I just came back from a three day trip to Silicon Valley. I rarely visit Silicon Valley ever since that day in April 1999 when I turned in my badge at Intel and drove to my new home in San Francisco. My primary reason for the trip was to see my dad who lives in Santa Clara and to visit with my eldest son and his family. I gave my dad who is 87 some advanced lessons on how to use Facebook. That evening I celebrated the first day of Hanukkah with two of my grandsons. We lite the candles to celebrate an event that happened 2200 years ago in the heart of a community at has an attention span measured in milliseconds. By the way, the next night at an Intel Alumni event (more on that later), I celebrated the second night of Hanukkah with a few Jewish friends via an iPhone app called iMennorah.
I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto. It was the first time in eleven years that I spent a night in Palo Alto, a town where I lived for eleven years before leaving Intel. The Four Seasons is built in an area which had been previously called Whiskey Gulch which was al two block area located in the small part of East Palo Alto which was on the “right” side of the Freeway, i.e. the Palo Alto side. Whiskey Gulch was named that way because in the past their was a rule in Palo Alto was dry and no alcohol could be sold. I got involved twice with East Palo Alto. One in the summer of 1966 when I lived there as part of a program to coach high school kids that were going to be allowed to go to Universities without having the actually grades and skills. The second time was in 1992 when Bart Decrem started PluggedIn. East Palo Alto had one of the highest murder rates in the USA at this time. It was a small disenfranchised enclave in the middle of the wealth and education of Silicon Valley. Most people living in Palo Alto only thought of East Palo Alto as the place where the maids and gardeners came from. I lived in Palo Alto by the way. Domino’s Pizza refused to deliver in East Palo Alto. Around 1992, I became the first chair of the PluggedIn board and served proudly in that capacity for seven years. We had a lot of success in up lifting the community. We helped some of the kids start up business. My son, Asher (now Executive Director of the Post Carbon Institute) worked with Pluggedin to create a network for the citizens of East Palo Alto called EPA.net which is still functioning. But now part of the community we tried to build was gone and replaced with a hotel and a number of office buildings. In fact, I had a meeting the next day with my tax adviser and financial managers in one of those buildings. How ironic and a bit sad. Then I meet with the Executive Director of Equal Access and organization that is helping tens of millions of people in rural Asia and Africa. I am a senior advisor to this organization. Somehow on about five million dollars a year we can change the lives of so many people.
I also had several meetings with old friends that are involved in high tech investing. Speaking with my VC friends, I heard a lot of stories about crazy valuations including companies that refused significant offers only to have go out of business few months later. Then I read this story. It kind of reminds me of the Gold Rush days with Sailors jumping ship to rush up to the gold fields. Most found nothing and those that fund gold were soon separated from their tursures. It was the people supplying the miners that made the money.
Later that evening I went to an Intel Alumni event. It was attended by almost 200 people many of which had been at Intel from the 70s or like me from the 80s. Andy Grove even attended. I moderated a panel dealing with early stage companies both from the perspective of the entrepreneur and the venture investor. The questions we explored where what were the skills we learned at Intel that helped us as entrepreneurs are as venture investors and what were the things we did not learn at Intel that hindered us. I plan to post on what we discussed that evening later. But at this event where people who started young and grew old working for one company over more than 30 years in some cases. And working for a company the changed the world. And while I am disappointed in what happened later at Intel, the company that is still the leading semi conductor company in the world. What a different experience these people had to those working for the current crop of start ups.