rahul Bhandari, managing director of Paras Ventures, told me that he was on his way to Buck’s to seal a deal, partly because it’s where the deal is and partly to be part of a legend. Rahul get free pancakes. This man has the stuff of greatness watch for his name in the news.
Steve Jurvetson chaired a panel called Eggheads Unplugged (mean IQ 173, but very average motocross racers) with Eric Schmidt the CEO of Google, Bruce Schneider of Counterpane, Tim Harris CEO of SGX and John Gage chief of research at Sun. Bruce was particularly interesting. His firm is involved in high tech security and in another life I think he would have been the first on the scene for the pillaging of ancient Rome, but now is the one of the guardians at the gate. Hacker in the best sense. Alex the Great, Marco Polo. Columbus, Shackelton were all the hackers of their age and Bruce is cutting a new swath, but with a badge. I don’t actually know his background but he just looks like a guy who went from black hat to white hat but still kept his blistering quick draw. His little time on stage made me glad he is on our side.
In the demo room I met with Mike McCloud of friendlyway, Inc who had a lineup of vs.- cool internet kiosks which I thought would bundle up nicely with our TO 1 wireless system, but before I could ask him for one he graciously offered me one for Buck’s so now not only will you be able to stand in line at Buck so but you will be able to pirate XP from Microsoft using Morpheus (if you don’t know what Morpheus is yet, picture a pirate ship pulling up to your software company, 600 people running through your facility with cutlasses grabbing all your stuff and passing it out on the streets. Scary, challenging and unstoppable. (Hey, Bruce could you tell us what the hell is going on?) While you wait for a table you can quickly check the daycare cam where your puppies are learning their ABC’s before they are out of their biodegradable diapers. All this reminds me of the guy I met from Germany a few months ago who told me that Silicon Valley was so over. Over, ha! We are just back from vacation.
Dave Fradin President of Digital Enterprises had a booth touting the new tax incentives available for locating in Hawaii. Oh great, I have to give up 280 for Kahoolawe. Tax breaks, good-looking people nearly naked all over the beach and no fog. Is that fair trade?
There was then a blur of activity which I momentarily lost sight of as I was working on my rewrite of Oliver Twist (called Twisted in Paradise, a musical) but I know that the ever charming Satjiv Chahil CMO of Palm introduced the latest palm with its loudly screaming video features and Ed Fries, VP Games Studio, Microsoft showed a new game (about the only really thriving entertainment side of ecommerce right now)
Satjiv Chahil and Paul Freidson, Big Muckies at Palm.
On day three the CEO of the Red Herring told us that she wanted to spend a nano second in Steve Jurvetson’s brain but I’ve read Spinosa so I think it was an example of what Bruce calls a steganograph. Look it up. She led a round of applause for Steve’s brain (more steganography) but Steve was in his room bulk emailing $58 trip offers to the Bahamas and missed it (yes that’s where they come from).
Randy Komisar the author of the Monk and the Riddle strode across the stage addressing the notion of Love or Money. Randy has perfected the art of the pause first brought to us by Jack Benny but now used to great effect by this 440 volt speaker. He then led a panel with Michael Schrage co-director of the MIT Media Lab, Bill Nguyen, founder of 7 (which I think, means his 7th company) Duke Bristow, economist at UCLA and Larry Gilbert the director of The Office of Technology Transfer at Caltech.
Bill told the academics he was strictly a businessman who was in it for the money and that he didn’t believe in vision as a critical component of new businesses (I know Bill and he was actually being artistic). The academics reeled a bit but held their seats and Duke made the very good point that they are in the business of producing Gordon Moore’s who will later endow the universities who will continue to produce more Gordon Moore’s. Long term, significant and nifty. Michael could only droop in wonder at the fact that most of the big names today, Jobs, Dell, Ellison, Gates and MacNiven have all been undergrad dropouts. Hey, we were busy!
Sam Abell spoke at lunch. A rare individual who has traveled to the 6,000 corners of the earth and taken its picture. He has had many National Geographic covers and he wove a very personal and poignant story about how after a year of pursuing the very elusive emperor of Japan and after shooting a mediocre shot at a distance, he put his camera away. Then, unaccountably he found himself standing next to the Emperor and the Emperor asked “Sam Abell, how are you?” Here was his quarry finally face to face and Sam with no camera. He knew exactly then that he was done with the never ending chase and it was time for him to move even more fully into the present and he never hunted for the perfect shot again. He now concentrates on seeing rather than seeing later.
The final afternoon brought what I always find a critical part of an event like this. The Best of The Best. Red Herring selected 18 hot, up and coming firms. Robert von Goeben, managing director of Starter Fluid gave these firms 5 minutes to give what is called the elevator pitch. Two years ago at a another conference I saw some presentation for wireless flahoolicks, self fulfilling girlfriend-in-a-can technologies and they were firehosed with cash. This time the firms were tight and technical; using terms like APU subscriber, netfinity server. 1XEVDO. granular switching and subscriber chum. And the bizarre part is I pretty much understood what was being presented and could see the need and how they were intending to fill it. Not one of these firms sold dog food, could be Morphiesed or were begging. Most had funding in the 25 to 75 million range and they all agreed that the zero sum game meant that profits to the founders could only be achieved with a corresponding profit to the investors which all translated into a viable and sustainable product for the customer. These companies fell into three broad areas. Tighter, faster telecom and internet, genomics and Infoage security. Speaking of the internet: my campaign to stop capitalizing the word seems to have been heard as the new XP drops the capital ‘I’ from the word. Bill, thanks for listening. Previously only Kevin Kelly and myself were using the little i.
The last panel, moderated by Tony Perkins featured Tim Draper, founder of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Paul Deninger, CEO of Broadview and Mike Homer the CEO of Kontiki. They discussed the future of company creation. At the end of that talk and seeing the event in sum I left with a much clearer understanding of the marketplace forces and a very optimistic outlook for the future both immediate and long term. Some will think it a bit unseemly to talk about business issues after Sept. 11 but to sit on your hands is defiantly not the right response. Due care and recognition was paid to our situation but it was not the time to focus of The NDA conference.
Roger NcNamee’s Flying Other Brothers Get Down
Michael Krasney of KQED’s Forum (a daily San Francisco current events talk show, 88.5 9:00am) was the moderator and he kept us rolling from each to each. We were all parked at the Dana Point St. Regis and of the 20 some conferences I have been to this was by far the best. There have bigger conferences with even more famous people but what we had here were tough forward thinking businesspeople with a bullshit factor of zero. The Red Herring has proven once again that they are a visionary team and it will be Tony Perkins who will lead the charge up the San Juan Hill of Futuretech.