It’s that time of the year again for us nerds to infiltrate Sand HillRoad, let loose, and enjoy some good food and libations. We’ve been hosting the TechCrunch summer party with VC firm August Capital since 2006. This year, as in years past, we’ll be partying on August Capital’s beautiful, sunny Sand Hill balcony on Friday, July 26. The party starts at 5:30 p.m. and goes til 9:00 p.m.
Tickets, which you can buy here, are $ 80 each and include drinks and food. We also have a number of sponsorship opportunities available and inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the 8th Annual Summer Party at August Capital July 26, 5:30 – 9:00 pm
2480 Sand HillRoad, Menlo Park CA 94025
Get Tickets here, $ 80 based on availability. Tickets will be released in batches. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for releases as they sell out quickly.
Two years ago, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rice farming village in Thailand. I showered with a bucket, spoke Thai, and had minimal access to the Internet. Now as a writer at VentureBeat, I am at the center of the tech world. I can grill startups on their monetization plans, rattle off a list of the top venture capital firms, and knowledgeably discuss the nuances of crowdfunding.
Somehow, in the space of a year, I transitioned from the center of a rice paddy to the center of Silicon Valley. It was never a place I thought I’d end up, but now that I am here, I realize how my experience in Thailand helped me get to the position I am in today.
In Thailand, I lived in the village of Wat Bot. It’s in just north of the Thailand’s middle, located about halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the rice paddy netherworld that few tourists ever see, even those who deviate from the beaten path. The nearest city was one hour away, and the nearest American was three. When I applied to the Peace Corps, I was a senior in college craving adventure and faced with the realities of a tepid job market and the decline of print journalism.
I was assigned to work in rural schools as an education volunteer. My job was to train teachers on progressive teaching methods and student-centered learning techniques and carry out community outreach projects of my choosing. The Peace Corps provided volunteers with three months of intensive training to acquire basic skills and knowledge for our projects as well as cultural and language instruction. While helpful, nothing could fully prepare me to step off the rickety, old bus in the middle of nowhere with an entire community looking to me to improve their struggling schools.
I had no idea what I was doing.
I learned quickly, though. You have to. I practiced speaking Thai at every opportunity, asked a lot of questions, and forced myself to constantly engage with people who could help me acclimate to this foreign world. A teacher from one of my schools introduced me to all the local “influencers” and showed me the important places around the village, like the market and bus stop. Kids down the road taught me the Thai alphabet and showed me how to do laundry using rainwater and plastic tubs. Whenever there was a massive spider in my house, the toothless woman next door came over and chased it away with a broom — until the day when I was brave enough to ignore the spiders on my own.
Every day presented challenges, but I grew accustomed to struggle and uncertainty as parts of everyday life. I grew more comfortable in the classroom and realized that despite my lack of experience, all I really needed were creativity, determination, and an open mind. The real challenge was coping with feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness. I was cut off from the outside world and mostly unaware of what happened outside Wat Bot.
When I departed the U.S., Twitter was an emerging phenomenon, and Pinterest had yet to be born. Few people owned smartphones, and I the idea of “e-book” was blasphemous to my English-major self. I’ll admit that I was one of those [charmingly] obnoxious arty kids who craved “authentic” experience and thought a world dominated by technology was a dystopian nightmare. I did join the Peace Corps, after all: I relished the opportunity to live without technology and thought the way to save the world was one person at a time. So what changed?
Reverse culture shock
I returned from Thailand during the summer of 2011 with no idea of what I wanted to do. I considered applying to Ph.D. programs in cultural anthropology or teaching English in Japan. After three months of indecision and living with my mother in D.C., I chose to drive cross-country to Burning Man with a childhood friend and think about the future later. After seven days on the playa, I ended up in San Francisco. After one weekend filled with brunch, Dolores Park, and interesting people, I knew I wanted to stay.
Unfortunately, my expansive knowledge of fin-de-siecle literature and art, fluent Thai, and successful execution of hygiene-awareness campaigns did not translate into gainful employment. I found myself working in the culinary department at Zynga, which was my first glimpse of the tech world. On my first day, I walked dumbfounded through the halls, awestruck by the endless cereal dispensers, free Yerba Mate drinks, and the daily buffet cooked and served by a team of 50 people. I had never seen anything like it.
I worked there for a few months while saving up money, searching for an apartment, and familiarizing myself with San Francisco. I started dating an entrepreneur who moved to S.F. from Austin to get his startup off the ground. He inspired me to look to the startup realm for a job that put my brain to good use.
I left Zynga and in an effort to fully immerse myself in the tech scene, and I threw myself into an RV driving to SXSW. Somewhere between beer, concerts, and breakfast tacos, I learned about TaskRabbit, Path, AirBnB, LaunchRock, Highlight, and HypeMachine. More importantly, I met the people who worked for these exciting companies. These were my people. They were young and hungry. They were passionate, creative, and wanted to take over the world. I didn’t even work for a startup yet, but I knew that this world was for me.
I took a job at a startup that combined various elements of Pinterest, Living Social, and a digital magazine into one rather confusing product. I worked as an editor and commnuity manager: curating content, writing copy, and trying very hard to grow our meager user numbers. I acquired a very basic knowledge of UI/UX and participated in “high level” product discussions that involved our small team butting heads over how to gain traction.
It was a sinking ship, and I loved every second of it. Until I got let go, that is.
The CEO decided to “pivot” in a direction that did not require an editor. I realized that all I really wanted to do was to write. Fortunately, serendipity (and my social network) presented me with VentureBeat, which was hiring an editorial intern.
I thought it was a long shot. My background in tech was minimal, and it had been three years since I was actively engaged with journalism. During my interview, I emphasized my passion for writing and commitment to journalistic integrity. I also explained how my Peace Corps service made me resourceful, persistent, and willing to take on any challenge. One writing test later, I was hired on a contract basis.
My first month at VentureBeat felt a lot like my first month in Thailand, except with fewer mangos. I had no idea what to expect and was afraid of making a mistake — except this time, my limited expertise was on display to a large community of tech-savvy readers. Fortunately, after singing Christmas carols on stage in front of 800 Thai villagers, I am not afraid of looking stupid. The whole VentureBeat team was unbelievably supportive, and I found that by conducting extensive interviews with entrepreneurs and asking constant questions, I could figure out what was going on.
Just as in Thailand, I started to figure out the local ecosystem, pick up on the lingo, and grow a network of people who could help, teach, and support me. I found that writing about startups often allowed me to write about my other interests in travel, fashion, and food, and that there are tech companies out there changing the world in meaningful and sustainable ways. I am amazed how technical advancements in one area can have ramifications around the world. Take the example of payments: Simplifying the process of setting up online payment systems opens up incredible opportunities, like Kiva’s microfinance loans for entrepreneurs in the developing world and Watsi’s efforts to fund basic medical procedures for those in need.
Everything is connected, and many of these companies will have a greater impact than I ever could with my poster board and markers in a classroom in Thailand.
My experience over the past year has certainly given me a unique perspective on the tech scene — and my life. My coworkers and many of my readers viewed this as a strength, rather than a weakness, and encouraged me to apply that lens to my writing. Early this year, I was hired on full time as a VB staff writer, and when I am sitting at a media dinner debating the future of digital health or discussing Bitcoins in an editorial meeting, it is hard to imagine being anywhere else.
The transition from Peace Corps to VentureBeat was not an easy nor an expected one, but my involvement in both is motivated by the same desire to create and promote positive change.
Now if I could only understand how network virtualization works, my transformation will be complete.
Bijoy Goswami is a fascinating man. Born in India, the entrepreneurial evangelist lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the U.S. before attending Stanford University. Now, and for the last 15 years or so, he lives in Austin, TX, and we were fortunate to have him speak at the TC Austin Meetup + Pitch-Off.
But even though he went to Stanford, The Human Fabric author doesn’t want Austin to become the next SiliconValley.
He explained that the DNA of SiliconValley (and all of California, actually) comes from this notion of becoming an overnight success. It all started with the Gold Rush, in 1849, he explained.
“SiliconValley is the product of the Gold Rush. In 1849, people came with nothing and if they struck gold they’d become a millionaire. The formation of Californiastarted with this, and the whole of the state began to believe in the idea of overnight success,” said Bijoy on stage with John Biggs. “It’s part of their DNA, and they use technology because that’s the biggest lever to achieve that end.”
Goswami believes that Austin entrepreneurialism is quite different, and comes from a place of authenticity and passion.
“In Austin we want to be ourselves, and we’re all on a journey to be ourselves,” said Goswami. “The startup culture here is derived from a personal journey, and from where they’re passion comes from. They don’t care if they’ll be big or small, but they care about being authentic and giving their passion to the world.”
Goswami went on to say that Austinites don’t build the tools, but use them. Whereas new technology comes straight out of SiliconValley, entrepreneurs in Austin use that technology to leverage their own passion projects and ideas. This explains why our the winners of our pitch-off, a post-production video editing collaboration tool called First Cut Pro, an Expedia for doggy day care called Embarkly, and an children’s camps and activities marketplace called Camperoo, were all focused on niche markets and solutions.
There’s only little more than a day left to join the virtualMarch for Innovation, which is digitally marching on Washington, DC to agitate for immigrationreform.
There are two key problems that require immediate remediation in Congress, according to the coalition of companies, politicians, and nonprofits: jobs and fairness.
“Our outdated immigrationsystem is costing our economy talent, jobs, and innovation, not to mention the toll it’s taking on families and potential immigrants,” the organization says. “America can’t afford to fall behind in the race for global talent — a race we’re already losing. Already, other countries have incentivized innovation and encouraged startups while we make it difficult for talented immigrants to even apply for a visa.”
When I chatted with Kenney last week, he called the U.S. immigrationsystem “dysfunctional.”
The U.S. has made attempts to address the situation with a Startup Act of its own, but even that would only allow founders to stay for up to three years. The March for Innovation is looking for much more comprehensive reform that would include help for undocumented immigrants already in the country.
March for Immigration is supported by the SiliconValley Leadership Group, Steve Case, Mark Cuban, Arianna Huffington, and numerous other business and technology leaders.
On January 1, 1999, I immigrated to SiliconValley from Canada to work as a corporate attorney for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. I watched in amazement as 400 companies went public that year (about a quarter of them through my law firm), and in March 2000 I felt compelled to leave the firm and start a company called HigherMarkets. It was around the same day that the Nasdaq peaked at 5132.52.
The experience and timing of my departure — and the name of my first company — sadly signified a tight connection for me between money and entrepreneurship.
Money has a nasty habit of invading the definition of entrepreneurship in SiliconValley, where we tend to measure success by funding rounds, valuations, and liquidity events. I often run with a definition of an entrepreneur defined by money: People who don’t know your financial situation think you’re rich, and people who do think you’re crazy. An entrepreneur can be a person spending $ 10,000 to open a shop or $ 100 million to build a new kind of car.
Long before the car company, there was an inventor named NikolaTesla who navigated choices of money and entrepreneurship as we all do in the SiliconValley. Tesla immigrated to the east coast of the United States in 1884, initially to work alongside Thomas Edison. That relationship didn’t last, but Tesla is credited with the inventions that fueled the rise of electric company Westinghouse and made alternating current the standard of electricity we rely on today.
Larry Page of Google, who mentioned NikolaTesla on a recent earnings call and describes him as one of the greatest inventors ever, has said you might want to be more like Edison than Tesla. In fact that comparison may only be true in textbooks.
A closer study of the events of the 1890s, for example, reveals that Edison faced similar entrepreneurial challenges to Tesla: Edison was kicked aside from General Electric, the successor company to his own, leading him to swear off the same financial backers for the next 30 years. Tesla, on the other hand, generously allowed Westinghouse to renegotiate a patent deal that enabled the financially strapped company to establish the electricity standard we rely on today.
Tesla made it clear that being a great entrepreneur — one who commercialized a critical standard that powers innovation 125 years later — isn’t necessarily about the money.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t live without two famous early inventions of Edison’s — photography and film — Tesla’s contributions are the ones that can spark SiliconValley’s imagination on an even bigger scale now. Tesla made a commitment to the study of wireless energy and wireless information transmission beginning in the 1880s that led him to explore communication with other planets, to evaluate ways to transmit energy wirelessly around earth, and to care about taking advantage of the sun’s radiation and earth’s vibrations to prevent the squandering of natural resources that was occurring rapidly around him.
Sound useful today?
I love Instagram as much as anyone, but my nine-year-old daughter points out that less time on my iPhone can equal more time on things that really matter. Tesla focused on discovery in areas that really mattered, and he faced a great deal of ridicule — and no doubt financial impact — for it.
As the need to invite more immigrants to the SiliconValley only increases, we need to send the message more than ever that our love for creative invention and a focus on the biggest challenges are more valued than money. There are some outstanding financial backers in the SiliconValley, but the majority of venture capitalists face their own short-term problems that don’t always allow them to live up to the long-term horizons mentioned on their websites.
Whether you’ve just helped fund a startup or raised money for one, or whether you’re running a big company or working at one, we all need to be looking for ways to hail the inventors around us regardless of financial outcome. We don’t necessarily need to shift our models of capital allocation or stock grants to do it, but we do need to change where we spend our time celebrating. I’ve heard a lot of lip service paid to words like innovation and creativity in the SiliconValley. It’s up to each of us to defend those words in a way that means something more than the next acquisition.
The free exchange of information and affordable access to sustainable energy — both issues worked on by NikolaTesla in his time — have the potential to solve critical issues of poverty and education, and inspire peace, around the world. Wireless information transmission and energy remain two of the SiliconValley’s biggest opportunities.
Hail to the inventors who are working on those challenges today without regard to financial outcomes. Hail to NikolaTesla.
Dorrian Porter organized Northern Imagination in 2013, a company that seeks to positively impact the wellbeing and happiness of people via creative projects, ideas, and inventions. He just launched a Kickstarter campaign to build a statue of Nikola Tesla in the Silicon Valley to fuel creativity on the big issues of energy and wireless. You can watch a short video and participate in the campaign here: http://kck.st/ZWLzgG.
This sponsored post is produced by Universal McCann.
On April 17, Universal McCann, a global media agency, invited members of the media and tech communities to support and celebrate the growth of entrepreneurship in the Bay Area by hosting a fundraising event for the annual UC Berkeley Startup Competition (Bplan) at the Walter A. Haas School of Business.
For decades, “innovation” has been part of the DNA that defines the San Francisco Bay Area — that desire to change and transform the way things are — and a key driving force behind how organizations and individuals here make decisions and grow. It has always been a region known for pioneers, for dreamers who have forged new paths, and for those who continuously ask questions like “what if?” and “why not?”
But it’s the way different organizations, individuals, and communities all come together that makes the work this region produces world-class. To celebrate this unique ecosystem Universal McCann has supported the UC Berkeley Startup Competition (Bplan) at the Walter A. Haas School of Business for the past four years.
In true Bay Area fashion, we invited members of the media, brand marketing, press, startup, tech, and academic communities for an evening of celebrating the entrepreneurs of the Bplan competition, and toasting the work that we have all been able to achieve collectively.
The Startup competition is one of the foremost events for budding entrepreneurs – a forum that provides key resources, including education, networking, team creation, mentorship, and new venture financing to help turn innovative ideas into real businesses. This yearmarked the school’s 15 annual competition.
Supporting innovation is not just an annual initiative for UM, but a year-round investment. UM has developed a unique program, bringing together an ecosystem of startups, VCs, publishers, and their agency team to evolve each respective practice and adapt to the changing media landscape. At this intersection between Madison Avenue savvy and Silicon Valley dreams, you’ll find what has affectionately come to be called Mad Valley.
Programming for the event included products and services of the Mad Valley resident companies. Attendees scanned their fellow partygoers with the MyVegas app to win prizes, Britelite Immersive created an interactive display wall, and Pixlee pushed all #UM4Haas photos from Instagram and Twitter onto the screens. There was also an opportunity to listen to radio stations from around the world at the TuneIn demo station.
We believe this is the type of collaboration worth supporting and that it is imperative in ensuring what the future of innovation looks like here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
To learn more about Universal McCann’s efforts in integrating the tech, startup, and media communities, please visit www.madvalleysf.com.
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