Tag Archives: Tokyo

Silicon Valley is Stupid

David Weekly is in terrific form with his post today on GigaOm Silicon Valley is Stupid Which is Why it Works.  It is a delight to read his writing–David’s energy, intelligence, wit, and wattage come shining through.  The article itself is spot on, and is really a must read, particularly for groups trying to build more of the Silicon Valley ethos into their region, town or country.

One additional element to Silicon Valley that I think is important, at least based on my own experience, is the openness and general inclusiveness of the community.

In most places, the existing social hierarchy–where one went to school, whose kid you are, whether you have friends in high places–exerts a huge influence and can be a huge help (or barrier) depending on where you fit.  Of course, Silicon Valley has an element of this–certainly being on a first name basis with A-listers like a Ron Conway, Mark Zuckerberg or John Doerr would likely confer a some benefit to you: who you know matters.

It’s not as much who you know, it’s what you’re doing.  In my experience, two elements really balance this out.  First, here in Silicon Valley, the core arbiter is really around what you’re doing and what you’re building.  This focus on what you’re doing (and the quality of the people you’re doing this with) overshadows, in my view, whomever you might know.  For example, I’ve talked to people who claim they were the right hands to Larry (Ellison) and then went built businesses for Steve (Jobs) whom I thought were complete yo-yos.  At the same time, we’ve funded successful companies where the founders were basically unknown and unreferenceable, as they had so few LI connections or prior real work experience. Put another way–if you had the choice of being an awesome team working on awesome projects with no network versus being super networked but working on a meh project with a meh team, you’d take door #1 in a second.

Silicon Valley is more open.  The second element is that the Silicon Valley network is as open as I think you’ll find anywhere in the world.  Not only are the most seasoned and experienced investors or executives generally findable and reachable, but the vast majority of them operate with an ethos that they’ve always got to be growing their networks.  This is not to say that barraging them with a spray and pray email form letter is going to get a response, of course.  That style blows and you won’t get far.

But broadly speaking, if you want to connect with anyone, and you work at it thoughtfully, you can get it done.  Concretely, visualize Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) in the movie Wall Street, who’d chased his prey, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).  You may have to work at it to connect with someone, but with persistence, creativity, and quality, you should to connect to them.

My own experience in Silicon Valley over these last 5 years is evidence of this.  I moved to Palo Alto from Tokyo, Japan, where I’d spent nearly 4 years working for Microsoft in its Japan subsidiary.  Although I’d really enjoyed my time at Microsoft, I really felt that in the tech industry, so much growth and innovative thinking was occurring in SV that I had to get there.  I knew that I wanted to stay in tech, and I knew I wanted to get involved in smaller companies (an easy threshold to meet, given that when I left MSFT had more than 90,000 employees).

In any case, when I showed up in Palo Alto, other than some former Microsoft colleagues who’d moved here, I effectively knew no one.  I had a network of zero, basically.  From day 0, however, I found that I got great opportunities to meet great new people, that vast majority of them were interested in helping me find my way.  This ethos was quite broad, and time and time again, I was struck at how helpful and thoughtful people were in helping me out when there really wasn’t much upside for them.

Nowhere is this more clear than how I actually met David Weekly.  When I lived in Tokyo, working for Microsoft, I was getting really serious about leaving MSFT to head into the great unknown of Silicon Valley.  I was reading about Silicon Valley, and surfing around LinkedIn to learn about people.  I stumbled onto an article about the SuperHappyDev House events that David was hosting at the times.  (They’ve since mushroomed into something much bigger and more broad.)  These were apparently all night hackathons at some house he was retngin up in Hillsborough.  And what struck me was that his LinkedIn profile had an Endorsement from a police officer who had come to, I guess, break up one of these parties.  I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve *got* to meet this David Weekly guy!”  (I also became a user of PBWiki, a great product, btw.)

Anyway, fast forward 3 or 4 years, and I’ve got myself here, helping out at the FounderInstitute, Adeo Ressi‘s global startup incubator.  Adeo and I were basically neighbors when I moved to Silicon Valley, and he couldnt have been more helpful and fun to get to know.  He was getting the FI rolling, and he was kind enough to give me opportunities to speak, facilitate, and at times just help out.

Anyway, I was moderating an evening’s events at the San Francisco FounderInstitute, and there as one of the guest speakers, was David Weekly.  I introduced myself like a total fanboy, though I’m not sure that I asked for an autograph.  :)  I introduced him to the FI founders with my Tokyo story.

A culture where people are most honed in on what you’re building and what you’re doing.  An environment that’s really open, where people tend to want to just be helpful to others in getting out there and building cool stuff.  Those are two more of our additional stupidities out here that make this place so very great.  Thanks David for the great article!


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RIP Zune

Today’s New York Times has an article titled “RIP Zune” that notes Microsoft’s announcement that its discontinuing the Zune Music/Video service in favor of the better known XBOX Live services.  A no-brainer decision by MSFT, more wood behind a stronger arrow.

I received a Zune device (generation 1, I think) in early 2007 as a gift for a launch I’d worked on at Microsoft.  It was alright, and truthfully, the rental service–a lot like an early version of Spotify though with a smaller catalog–worked well.  The iPod at that point was still just so much farther ahead that it was difficult to see how the Zune would really catch up.

I did have a funny Zune story though.  I left Microsoft on August 31, 2007 and was on a flight back to the US from Tokyo, where I worked, on September 1, 2007.  As I got into my seat on the flight to San Francisco, where I would be starting my new career and head into the unknown, I dropped my Zune.  My seat mate picks up the device, looks at it for a few seconds, and says, “Is THAT A ZUNE? I’ve NEVER seen one!”  I let him play with it for a few seconds, as we giggled about the rareness of these devices.

Within a week of moving to the Bay Area, I’d dropped the Zune for an iPhone.  Within a quarter, I’d moved from Windows to a Mac.  Now our home is filled with Apple devices–Macs, iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Apple TVs.  Come a long way since owning a Zune 5 years ago!


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Geeks on a Plane Update — Tokyo


Image by whaleforset via Flickr

I’m writing this on the Narita Express from Tokyo station to Narita Airport early Saturday morning.  Geeks on a Plane is finishing up here in Tokyo, and we’re heading on to Beijing.  It was my first time back to Tokyo in about a year, and what a year the country has gone through.  In addition to being politically as gridlocked as ever and with a moribund economy, Japan has seen an unimaginably devastating earthquake and aftershocks and deadly typhoons.  It is more than any nation should have to bear, and my heart goes out to everyone here.

In my short time here, I have a few observations.

First, the sense of steadfast optimism from the teams and people I interacted with in Japan was inspiring.  Open Network Lab’s Hiro Maeda’s presentation encapsulated this.  To illustrate the earthquake’s impact, he showed both a photo of the tsunami coming ashore, as well as video shot by one of his colleagues during the earthquake of their office.  The office lamps were shaking back and forth very strongly, and we watched for about a minute, before he shut it off and remarked that it went on like that for at least 3 minutes.  Sobering stuff.

After this intro, he jumped right in to the optimism and enthusiasm that he sees in Japan.  His view is that all the negatives–the impact of the earthquake, the flat economy and job market–is actually catalyzing a new entrepreneurship in Japan.  He sees a a group of young technical talent here that is shaking off the traditionally risk averse cultural attributes and stepping up to creating a new startup future for Japan and the world.  This is totally needed and it is great to hear.

The second key observation I had was that the Japan teams I met were really starting to integrate learning and methodologies from the startup cultures and approaches commonly seen in tech centers like Silicon Valley.  I saw this in the descriptions and approaches companies are taking to building their companies.  Dave McClure and the whole GOAP effort I’m sure deserves at least a hat tip of acknowledgement for this.  Groups like Digital Garage based here, as well as the whole open sourcing of knowledge coming from US sources as broad-based as TechCrunch, Fred Wilson’s AVC, to Yokum Taku’s StartupCompanyLawyer all are adding information to the knowledge base here.

This knowledge integration is important, as one observation that I’ve sometimes had of Japan culture is that it can at times insist on building its own way of doing things.  At times this is terrific and lead to unique differentiation, but it can present challenges.   Broadly, what I saw was Japanese companies that looked as though they could by and large work out of the US just as easily as here.  That I think is a good thing, given the state of entrepreneurial activity here.

The other thing that really struck me was the level of English proficiency in Japan on this trip.  This seems to have really increased since I was last here, and is markedly up since I first moved here in 2004.  This is not to say that English is a be all end all type thing.  In the startup world though, if a company is going to look for Western VC finance, which si where most of it still is, English language skill is pretty important.  I was really impressed with what I saw, and I think its a great sign for the future.

I love Japan and the Japanese culture.  The country and the people treated me and my family extremely well when we lived here during 2004-2007.  I was very pleased with the momentum I saw in the startup community here in Tokyo, and I’m hopeful that this continues and that we continue to see great companies like MyGengo, and others continue to thrive and grow, setting examples for others to follow here.  I hope to be able to come back soon, and if there’s anything that I can do to help along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out.


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