This Wednesday night, I got the honor of moderating a panel of several Silicon Valley / SF Bay Area tech luminaries. My wonderful wife, Aimee, led organizing the event and it was fantastic. The panelists were a terrific mix of folks all with strong ties to Phillips Academy. We had two very successful entrepreneurs, Alex Rampell, TrialPay Co-Founder/CEO, and Tom Shields, Yieldex Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, venture capitalists, Tim Draper (DFJ), David Hornik (August Capital), and Peter Currie (Currie Capital). Pillsbury Winthrop in Palo Alto graciously offered to host us, and they put out a great spread of hors doureves and drinks on their lovely patio.
It was one of those gourgeous warm autumn evenings that we get in Palo Alto, and I’d estimate about 60 people, mostly Andover Alums, joined us in the audience. Phillips Academy events like these I always look forward to–Andover people tend to be very interesting, and getting a group together like this sets you up for a really great set of conversations and interactions. This was no different, and I think that the impromptu/spontaneous nature of this event helped it get a more unscripted, enjoyable quality to it.
The content of the talks were great. Peter Currie has recently stepped up to head Phillips Acadmy’s Board of Trustees, and he gave a brief talk on some of the key perspective he had on the future of the school. He had some great insights as to how a global perspective, a project-oriented work style, and an ever-increasing role and impact of technology in education and business would need to be key focus areas for the future of Phillips Academy. My key thought in listening to him speak were: first, wow Mr. Currie is really sharp, I’m thrilled he’s stepping up to help drive Phillips Academy forward!
We covered a bunch of ground the hour plus that we were together. It was awesome to have such a broad group of perspectives–Alex and Tom with their views as successful entrepreneurial operators and Tim, David and Peter with views as investors / financiers.
A few key discussion points that I thought stood out…
- Will the today’s leaders in tech sustain their lead or will creative destruction and disruption undercut them. TrialPay’s Alex Rampell made the case that some of the leading tech companies today, Amazon, for example, are executing very well from a position of extreme strength. This position, Alex forecast, will enable it to remain and stay very strong over the long term. (I share this view broadly and think the same sort of thing with Facebook and VMWare, in particular.) Others thought that the creative disruption that enabled Facebook to disrupt MySpace and Google to a degree will continue to enable new companies to come in and disrupt untouchable incumbents. This sets us up to have a great conversation together a few years down the line.
- New capital and financing structures are coming to the tech world. Twitter Board member Peter Currie talked about a recent and publicly announced >$500m financing at Twitter that had come together in a period of weeks. He noted that the speed at which the deal had come together was extraordinary. He also described that in a world where public markets are flat, yields and interest rates are low, etc., that there is an increasing appetite to look for growth in these high growth technology companies. Tim Draper also described his vision towards growing secondary markets to assist in liquidity for startup founders and investors outside the framework of Sarbox and IPO’ing.
- Now is a great time to start a company. I’ve long believed this and written about this often, but it was good to hear the others here describing what they saw as the very favorable conditions that exist towards starting a company. The one caveat that I thought Rampell made which I’d have like to have explored more deeply was the idea that many companies today are tending towards very incremental features and technology. To be extreme, some could be viewed as features or products, but barely enough to be companies. Useful perspective.