Me with the ever shy Tim Sanders.
I have been called the Zsa Zsa Gabor of Silicon Valley and that is when people are being nice to me. Funny, though, someone at Yahoo saw my name written on a bathroom wall (probably in my handwriting) and they asked me to deliver the opening sermon on January 21st at an executive summit at the nifty new Bernardus Lodge on the alpine slopes of Carmel Valley. My topic: “The future of the Internet”. I ran around asking what the heck is this Internet thing and was shocked to find that no one knew! So, I put on a pair of thick glasses, pushed them way out on the tip of my nose and pretended to know what I was talking about.
I think it turned out all right because they didn’t have my car towed or me thrown out of my hotel room. I had been sure they were going to.
Yahoo had invited about a hundred of the top marketing, finance, and management people from firms with pure Net plays, like e*trade, to nuts and bolds outfits, like Cisco, to firms with no play at all but think they ought to, like Taco Bell. As a result there were lively panels with a broad range of viewpoints on where we are today and where we’re headed.
Jeff Mallet, pointed out that what’s going on is far broader then the Internet and we might consider skipping past the very concept of Internet and just think about business in general, sort of greased by the Internet. We need a name though, Jeff, so I suggest replacing Internet with the term Bubba. Bubba has a nice warm sound and is shorter, and most importantly, I would get the credit.
Many truly pivotal people were in attendance that to name a few is to exclude too many others, but it is sufficient to say that these folks are going to be the stuff of history. Of course, they have to get a hell of a lot older first, in my opinion. I can’t say I was thrilled at being about 1000 years older than everyone else, but at least I out-weighed everyone and can remember Eisenhower, so top that you upstarts!
The Yahooites had to add a couple of other speakers to thin me out and they were pretty snappy. Seth Godin is a writer whose pen flows three columns wide, at least, covered elements of his Book Permission Marketing and Tim Sanders gave us his marketing savvy too. Tim had an elaborate slide presentation and it crashed just as he got started. He acted as if it was no big deal (I was going through sympatico hara-kiri) and he immediately whipped out a backup laptop with a backup program then he swapped cables and continued. Now that’s class! No wonder Yahoo is number one with no close second.
Jerry Yang wrapped things up on day 2.0 and I think everyone felt that they were part of an event of real significance and good humor, which is the hallmark of Bubba today.
Included herein is a slightly shortened copy of my address (suitable for framing), without some of the more pithy remarks guaranteed to get me not invited back. I scrubbed all the filthy language and political humor so that those in North Korea can read this without going to jail. Of course you don’t have the benefit of the props, sound effects and flying spittle that the attendees took such exception to, but remember this is Bubba, not real life (or so they say).
In high school I considered myself to be a pretty snappy dresser. Just like now. But one day Red Butts, Red Butts was the fullback on the football, well, Red called me a Yahoo because of the way I dressed. I don’t know what Red is doing today but I know I’m here talking to you.
First I started with three rib splitting jokes (you had to be there).
Somehow, the nice people at Yahoo have had the questionable taste to ask me to say a few words about the future if the Internet. I think most of us here agree that the future and the Internet, are indistinguishable. Well, I’ve had a look at the future and the news is great.
For the last nine years I have been the guy at Buck’s of Woodside –that’s www.buckswoodside.com. Maybe one or two of you have heard of Buck’s or even been to Woodside. Woodside is small town America today. A single school, one church, a grocery store, a library, 17 real estate offices and about 250 venture capitalists.
Now, I’m considered something of an expert on the future. because I make pancakes for a living. You laugh— but if you’re the gold miners of today I’m the Levi Strauss.
Because the world loves the Silicon Valley story we have seen over 100 TV crews and a lot print media.
Once there was a group shooting a segment on the release of the newest Palm Pilot. We were packed and they asked me if I would hold the door for a minute and feed people through the shot. Charles Schwab can in. I asked him if he had a Palm Pilot. He said no and I asked him if he would sit over in the corner, out of the shot. Next Jerry Yang came in .would you sit over there with Charlie for a minute? Now that’s power. But in a nice way.
(Insert two more jokes raucous laughter ensues.) We saw a crew from Japan who came to shoot the power breakfast . Again the place was bursting with deal makers. “We came to see the power breakfast” (Camera man, light man, sound man, producer, fixer, about seven guys in all) I said, “Great here you are,” but they looked a bit lost. Finally I asked them if they wanted something to eat. “Yes, Yes,” said the producer. So we brought out some blueberry pancakes. ” Is this the Power Breakfast?” he asked. “I guess so,” I answered hesitantly. They seemed happy and shot an hour and a half of beta tape, with sound, of the various dishes we brought. Meanwhile Bib Kagle, the Brentwood Capital VC who funded ebay is sitting next to them eating an English muffin. They told me they were taking the food back to Japan.
Because of my fantastically interesting customers the press is always looking for an interview and sometimes they call me because I’m colorful. I was interviewed by a Chinese TV crew a few months back and they asked me what the future held for Silicon Valley. They were from a business show on the largest network in the world, the official government station in China.
I told them that we were lowering working age to 12 in Silicon Valley. Hey, it might work! Well I knew I was kidding but, apparently they didn’t and I actually got a complaint from the US State Dept. asking me if I could be a bit more circumspect. Forget it! I was a Berkeley radical.
Ok then on to the Future.. I’ve been watching growth of the Internet Universe by just hanging out at Buck’s, and by taping the conversations at all the tables. Wait till you read my book! No actually, I’m not that well organized, or smart, but I have retrieved some very interesting napkins with these cryptic marks all over them. I pass them to Steve Jurvetson for decoding. It is from these napkins that we divine what is to come. (Hold up napkins, wild applause, in response to sign flashing “wild applause”)
But, before we go forward I think we need to look at where we’ve been for a minute, or at least where I’ve been so you can see where I get my warped perspective.
About 30,000 years ago we finally beat the holy heck out of those pesky Neanderthals thereby selecting the operating system we use today.
A few thousand years later we started painting in caves and this use of coded symbols became a kind of early desktop-the use of icons to stand in for reality.
Then it was about 10,000 years ago that trade took off- and with it- numbering systems.
Then along came the Mesopotamians followed by the Egyptians who began writing it all down. Writing became the nifty new way to accumulate information and pass it on to the future.
After that, the Greeks showed up and talked the big talk. In fact, a flood of talk enough to fill a library which is exactly what they did at Alexandria. The library cast its light on the development of systematized information storage and retrieval. Such was the power of this database that some maintain that the Dark Ages would not have taken place if the system had not crashed by burning to the ground. There was no backup system at the time.
The Romans thought that the Greeks were pretty snappy and got on the information bandwagon in a very serious fashion. They invented hub and spoke communication and became so proficient at information dissemination that they ran the western world for nearly a thousand years. With the Romans it was more than just information. It was style. No matter how great your BMW is it can’t be compared to a chariot with four white horses, and you standing there waving a double-edged sword over your head. And wearing one of those great hats!
After the Roman management, things in the West got pretty dicey for some little while, what with the Goths, Visagoths, Astrogoths, Huns, Tarters, Vikings, Moors, Franks, Celts, and all the rest arguing about who got all the Roman hats, chariots and the like. Because these tribes didn’t want to share—the west went into a tailspin.
Then one day up pops young Gutengberg. His dad wanted him to make wooden teeth, but he went into the printing business instead, which was considered a dead end job at the time. It did work out pretty well, however, as his books were bestsellers.
Next came the linotype, which is a nearly impossible concept, although it worked well enough. It uses a keyboard, but instead of the letters hitting a ribbon each letter you type is cast in molten lead ready for the press.
Then Steve and Steve more or less invented the little computer. Those were heady times but compared to now the PC revolution was just cold toast.
I remember that revolution back in the early 80’s. In fact, I used to be a contractor and my second job ever was for a young guy named Steve Jobs. I went to his place in the hills above Los Gatos and we looked at remodeling this house he had bought. I asked him what he did and he said he had a computer company. Well, whatever. We sat on the floor because there was no furniture and he showed me a screen and explained that there was a column and a row giving you a calculation where they converged. Big deal. I was in the house for a year with Jobs sleeping on a mattress on the floor during the time Apple went public. No time to pick furniture. He was one busy fellow. Ha. People thought that they were working hard then!
So then, Al Gore invented the Internet and we all bought these really big houses and things worked out pretty well… So far. (general agreement)
So what happens next? You’ve all seen these nifty predictions for the next hundred and years and longer. The one I like the best is 3D animated tattoos.
Rather than just make something up I thought I’d ask some Buck’s customers what they thought.
First, the market report:
Bob Metcalf says, “I am STILL predicting that the Internet stock boom will burst on November 8, 1999.” Gee, thanks Bob.
Michael and Tony Perkins in their book, The Internet Bubble, are calling the market’s bluff and they say the market is about to burst.” (whispered aside) Don’t tell my mother. “Yes, the Internet is revolutionary, as was the railroad, the automobile, the radio, the aircraft industry, the PC, but all had to go through a shakeout before they could consolidate and become mature industries with clear-cut winners.” They are saying that, from a market standpoint, the Internet is fundamentally like these other industries.
Warren Packard, of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is an unrepentant optimist and says that we are seeing something completely new. “The entire portfolio of Internet stocks is currently undervalued. Companies are not being valued right now, they are being priced. If Yahoo! is willing to pay billions of dollars for GeoCities, then GeoCities is worth billions of dollars. As the Internet market “matures”, more traditional valuation principles will be brought into the mix. However, given the fact that we are still living in a bandwidth constrained environment we have a long way to go to reach maturity. A whole new generation of Internet companies will emerge as ubiquitous, broadband connectivity becomes a reality”.
Roger McNamee, of Integral Capital is considered an investor’s investor and has this to say: “There are many aspects of the US economy that are different from the rest of the world, but my favorite relates to manias. In most countries, manias are typically built around ideas that don’t make sense (some of which are actually shams). In the U.S., our manias are almost always built around major new waves of real industries. Consider the major waves: canals in the 1830s, railroads in the 1840s, steel in 1880s, oil in 1890s, autos in the 1910s, etc. Each was accompanied by a financial mania, which underwrote massive investments. Many of the manias ended badly, but in each case the industry prospered.”
He says, “We are an impatient country. Always in a hurry, even when it comes to creating new industries. We treat every new idea like the Manhattan Project . . . which is very inefficient in terms of resources, but exceptionally efficient in terms of time. Applying this to the Internet, we can see an almost perfect fit with past cycles. The scale of the mania is huge — and possibly unprecedented — but then again, so is the opportunity. The Internet is a very big deal, And the stock market has underwritten the Internet revolution”.”
I believe that this is the heart of the matter. We hear a lot about the markets being over heated, over inflated and there are too many players in a space. It’s been said that the rewards are unreal, too many billionaires. We hear Larry Ellison is motivated by Money– Bill Gates by Power–Steve Jobs by Glory. So what? Hey, it gets the job done. We have the best chance at the greatest number of Da Vinci with this free for all.
What about the structure of the markets and that elusive substance, capital? I wondered about capital creation and what money really is. With this rate of acceleration what impact does this have on our capital institution? According to Moore’s Law our computing power doubles every 18 months. I asked Gordon Moore if he thought our capital systems could keep up with the pace of technology. He just laughed and said ask Milton Friedman. Dr. Freidman said not to worry. New ideas are the key to growth. The capital will be there for it.
But the picture is bigger than just the market.
Jacque Littlefield has studied war, in fact, he has the largest collection of army tanks in private hands and he sees the Internet as bringing the end of the bad guys. The end of totalitarianism. The government didn’t let TV into South Africa until 1976 because they didn’t want to make the natives uppity. Of course, it did just that didn’t it? Look out Beijing.
Others disagree. I’ve heard it said that being wired up tight means we run the risk of tighter government control over us.
Well, today, at least, the Internet is a bastion of freedom of speech and enterprise. Percolating up through this some interesting surprises. Slam sites keep popping up condemning big firms like Starbucks or Sears and these have become lighting rods for the disenchanted. I understand Kmart paid real money for one of the big slam sites so that they could monitor customer complaints and respond to them. Or take George Bush. He got an early jump on the slammers by buying up dozens of names. If you look up www.georgebushblows.com you go straight to his official web site. But these are just nuances which flavor the Internet and keep it amusing.
The fact is that something really really big is coming through the rye. It reminds me of those pictures you see of a moonrise on another planet, picture this huge moon coming up over the horizon, blotting out the sky.
And I see it coming sooner rather than later.
So where does all this end up?
Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the World Wide Web, envisions a new harmony as the result of our ability to express a global consensus.
And finally, I believe that what he and others are talking about is an entirely new entity which is nothing less than an world sized thinking machine
Could we stop it? Can we even control it? Well, I don’t see how. We’ve opened the box and pouring out is an entirely new universe, and it’s nothing like planes, trains and production cars, which can go over 200 mph.
And this new universe is still in search of a personality and that’s what we, here, are bringing, to it.
So, how, do, we keep our individuality in such a world?
Well, one way is to wear really loud shirts (pull off really loud shirt revealing full torso tattoo of cute little puppy and snatch up Roman Charioteer’s hat. The usual conclusion) and really, really cool hats.
(Huge hook appears from the wings and I’m dragged off drooling.)