Kevin Warnock

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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is interviewed September 6, 2012 by Rich Lyons, the Dean of the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley

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Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley interviews Randall Stephenson, the CEO and Chair off ATT, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley interviews Randall Stephenson, the CEO and Chair off ATT, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

On Thursday, September 6, 2012, I attended the Dean’s Speaker Series at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA.

This was the first Dean’s Speaker Series I have attended.

Audience listens to ATT CEO Randall Stephenson speak, September 6, 2012 at UC Berkeley

Audience listens to ATT CEO Randall Stephenson speak, September 6, 2012 at UC Berkeley

I have been aware of this series for years, but I assumed attendance was restricted to friends of the Dean, Rich Lyons, because of the name of the event.

I’ve met and spoken with the Dean about ten times over the years, I estimate, including when he was the Acting Dean when Dean Tom Campbell took a leave of absence to help then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger manage the finances of the State of California.

Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, asks Randall Stephenson a question, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, asks Randall Stephenson a question, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking over the Haas website and marveled at the outstanding list of upcoming individuals the Dean will be interviewing on stage. There in front of me were the magic words — the events are open to members of the Haas ‘community.’ I was pretty sure I qualified, since I am a sponsor of one of the school’s premier events, the Berkeley Startup Competition, and have been every year since 2000. I inquired and I got a seat — I was and am thrilled.

The Dean’s guest for this event was Randall Stephenson, the Chief Executive Officer of AT&T, the largest telecommunications company in the United States.

I am an AT&T customer, both for my home’s broadband Internet connection and for my wireless Apple iPhone 3GS, which I bought soon after launch. I no longer have a wired phone. I like AT&T’s service — I get great reception and few dropped calls.

Randall Stephenson, Chair and CEO of AT&T, photographed by Kevin Warnock on September 6, 2012 at UC Berkeley

Randall Stephenson, Chair and CEO of AT&T, photographed by Kevin Warnock on September 6, 2012 at UC Berkeley

My regard for AT&T went up after listening to Stephenson speak for an hour. Stephenson was Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer prior to becoming Chair and CEO, among many roles.

He started at a job he called a ‘tape monkey’ at Southwest Bell Telephone in 1982 loading 19 inch diameter magnetic tapes of billing data onto tape drives. He did this work 12 hours a day — reading a video screen for instruction on which tape to load, finding the tape in storage, loading the tape and then pressing ‘Run.’

I did this same job, though not full time and not for 12 hours a day, when I worked at Cooley LLP. Thankfully I only had to do this role about two weeks a year, when the regular tape technician, Bill Calhoun, went on vacation.

Stephenson said he figured a way to rework his tape loading job to make it much more efficient and enjoyable, though he didn’t tell us the details of what he changed.

Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, listens to Randall Stephenson answer a question, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, listens to Randall Stephenson answer a question, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

During his introductory remarks, Rich Lyons said Stephenson worked in Mexico City as SBC’s Director of Finance.

At some point, Stephenson worked in Mexico for Carlos Slim, the iconic leader of Telmex. Stephenson did not explain how he came to work for Carlos Slim, who presumably was not an SBC employee at any point in his life.

Stephenson said Carlos Slim is ‘the most inherently brilliant individual that I’ve ever worked with.’

Randall Stephenson, CEO and Chair of AT&T, speaks at University of California at Berkeley, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Randall Stephenson, CEO and Chair of AT&T, speaks at University of California at Berkeley, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Stephenson was in Mexico working for Slim in 1994 when there was an economic crisis that began December 19, 1994, when the Mexican government lifted all restraints on the Mexican Peso and let its value float. The Mexican currency lost 40% of its value in one day, Stephenson recalled.

Slim had 20,000 wireless subscribers in 1994, and thanks in part to the aggressive investments Slim made in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 1994, TelMex now has over 200 million wireless subscribers and Slim has made himself reportedly the wealthiest man in the world.

Stephenson took his job as CEO in June 2007 when ATT was a $100B annual revenue company with 300,000 employees, the same month that Apple launched its first iPhone. Stephenson invested heavily when the 2008 financial crisis came.

University of California Berkeley students listen to AT&T CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson speak, September 6, 2012

University of California Berkeley students listen to AT&T CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson speak, September 6, 2012

Stephenson said that 170,000 of AT&T’s employees actively participate in its TIP — The Innovation Pipeline — system conceived by the company’s CTO, a guy so tough to hire that it took ten years for Stephenson to do so. This system allows employees to propose ideas for the company to work on developing. People vote on the ideas and the best ones that float to the top are funded and pursued. In response to a question from a student in the audience, Stephenson said that apart from advertising the program to employees the company does little to promote participation. He said participation is quite good.

University of California Berkeley students listen to AT&T CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson speak, September 6, 2012

University of California Berkeley students listen to AT&T CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson speak, September 6, 2012

Stephenson and and his public relations person Larry (last name not mentioned) said they were so excited about a couple of their ‘tattooed up’ technologists in their Palo Alto, California research lab named the ‘Foundry’ that they put photographs of them in AT&T’s Annual Report. Stephenson divulged that competitors now are ‘coming after’ these programmers trying to hire them away from AT&T.

University of California Berkeley student asks AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson a question, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

University of California Berkeley student asks AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson a question about AT&T's TIP suggestion system, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

A student from the audience asked Stephenson to discuss wireless handset subsidies. Stephenson answered at length and concluded that the current system in the United States is overwhelmingly what customers want. He said AT&T performed studies where customers were asked if they would like to finance a phone via a separate finance contract, in exchange for markedly lower rates for service. Stephenson said customers did not like this proposal.

I think the survey respondents that answered this way are short sighted.

The way things operate in the United States, where one can buy a USD $700 iPhone for $200 because of the carrier subsidies, there is a perverse incentive to upgrade your phone exactly every two years. That is because contracts generally run for two years. If you keep a phone for three years, that final year you are paying much more than is warranted for service.

People should be encouraged to save money, not spend, so I admire the relatively new system reported by Stephenson to be the norm in Europe — phones are not subsidized and rates for service are [I hope] commensurately lower. Stephenson said phone sales dropped dramatically when this policy was implemented, but I say that is just what the world needs. People keep a home phone for decades. People keep televisions, stereos and other household appliances for years. Stephenson told me one-on-one after the event that fully 90% of his company’s customers upgrade their wireless phone every 14 months. Since contracts are two years long, 90% of its customers are paying early termination fees, which decline over time. That is a waste of the world’s resources, even in this day of a vibrant resale market for used mobile phones. I’m pretty sure a lot of people just throw their old mobile phones in a drawer, to benefit nobody. I understand mobile phones improve rapidly, and I do plan to get the latest iPhone when it’s available, having skipped the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s. I just don’t approve of upgrading exceptionally frequently, which I consider 14 months to be.

I encourage AT&T and all carriers to offer unbundled rates for mobile service, as an option.

Rich Lyons is a good interviewer. The setting was photogenic — two handsome cushioned arm chairs on an elevated stage, with a small end table between the chairs. Lyons and Stephenson wore wireless lapel microphones. There was a backdrop behind the men that repeated the logos for UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business, so the logos made it into every photograph of the people on stage. As a photographer, I applaud the Dean for creating such an inviting, warm and photogenic environment for his interviews. I look forward with enthusiasm to the next Dean’s Speaker Series interview, which I hope to be able to attend.

Former Haas Dean Dr. Laura D’Andrea Tyson is on the Board of Directors of AT&T, and presumably she helped Lyons recruit Stephenson to visit the Haas School. Tyson was Dean when I was a finalist in the Berkeley Business Plan Competition in 1999 with my company Hotpaper.

Student asks AT&T CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson a question, September 6, 2012, at University of California Berkeley

Student asks AT&T CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson a question about mobile handset subsidies, September 6, 2012, at University of California Berkeley

I took the photographs that accompany this blog post.

I used a Canon 5D Mark II camera with the following lenses: Canon 135mm soft-focus lens set to sharp, Canon 16-35mm L zoom lens. I upload pictures to this blog at maximum camera resolution at maximum image quality. Click on the photographs twice in delayed succession to see the full size images. If you would like to use these pictures, please send me a message. If the purpose is reasonable, I will allow usage. I enjoy having my pictures displayed elsewhere. I pursue photography only as a hobby, not as a profession.

At the end of his interview, Rich Lyons stands with ATT CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson at  the Haas School of Business, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

At the end of his interview, Rich Lyons stands with ATT CEO and Chair Randall Stephenson at the Haas School of Business, September 6, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Finally, I have some advice for Berkeley students reading this post — introduce yourself to the speaker.

I don’t recall seeing any students introduce themselves to Stephenson. I did see a professor and a president of a good sized company say hello, but that’s it. Stephenson spent several minutes talking with me because there was nobody waiting after me to speak with him. The room had rapidly cleared out. The interview was during the lunch hour, so perhaps the students had to be in class immediately after. It’s rare for so prominent a CEO to speak to such a small group — there were about 140 students in the room by my quick count. I’m sure Stephenson won’t be back this academic year. Make a point of meeting all such prominent speakers. In my mind, Stephenson should have been surrounded by dozens of students trying to shake his hand. Stephenson didn’t appear to be in a rush to depart, and I left before he did.

Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, 2012-13 Angel & Venture Capital Financing Overview – August 30, 2012

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The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012, held at Stanley Hall, room 105, because Anderson Auditorium was booked

The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012, held at Stanley Hall, room 105, because Anderson Auditorium was booked

On August 30, 2012 I attended the 2012-13 Angel & Venture Capital Financing Overview at The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum.

The August 30th Forum was the first of this academic year. The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum is a production of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.

Panelists Jeff Clavier, Vivek Mehra and Jim Barnett at Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Panelists Jeff Clavier, Vivek Mehra and Jim Barnett at Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

The first Forum of the year for years now starts with Steve Bengston’s presentation of the Shaking the Money Tree report. I suspect Bengston has made this presentation hundreds of times, as he gives it not just at the Forum, but at many venues. In fact, I suspect it’s Bengston’s signature talk.

You can watch the full video of the Forum here to see what happened. I am a photographer, not a videographer. This is not the official video, which The Lester Center will publish in its entirety some weeks from now, I believe. I suggest you watch that version, because it will have professional sound from a mixing board, the slides will likely be full screen so you can read them, and the camera used is far better than the still camera I used that happens to also shoot video. I did not upload this video at full quality, since such video takes far longer to compress for Internet display.

There were some good lines from the speakers. I’ve transcribed my favorites here:

Steve Bengston:

“It [venture capital] finally got big in the mid to late 90s and now we worry when the venture business goes from $30B to $20B, but it never got above $20B until 1998 so the scale of the venture business is just much bigger than it’s ever been.”

“What about Series A, ‘didn’t that collapse?’ It is down certainly from the peak but you can see whatever that is there are $200M to $400M of series A deals each quarter just in Silicon Valley and that represents about 50 to about a 100 Series A deals in Silicon Valley each quarter.”

“The good news is there is a lot of money for your deal if you meet the certain metrics for an investor.”

“If you’re going to raise money which is still hard to do, you’re going to raise around $3M. That’s a typical deal. In this era, that buys you a lot more months of burn than it would have say ten years ago.”

“You have 300 to 400 M & A exits in the US a year in the US, much higher than the old days.”

“The top five or so [venture] firms are raising 80% of the money.”

“It begs the question ‘How many VCs do you need to find the 30 good companies every year?’ Right now the answer is about 3,000. For many people that seems high.”

“China has been the number one economy 15 of the last 18 centuries. So, just because they have had a couple of bad centuries you don’t want to count them out. They are used to being on top.”

Jeff Clavier:

“The challenge at the early stage is that even great founders can come up with really stupid ideas.”

“Do it because you are passionate about it, not because it’s cool.”

“I passed on airbnb that some showed me when it was called air bed and breakfast and I said ‘air bed and breakfast… are you f—ing kidding me?'”

Jim Barnett:

“One of the danger signs that all the partners look for is what we call ‘complexifiers’ — people that take what is otherwise a relatively simple business proposition or business idea and figure out how to make it complex.”

“The one thing I would say to those thinking about starting a company or planning to start a company is just go do it. Your idea really doesn’t need to be that great. It really doesn’t. If you’re great, it will get funded.”

“I want to dispell a myth that you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. I think that is just a bunch of crap. I really do. I think you learn from watching success — pattern matching, whether it’s in sports whether it’s in business or anything else so for those of you that are in the audience that are MBAs or that are undergrads that are thinking about what do if they’re not going to start a company I would say ‘go work for a successful company and watch.’ You’ll learn a lot more than doing three failed startups.”

Vivek Mehra:

“I hate doing deals over the weekend. I have never done one and I  hope I never have to do one. It’s just impossible to get to know the entrepreneur.”

“When there are very asymmetric equity assignments amongst the team you know what they really think about each other.”

Here is my succinct summary of this Entrepreneurs Forum:

  • The venture industry is in trouble, but there is still plenty of money around.
  • Lots of angel investors are making what will prove to be poor investments so this increases the chances that you can raise money even if you or your idea are not that good.
  • There is a lot to be gained by just starting a company, so if you are passionate about doing so, then go for it. You won’t ruin your chances for future success by failing a few times.
  • However, if you’re not going to start a company, you should work for a clearly successful company so you can pay attention and learn from the success of others.
  • Surround yourself with high quality people.
  • Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.
  • Have your role worked out with your founders before you pitch to investors. Lopsided equity divisions speak loudly to investors what you think of your co-founders.
  • Increase your chances of getting funded by persistently pursuing entrepreneurship over years, so investors may gauge your actions over your words.
  • Work hard and recognize that a lot of success may be attributed to your ability to forge healthy and respectful long term relationships with people in the community.
Panelist Jeff Clavier answers questions at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Panelist Jeff Clavier answers questions at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

From the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum website, here are the introductions for the moderator and speakers — I added the hyperlinks to make it easier for you to learn more about the panelists and their many interests:

Samuel B. Angus
Partner
Fenwick & West LLP

Samuel B. Angus is a partner in the Corporate and Venture Capital Group of Fenwick & West LLP, a law firm specializing in technology and life sciences matters. Mr. Angus is resident in the San Francisco office and his practice concentrates on advising start-up/venture-backed companies, venture capital and debt financings, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property licensing, joint ventures and general corporate matters. Mr. Angus represents a broad range of companies from privately held start-up companies to publicly traded corporations, including Airbnb, Github, Marin Software and oDesk. His practice also includes advising entrepreneurs and investors.

Jim Barnett
Partner
Shasta Ventures

Jim Barnett is a Partner at Shasta Ventures and has been a highly successful serial CEO and entrepreneur. Jim is currently chairman and co-founder of Turn, chairman of Extole and Sojern, and a board member of Needle and RelayRides. From 2004 until 2009, Jim was CEO, chairman and co-founder of Turn, the leading platform for managing data driven digital advertising. Before that he was president of Overture Search, a division of Overture Services, Inc. Jim joined Overture via its acquisition of AltaVista Company, where he was president and CEO. In this role, he led the company’s successful turnaround and sale to Overture.

Jim was also president of Ancestry.com (MyFamily.com) and president and CEO of ThirdAge Media, which was acquired by Ancestry.com. Prior to that, Jim was president and CEO of Infogrammes North America, a leading global publisher of video games and entertainment software. He was also chairman, president and CEO of Accolade Inc, Infogrammes’ predecessor company, and prior to that was chief operating officer of an “Inc. 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies.”

Jim has served on the boards of many private and public companies including SideStep, Inc. where he was chairman and Petco where he was also an early investor. Jim earned a bachelor’s degree, MBA and J.D. from Stanford University.

Moderator Sam Angus listens to student Rebecca Spitzer pitch her startup at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Moderator Sam Angus listens to student Rebecca Spitzer pitch her startup at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Steve Bengston
PricewaterhouseCoopers

Steve Bengston heads the Emerging Company Services (ECS) group at PricewaterhouseCoopers. ECS acts as “mentor capitalists” for young, high potential companies.

Before joining PwC, Steve had 20 years of experience in a variety of marketing, business development and general management roles at several high tech companies in the Bay Area. Most recently, he was Pres/CEO of ynot.com [Note: not the website now online at that URL], a leading international emarketing and greeting card company. Previously, he was VP Marketing & Business Development at Worldview Systems, an Internet travel pioneer. At Worldview, Steve helped launch and market Travelocity with Sabre Interactive.

Steve has a BA in Economics and MBA from Stanford University. He works closely or sits on the Advisory Board at Churchill Club, SVASE, Life Science Angels, Bay Bio, and the Stanford/MIT Venture Lab, has taught classes on startups at UC Berkeley, San Jose State, Santa Clara Law School, Hastings Law School, and Stanford, and is active in a variety of other organizations in the Bay Area targeting entrepreneurs and investors. He is a frequent moderator/panelist at both university and industry sponsored events.

Sam Angus, a partner at law firm Fenwick & West LLP moderates panel at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Sam Angus, a partner at law firm Fenwick & West LLP, moderates a panel at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Jeff Clavier
Founder and Managing Partner
SoftTech VC

Based in Palo Alto, California, Jean-Francois “Jeff” Clavier is the Founder and Managing Partner of SoftTech VC, one of the most active seed stage investors in Web 2.0 startups. Since 2004, Jeff has invested 125 consumer internet startups (Fund I, Fund II, Fund III) in areas like social media, monetization, search, gaming or B2B/B2C web services. These investments are typically located in Silicon Valley, New-York and Boulder. With over 20 years of operational, entrepreneurial and venture capital experience, Jeff is able to add relevant perspective and value to his companies as they grow from inception to maturity, and hopefully, success.

Jeff was recognized as one of the 13 “Web 2.0 King Makers” by (late) Business 2.0. BusinessWeek named him one of “The 25 Most Influential People on the Web” in 2008, and one of the “Top 25 Angels in Tech” in 2010. He was also nominated in the “Best Angel” category at the Crunchies in 2009 and 2010. He is often noted for his investments in categories such as “passion-centric communities” or online gaming, or for having sold a number of his Web 2.0 startups to the likes of Yahoo, AOL, Intuit or more recently PayPal, Twitter and Groupon.

Some of Jeff’s representative investments include Mint (Intuit), Brightroll, Truveo (AOL), Userplane (AOL), Rapleaf, Ustream, Milo (eBay), Blekko, Eventbrite, Tapulous (Disney), DNANexus, FanBridge, BillFloat, Fab, Gigwalk, Byliner and Wildfire.

Stuart Sweetow, owner of Audio Video Consultants, capturing video at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Stuart Sweetow, owner of Audio Video Consultants, capturing video at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Vivek Mehra
August Capital

Vivek joined August Capital in 2003. He invests broadly in IT infrastructure and areas of interest include data center technologies, systems management, security, storage, and cloud computing systems and software. Prior to joining August Capital, Vivek co-founded Cobalt Networks in 1996. As CTO & VP of Product Development, Vivek built the first successful server appliance and grew Cobalt into a worldwide leader in the category, culminating in a successful IPO and acquisition by Sun Microsystems for $2B. At Sun, Vivek served as the Vice President and General Manager of the Cobalt Business Unit and a member of Sun’s Technical Architecture Council. Prior to founding Cobalt, Vivek held a number of technical and management positions at Apple, SGI, and Digital Equipment Corporation and successfully developed numerous products including Internet enabled set-top boxes, PDAs, RISC workstations, and high performance graphics subsystems.

Vivek received a BS in Electronics from Punjab University, India, and an MS in Computer Engineering from Iowa State University.

Audience members enjoying a funny moment at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Audience members enjoying a funny moment at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

To my knowledge, I have been attending The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum for longer than anyone else besides Jerry Engel, who founded The Lester Center in 1991 and was its Executive Director for nearly two decades.

I have some suggestions to improve the The Entrepreneurs Forum, which I will describe here. I am posting these suggestions publicly because they are likely applicable to numerous programs across the globe, and I’d like to see these ideas adopted widely if people think they are worthwhile.

1. Dispense with the table panelists sit at. The table doesn’t look good on camera or video, and over time the majority audience for the Forum should be watching online, since the rooms frequently sell out already. Panelists should sit on arm chairs or couches, like they do at most tech conferences that I attend. The moderator should sit with the panelists and not be off to the side standing at a podium. All the people on stage should be outfitted with wireless lapel microphones. I would like the Forum to appear more conversational in style. The table separates the speakers from the audience, where arm chairs suggest a residence for a more intimate vibe.

Here’s an example of a more visually appealing way to run a panel. Steve Bengston is the moderator for this panel at The Churchill Club, where he is a member of its Board of Directors and its past Chair.

Jeff Burton, the brand new Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Skydeck, talks with Jim Barnett of Shasta Ventures, August 30, 2012

Jeff Burton, the brand new Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Skydeck, talks with Jim Barnett of Shasta Ventures, August 30, 2012

2. Commercial bottled water should be forbidden on stage, even if the speakers bring it with them. Nearly all the conferences I attend serve water from pitchers into real glasses. Bottled water is an evil product, and it looks bad in photographs and video to see those bottles. Image is important, and promoting bottled water by showing it on stage should stop.

3. Commercial bottled water should not be a beverage choice during the networking hour. Tap water should be offered, and it should not require a drink ticket.

4. When it comes time for audience questions, invite the questioner to sit on stage in an arm chair or on the couch while they ask the question and while they are receiving the answer. This will give the questioner time on video, and will permit them to look the speakers in the eye. This will be a treat for the audience members, because they’ll feel they get to ‘meet’ the panelists for 60 or 120 seconds. Questioners can line up to get their turn on stage. Questioners should be encouraged to state their first and last name, so they can be identified online.

5. Although I appreciate that it’s a lot of work, the Forums should be transcribed, and the transcribed text should be posted online. This is a certain way to get more traffic to The Lester Center website, and it’s likely to increase the interest in the Forum from attendees that can’t attend in person.

6. All Forums should be archived online, including Forums from ten and twenty years ago. Forums should never expire and be removed.

7. The ‘numbers’ should be videotaped and included in the online video. The numbers are often the most interesting part of the evening. The contact information for the number presenters should be posted online, with permission of course, and there should be a hyperlink to the project the person is working on.

Vivek Mehra, a partner at August Capital, answers questions posed by attendees at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

Vivek Mehra, a partner at August Capital, answers questions posed by attendees at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, August 30, 2012

8. The photographs taken by Bruce Cook, the official photographer, should be publicly posted to Facebook, and should be tagged. Once the identities of the people pictured are known via the tagging, the captions for the official Lester Center website should be updated to identify everyone whose name is known. If required, change the terms of the tickets purchased to give UC Berkeley the right to identify the people by name. Offer an ‘opt out’ list during checkin. Having the names with the pictures will increase traffic to The Lester Center website, since people will search for those names for decades to come. Invite people to tag the pictures in the emails The Lester Center sends out and via Facebook status updates.

9. A vast collection of at least 5,000 of Bruce Cook’s unpublished photographs of the Forum from the last twenty years should be published to Facebook and the Web, and they should be tagged and captioned. This was entirely my idea — Cook did not hint that I propose such an idea. The majority of the pictures published should be of the networking hour, to get as many people from the audiences over the years tagged as possible.

10. The Forum should be oversold, like airplane seats. This August 30th Forum was ‘sold out’ but there were unfilled seats in the auditorium, which takes away from the excitement of a sold out show. If too many people show up, they can watch on video monitors in the Bank of America Forum, and as compensation for not getting a seat, their entrance fee can be 100% refunded. I predict the revenue over time from overbooking will more than make up for the refunds that need to be given. Attendees should be told when they buy their tickets they risk being bumped, and encouraged to arrive early to be sure they get a seat.

11. The reminder to ‘Like’ The Lester Center on Facebook should be repeated on a poster displayed during the Forum. The Forum’s Twitter handle should also be on this poster.

12. Attendees should be given a perk if they follow the Forum on social networks, such as a second drink ticket on their next visit to the Forum, to encourage getting as many followers as possible. Currently attendees may eat unlimited quantities of food at the Forum, but are permitted only one drink, either with alcohol or without.

13. Attendees should be invited to blog and post about the Forums, and The Lester Center site should find and link to the best examples of such efforts, to encourage people to write about the Forum.

I am one of the only bloggers writing about the Forum, but there should be at least several.

14. I love the luxurious food served during the networking hour, but it sure seems like it must cost a fortune. I think it would be more than fine to switch to less fancy food. There is precedent for this. Last year at the Founder School Demo Day what appeared to be inexpensive sandwiches were served, but the event was superb and not diminished by the more everyday food. I suspect the food budget for the Forum could be cut by two thirds without getting more than a handful of complaints. The Forum is still too expensive at USD $25 a ticket, and I bet it loses money even at that price. When I started attending in my mid twenties, the cost was prohibitive. It was only due to my getting free tickets from my employer at the time, Cooley, that I attended regularly. The goal should be to get lots of currently poor entrepreneurs in the making to attend, including but not limited to Berkeley students.

I suggest the price should be no more than $10. To get the price that low, I suggest alcohol should cost extra.

That is all my suggestions for now. The Forum is already a success, or I would not have attended for twenty years. I am trying to make the Forum better.

Jeff-Burton, left, the brand new Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Skydeck talks with Andre Marquis, Executive Director of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Jeff-Burton, left, the brand new Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Skydeck talks with Andre Marquis, Executive Director of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, August 30, 2012. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

I upload pictures to this blog at the maximum resolution my camera produces — 21 megapixels. Click on them twice in delayed succession to see them at full size. I shot these pictures at ISO 4,000 due to the low lighting levels.

Click here to see all the posts I have written about the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum.

The law firm Fenwick & West LLP where Sam Angus is a partner produced and gave away a great 80 page booklet at the Forum. Retired Fenwick attorney Jacqueline Daunt wrote a fantastic introduction to startups that includes a capitalization table for a hypothetical company from pre-funding stage through a public stock offering. Thank you Fenwick! If I can post this booklet, please let me know and I’ll update this post with a link to a PDF scan of the booklet.

Finally, as an end note, I met Steve Bengston in 1999 during the first dot com boom, when he agreed to help me with Hotpaper, my startup at the time. It turned out I didn’t call on him much, since I lined up financing almost too easily, but I will never forget pitching him at his PriceWaterhouseCoopers office in San Jose, California USA, and him telling me at that meeting that he would help me. Bengston is well known, and I was thrilled to have his support, especially back then when I didn’t know many people or know much of anything.

Annual Andrew Fluegelman Awards Gala Honoring Outstanding Students, Student-Athletes & Foster Parents, May 18, 2012

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Winners of 2012 Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards showing off their new Apple MacBook Pro laptop computers, May 18, 2012. Bruce Bouligny on left and David Bunnell in white shirt.

Winners of 2012 Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards showing off their new Apple MacBook Pro laptop computers, May 18, 2012. Bruce Bouligny on left and David Bunnell in white shirt.

On Friday, May 18, 2012, the day of the Facebook Initial Public Offering of stock, I attended the annual Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards Gala, held at the Linen Life Gallery at 770 East 14th Street, San Leandro, California USA. Here is the Facebook page for the Andrew Fluegelman Foundation. Bruce Bouligny is the Director of the Fluegelman Foundation.

EventBrite.com electronic ticket to Andrew Fluegelman Awards Gala, May 18, 2012

EventBrite.com electronic ticket to Andrew Fluegelman Awards Gala, May 18, 2012

I learned of this event the morning of the event, thanks to a Facebook status update from Harry McCracken, Editor-at-large at Time Magazine. McCracken encouraged his Facebook subscribers, of which I am one, to attend this event. McCracken also linked to a piece he wrote for Time entitled Remembering Andrew Fluegelman, a Quiet Giant of the PC Revolution that introduced me to Andrew Fluegelman, a man I had not previously heard of. Once I read McCracken’s piece on Fluegelman, I got a ticket for the Awards Gala and attended as a blogger. Amazingly, the tickets were free, although they did ask for a modest donation at the door, which I happily made.

Andrew Fluegelman disappeared in 1986, and it’s assumed he committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He was 42, and his body was never found.

Stuart Sweetow - from his Facebook profile (photo by Rufus Diamant)

Stuart Sweetow - from his Facebook profile (photo by Rufus Diamant)

I had only been at the Linen Life Gallery for mere minutes when my friend Stuart Sweetow came over to say hello. I recognized him but couldn’t place him, as I only see Sweetow at the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum at The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He’s the videographer for the forums, and has been for some 15 years. I have had the privilege of appearing in one of Sweetow’s videos that he created for the Forum.

Sweetow absolutely made my evening.

How so? It turns out that Sweetow runs a business called Audio Visual Consultants. He’s been in business since 1983 — impressive. In 1986 he was hired by PC World, which Fluegelman co-founded with David Bunnell, to produce a video tribute to Andrew Fluegelman.

A few weeks ago, Sweetow was moving his company’s office and studio to new space and he stumbled upon the ancient video cassette he had produced decades earlier. He decided to call David Bunnell, the co-founder of the Andrew Fluegelman Foundation (and PC World Magazine), to ask if he wanted the tape. Bunnell was probably stunned to get Sweetow’s call. The copy PC World received decades ago had been lost. It was thought that it would never resurface. Thanks to Sweetow, the Foundation and presumably PC World has the video again, and it’s been posted to YouTube so a wider audience can view it.

What a heartwarming story. Here’s Sweetow’s video:

I asked Sweetow if I could blog about this story, and he said that I may.

Sweetow then pointed out that David Bunnell was standing near us. Sweetow offered to introduce me, and I accepted.

David Bunnell co-founded PC World Magazine with Andrew Fluegelman. I used to read PC World frequently. Before the Internet, such magazines were required reading for those interested in technology. You read such magazines the way we read websites like TechCrunch and Engadget today. I got to meet a publishing legend Friday night.

Happily, PC World is still in business, with a vibrant online presence in addition to the physical editions of the magazine.

I asked David Bunnell if I could photograph him, and not only did he agree, but volunteered to step outside into the still bright daylight so I could get a well lit portrait of him. Had he not volunteered, I would have directed him outside, as the light there was perfect. The pictures of Bunnell are at the bottom of this post.

I used my Canon 5D Mark II for these photographs, and I uploaded them at full 21 megapixel resolution. Click on the pictures to see them at full size.

Here is what David Bunnell wrote for the official paper program distributed at the event:

“Andrew Fluegelman (1942-1985)

During his brief life, Andrew made major contributions to the booming computer revolution. In addition to co-founding PC World and Macworld magazines, he wrote PC-Talk, the software program that for the first time made it possible for personal computers to exchange data over a phone line.

Believing that PC-Talk should be available to as many people as possible, Andrew came up with the novel idea of simply giving it away and asking people to send in a donation if they liked the program.

Andrew called this method of distributing software, “freeware.” Thousands of other programmers started making their software available this way, which helped the PC industry grow even faster.

Underlying Andrew’s work was his profound belief that personal computers have the power to transform anyone’s life. Whatever a person’s background and circumstance, if they had a computer their lives could be dramatically changed for the better.

With the help of some of Andrew’s other friends, I established the Andrew Fluegelman Foundation to keep his memory alive and to realize his vision that computers can make a dramatic difference.

Working with other nonprofit organizations, we identify outstanding high school seniors who have overcome the challenges of growing up in poor neighborhoods and who have been accepted into university, college or other advanced educational program. They also must demonstrate a desire to “give back” to their communities.

In Andrew’s name, we give these students a Macintosh laptop computer, printer and training in the use of Google applications, courtesy of Google.

So far, all the students who have won Fluegelman Fellowships have gone on to be successful in college. They arepot to us that owning their own Macintosh computers has been a huge part of that success.

I truly believe Andrew would have loved this program, and that his spirit is with us tonight.

–David Bunnell”

Fluegelman in 1982 created PC-Talk, the first dialup communications program for IBM Personal Computers and their clones. Back then, computers were connected via standard wired telephones directly to each other, not by going through central servers run by companies like AOL, Compuserve or Prodigy. Fluegelman distributed PC-Talk at no charge, and encouraged people to copy it and give it to friends. He made money by asking but not requiring that people mail him money via postal mail. He suggested donations of USD $25 and later more. That was a fair amount of money back then. I suspect it still works today, at least on Windows XP.

Fluegelman was the first Editor-in-Chief of PC World magazine. He interviewed Bill Gates in 1984, as shown in this picture from the Fluegelman Foundation’s Facebook page:

Andrew Fluegelman, on the far right, interviewing Bill Gates, standing, in 1984. Photographer unknown.

Andrew Fluegelman, on the far right, interviewing Bill Gates, standing, in 1984. Photographer unknown.

The Fluegelman Foundation honors Andrew Fluegelman’s memory by awarding Apple MacBook Pro computers to seven deserving high school seniors each year.  Fluegelman believed that a computer could change a person’s life, so he would have approved of the work this foundation is doing.

This year Apple MacBooks were awarded to:

David Bunnell and Bruce Bouligny took turns reading portions of the winning essays these winners submitted to compete for the laptops. The students were not given a chance at the microphone to say ‘thank you.’ I suspect this was the first time these students had been on stage outside of school. In future years, I suggest the organizers allow each student 60 seconds at the microphone to say thank you. They should be told of this opportunity in advance so they can prepare and practice their remarks. They will likely be nervous, but it should be a condition of winning that they say something. It will be a valuable learning experience to speak before strangers, and it’s one they won’t likely ever forget. The audience I am sure would welcome hearing from the students.

I tried hard to get permission to photograph the winners individually like I was able to photograph David Bunnell and Larry Magid, below. But I didn’t ask soon enough and the time simply ran out. I would have loved the chance to spend two minutes with each student properly photographing them. If I attend next year, I will prepare in advance with the organizers so that I can do this.

The Fluegelman Foundation also gives awards  to an outstanding foster parent each year. I did not learn how this award is connected to Fluegelman, and there may be no overt connection. Whether there is or not isn’t important. The evening was an inspiring delight, and I am so glad that I attended.

Two foster parents spoke.

The first foster parent to speak was Tracy Beckham, who has 12 children. Eleven she and her husband adopted after doctors told her they would not be able to conceive and carry to term a biological child. We learned that their youngest child, the girl in the white dress below, is their biological child, and she was conceived naturally with no assistance from the fertility industry. Beckham told us how doctors at first thought she was sick, but eventually concluded she was pregnant. What a happy surprise.

Tracy Beckham with her family plus a few others, May 18, 2012 at Andrew Fluegelman Fellowship Awards Gala. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Tracy Beckham with her family plus a few others, May 18, 2012 at Andrew Fluegelman Fellowship Awards Gala. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Beckham’s 6’6″ son Dorial Green-Beckham, the tallest in the two shots immediately above and below, is already famous, with his own entry in WikiPediA, I learned. The pictures I took of him are likely to get this blog some significant traffic. Thank you Dorial and thank you to his mother Tracy, who gave me permission.

Dorial is a famous high school football player. According to The Columbian Missourian newspaper, Dorian was the most recruited high school football player in the United States in 2012. Here’s a long piece that details how intense this process was.

Dorial signed with the Missouri Mizzou Tigers, after a courtship that lasted years. I had no idea before today that even happened. I don’t follow football, and I only occasionally watch the Super Bowl.

I had never heard of Dorial before this event. I am glad that I met him, and he was gracious and patient as I set up the pictures you see here. I gave him posing directions just like I give the female models I photograph. I wonder what he thought of me given that he’s probably been photographed by hundreds and hundreds of photographers to date.

Tracy Beckham with 2 of her 12 children including Dorial Green-Beckham on the right. May 18, 2012 in San Leandro, California. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Tracy Beckham with 2 of her 12 children including Dorial Green-Beckham on the right. May 18, 2012 in San Leandro, California. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Have a look at this YouTube video that shows Dorial breaking the United States national receiving record for high school football.

Here’s a clip of Dorial catching a 79 yard pass with one hand during the 2012 Army All American Game. Looks impressive to me:

Dorial Green-Beckham was awarded the first National Fellowship awarded by the Fluegelman Foundation, and Dorian was given an opportunity to speak to the audience, which he accepted.

The second foster parent to speak was Athaline Burns, shown in the photograph below holding her award plaque for East Bay Foster Parent of the Year.

Burns told the crowd she provided care to about 100 foster children that lived in her home over the years. This is an astonishing and important contribution to society. Burns kept her remarks short, so I don’t have any stories to relate about her remarkable life. I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with her after the event, which I regret. I would like to interview her for this blog at some point, and meet her family to hear about their experiences first hand. I have at times considered becoming a foster parent, so I have more than a casual interest in this subject.

Athaline Burns, holding award plaque, shown with her family. Burns is East Bay Foster Parent of the Year. May 18, 2012 in San Leandro, California. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Athaline Burns, holding award plaque, shown with her family. Burns is East Bay Foster Parent of the Year. May 18, 2012 in San Leandro, California. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Here is the portrait that I took of David Bunnell and Larry Magid together:

David Bunnell and Larry Magid, May 18, 2012 at Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards Gala in San Leandro, California. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

David Bunnell and Larry Magid, May 18, 2012 at Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards Gala in San Leandro, California. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Bunnell and Magid provided commentary at the start of the event about the storied life of Andrew Fluegelman. I got the distinct impression that both Bunnell and Magid are elder statesmen in the technology industry, so I am so grateful that I got to photograph them together and separately, and that the results were so pleasing. Magid asked if he could use the results, and I happily told him that he may. Of course, Bunnell may as well, as well as all the others that I photographed. I am very flattered when I encounter my photographs around the web and on other peoples’ Facebook pages. Twenty four of my Facebook friends are also friends with Magid.

Larry Magid is Co-Director of ConnectSafely, a non-profit. Magid provided Gala attendees with free copies of the book A Parent’s Guide to Facebook (also published in Arabic). I have a copy, and from reading part of it I can say it’s well written and likely to be very valuable to parents. I’ve never seen such a lushly produced guide to safely using potentially a potentially dangerous site like Facebook. I plan to read the entire book. Here’s an abstract of what ConnectSafely is about, from the group’s website:

“ConnectSafely is for parents, teens, educators, advocates – everyone engaged in and interested in the impact of the social Web. The user-driven, all-media, multi-platform, fixed and mobile social Web is a big part of young people’s lives, and this is the central space – linked to from social networks across the Web – for learning about safe, civil use of Web 2.0 together. Our forum is also designed to give teens and parents a voice in the public discussion about youth online safety begun back in the ’90s. ConnectSafely also has all kinds of social-media safety tips for teens and parents, the latest youth-tech news, and many other resources.

ConnectSafely.org is a project of Tech Parenting Group, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah. The forum is co-directed by Larry Magid of SafeKids.com and Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.org, co-authors of MySpace Unraveled: What It Is and How to Use It Safely. (Peachpit Press, Berkeley, Calif., July 2006).”

Larry Magid is also the on-air technology analyst for CBS. Magid has over 62,000 subscribers on Facebook.

Here is the portrait that I took of David Bunnell:

David Bunnell, co-founder of Andrew Fluegelman Foundation, May 18, 2012. Photographed by Kevin Warnock.

David Bunnell, co-founder of Andrew Fluegelman Foundation, May 18, 2012. Photographed by Kevin Warnock.

Here is the portrait that I took of Larry Magid:

Larry Magid, on-air technology analyst for CBS, photographed May 18, 2012 at the Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards Gala. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Larry Magid, on-air technology analyst for CBS, photographed May 18, 2012 at the Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards Gala. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Here is a photograph of the reception prior to the awards ceremony. The food and drink were outstanding, thanks to B Restaurant and Bar, Trader Joe’s, Markham Vineyards, Carl Talaue Catering, RSVP Catering and T-Rex BBQ.

The Skyline Jazz Band, made of up musicians from Skyline High School, played during the reception. The band’s director is Vincent Tolliver. The musicians are:

  • Olivia Ports – Drums
  • Ella Pearson – Piano
  • David McMillan – Guitar
  • Zach Seidl – Bass
  • Jeff Seidl – Trombone
  • Jeramy Kaetzel – Trumpet
  • Andrew Wong-Rolle – Alto Saxiphone
Reception at 2012 Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Awards Gala in San Leandro, California, May 18, 2012

Reception at 2012 Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Awards Gala in San Leandro, California, May 18, 2012. That's Stuart Sweetow in the center holding the video camera.

Charleston Pierce was the Master of Ceremony. I found him vibrant, charismatic and engaging. He said he’s a graduate of San Francisco School of the Arts, or SOTA. This school is located in the same building where I went to high school. That school, J. Eugene McAteer High School, was dissolved in 2002 due to its being atrocious, which I can personally confirm.

SOTA seems to be churning out winners, like Devon Ivie, Havel Weidner and Cristina Rey, all of whom I met in February, 2012 at the San Francisco Mock Trials citywide finals. They were on the student team representing SOTA, which this year competed with Lowell High School, generally thought to be the best public high school in San Francisco. SOTA lost to Lowell this year, but has won over Lowell multiple times in past years. The students I met in February are very polished and impressive, and I predict they will go far in life, unlike most of my McAteer classmates, I am sad to report.

I got to shake Pierce’s hand, but sadly didn’t get to interview him. He’s in the entertainment industry, and I bet he’s somebody my readers would love to learn more about. If he’s reading this, I invite him to contact me to schedule an interview.

Congratulations to all the winners at the 2012 Andrew Fluegelman Foundation Fellowship Awards. To the student winners, I say study hard in college, drink alcohol very moderately or not at all, decline all illegal substances and activities, keep in touch with your professors long after you graduate, and start building and nurturing your personal brand right now, by blogging and Tweeting thoughtfully, articulately and responsibly.

When you graduate, future employers will then have four years (decline the five year program!!!) of your posts to read to get a sense of who you are and why they should hire you. You’ll be far ahead of most of your peers, even your peers that might have better academic credentials than you have earned. In life it’s not just grades, but your character, passion and drive that will advance you past your peers. You can start today with WordPress and your shiny new Macbooks. Good luck, and drop me a line once a year to let me know how your MacBook enhanced lives are going. I will write about you here if you take me up on this.

College will be over in two snaps of your fingers, so relish it, embrace it and blog about it! Have fun.

———-

May 21, 2012 – I added a photo credit to the caption under photograph of Stuart Sweetow, which was taken by Rufus Diamant.

2012 Berkeley Startup Competition Finals at University of California Berkeley

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Kate Garrett, co-founder of Calcula Technologies, Grand Prize winner of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Kate Garrett, co-founder of Calcula Technologies, Grand Prize winner of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

On Thursday, April 26, 2012, I attended the Berkeley Startup Competition Final Awards Ceremony at the Anderson Auditorium on the campus of The Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Here is the PDF format file of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition Final Awards Ceremony program booklet that was handed out at the final awards ceremony.

There are many people mentioned in the booklet, like the Co-Chairs for the 2012 competition, Nick Nascioli, Adam Sterling and Tom VanLangen, as well as Lester Center Executive Director Andre Marquis and Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons.

Grand Prize winner Calcula Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Left to right: Nick Mascioli (co-chair of the Competition), Adam Sterling (co-chair of the Competition), Kate Garrett, Dan Azagury, David Gal, Buzz Bonneau, Tom VanLangen (co-chair of the Competition)

Grand Prize winner Calcula Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Left to right: Nick Mascioli (co-chair of the Competition), Adam Sterling (co-chair of the Competition), Kate Garrett, Dan Azagury, David Gal, Buzz Bonneau, Tom VanLangen (co-chair of the Competition)

I most recently wrote about the announcement of the finalists for this competition, which happened two days earlier, on April 24, 2012.

Calcula Technologies won the Grand Prize and the Life Sciences Track for their clever system that vacuums kidney stones out of a patient’s urethra in just ten seconds. According to the team’s presentation, doctors today let stones pass from the body naturally and often quite painfully unless they are larger than 10mm in diameter. Patients today are often in such agony that they visit the emergency room, which racks up hundreds of millions of dollars in charges per year. For the sub 10mm stones, doctors just write prescriptions for narcotic pain killers and send the patients home with the stones still on their excruciating slow path out.

In the future, when and if Calcula gets their system approved by regulators, patients could have a catheter inserted into their urethra and the stone could be sucked out in seconds, presumably at great relief to the patient. This work could be done at the office of a urologist, without surgery, and the Calcula team said there is already a prized and lucrative reimbursement code in existence in the insurance industry, so if they build this system, they will be able to get paid and make a profit. I can understand why Calcula Technologies won the grand prize. Kidney stones are no fun, I’ve heard, and this system seems very appealing. The team showed a video of a fake kidney stone being sucked out of a pig’s urethra in just 10 seconds. It was very impressive and very memorable.

First Place Energy and Cleantech winner Harbo Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

First Place Energy and Cleantech winner Harbo Technologies at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Kloudless, Inc. won first place in the Information Technologies and Web Track. I am going to be interviewing Kloudless, so I’ll save my remarks for another blog post.

First place IT and Web Track winner Kloudless, Inc. at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

First place IT and Web Track winner Kloudless, Inc. at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Like Calcula, Back to the Roots (2935 Adeline Street, Oakland California 94608 USA) won two awards. First, they won the Products and Services Track, and then, thanks to real time votes from the audience and viewers of a live stream on the Internet, they won the Peoples’ Choice Award.

I have written about Back to the Roots twice before.

I have one of their products at my house right now. It works.

Peoples' Choice winner Back to the Roots at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Peoples' Choice winner Back to the Roots at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Back to the Roots collects used coffee grounds from coffee houses like Peet’s Coffee and mixes it with a ‘secret sauce.’ The combination is boxed up and sold at over 1,000 stores in the United States, including at Home Depot and Whole Foods Market. A consumer buys the cardboard box and partly opens it, exposing the insides. The consumer then mists the contents of the box with water using an included spray bottle. After ten days of twice daily misting, the consumer harvests a bountiful crop of oyster mushrooms that have grown directly out of the side of the box. Once one side has been used up, the consumer opens the other side to repeat the growing cycle for a second harvest.

Elevator Pitch winner Nanoly at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Elevator Pitch winner Nanoly at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

That story has been told thousands of times, including on the CBS Evening News, an influential national newscast in the United States.

During their public presentation, the Back to the Roots team disclosed future plans that I find fascinating. Since this event was public and was streamed live to the Internet, I feel that it’s OK to write about what I learned, as there were no statements that anything said was to be considered secret.

Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons speaks at the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012. Photograph by Bruce Cook.

Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons speaks at the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012. Photograph by Bruce Cook.

The box contents will soon include vegetable plant seeds, and the rest of the box and liner will be biodegradable. Currently, the box is lined with what looks like conventional plastic. My box is from November, 2011, so things today may be different. In the future, or perhaps even already, the box will be lined with either nothing or something else that’s biodegradable. Perhaps what looks like conventional plastic to me is really biodegradable plastic, like some plastic trash bags are made of.

Venture capitalist Michael Berolzheimer, of Bee Partners, attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Berolzheimer also leads the Haas Founders group that I am a member of.

Venture capitalist Michael Berolzheimer, of Bee Partners, attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012. Berolzheimer also leads the Haas Founders group that I am a member of.

Why do this?

Once the box is biodegradable and contains vegetable seeds, that means that after the two mushroom harvests the box can be planted in dirt for ’round three’ of production — vegetables. The mushrooms came from the waste stream from coffee houses. The round three vegetable garden will come from the waste stream of the mushroom garden.

This is beautiful.

Networking hour prior to the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

Networking hour prior to the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

What’s coming down the road from Back to the Roots?

I am overjoyed to report the answer may be affordable aquaponics kits.

Kevin Esse at networking hour prior to attending Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

Kevin Esse at networking hour prior to attending Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

I have written before about my love for aquaponics.

Aquaponics is food production gardening enhanced by growing edible fish in symbiosis with vegetable plants. Both parts of the system are made more productive by the presence of the other half. Fish poop gets converted by bacteria into rich fertilizer. The fish grow faster because the plants keep the fish tank cleaner. It’s a great growing system that I feel should take over the world on such a scale that every person has their own system at home.

I am too busy in life to advance this dream, but the team at Back to the Roots has time and energy and market traction, so I think they would be ideal to push aquaponics to a large audience. I am so excited about this that I have already offered to tell the company everything I know about aquaponics free of charge to encourage them to get this to market.

I suspect they plan to start with small, under USD $100 demonstration kits. This in my mind is the way to start.

Tom VanLangen, right, Co-Chair of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Tom VanLangen, right, Co-Chair of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

I bought my startup supplies for my aquaponics system from The Aquaponics Source. This online retailer sells complete systems, but the price is too high for people to buy casually, at over USD $1,000. I believe a profitable sub $100 kit could be sold, as what’s required is similar to what’s inside a Mr. Coffee brand coffee maker — two water containers, a pump, a heater and some electronics to coordinate the steps. I can get a nice computerized Mr. Coffee coffee maker for about USD $25 from Amazon, so even in the smaller quantities a demonstration aquaponics system would sell in initially, I think it can be done.

Lucian Mihailescu of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Lucian Mihailescu of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory attends the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

I love advising startup companies, and I would particularly like to advise about aquaponics, even though I know relatively little about the subject, since I’ve only built one demonstration system so far. My system was a modest success for I grew the largest and sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten.

Jake Gentling at the networking hour prior to attending the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

Jake Gentling at the networking hour prior to attending the Berkeley Startup Competition Finals, April 26, 2012

HARBO Technologies won First Place in the Energy and Cleantech track. I introduced myself to co-founder Boaz Ur and mentor John Matthesen after the conclusion of the event. The company is working on something I find impressive and interesting. I have made arrangements to interview the team, so I will hold my remarks until after that interview.

Carlos Penzini of Viacom at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Carlos Penzini of Viacom at the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

My friends at Modify Industries took home a USD $1,000 prize for coming in second place in the Products and Services Track. This outcome was inevitable, and I predicted it accurately the moment I saw Modify was competing with Back to the Roots. Back to the Roots simply has had much more commercial success so far. While Modify has sold between 10,000 and 100,000 watches to such companies as Google and Hewlett Packard, they haven’t yet cracked the retail store market, and they haven’t been on the evening television news. It’s rare for a company to be so far along like Back to the Roots, but still be eligible to compete in the Berkeley Startup Competition. In all other years where there was a Products and Services Track, Modify probably would have won that track. I pay attention to these things because I was a judge for this competition for the eight years through 2011. This year I mentored the team University Gateway, which did not make it to the finals since Modify and Back to the Roots filled up the Products and Services Track.

Modify gave an impressive and bold presentation, where they outlined a dream for their enterprise far bigger than time pieces. They probably adjusted their pitch to compete with Back to the Roots. But they forgot to show their product in action amid all the grand dream spinning. How so? They forgot to personally show the audience how to change a watch element from one silicone strap to another. This is worth showing at every pitch for it’s compelling and like nothing I’ve seen in the watch business. No tools, no training — 10 seconds and you have an all new look.

Bruce Cook covering the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Bruce Cook covering the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Finally, I want to give some space to my friend and fellow photographer Bruce Cook. I’ve known Cook since nearly the inception of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. He’s a fixture at all sizable Lester Center events. He has his own photography business, Bruce Cook Photography, and is not a University of California employee. I can’t recall there ever being a different photographer for a Lester Center event. The picture above is of Cook standing under the video light in Anderson Auditorium. The picture below is of Cook taking a picture during the networking hour in the Bank of America Forum, the large gathering area just outside of the Anderson Auditorium. Cook took the picture above of Dean Lyons speaking to the audience. Thank you Bruce!

If The Lester Center is reading this, may I suggest that you contact Cook and work out a deal where his vast library of photographs of Lester Center events over the last twenty years can find a permanent home on the Lester Center website and in the University library system. Cook has photographed some of the most important figures of our time, and the tremendous majority, over 99%, of his photographs have not been published. I think these photographs should also be published on Facebook so that it’s easy to crowd source the identification of the people in the pictures, via the Facebook tagging system. Once the faces are tagged, then the captions on the Lester Center website can be updated to reflect the identities of those pictured.

Why do this?

The Lester Center and its events are documenting history. It’s that simple. Bruce Cook has a treasure trove of historic pictures that few have ever seen.

As an added bonus, publishing and captioning Cook’s 100,000+ pictures will boost traffic to The Lester Center’s website, as people search on Google and similar sites for the many luminaries Cook has photographed. The search engine optimization benefits to posting these pictures will probably overshadow every other single project you could undertake.

This is my idea alone.

Cook did not plant this, suggest this or hint at this.

I’ve been thinking about this for years now, and here seems like a fine place to promote the idea.

I believe I have shared this suggestion with Jerry Engel when he was Executive Director of The Lester Center, but that was only in passing at a hectic Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, not a written proposal such as this one.

Please consider this official advice, and let me know when I can blog about the happy news. Thank you.

Bruce Cook, the photographer for The Lester Center events, covers the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

Bruce Cook, the photographer for The Lester Center events, covers the Berkeley Startup Competition, April 26, 2012

I introduced myself to all the finalist teams except AdrenaRX. I believe the members from that team departed before I had a chance to find them.

I offered each of the eight finalist teams except for Modify and Back to the Roots the opportunity to be interviewed by me for a future blog entry. Two of the teams have contacted me to schedule an interview. Four teams have not yet contacted me.

I know the Modify and Back to the Roots founders, so I did not offer to interview them. This was not meant as a snub — I simply forgot to offer in my excitement of congratulating them. Both teams are doing so well they don’t need my blog coverage, but if they would like more in depth stories, I am happy to meet with them. Just send me a message. I am on Facebook and easy to reach. I have turned on the ‘subscribe’ feature, so everyone reading this is invited to subscribe to me on Facebook. You may also sign up with your email address to receive updates to this blog, in the upper right corner of this page.

All the pictures I presented above except for the one by Bruce Cook are also on my Facebook page in this album. If you know these people, particularly the people in the shots with the giant checks, please tag them on Facebook so I can update the captions here with the names. All my pictures on Facebook are public, so if you tag someone there, I consider those names to be public, and on that basis I will update the captions here.

The sponsors for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition include:

Gold level:

Claremont Creek Ventures
DCM
UM

Silver level:

Javelin Venture Partners
Lowenstein Sandler
Mintz Levin
Mohr Davidow
Morgan Stanley
Morgenthaler Ventures
Morrison & Foerster LLP
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati PC

Individual level:

Kevin Warnock

There were possibly other individual sponsors. No individual level sponsors were listed in official materials this year, a departure from past years.

The  Executive Committee for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition:

Co-Chairs

Nick Mascioli
Adam Sterling
Tom VanLangen

Judging & Sponsorship

Robbie Allan
Jane Buescher
Vivien Leong
Larry Pier

Marketing & Events

Stephanie Knoch
Krishna Shah

Mentorship & Events

Amara Aigbedion
Hrishikesh Desai

Program Manager

Kirsten Berzon

Berkeley Startup Competition finalists, including Back to the Roots and Modify, are announced

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Sean Linehan, Aaron Schwartz and Ayo Oluwole of Modify, April 24, 2012. Modify is a finalist in the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition.HARBO Technologies

Sean Linehan, Aaron Schwartz and Ayo Oluwole of Modify, April 24, 2012. Modify is a finalist in the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition.

Last  night, on April 24, 2012, I attended a reception at the University of California Berkeley Clark Kerr Campus. The reception was held to announce the finalists for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition. This event used to be called the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. I competed in the finals of this competition in its inaugural year, and have sponsored the competition every year since, including in 2012.

Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger of University Gateway, April 24, 2012. Kevin Warnock mentored this team this year.

Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger of University Gateway, April 24, 2012. Kevin Warnock mentored this team this year.

This year I was a mentor to semi-finalist team University Gateway, lead by Dorian Walden. I got to know Walden over four meetings, some of them stretching to 3 hours around my dining room table. Sadly, University Gateway did not progress to the finals, but it was easy for Walden to understand why.

Zachary Apte of EvolveMol, April 24, 2012. Apte is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Zachary Apte of EvolveMol, April 24, 2012. Apte is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Two teams I know personally were in the same judging category as University Gateway — Products and Services. University Gateway is an Internet company, but the track for Internet companies apparently was filled up already. This meant University Gateway was competing with companies that make and sell physical goods.

Scott Ahn of J2P International, April 24 2012. Ahn is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Scott Ahn of J2P International, April 24 2012. Ahn is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

The teams I know that competed in the Products and Services track both were advanced to the finals. I was 99.9% confident that this would be the result, even though I knew nothing about the other competing teams. I was so confident because the teams I know are so strong, and I have been a judge for this competition for the past 8 years or so. I know from experience that teams this strong always make it to the finals.

Les Polgar of CalSolAgua, April 24, 2012. Polgar is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Les Polgar of CalSolAgua, April 24, 2012. Polgar is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

I also know that teams this strong are very rare, so it was unlikely that the Products and Services track had any other teams so strong. I have never gone home from judging thinking that a third team from my judging track should have gone on to the finals.

Larry Pier of Berkeley Startup Competition, April 24 2012. Pier is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

Larry Pier of Berkeley Startup Competition, April 24 2012. Pier is at the Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement reception.

University Gateway has a good idea, and I hope that Dorian Walder and Julian Riediger make their venture a success. The company is still in stealth mode, so I won’t tell you what they do yet.

The Products and Services teams that advanced to the finals are Modify and Back to the Roots. Both are unusual companies for this Berkeley competition.

Kelly Karns at Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement, April 24, 2012.

Kelly Karns at Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announcement, April 24, 2012.

Modify makes wrist watches that you can change easily to suit your tastes. The straps are made from silicone, similar to what silicone bake ware is made from. One can pop the time piece out of the strap/case in just a second, with no tools or special skills required. The straps are available in bright colors, and I describe them as chunky chic. The team from Modify are each wearing a Modfiy watch in the photograph I took at the top of this post. I am friends with Modify founder Aaron Schwartz. We see each other most months at the Haas Founders group I wrote about March 11, 2012.

Schwartz is a likeable and modest guy — only when researching this blog post did I discover he’s been profiled in a blog published by The New York Times newspaper. The New York Times is worth tens of millions of dollars less than photo sharing smart phone application Instagram, but I’d much prefer to be written about in a blog by The New York Times than in a blog by Instagram.

John Steuart of Claremont Creek Ventures, April 24, 2012. Steuart is a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition.

John Steuart of Claremont Creek Ventures, April 24, 2012. Steuart is a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition.

Back to the Roots makes and sells affordable oyster mushroom growing kits. I’ve written about Back to the Roots when I saw their CEO Nikhil Arora speak on a panel at a Food Startups Meetup run by my friend Matthew Wise, the co-founder of both Founderly and Tableslice. Back to the Roots has 20 full time employees, or so I was told when I interviewed a staff member at their booth at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show on March 24, 2012.

Back to the Roots has received lots of press coverage, including two minutes and forty seconds on the national CBS Evening News  in the United States on March 15, 2012. The newscast says that Back to the Roots sells its products in over 1,000 stores and has 28 employees. Impressive.

John Servaites of S2E Energy, April 24, 2012.

John Servaites of S2E Energy, April 24, 2012.

Both Modify and Back to the Roots have businesses that are well along. Modify has sold _____ of thousands of watches to companies as well known as _____ and _____. [I’m waiting to hear from Schwartz to fill in the blanks in the last sentence. I know the values, but I want to verify the numbers and names I know are meant to be public information.] Back to the Roots sells its kits at Whole Foods Market and Home Depot. While Modfiy and Back to the Roots are still startups, they are making big strides and are companies to watch.

Erik Krogh-Jespersen of Aurinko, April 24, 2012.

Erik Krogh-Jespersen of Aurinko, April 24, 2012.

The reception was well attended and busy. I got to talk with my fellow judges from past years of this competition. I captured video. I took hundreds of pictures. I didn’t eat until the event was technically over. What I didn’t get to do, sadly, was interview the finalist teams that I didn’t know. If they are reading this and would like to be the subject of a future blog post, I invite them to contact me. I’ll meet you for coffee and you can give me your pitch and I’ll write about your venture.

Anthony Franco of Better Cater, April 24, 2012.

Anthony Franco of Better Cater, April 24, 2012.

Here is a list of the 2012 finalists for the Berkeley Startup Competition. The descriptive text that follows was provided by the teams themselves.

  • Kloudless, Inc.

Kloudless is a free service that helps you manage all the things you put in the cloud. We enable users to search for, access, and manage their information that is spread across the Internet. We’re starting with email attachments, the black hole of cloud services, and will expand to other cloud services in the near future. Our solution addresses an increasingly large problem as more and more information moves into the cloud.

  • Traverie

Traverie is an explorer focused startup that leverages the emotional, personal and inherently social aspects of travel discovery to make the process visual, fun and trustworthy. We bring structure to the current ad hoc and offline model of discovering and selecting destinations. We blend user-generated content, professional content and advertising to deliver a compelling user experience. Our founding team comprises a designer, engineer and product manager from MIT, Harvard and Berkeley-Haas, respectively.

  • AdrenaRx

AdrenaRx is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the prevention and treatment of heart failure due to toxicity from cancer chemotherapy. Each year, 1.6 million Americans are affected by cancer, and a third of these patients receive chemotherapy that can damage their heart. AdrenaRx has identified a new therapeutic target and a potent, selective drug that can protect the heart from damage by chemotherapy, and reduce a patient’s risk of developing heart failure after surviving cancer.

  • Calcula Technologies

Calcula Technologies is developing a novel urological medical device for the removal of kidney stones outside of the operating room. Our patent pending technology will treat 4M patients/year in the US and EU. With clear FDA predicates and existing CPT reimbursement codes Calcula will be a major disruption in the field of Urology.

  • Claro Energy

Claro Energy provides solar-powered water pumping solutions to meet irrigation needs of farmers in remote power-deficit agriculture areas in India where costly diesel generated power is the default choice. Claro Energy’s solar-powered pumps have near zero operating costs, are longer lasting and highly reliable when compared to dieselpowered pumps. In combination with sales, marketing and business development competencies, Claro Energy has also developed in-house integration and implementation expertise in remote rural regions of India.

  • HARBO Technologies

During the first critical hours, oil-spills spread, split, and create escalating irreversible damage. HARBO develops the only emergency oil-spill containment solution for immediate response. HARBO’s Zero Time to Spill system is at standby position on-board oil-tankers/rigs and other ships and deploys a boom (floating barrier) within minutes to contain spills. HARBO’s advantage: Minimizing environmental damage, avoiding large containment/cleanup expenses, offering superb costefficiency and preventing a PR nightmare. “Containing oil-spills when they’re small, preventing big disasters.”

  • Back to the Roots

Back to the Roots, started by two Haas Business School undergrads, promotes sustainability and zero-waste, while reconnecting people to food through its grow-at-home mushroom kit. Our gourmet mushroom kits are made with 100% recycled coffee grounds, and produce 2 pounds of fresh oyster mushrooms in just 10 days! People of all ages can actually grow and eat their own mushrooms all at home, a unique experience in today’s urban lifestyle.

  • Modify

Modify is a brand built on freedom of expression. Customizable for individual style, Modify’s interchangeable watches offer dope design for anyday wear. Available in two different sizes and over 250 combinations, Modify is a brand made for anyone—anytime, anyplace. A proponent of exceptional personalized service, we engage organizations and fans to help create (and name!) watches. Modify Watches are available for corporate gifting and licensing.

Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announced, April 24, 2012.

Berkeley Startup Competition finalists announced, April 24, 2012.

Nikhil Arora, the CEO of Back to the Roots. This was taken by Kevin Warnock on November 16, 2011, not at the Berkeley Startup Competition event.

Nikhil Arora, the CEO of Back to the Roots. This was taken by Kevin Warnock on November 16, 2011, not at the Berkeley Startup Competition event.

Here’s the handheld video I captured of the finalist teams learning of their advancement and collecting their certificates documenting their achievements. Andre Marquis, the Executive Director of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, delivers the opening remarks. John Steuart, Managing Director at Claremont Creek Ventures, comments on the judging process. Steuart’s firm is a financial sponsor of the competition, and Steuart is one of the judges.

—–

Anthony Franco of Better Cater, pictured above, contacted me and asked me to link to his startup’s website. Sorry for the delay in creating the link — I just saw your Facebook message from April 25th a few minutes ago. Kevin — May 3, 2012 @ 12:47am.

Trash Chaos iPad and iPhone children’s educational game demonstrated by Yogome.com co-founder Manolo Diaz

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When I was at the Demo Day a week ago for the first graduating class for mexican.vc, I got to meet Manolo Diaz, a co-founder of Yogome.

mexican.vc is a seed stage venture capital firm that invested in Yogome. I was at the Demo Day because I know one of the people at mexican.vc.

Yogome makes educational software for the Apple iPad device and the Apple iPhone smartphone. Yogome apps are games that educate. They are fun, beautiful and engaging. If I had an iPad I would download them.

Diaz was kind enough to demonstrate the game Trash Chaos, which requires students to sort trash they see on the ground into the proper recycling bins. As students get faster and more accurate, more trash appears, as do more recycling bins.

I put Diaz on the spot by proposing he demonstrate Trash Chaos while I captured video. The room was filled with people talking, but Diaz still put on a great demo that’s articulate and approachable. I present the full unedited demo above.

Diaz gave me a Yogome large size t-shirt to give to a lucky reader of my blog.

Yogome.com t-shirt that I will send to a lucky winner!

Yogome.com t-shirt that I will send to a lucky winner!

I haven’t given anything away on my blog before, so this is exciting.

What I’m going to do is mail the brand new shirt with the tags still attached to the first person to Tweet this blog post to at least 100 of their followers. Alert me that you have done this by leaving me a comment here with your Twitter handle. You can be anywhere in the world, and I will pay the postage to send the shirt to you. Remember, it’s a men’s size large, not a children’s shirt.

Trash Chaos was the number 10 Apple App Store app in its category of free educational software on March 16, 2012, the day I made the accompanying video.

Great job Yogome!

Written by Kevin Warnock

March 23rd, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Jordan Schermerhorn wins New York Times trip to Africa with columnist and blogger Nicholas Kristof

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Jordan Schermerhorn on the front page of the Rice University website, March 15, 2012

Jordan Schermerhorn on the front page of the Rice University website, March 15, 2012

Here’s a great essay by undergraduate Rice University student Jordan Schermerhorn.

Schermerhorn wrote this engaging piece to try win a trip with New York Times newspaper columnist Nicholas Kristof.

I follow Kristof on Facebook, and that’s how I found Schermerhorn’s essay.

I am reprinting Schermerhorn’s essay in its entirety here because I don’t think she will object, given she wrote this knowing it could receive widespread public attention. Furthermore, this is not New York Times text, but Schermerhorn’s personal text. Of course I’ll remove this text if asked by Schermerhorn or The New York Times.

Jordan Schermerhorn. Photo from The New York TImes, March 15, 2012.

Jordan Schermerhorn. Photo from The New York TImes, March 15, 2012.

As you can see above, Rice University devoted prime space on the front of their website telling the world of Schermerhorn’s win.

According to the Rice story about Schermerhorn’s win, she will travel with Kristof to Africa and will blog for The New York Times during her trip. How exciting! I am really happy for her.

What Scermerhorn has written is inspiring and powerful. She’s a good writer. I predict she will do great things in life. Her heart is in the right place.

I identify strongly with what Schermerhorn has written.

I plan to tour the US and world in my super green 4 cylinder bus conversion to advance the idea that we can tread far more lightly on the planet with existing technologies if we would only change our perspective on what it means to be happy. I am exchanging heaps of easy cash I could make by writing code for established companies to pursue my desire to help save the world. I can get by just fine on the more modest cash I make working for myself and managing my investments. I can do this and write at the same time.

Scermerhorn says she wants to help her fellow classmates pursue their desires to change the world. She plans to help them by writing. She plans to show them how to avoid going to work for oil companies and consulting firms. She’s already on her way by winning this New York Times prize. Congratulations Jordan!


 

By Jordan Schermerhorn
Text appeared in The New York Times March 15, 2012 

I remember, as most people probably do, the instant I realized the world was bigger than my hometown.

It’s all the fault of a high school science teacher. After having rarely left San Antonio, I ventured few horizon-shattering hours out to West Texas for an academic competition my senior year. The long roads and desert panoramas struck something in me, and I decided that it would be a good idea – or, at the very least, a good story – to repeat the adventure alone. A few weeks before leaving for university, with recklessness that only an eighteen year-old can manage, I took an early-morning drive out to Big Bend National Park, across from the Mexican border.

Wading knee-deep in the banks of the Rio Grande, I could see the village of Boquillas on the other side. The border within the park – formerly open to all travelers who dared to chance a makeshift gondola – closed after 9/11, and the town’s decay from lack of tourist revenue was evident even from such a distance. Cardboard with chicken-scratch Spanglish scattered the ground in strategic locations near signposts, beckoning those passing by to examine decorative walking sticks and tiny creatures of the desert sculpted from wire. “Please take,” they read. “Suggested donation $5.”

As I slept in my car that night, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough: putting a few dollars under a rock was a way I could help, but it wasn’t the way for me to help. Leaving the next day I noticed my money was gone, and the wire scorpions had been replenished.

I arrived at Rice University shortly thereafter by the grace of a scholarship, hesitant but motivated, and eager to explore further. New friends from Indonesia and Pakistan threw me for a loop from which I’m still recovering. I chose to study bioengineering, a vague term that shifts in definition from institution to institution, but my passion for the past three years has been my minor: global health technologies.

I had been looking for years for a way to marry my feuding passions of science and policy, of writing and action. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have found a field that combines all of these things seamlessly: to participate in both diagnostic research and Model Arab League, and to grasp at the common ground between the two. For the past four months, I’ve been hard at work developing a low-cost monitoring system for apnea in premature infants. It’s rewarding – I’m not an electrical engineer, and I by no means knew how to program this time last year, but I’ve managed to help build a tool that can save lives. This kind of tinkering isn’t too complex, and it’s not out of reach.

But I still feel limited. I see my fellow students invest thousands of hours in capstone projects that can provide real and immediate help to those in need, only to abandon them in favor of more traditional pursuits after walking the stage. Medical school, graduate school, “real jobs” with oil companies and consulting firms: these are where many of my peers end up, and I don’t blame them. I know several who wish it were easier and less risky to drive forward with their makeshift syringe pumps, their diagnostic smartphone applications. They just don’t know how.

I’m looking for a way to communicate the potential for these ventures. I’d love to help demonstrate to students and budding entrepreneurs that there IS a vast set of untapped opportunities here to build, create, and implement solutions to complicated problems in the developing world. And I could help reach a nontraditional audience whose potential to improve lives remains largely untapped.

Engineers can’t write? It’s a classic stereotype, and one I hope I defy. I contribute articles for two student publications; I blog and tweet rampantly, receiving ironic in-person compliments on my Facebook posts. I love making things – but I love talking about them more, and getting people excited about making progress in global health.

Standing near the border four years ago is still the closest I’ve been to leaving the U.S. I’d like to cross it, this time, and use writing to bring others with me.

Written by Kevin Warnock

March 15th, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Have an MBA and an idea? Looking for a technical co-founder to build it and join your unfunded startup for equity alone?

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Model Karelea Mazzola from Supermodels.com

Model Karelea Mazzola from Supermodels.com

One of my highlights each month is serving as a mentor for the Haas Founders group.

Haas Founders is a group for Haas School of Business graduates from the University of California at Berkeley. It’s an invitation only group, but if you graduated from Haas you are quite likely to receive an invitation if you are a founder or co-founder of a startup company.

Another way in is to have a meaningful connection to the Haas School. That’s how I became a member. I have been a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition from about 2004 through 2011.

Finally, all Haas graduates can buy their way in by agreeing to pay for the food and drinks. This allows service providers like bankers, investors and accountants to attend. Such service providers can meet ambitious startup founders that sometimes turn into clients.

I write the above to introduce you to the Haas Founders meeting. There is a Facebook page and a Twitter account for Haas Founders. Michael Berolzheimer moderates and organizes the Haas Founders meetings. Berolzheimer runs the genesis-stage venture firm Bee Partners which, according to his firm’s web site, pollinates visionary entrepreneurs with financial, human and social capital. Kishore Lakshminarayanan helps Berolzheimer set up the meetings, which take place at different venues each month, in the East Bay, South Bay and San Francisco, California USA. I met Berolzheimer in 2007, before he took on the responsibility for Haas Founders from the previous organizer, Mat Fogarty, CEO of Crowdcast.

Haas Founders has established a group on the professional social networking site Linked In. As of this morning there are 86 members. I believe the group is seeking new members, so if you fit the requirements, please introduce yourself to Michael Berolzheimer.

Haas Founders can be thought of as a board of directors like support group for startup founders, where no issues are off limits for discussion. That makes Haas Founders one of the most compelling meetings I’ve had the good fortune to attend.

I have attended the Haas Founders meetings since about 2005. Individual meetings are limited to 20 attendees.

This open forum for frank talk is made possible because attendees are asked to keep the the conversations confidential. To my knowledge, there has never been a meaningful breach of this rule. I think that’s a reflection of the trustworthiness and integrity of Haas students and graduates.

Given this secrecy, how can I write a blog post about Haas Founders?

Well, I am not going to discuss confidential information. The advice I am going to give is my own. I gave this advice to a participant at the most recent meeting March 6, 2012 in San Francisco.

I am not breaking confidentiality by repeating what I said that day because I have given this same advice many times without any restriction of confidentiality. It’s already public information. Problem averted. I ran this post by Berolzheimer before publishing it, as I want to be extra careful so as to not be uninvited to future meetings.

I decided to write this post because the issue I am going to talk about comes up so frequently that I have spent hours and hours answering this question over the years.

The question and answer are as follows:

Q: I am a non-technical founder and I have thought of a business idea that requires something technical be built. How do I find a talented technical co-founder to join my company for equity only to build my vision for me?

A: Forget it!

You can’t find a talented technical co-founder to join your unfunded idea stage company for equity only.

There are rare exceptions, but you can not count on them and should not consider counting on them.

One solution is to think of and pursue a business idea that you can implement with only the skills you have already. Here are three companies that I suspect began with little computer programming, for example:

  1. Become a mushroom farmer.
  2. Start a fair trade import company.
  3. Start a men’s fashion manufacturing company.

The smart people I suggest this answer to don’t quickly embrace my advice. That’s understandable. They are in love with their vision and they want to pursue that vision right now. They don’t want to hunt for a technically simpler business idea. They don’t want to learn the technical skills necessary to develop their original idea. They want a savior, a Steve Wozniak, to fall from the sky to do the real work of making a viable product. Usually such non-technical founders also want to reserve more of the company equity for themselves than for this savior, because they thought of the idea. If there is to be an equity disparity, I suggest it be weighted toward the technical contributors who make the product happen, not the non-technical people who think up the idea.

What non technical founders fail to appreciate is that talented technical individuals with the grit to want to start a company are in high demand. They are like supermodels in their desireability. A lot of people are asking them for dates. A lot of these suitors have lots of money to woo them with.

Why would a supermodel date a founder with no money when there is a line of suitors with six, seven or eight figure stacks of money at their side ready to spend?

The answer is supermodels don’t date broke founders.

Supermodels don’t hook up with unfunded MBAs that have a cool idea.

The perhaps sad truth is that MBAs are not held in high regard by many technical experts. This is not a comment on Berkeley MBAs, but on all MBAs. Of course, technical experts desperately need business experts at some point, as exits are rare for companies filled with only technical experts. I am not taking a stand on which type of person is more valuable because they are both vital. What I am saying is the technical people generally perceive that MBAs are not that important. If that’s the perception, then how can an MBA recruit a technical person without money?

There are millions of cool ideas to pursue at any moment. That’s always been the case and that will always be the case.

Talented technical people know they are in demand. They have recruiters calling them telling them so all the time. They read TechCrunch, VentureBeat and GigaOm. They know the technology world is in the middle of a full fledged boom right now. So only 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th rate technical people will agree to an equity only founder position with a non-technical sole co-founder.

The only practical exception is if you’ve already been friends with the person for years and they know your work and respect it. So classmates graduating together can get together and start a company, with some founders being non technical and some being technical.

But if you’re looking for a stranger to drop out of the sky to build your vision, you should forget it and focus on finding a simpler idea or on learning the technical skills yourself so you can build the first version of the product by yourself.

Yes, the product won’t likely have to polish of one created by a more seasoned expert, but it can be good enough. You only need it to be good enough to raise money that you can then use to pay a more skilled technical person to make an improved version.

I am not spouting off advice I read somewhere or heard somewhere — I know what I am talking about. Pardon me while I now go into extreme detail to convince you that I do know what I am talking about. What follows may seem like too much, but I have spent dozens and dozens of hours trying to beat this lesson into the heads of very smart non-technical company founders. I feel I need to pull out all the stops here to convince the skeptical that I am right.

I know it’s smart to learn to program because this is what I did to take my startup Hotpaper.com, Inc. from a USD $10,000 investment when I had almost no applicable skills through to a USD $10,000,000+ sale to a public company just six years later.

This is news I’ve written about more than once. But I haven’t described the grueling early work I put in that made this ‘quick success’ possible.

When I started Hotpaper, I was a minicomputer programmer. A Digital Equipment Coporation VAX minicomputer running Open VMS. There was nothing miniature about this computer. It filled an entire raised-floor water-cooled computer room and served 1,000 users in five offices in two US states. I believe it cost more than USD $12,000,000. Back then a 9 gigabyte disk drive cost USD $250,000. I saw the invoices and recall calculating the price per gigabyte.

When I started Hotpaper my only experience programming a PC was writing rudimentary DOS batch files. One can still write these for Windows, to run at a command window prompt. You can do amazing things with batch files, but you can’t write serious client-server or web applications with them. I had to learn to program graphical Microsoft Windows applications, and I had only used DOS on a PC up until that point. I had played for a few hours with a copy of Windows 3.1, but that was the extent of my experience with Windows. The one machine my employer had that ran Windows was so slow (Intel 386 with perhaps 1 megabyte of memory) that when you pressed a letter in a word processor (Ami Pro), there was a lag of about 1 full second before the character would show up on screen. It was pathetic.

I immediately bought a Hewlett Packard Pentium 60 Mhz computer with 4 megabytes of RAM and Windows 3.1 for Workgroups. I added Microsoft Office, which came on 30+ 3 1/2″ floppy disks, not a CD-ROM. This was a Pentium, not a Pentium II, III or IV. In fact, it was the slowest Pentium chip ever sold. But this was the fastest computer I had ever used. I still have it, in storage.

I all but shut myself off from the world for two years with hundreds of dollars of technical books, a 28.8K modem and a telephone. I taught myself to be an event driven computer programmer. Event driven programming is much different from the procedural programming I had done to program the huge VAX system run by my employer at the time, Cooley LLP. Yes, I knew how to program a little bit on a VAX, but Windows is so different that it’s almost as if I was learning to program from scratch.

Thankfully, Microsoft was not yet the market leader in word processing in 1994 since WordPerfect for DOS still dominated, so Microsoft tried very hard to persuade developers to embrace their Word word processing software. They offered free telephone technical support for programming problems, provided you paid for the phone call. There were no unlimited business phone lines back then, so my office phone bill was perhaps USD $100 a month due to all my calls to Microsoft — hours and hours of calls per month. I owe Microsoft so much for those calls, as they helped me to solve every problem I ever encountered. Thank you Microsoft.

Eventually Microsoft overnight switched from free technical support calls to USD $55.00 per incident technical support calls, and I had to stop calling them. But that was a couple of years later, and I had already gotten to be proficient by then, and I could get my questions answered for free on their well run newsgroups. By that point, Word and Office were the market leaders, and they didn’t need to try so hard to make developers embrace their tools.

I worked hard — really, really hard. I worked from about 10am to 10pm Monday through Saturday. On Sunday I wouldn’t come into the office until the mid afternoon, but I would still stay until 10pm or so. I did this from January 1995 through the end of 1996 or so, I believe. It took me that long to learn Windows programming reasonably well.

I didn’t know other software developers. There were no popular coworking spaces. Meetup didn’t exist. I was shy. But I was driven… really, powerfully and passionately driven. I had so little money I was living in a tiny studio apartment on Mason Street near Bush Street in San Francisco, California USA. My rent was USD $625 a month including utilities. I only owned one computer, so I could not work at home. I was at the office a lot, and it was just a seven minute walk to get there. I became really good friends with my office mates the late Stan Pasternak and patent attorney Robert Hill. I have such fond memories of that time.

Was the code I produced great? No. Was it awful? No. Was it reliable? Yes. Was it understandable to others? Yes. Did it get used by others for meaningful projects? Yes. Did I raise money with it? Yes. Did I sell the company successfully by following this model? Yes. Can you do the same? I think so.

At Hotpaper, I had a customer from the day I bought a computer. I told them I could build what they asked for. I actually had never done so on Windows. I had to figure out how to program Windows because I had a paying customer that demanded a Windows client-server based solution. They were paying me thousands so I had to deliver. I didn’t study for two years and then start to look for a client. I got the client based on my past reputation as a VAX programmer and then faked it until I made it.

It turns out that first project failed and the client never used my work or the work of any custom software developer.

They just bought an off the shelf application and conformed to its way of doing things.

But that’s irrelevant in the end. I got paid USD $30,000. I worked hard. The client made the best decision, for they should never have hired me or any developer when an off the shelf package was available for much less than having custom software written. I learned a lot, kept the rights to what I had built but did not get used, and I used that for the basis for what I then turned around and sold to Coca-Cola and the United States Department of Commerce, where it did get used on an enterprise scale.

Today it’s easier than ever to become a programmer. There are so many online tutorials like those from Codecademy. There are so many hacker co-working spaces like Hacker Dojo where you can base your new venture. You can work there as many hours as you can keep your eyes open, and there are smart people around much of the time to get help from.

Today all the software you need to do almost any project is free. That wasn’t the case in 1995, when now standard building blocks like MySQL hadn’t been popularized yet.

I have seen smart graduates spin their wheels for months or years trying to recruit a magical co-founder to build their product. How much better it would be for these people to sit down at Hacker Dojo and focus their considerable brain power on learning to program software directly. Even if the entire result is eventually rewritten later by someone more skilled, they would be better off than if they somehow found the mythical co-founder.

For once you know how to program in any language, you will be able to talk about and think about technical problems far more effectively than you can as a non programmer. It will be far more difficult for people to confuse, mislead or bamboozle you. You will be able to hire better programmers who will respect you more. You will be able to tell programmers what to attempt with more clarity and conviction because you know at least something about their world.

You will have insight into a world that’s richly diverse and totally fascinating. Your life will improve even if you never make a penny from your venture.

Programming is not easy. It can be absurdly complicated and exasperating at times. That’s why new college graduates who know little about the real world of programming can still command pay approaching USD $100,000 to start.

I am just one modestly successful entrepreneur.

Before you become a programmer, ask some technical startup founders you trust and see if they agree with what I’ve written here. Remember, Steve Jobs got lucky with Steve Wozniak. Silicon Valley was a sleepy place back then compared to today. Go make your own luck by developing your technical skills. If you have an MBA, you presumably spent four years to get an undergraduate degree and two years to get a business degree. Spend two more years to become a programmer. Doctors spend more time studying before they complete their education, so view eight years of study as normal, not crazy or silly.

I love programming, and I am extremely grateful I spent those grueling early years just powering through the books and road blocks to learn to program.

I feel I can do nearly anything I can dream up.

That’s a powerful feeling I wouldn’t give up for anything.


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Made it to the front page of Golden Gate University’s law school website

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Front page of the law school website for Golden Gate University, February 25, 2012. The first link under News & Events links to KevinWarnock.com.

Front page of the law school website for Golden Gate University, February 25, 2012. The first link under News & Events links to KevinWarnock.com.

The lengthy blog post I wrote early Friday morning, February 24, 2012, about the San Francisco Mock Trial finals was linked to by the website for the law school at Golden Gate University.

Golden Gate University hosted the Mock Trial finals at their campus at 536 Mission Street, San Francisco, California USA.

The screen shot above from the law school website shows the link, dated 2/24/2012. That blog post received perhaps the highest one day traffic of any post I have yet written. Thanks to everyone that had a look.

Thank you to Golden Gate University for the recognition. I am glad I stayed up until 3 am authoring that post.

Written by Kevin Warnock

February 25th, 2012 at 3:41 pm

San Francisco Mock Trial finals held tonight at Golden Gate University

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Mock Trial finalist teams gather for a group shot after their trial on February 23, 2012. The competing teams were from Lowell High School and School of the Arts. Photo includes: Marcus Wong, Negative Nancy, Havel Weidner, Malia Bow, Nico Scoliere, Cristina Rey,Elizabeth Levinson, Lena Gankin and others.

Mock Trial finalist teams gather for a group shot after their trial on February 23, 2012. The competing teams were from Lowell High School and School of the Arts. Photo includes: Marcus Wong, Negative Nancy, Havel Weidner, Malia Bow, Nico Scoliere, Cristina Rey,Elizabeth Levinson, Lena Gankin and others.

I have had a busy couple of evenings. Yesterday evening, February 22, 2012, I was at the Mentor Mixer for The Berkeley Startup Competition, which I have been involved with for years. The mixer was held at the offices of Morrison & Foerster at 425 Market Street in San Francisco, California USA. I am a mentor to one of the semi final teams this year, and I was at the mixer to meet my team for the first time.

Golden Gate University, 536 Mission Street, San Francisco, California, February 23, 2012. The finals for the 2012 San Francisco Mock Trials were held in room 2203.

Golden Gate University, 536 Mission Street, San Francisco, California, February 23, 2012. The finals for the 2012 San Francisco Mock Trials were held in room 2203.

On my way home on the Muni Metro, I had the good fortune to meet a very impressive young woman named Devon Ivie. She complimented me on my favorite red velvet jacket. We got to talking and it turns out we attended high school in San Francisco at the same place. It turns out she’s still in high school, though she graduates in May. Ivie told me about her involvement with San Francisco Mock Trial, which is an educational project where students pretend to be attorneys during a fake trial they conduct. She told me the public finals were to be held today, February 23, 2012, just steps from where we both boarded the subway train.

Team coaches for San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals held at Golden Gate University February 23, 2012. Left: Eleanor Hicks, Right: Courtney Shaw Huizar.

Team coaches for San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals held at Golden Gate University February 23, 2012. Left: Eleanor Hicks, Right: Courtney Shaw Huizar.

Devon Ivie playing prosecution attorney talks to student playing defense attorney at the San Francisco Mock Trial finals, February 23, 2012.

Devon Ivie playing prosecution attorney talks to student playing defense attorney at the San Francisco Mock Trial finals, February 23, 2012.

I did a Google search when I got home and found the Facebook page for the Mock Trial and asked a question there as to the exact room number where the event would be taking place at Golden Gate University, which teaches law among other subjects.

I received an answer so I decided to attend as a blogger, with the intention of covering the trial as a reporter of sorts.

Moderator for San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals held at Golden Gate University February 23, 2012

Moderator for San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals held at Golden Gate University February 23, 2012

I brought my Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 135mm telephoto lens, which I used to capture stills and video clips. Tonight after the trial concluded I selected the still photographs you see here. I uploaded to this blog the full resolution 21 megapixels shots and added captions, which took hours. Since it’s late, I don’t have the energy to write a proper article about the trial right now. But I wanted to get the pictures posted tonight so that both teams would be able to see them tomorrow, a Friday.

Both teams talk after the trial. Picture includes: Clifford Yin, Marcus Wong, Negative Nancy, Havel Weidner, Malia Bow, Nico Scolieri, Cristina Rey, Elizabeth Levinson and others. San Francisco Mock Trial finals, February 23, 2012.

Both teams talk after the trial. Picture includes: Clifford Yin, Marcus Wong, Negative Nancy, Havel Weidner, Malia Bow, Nico Scolieri, Cristina Rey, Elizabeth Levinson and others. San Francisco Mock Trial finals, February 23, 2012.

I don’t randomly attend events strangers on the train tell me about. I was compelled to attend this event because when I went to high school, the school I attended was named McAteer High School. McAteer was a deplorable educational institution that was so bad the city of San Francisco eventually shut it down. The campus reopened later as The School of the Arts, or SOTA. Devon Ivie is a student at SOTA. She was an attorney for the prosecution in a murder trial at the mock trial tonight. She was outstanding, as were her fellow attorneys.

Witness sworn in by bailiff during San Francisco Mock Trial finals, February 23, 2012.

Witness sworn in by bailiff during San Francisco Mock Trial finals, February 23, 2012.

Ivie told me SOTA was competing in the city wide Mock Trial finals against Lowell High School, which is generally considered to be the best public high school in San Francisco. I was and remain impressed.

Student playing witness demonstrates to Cristina Rey playing attorney for the prosecution how victim was stabbed to death. Mock Trials final in San Francisco, February 23, 2012.

Student playing witness demonstrates to Cristina Rey playing attorney for the prosecution how victim was stabbed to death. Mock Trials final in San Francisco, February 23, 2012.

I attended the Mock Trial because I wanted to see SOTA students in action, to witness first hand how a dreadful school can be turned around into a place from where winning teams regularly emerge.

Malia Bow playing witness explains a trial exhibit to Devon Ivie playing prosecution attorney. San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals, February 23, 2012.

Malia Bow playing witness explains a trial exhibit to Devon Ivie playing prosecution attorney. San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals, February 23, 2012.

I had a fantastic evening at Mock Trial tonight. I met a teacher from Lowell and spoke with him for 20 minutes about the state of the education system in the United States. I met two additional SOTA students, including one on the subway coming to the event.

I got to meet one of the coaches for the SOTA team and I got to say hello to my new friend Devon Ivie, shown here in the 4th picture from the top of this post.

Marcus Wong, playing a police officer, is questioned by student playing attorney for the defense at San Francisco Mock Trial finals 2012, February 23, 2012

Marcus Wong, playing a police officer, is questioned by student playing attorney for the defense at San Francisco Mock Trial finals 2012, February 23, 2012

Within the next few days I hope to be able to write a proper article about tonight. Please subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with this and other stories I write. I am on Facebook, so please friend me there. My status updates frequently provide quick summaries and links to my blog, so friending me is a quick way to stay abreast of my blog without needing to visit it directly.

Marcus Wong, playing a police officer, explains exhibit to Havel Weidner, playing attorney for the prosecution, at San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals, February 23, 2012.

Marcus Wong, playing a police officer, explains exhibit to Havel Weidner, playing attorney for the prosecution, at San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals, February 23, 2012.

I posted these pictures to an album on Facebook. If you know people in these pictures and are on Facebook, please visit my album and tag the people so I can update the captions on these pictures. Thanks!

The judge for the San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals, February 23, 2012, Golden Gate University.

The judge for the San Francisco Mock Trial 2012 finals, February 23, 2012, Golden Gate University.

[Note: These pictures were tagged on Facebook after I posted them there. The pictures are publicly viewable on Facebook, so I copied the names of the tagged individuals to the captions underneath these pictures today, February 25, 2012. If you are identified on this blog post and prefer to have your last name removed, send me a message and I will edit this post. This post is not meant to invade your privacy. I would be thrilled if it helps you get into college or get a great job.]

Written by Kevin Warnock

February 24th, 2012 at 3:01 am