Kevin Warnock

Entrepreneurship, ideas and more

Archive for the ‘Haas School of Business’ tag

My memories of Priya Haji, who passed away at age 44 on July 14, 2014

without comments

Priya Haji, Will Rosenzweig and Kirsten Saenz Tobey - April 11, 2014 at GSVC Finals in Berkeley, California

Priya Haji, Will Rosenzweig and Kirsten Saenz Tobey – April 11, 2014 at GSVC Finals in Berkeley, California USA. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

I am writing this piece with a heavy heart.

Priya Haji passed away July 14, 2014 at the young age of 44. She leaves behind a daughter under a year old and a son that is 2 and a half. Here are some news stories of her death: re/code, TechCrunch, Site Pro News, Palo Alto Online, The Non Profit Times. Here is the official memorial page for Haji. A celebration of Haji’s life will take place tomorrow, Saturday, July 19, 2014 at the Anderson Auditorium at the Berkeley-Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA. Here is the Facebook page for the celebration.

I met Haji in 2005.

My Internet startup at the time was housed in the basement of the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, California USA. This basement was home to about six tiny startup companies at the time.

One day David Charron, at the time the Associate Director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, brought by Haji and her business partner Siddharth Sangvi and assigned them to the cubicle on the other side of the partition to my right as I was seated at my laptop.

Sangvi and Haji were starting their company called World of Good in order to lift from poverty poor women that lived in the developing world.

When I met this dynamic pair, they had yet to sell anything to anyone, and yet Haji was already talking about building the brand ‘World of Good’ even though she didn’t have any customers and didn’t have the Internet domain address worldofgood.com. It seemed to me at the time that they were jumping the gun a bit to be talking about branding before they had anything to sell or any customers.

But Haji was emphatic she would build World of Good into a recognizable brand that would extend beyond the tags attached to each item.

I soon observed Sangvi and Haji develop into entrepreneurial stars.

Haji had laid the groundwork for her new venture by traveling for six months through multiple emerging countries, where she met with women that would make the products her new venture would eventually sell.

The basement of the Bancroft hotel (at 2680 Bancroft Way Berkeley, California 94704 USA) was subdivided into cubicles. There were no private offices. There was a windowless conference room that could fit ten people.

A later stage company, Iris A/O, occupied a third of the space. For that privilege, they paid rent to the hotel directly. All the other companies paid nothing thanks to the generosity of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, at the time led by the Founding Executive Director Jerry Engel. The center is now known as The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.

Since there was no warehouse space, the World of Good pair modified the broom closet to be their first ‘warehouse.’

I was there at this magic moment, since this closet was an arms reach from my desk. Sangvi just installed a padlock hasp to the door and frame, and the entire inventory of the company lived in this perhaps 6 square foot space for the first couple of months after Haji and Sangvi moved in to this makeshift startup incubator, officially called the Berkeley Entrepreneurship Laboratory. This space has since closed and been replaced by the shockingly upscale Berkeley Skydeck Accelerator that fills the penthouse of the tallest building in Berkeley.

Haji wisely chose to focus on physical retail sales to start, rather than Internet or online sales.

World of Good was founded on the principle of fair trade where the workers that actually made the products were paid a living wage for their country. This is in contrast to most businesses, where workers are paid as little as possible to maximize the profits for the stakeholders in the business.

What Haji recognized early is that fair wages mean products that are premium priced. She and Sangvi did not have the money to open their own upscale retail store or chain of stores, so Haji used her prodigious powers of persuasion to convince Whole Foods Market, an upscale organic grocery store chain in the United States, to allow World of Good to place their products inside Whole Foods stores.

Haji was intent on establishing World of Good as an identifiable consumer brand. She and Sangvi created an adorable kiosk from Ikea brand unpainted wood bookshelf units. Sangvi used an existing rather unknown decorative computer font to write out the World of Good company name, and the resulting charming logo endured I believe unchanged for years until the brand was eventually discontinued well after the company was sold.

By this time, I estimate World of Good had purchased fifty different gift items from women in countries such as India, Chile and Pakestan. The items included such impulse purchase items such as jewelry, coin purses, scarves and purses. Assembled together, the first kiosk was lush and inviting. It took up about two square feet of floor space, as these Ikea bookcases were perhaps the smallest and cutest they offered at the time.

I recall hearing reports from Haji that the products started flying off the shelves once the first kiosk was placed in the Berkeley Whole Foods. Over time, the metric that stuck in my head was that World of Good was selling $5,000 per square foot per year from its World of Good kiosks in Whole Foods stores, but Whole Foods itself only managed to sell $1,000 per year per square foot. So World of Good’s products were outperforming Whole Food’s traditional offerings by a giant multiple.

Whole Foods was naturally ecstatic, and eventually World of Good installed kiosks in hundreds of Whole Foods stores, including in Fort Collins, Colorado, where my brother Andrew Warnock and his family live.

I liked Priya Haji a lot, and we became good friends.

She had a drive beyond most entrepreneurs I meet. She was bold. She was fearless.

I heard almost everything Haji said during the hours we were both present during the year plus that we shared office space. She was just over the five foot tall cubicle wall, and there was no sound isolation, so I heard every call she made. Haji made a lot of phone calls.

She decided she wanted help from the World Bank, and she contacted this huge International organization and actually was able to speak with the President, though not on the first attempt of course.

Haji wanted to ensure that World of Good would continue indefinitely to help the poor women she cherished and admired. She planned for her own exit from the company, and knew that future leaders of her venture could curtail her economic generosity. So she attempted to structure things so they could not be unwound after her exit. Sounds impossible you say?

What she did was set up two companies — World of Good, Inc., which was a for-profit so-called C corporation, and World of Good Development Organization, which was a non-profit so-called 501(c)3 corporation. She arranged ownership so that the non-profit owned 10% of the stock in the for profit company. This way, even if the for profit company were acquired, the non profit would have a significant equity stake that could not be voted away or taken away.

The non-profit World of Good Development Organization funded projects such as helping to build schools in developing nations. The organization’s marque good deed was to create the Fair Wage Calculator, a website where workers could learn about fair wages and better appreciate their fairness even though currency translations make such comparisons problematic, particularly in the developing world where there are so many currencies that may not be as easily valued as the world’s major currencies. Here’s an article that suggests the World of Good calculator is now maintained by Fair Trade USA and Good World Solutions. I recall Haji saying the calculator found a new home, but I can’t recall who she said took over the project.

Haji was proud to tell people that her pair of Good companies was the first such pairing of a United States for profit and non profit company. She was proud to have thought to do this, and was happy others have gone on to set up the same structure for their ventures.

I remember Haji showing me the thick binder of documents she kept on her desk that represented her efforts to establish this unusual structure.

This structure had practical value, even in the early days when there were low sales and presumably no profits.

World of Good planned Internet sales after establishing itself with retail sales, but World of Good did not own the coveted matching domain name worldofgood.com.

Someone else owned that domain, but was not using it for a website. This owner wanted USD $10,000 for it. That was more money than the entire capitalization of the company at the time, I suspect, since they started operations well before raising any money.

But non-profit companies can accept donations, and such donations are tax deductible to the donors. So Haji arranged for the owner of worldofgood.com to donate the desirable domain name to the non-profit. The seller got a valuable tax deduction, worth real money, and the for-profit company got to use the domain name for its for profit activities. I don’t know the details of how this was accomplished, but it probably involved the non-profit renting the domain to the for profit, which, if true, would have had the lovely side effect of getting money into the non-profit to use for the philanthropic activities that entity was set up to accomplish.

Getting the worldofgood.com domain name without spending a dime of cash was pretty clever, and is illustrative of Haji’s creative thinking.

As far as I know, World of Good didn’t even have a lawyer through all of this company formation and domain name acquisition, because one day at lunch at Freehouse Berkeley next door to the entrepreneurship lab, Haji asked me for an attorney recommendation. I recommended my attorney, Eric Jensen. I met Jensen while he was a summer associate at the law firm Cooley, LLP. We have been friends ever since, and Jensen represented World of Good and later SaveUp, Haji’s next company after she sold World of Good.

Haji and I didn’t talk much during the work day, since we were both very busy with our ventures. But we would talk on the phone nearly every night of the week for over an hour, usually late at night around or after midnight.

Haji started including me in her family events, and I was so privileged to get to know her extended family, including her uncle, Arjun Divecha, her aunt Diana Divecha, their children Mia and Zai, and Priya’s parents Karim and Asha Haji.

Eventually, after many meals, hundreds of hours of talking, and many family events, Haji casually said to me that we were dating, even though we never kissed or even held hands. It is one of my biggest regrets in life that I thought of her as only a friend, and from then onward our friendship slowly unwound nearly completely. In recent years, we only saw each other sporadically about once a year. This year I saw her at the day long event that marked the finals for the Global Social Venture Competition, in April, where Haji was one of the keynote speakers. I photographed Haji at that event after her presentation in Anderson Auditorium. That photograph is at the top of this post. I uploaded the picture at full resolution. To see the full size version, please click on it and allow your browser to load the full size 22 megapixel version. Then click again to see the image at full size. This picture shows how beautiful and vibrant Haji was, and it’s one of my favorite pictures that I took of her.

For years I anguished about my friendship with Haji dissolving.

I would have loved for her to be my wife had I felt that way about her, and I suspect she would have agreed had I asked her during the peak of our friendship.

Her family was so incredibly nice to me that I felt like part of the family already.

And what a family Priya had…

I can say with authority that her family is one of the most impressive I have met.

The Divecha children were particularly impressive at ages 13 and 16. Zai Divecha, the 16 year old, made a sleek and modern gun metal grey rocking chair in her high school shop class that had all of the fit and polish of something from the very high end furniture gallery Limn. Arjun Divecha was investing billions of dollars in emerging markets, according to news accounts I found while writing this article. As a fascinating side note, Zai Divecha now designs and builds exotic and sumptuous furniture, according to her website I found today at ZaiDivecha.com. I wrote the sentence above about Zai’s furniture making in high school before I did a search on her today and found that she’s making her livelihood as a furniture designer and maker. Her sister Mia is a PhD student in Chemistry, according to Mia’s website I found today at MiaDivecha.com.

I shared office space with World of Good for over a year. Then both of our companies moved into a warehouse near the 580 freeway in Berkeley, far from the UC Berkeley campus.

My company stayed in the new warehouse a few weeks, and then we moved back to the entrepreneurship lab. We didn’t know it at the time, but there was an steel works emitting allegedly toxic fumes just eight blocks away. It was far enough away we didn’t see it, but as we were moving in, if the wind was right, there was an odor like burning plastic or rubber. I didn’t know the source until some protesters came by with flyers and introduced themselves. They were trying to rally support to get the city of Berkeley to clamp down on the factory and force it to install fume scrubbing filters. It was then that one of my employees reminded me he had been having trouble breathing since we moved offices. I did some web research and was alarmed. I asked David Charron if my company could move back to the entrepreneurship lab while I leased some space closer to home in San Francisco, where I lived and continue to live. Charron allowed our immediate return. Thank you David. I wrote in 2011 an extensive blog article about Pacific Steel.

After the move to 10th Street in Berkeley, Haji and I stopped talking regularly. She got even busier.

World of Good took off like a rocket.

Even though they leased several thousand square feet, they outgrew the space in just months and moved to Emeryville, California, which borders Berkeley. They leased a huge warehouse I estimate filled half a square block. World of Good started buying ocean shipping containers full of product at a time, and had two forklifts to move the approximately 5,000 Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) around the giant space. I toured the space several times, and seeing conveyers and forklifts and Costco warehouse store sized shelves stacked high was impressive.

Times were sweet.

Last I heard, before the first location move, World of Good bought products for X dollars and sold them for 2X dollars. Their customers, the retails stores, then sold them for 4X dollars. These numbers are golden if you can maintain them at scale. I believe it was these metrics coupled with fast sales growth that allowed World of Good to close three rounds of venture capital investment. Venture capitalists are picky, and rarely do they invest in fair trade companies importing luxury gift items.

But then the Great Recession of 2008 hit in September, 2008.

Like many businesses selling luxuries, World of Good stumbled. They raised their last round of funding, about a million dollars, in a Series C round that was smaller than the earlier rounds. This round closed after the start of the Great Recession, which showed investors believed the company could survive even in spite of the severe gloom hanging over the world economy at the time. Haji told me on the phone this would be the last round of financing, and I took that as a sign that things were going to be OK and that company was about to be self supporting on profits going forward.

Then one day, I got an email from Haji asking me to give my vote to allow World of Good to be acquired. I had written an investment check to the company back when we were all in the entrepreneurship laboratory, so that’s why Haji asked me to sign papers. Of course, I agreed. My stake was tiny, so my input was not the determining input. I knew that if Haji said the company needed to be sold, there was no other option to keep thousands of workers busy and making money. Haji did not disclose the details of what happened in her emails to me. If I had to guess, the company was in danger of missing payroll, and no new investment funds were readily available.

While I know the purchase price, it was never published, so I will not publish the price. I caution you to not draw any price conclusions from what I have written here. The price was more than fair from what I know from what Haji directly said to me.

The company was sold in two pieces — the brand was sold to electronic commerce giant eBay and the wholesale operation was sold to GreaterGood/Charity USA. The official press release follows my article, and you can read it here at the source. I mirror the news below since at some point the link will stop working, while this blog will be online in one form or another indefinitely.

I never learned the inside details of what happened to World of Good. The investor emails did not disclose what really happened. Haji offered to meet me in person to tell me what happened, but I never got around to taking her up on that offer. I figured they hit tough times because of the Great Recession and let it go at that. I understood.

I did not want to embarrass Haji by insisting she tell me precisely what happened. I assume she was heartbroken, distraught and frustrated. The Great Recession hurt many people, including me, so I understood.

I have no reason to fault Haji’s leadership, as I know the pressure venture capitalists place on founders to grow and take risks. Even if Haji and Sangvi had wanted to go through Chapter 11 Bankruptcy prior to raising the Series C round, to shed the lease on the huge warehouse and scale operations way down until the recession ended, I doubt the investors would have approved. Professional venture capitalists have a ‘swing for the fences’ mentality, and hunkering down for years to weather a recession is not something I believe they advise or support.

The math behind World of Good was favorable, and customers liked the offerings. There were long lines at the annual warehouse sale they held each Christmas. I bought a shopping bag of product as holiday gifts each year, and I still have half a shopping bag of items on hand, with tags still attached. I still give World of Good gifts today as a result.

Had the Great Recession not hit, I am confident World of Good today would be a thriving specialty brand, with goods for sale directly online and in stores in tens of thousands of locations. I believe Haji, Sangvi and the later third co-founder David Guendelman would  have increased sales by now to hundreds of millions of dollars.

While eBay did eventually retire the World of Good brand, the eBay website continues to host a store, green.ebay.com, where thousands of hand made items made by poor women in the developing world are sold. You can see the notice eBay published about the name change if you access the store via this link: WorldofGood.com by eBay. Note the pop up notice only apparently shows up the first time you click this link, not every time.

Here’s a story about how restrained Haji could be when she believed such restraint was warranted.

I remember that in 2005 she faced the loss of $15,000 with remarkable poise. At the time, her company had not raised much money, perhaps a few tens of thousands of dollars in total from family members.

World of Good won the USD $25,000 grand prize in the Global Social Venture Competition.

World of Good weeks later the $10,000 second place prize in the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. The grand prize amount was $25,000.

Haji later learned that the judges in the later competition voted to award World of Good the grand prize as well, but that they were persuaded to instead flip the first and second place winners so that World of Good would not win two grand prizes. No company has ever won two grand prizes in these competitions.

Many founders would have raised a stink upon learning they had lost out on a much needed extra $15,000 because of outside influence in the judging process. But Haji just shrugged the whole thing off with not even a hint of ill feelings.

I know the specifics of this story directly from Haji, and I have never shared this story in public before, and I had not planned to. But it’s such a perfect story to illustrate Haji’s ability to remain cool under pressure. She needed that money, but she did not, to my knowledge, make any attempt to collect it by complaining to the administration at the Haas School of Business which hosted these two business competitions.

Priya Haji knew how to select her battles well, and how to win friends and influence people.

Even in her private life, Haji was great at seeing around corners. To illustrate, when we were watching the Michael Douglas and Sean Penn movie The Game at my house, she predicted the dramatic ending, an ending that caught me by surprise the first time I saw it. I recall being amazed that she predicted so accurately what was about to happen next. The Game is a suspenseful movie, and I don’t believe most people predicted the ending.

Priya Haji was a star.

Hundreds of thousands of other words have been written about Haji. She’s been interviewed on television many times. She has been profiled in widely circulated newspapers and magazines. She has spoken at hundreds of events. She had thousands of friends, including over 1,400 on the current market leading (in the US) social network Facebook.com. Many other memories will be shared. This is not an obituary for Priya. I so far have left out that she received her undergraduate degree in pre-med and religious studies from Stanford University and received her Masters of Business Administration degree from University of California, Berkeley. She founded Free at Last while at Stanford to help battered women in East Palo Alto. She started with her doctor parents a medical clinic for poor people in Texas when still in high school. She started another venture capital financed startup called SaveUp after World of Good ended. She worked at that company until her passing this week. She had two lovely children, a girl and a boy. She left a sizable mark on the world, and she will be missed by thousands and thousands of people.

Priya Haji was one of the most important people in my life for over a year, and I cried when I heard about her death. I will miss her. I write this post with great fondness and admiration for a life well lived, and a soul beautifully nourished and expanded to the point she touched so many more people than most people can even dream of.

I love you Priya.

—–

Press release announcing sale of World of Good:

World of Good Inc. Sells Brand and Related Assets to eBay; Wholesale Division Acquired by GreaterGood/Charity USA

World of Good Brand Continues to Represent Sustainable Shopping and Market Access for Global Artisans Through E-Commerce

EMERYVILLE, Calif. – February 25, 2010 – World of Good Inc., a five-year-old social venture that connects artisans from developing communities with mainstream retail markets, announced today that eBay has fully acquired its brand and related assets. World of Good Inc. also announced that GreaterGood/Charity USA has acquired its wholesale division and line of designer, Fair Trade products which will be re-branded, while existing relationships with retailers and artisan partners will be maintained. The terms of the transactions were not disclosed.

eBay’s acquisition of the brand results from a two-year long collaboration between the two companies that led to the development of WorldofGood.com by eBay, the world’s largest multi-seller marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping. The transaction reflects eBay’s growing commitment to engaging consumers to affect social change through sustainable commerce. It also represents World of Good’s commitment to creating the greatest market opportunity for small, Fair Trade and environmentally responsible producers around the world. The online marketplace hosts hundreds of sellers, with tens of thousands of sustainable products from 85 countries.

“We are excited about the opportunity to scale the World of Good mission to an unprecedented degree through eBay,” said World of Good co-founder and CEO Priya Haji. “Also, we are confident that GreaterGood will be an excellent steward of the retail partnerships we’ve built and will continue to grow Fair Trade through mainstream retail channels.”

GreaterGood’s acquisition of World of Good’s wholesale division reflects its growing Fair Trade business, including its Global Girlfriend apparel line. Since 2004, World of Good has developed extensive retail product lines for partners like Whole Foods Market, Hallmark and Disney, among others. GreaterGood will continue to work with the same retail partners and artisan groups in order to grow market access for small artisan suppliers around the globe.

World of Good was founded in 2004 by U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Graduate School of Business MBA’s Priya Haji and Siddharth Sanghvi with the mission to help small artisan producers improve their livelihoods by providing them with access to mainstream retail markets. The company has impacted more than 40,000 individual artisans across 70 countries by connecting them with millions of U.S. consumers. Haji also founded World of Good Development Organization, a sister non-profit focused on improving the lives of low-income women in the developing world. In December 2009, the Development Organization was honored by The Tech Museum of Innovation for its Fair Wage Guide, a free, open-source platform that calculates fair wages for artisans around the world and specific to their locations. The organization will continue its work to create technologies and tools that help companies ensure fair wages to informal sector workers.

Robert Chatwani, Director of eBay Global Citizenship said of the acquisition, “We look forward to this next step in our commitment to building an integrated, sustainable shopping experience within the eBay marketplace and are dedicated to applying our reach, resources and business model to create a positive impact for people, the planet and communities throughout the world.”

“GreaterGood is excited to grow the retail partnerships that World of Good built and to continue to help small artisan and Fair Trade producers reach these important retail channels,” said Stacey Edgar, founder and president of Global Girlfriend and director of the GreaterGood Wholesale Division.

About eBay:
Founded in 1995, eBay Inc. connects hundreds of millions of people around the world every day, empowering them to explore new opportunities and innovate together. eBay Inc. does this by providing the Internet platforms of choice for global commerce and payments. Building on this positive foundation, eBay’s sustainability efforts harness our technology and reach to extend this positive impact into vibrant, sustainable commerce experiences. Our sustainability portfolio includes WorldofGood.com, the eBay Green Team, the eBay Foundation, eBay Giving Works and MicroPlace.

About GreaterGood/Charity USA:
The GreaterGood Network of websites (including TheHungerSite, TheBreastCancerSite, TheAnimalRescueSite, Global Girlfriend, and others) offers the public a unique opportunity to support causes they care about through a free daily click and Gifts that Give More™ (100% of these donations go to the cause of the patron’s choice).  The GreaterGood Network’s online stores offer more than 3,000 Fair Trade items, with up to 30% of the purchase price going to charity. In fiscal year 2009, the GreaterGood Network gave more than $3 million to more than 50 charities around the world.

Media Contacts:

Lonnie Shekhtman, World of Good
240-601-5824, lonnie@worldofgoodinc.com

Annie Lescroart, eBay
(408) 376-7458, anlescroart@ebay.com

Rosemary Jones, GreaterGood/Charity USA
206-268-5496, rosemary@thehungersite.com

Here is Priya Haji’s bio from the SaveUp.com website, as of July 18, 2014:

Priya Haji

Co-Founder • CEO

Priya is the CEO and co-founder of SaveUp; she has been a serial social entrepreneur since age 16; she is committed to building innovative companies that benefit people. Her most recent venture World of Good, an on-line retail marketplace and wholesaler of sustainable goods, was acquired by eBay in 2010. The brand creates market access for women artisans in 55 countries around the globe through partnering with brands like Hallmark, Disney and Whole Foods. Prior to that she co-founded and led Free at Last, which became a national model for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention for African Americans and Latinos while serving 3,000 people per year in East Palo Alto and raised more than $20M in special investments. Her first start-up was a free clinic in Texas with her Dad. Priya graduated undergrad from Stanford University and has an MBA from Berkeley.

Here is the text from the Priya Haji entry from the Haas School of Business newsroom, mirrored here in case the original link is ever broken:

Serial Social Entrepreneur Priya Haji, MBA 03, Passes Away

July 18, 2014

Priya_Haji-300

Haas alumna Priya Haji, MBA 03, the co-founder of Free at Last, World of Good, and SaveUp, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, July 14. She was 44.

Born in Detroit, Haji earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and pre-med at Stanford. After earning her MBA at Berkeley-Haas, she pursued her vision of improving economic opportunity and equality by co-founding three companies.

Free at Last is a national model program for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention in the African American and Latino communities. Under Haji’s leadership, the company served 3,000 people per year in East Palo Alto and raised more than $20M in special investments.

World of Good, a retail marketplace and wholesaler of sustainable and fair trade products, improved the lives of thousands of women artisans in 55 countries. It was acquired by eBay in 2010.

SaveUp, where Haji was serving as CEO at the time of her death, is the nation’s first rewards game for saving money and reducing debt.

Haji fully embodied the Haas School’s Defining Principles, especially Beyond Yourself as she was a consistent contributor to the Haas community. Haji shared her wisdom and insight at various events, most recently by delivering a keynote address at the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) in April 2014. Haji won the GSVC competition in 2005 with her startup World of Good. She also inspired students and served as a mentor for the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH) program.

“Like many other Berkeley MBAs in the past decade, I was so inspired by Priya’s vision and leadership,” says Ellen Martin, MBA 07, who met Haji when she served as her Berkeley Board Fellow for World of Good. “She really pushed us all to approach entrepreneurship—not just social entrepreneurship—in an entirely different way. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that.”

Haji’s honors include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum; a Social Innovation Leadership Award by the World CSR Congress, a non-profit organization whose annual conference celebrates corporate social responsibility; and inclusion in GOOD magazine’s GOOD 100, a list of people driving change in their communities in creative and inspiring ways.

“Priya was such a vibrant force in life—undaunted by challenges, willing to give voice and energy to her ideals and vision,” says Haas Lecturer John Danner, who taught Haji in his “Workshop for Startups” class where she co-developed World of Good. “What a profound loss first to her family but to all of us as well who were touched by her example.”

Haji is survived by two young children: a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Zen, and an 11-month-old daughter, Omi; her parents, Karim and Asha Haji; and a sister, Amina.

A celebration of her life will be held at Haas in the coming weeks. Details will be published as they become available. Friends are encouraged to share memories on a Facebook memorial page: https://www.facebook.com/priyahajimemorial.

The Priya Haji Memorial Fund has been established to honor her inspiring life and will support an MBA student focused on entrepreneurship and social innovation. Donate at http://givetocal.berkeley.edu/fund/?f=FM8347000.

- See more at: http://newsroom.haas.berkeley.edu/article/serial-social-entrepreneur-priya-haji-mba-03-passes-away#sthash.L4jAhtsc.dpuf

Intel CEO Paul Otellini is interviewed by Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley

without comments

Intel CEO Paul Otellini at University of California Berkeley, October 3, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini at University of California Berkeley, October 3, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, October 3, 2012, I attended the Dean’s Speaker Series at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA.

Dean Richard Lyons interviewed Paul Otellini, the Chief Executive Officer of Intel Corporation. The question and answer session was held in the Anderson Auditorium, a venue I am very familiar with because it’s the same hall where the Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum is usually held. I have attended the Forums for 20 years.

The interview was captured by a professional videographer, and the video will be soon made public on the Haas website page for the Speaker Series.

I have highlighted my favorite parts of Otellini’s remarks in my comments that follow.

Haas School of Business student asks Intel CEO Paul Otellini a question October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley

Haas School of Business student asks Intel CEO Paul Otellini a question October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley

Otellini completed his undergraduate studies at University of San Francisco, and received his Master of Business Administration from the Haas School of Business, though at the time it was named the Berkeley Business School. Otellini got a job at Intel in 1974 with his freshly minted MBA degree. Even though Otellini was a finance specialist, his first job at Intel was to program a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-10 minicomputer to perform cost analysis. This must have been an intense introduction to Intel for an MBA because mini-computers were not easy to program. I programmed a Digital Equipment Corporation VAX minicomputer in 1990, and it was difficult then, so I can only imagine how much more pesky and complicated it was to work 16 years earlier on the ancestor to the VAX.

Audience watches Rich Lyons interview Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA

Audience watches Rich Lyons interview Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA

When Otellini became CEO in 2005 he assessed that Intel was not organized correctly for where he saw the market heading. At the time, Intel had 105,000 employees. Otellini eliminated 25,000 jobs. The company is today back up to 103,000 employees. His advisers in 2005 were asking why he wanted to go into ‘the phone business’ when Intel was making money hand over fist at the time. Otelllini said he had many sleepless nights when he was contemplating letting 25,000 people go. He said he will never feel good about that, but he is grateful that he made the change well before the world financial collapse of 2008, so all the people let go were able to find jobs quickly.

Second year Haas student Michael Vladimer asks Intel CEO Paul Otellini a question, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley. To the right of the student, seated: Jill Erbland and Andre Marquis.

Second year Haas student Michael Vladimer asks Intel CEO Paul Otellini a question, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley. To the right of the student, seated: Jill Erbland and Andre Marquis.

I was surprised to learn that Intel is the world’s 4th largest software company in the world based on the number of computer programmers that it employs.

Otellini advised to get work experience in different geographic locations prior to starting a family.

Otellini said its chips are manufactured in three dimensions, which was forced upon it by the laws of physics, which prevented circuits from being made much smaller. To keep making more capable chips, transistors had to be stacked as well as placed side by side. This technology took Intel 10 years to perfect, with thousands of PhD holders working on the effort.

I wonder if they considered adding a ‘Now in 3D!’ tagline to their famous ‘Intel Inside’ stickers.

Audience watches Rich Lyons interview Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley

Audience watches Rich Lyons interview Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley

Otellini emphasized the high risks inherent in running Intel.

To illustrate, when Intel breaks ground on a new chip fabricating factory:

  • the technology hasn’t been developed yet
  • the products haven’t been designed yet
  • the markets for the products don’t exist yet

These factories take 3 1/2 years to build and cost USD $5,500,000,000 each, and Intel starts construction on two or three of these per year.

That sounds like a great definition of high risk to me.

Intel makes hardware reference designs that it provides to its customers so that they can get products to market more rapidly. Otellini said personal computer makers don’t spend that much on industrial design, so they like and need Intel to provide these turn key designs they can modify to make them unique.

Otellini had a mentor at Berkeley while he was a student in the early 1970s. That mentor worked at Bank of America, and tried to get Otellini to join that bank. Several years after Otellini had joined Intel, his mentor confided that Otellini had chosen the right company.

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at UC Berkeley

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at UC Berkeley

Intel has put in place a system where they can identify the source of so-called conflict minerals. They can also track them, and Otellini said that Intel is likely to be able to say by January 2013 that Intel has built the world’s first ‘conflict mineral free microprocessor’.

Otellini said he had spoken in the morning with Robert Hormats, Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs at the Department of State, who he said is very interested in [removing] conflict minerals from products. The Department of State, according to Otellini, wants to make Intel’s conflict mineral tracking system a so-called ‘best known method’ for the [semiconductor] industry.

Otellini said it recycles the chemicals used in its plants, and plans to recycle the water it uses to such a complete degree that its factories will be able to reuse the water they consume over and over, without needing to return it to the underground aquifers, like they do today.

Audience member at Dean's Speaker Series with Paul Otellini at Haas School of Business, October 3, 2012.

Audience member at Dean's Speaker Series with Paul Otellini at Haas School of Business, October 3, 2012.

Otellini spoke about manufacturing competitiveness generally in the United States, something he is qualified to speak about because he advises United States President Barack Obama about competitiveness.

He said many of the motivating factors that have led to outsourcing are disappearing. He said that it costs more for Intel to hire 1st and 2nd level technical managers in China now than it does in Santa Clara, California USA. For engineers with 3 or 4 years of experience, the costs to hire them are now the same in the US as they are in China and India.

Otellini said that the United States could improve its position by lowering its corporate tax rate [to a level consistent with the rate in competitive economies]. He suggested the US streamline its permitting procedures for building new factories. He suggested that job training be improved to provide a skilled workforce to work in the new factories. He pointed out that currency and political risks are low in the US, and stated there is no risk of a company’s factory being expropriated by the US government. In other countries, governments sometimes do take over privately owned factories.

Paul Otellini speaks with Arthur Gensler at University of California Berkeley, October 3, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Paul Otellini speaks with Arthur Gensler at University of California Berkeley, October 3, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

There were some famous guests in the audience.

Perhaps the most famous attendee was Arthur Gensler, the founder of M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc. but commonly referred to as simply Gensler. I have been aware of this global architecture, planning, design and consulting firm since I was 23 years old at my first job out of college, at Newell Color Laboratory at 630 Third Street in San Francisco, California USA, since closed. Gensler was an important client. I suspect Gensler may be helping to design the new building Dean Lyons is being planned for the Haas School of Business campus.

Arthur Gensler speaking with Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley

Arthur Gensler speaking with Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley

After the interview, Lyons pointed out Mr. Gensler to me — without his helpful comment, I would not have been able to write this acknowledgment of his visit. Gensler is a big deal — they employ 3,500 people in 42 locations. They count all 10 of the Fortune 500 top 10 companies as clients.

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons, left, watches Haas Professor Emeritus and Nobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson shake hands with Intel CEO Paul Otellini at Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, October 3, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons, left, watches Haas Professor Emeritus and Nobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson shake hands with Intel CEO Paul Otellini at Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, October 3, 2012. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

Perhaps the second most famous attendee was Oliver Williamson. Williamson is Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business. In 2009 Williamson won the Nobel Prize for Economics. I saw Williamson speak in 2009 at the Haas Gala, the annual party the school throws each November. I blogged about that gala and wrote about Williamson, who spoke at the event. I took a picture of Williamson shaking hands with Otellini, shown here.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini with University of California Berkeley student Tammie Chen. Photograph by Kevin Warnock, October 3, 2012.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini with University of California Berkeley student Tammie Chen. Photograph by Kevin Warnock, October 3, 2012.

This last photograph of Mr. Otellini with Berkeley undergrad student Tammie Chen has an interesting story behind it.

I met Chen when she was an organizer for the 2011 Made for China Startup Pitch Competition. I was a judge for that competition. After that event, we became friends on Facebook, and she posted that she was going to be attending the Dean’s Speaker Series that is the subject of this blog post. I commented that I would be there as well, blogging. She asked me if I could take a picture of her with Otellini. I said I would. I walked up to him and asked him if I could introduce Chen to him and take a picture of him with her, and he readily agreed. They had a nice chat for a minute, and then they posed for this picture. Chen is a huge fan of Intel, and has visited their headquarters. She has a lot of friends that work at Intel.

I was surprised that no students approached Otellini to introduce themselves. This is the same behavior I saw at my first Dean’s Speaker Series event, in September 2012, when Lyons interviewed Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T. There were students standing about 10 feet away from Otellini, in a large circle, but not a single student walked into the empty space to say hello. That made it easy for me to say hello to Mr. Otellini, who I have met and spoken with before, in 2008, at the Intel Capital CEO Summit [renamed the Intel Capital Global Summit] in San Francisco.

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

Haas School of Business Dean Rich Lyons and Intel CEO Paul Otellini, October 3, 2012 at University of California Berkeley. Photo by Kevin Warnock.

I like Intel. Their venture capital division Intel Capital was very nice to my company Silveroffice, Inc. by making it an Intel Capital Portfolio Company. Intel Capital invites me as their guest to Intel’s annual Intel Developer Forum, at which I get a new Intel Developer Forum branded laptop bag or backpack, which I use every time I leave my home with my Intel powered laptop. I hope to be appointed a judge for the Intel Global Challenge, a role I would be great at since I was a judge for the Berkeley Startup Competition for eight years through 2011. My application is pending, so please wish me luck! I love judging startup competitions, and so far I have judged four different competitions at University of California Berkeley.

I took all the photographs in this post. I used a Canon 5D Mark II camera with a Canon 80-200mm f:2.8 L zoom lens. Click on the images twice in delayed succession to see the images at full size. I uploaded the images at their full 21 megapixel resolution, at a JPG quality of 12. The light level was comparatively low, so I shot at ISO 2,500, without flash.

Thank you to Meg Fellner of the Dean’s Office for getting me a ticket to this sold out event.

I tasted four delicious OCHO brand candy bars by Five Star Organics LLC

without comments

Christy [last name deleted May 1 2014 at Christy's request] showing off OCHO brand chocolates at Andronicos, 1200 Irving Street, San Francisco, California USA, September 1, 2012

Christy [last name deleted May 1 2014 at Christy's request] showing off OCHO brand chocolates at Andronicos, 1200 Irving Street, San Francisco, California USA, September 1, 2012

Today, September 1, 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Christy McAvoy.

McAvoy for three hours was at Andronico’s Community Markets at 1200 Irving Street in San Francisco, California USA introducing shoppers to Five Star Organics LLC which makes OCHO candy bars.

McAvoy used to work with the co-founder of Five Star Organics, William Scott Kucirek, at his first startup, Zip Realty. Zip Realty competed in 1999 with my Internet company Hotpaper in the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. That competition is now named the Berkeley Startup Competition, a name change I proposed October 5, 2011 to Andre Marquis, who leads The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which provides support to the student run competition at the University of California at Berkeley, in Berkeley, California. My friends Melissa Daniels and Keval Desai were the student founders of the competition. Daniels and Desai are now venture capitalists — Daniels at Morgan Stanley Ventures Partners and Desai at InterWest Ventures. I don’t know if the competition was renamed at my suggestion alone. Kucirek’s Zip Realty to date is the most successful company to pass through the Berkeley Startup Competition, which is why I bring up the competition and its origins here. Zip Realty is the only company from the competition that has gone public, which makes Kucirek royalty at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, where Kucirek earned his Masters of Business Administration degree. This background should help OCHO become a candy brand you will be hearing much more from in the future.

OCHO organic chocolate still life at Andronicos 1200 Irving Street, San Francisco, California USA, photo by Kevin Warnock, September 1, 2012

OCHO organic chocolate still life at Andronicos 1200 Irving Street, San Francisco, California USA, photo by Kevin Warnock, September 1, 2012

After that build up, I am happy to report that OCHO candy bars taste really good.

I sampled all four flavors — Peanut, Coconut, Mocha and OCHO Bar.

Each is more sophisticated than your standard Snickers, Reese’s or Almond Joy, but not so sophisticated as to require an education to appreciate and prefer. The Mocha candy bar doesn’t have a similar major label counterpart, to my knowledge.

I think the OCHO product line will be a hit because it’s not trying to be Scharffen Berger, a decidedly more luxurious chocolate brand that has not and probably never will hit the mainstream, even though it is owned now by the same giant Hershey that makes Reese’s and Almond Joy.

I toured the Sharffen Berger plant with my friend Kelly Yu before Hershey’s acquired the company and brand. I was not a blogger back then, sadly, as the tour was fascinating and worth writing about. That tour gave me a deeper appreciation for chocolate, which of course was the point.

Denis Ring co-founded Five Star Organics with Kucirek. According to McAvoy, Ring created the 365 Everyday Value line of products at Whole Foods Markets and the O Organics line of organic products sold at Safeway.

I took the photographs that accompany this post. Click on them twice in delayed succession to see them at full size.

[Note: On May 1, 2014 Christy McAvoy sent me a Facebook message asking me to 'untag' her name from the picture above. I removed her last name and replaced it with a comment saying the last name was deleted.]

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

without comments

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.


Please subscribe to this blog by leaving your email address in the upper right corner. Please friend or subscribe to me on Facebook. Please follow me on Twitter.

Occupy Cal protest at University of California at Berkeley November 15, 2011

without comments

Kevin Warnock at Occupy Cal following Robert Reich speech at UC Berkeley, November 15, 2011

Kevin Warnock at Occupy Cal following Robert Reich speech at UC Berkeley, November 15, 2011

I was at the Occupy Cal protest at University of California at Berkeley last evening, November 15, 2011. There were over 1,000 protesters there. The energy in the air was positive and infectious.

As far as I could detect, the Occupy Cal event wasn’t marred by the shooting of a Berkeley student by campus police earlier in the afternoon. That student later died at the hospital. That student, Christopher Nathen Elliot Travis, age 32, was a transfer student from Ohlone College in Fremont, California.

Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons addressed the school’s students this morning. Later, Lyons posted this letter to the Haas Newsroom and publicized it via the micro-blogging website Twitter.

My friend Heather Sepulveda went to Ohlone College before she transferred to UC Berkeley years ago — a very strange coincidence to be sure.

Occupy Cal general assembly at UC Berkeley, November 15, 2011

Occupy Cal general assembly at UC Berkeley, November 15, 2011

There was a drum beat to the protest, thanks to the talented musicians that showed up. One of the musicians looked to be about 60, and he said he had participated in the anti war protests at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. I feature some of the music in the video I am editing from the event, which I hope to post tomorrow. I got some great video, including of the camping tents being carried into place.

Board member of the Mario Savio Lecture Fund addressing Occupy Cal protesters November 15, 2011 at Sproul Plaza

Board member of the Mario Savio Lecture Fund addressing Occupy Cal protesters November 15, 2011 at Sproul Plaza

Robert Reich speaking at Occupy Cal protest, November 15, 2011

Robert Reich speaking at Occupy Cal protest, November 15, 2011

The event incorporated a gathering of The Savio Lecture Fund, which originally was to take place indoors at the Pauley Ballroom in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center, also on the UC Berkeley campus. My guess is the change of venue was decided close to the last minute to benefit from the association with the Occupy Cal movement. I was not previously familiar with Mario Savio, I am embarrassed to admit. I concluded from the talks I heard last night that Savio would have embraced the Occupy Cal movement and message. Savio spoke on December 2, 1964 from the same steps of Sproul Hall where the speakers last night spoke from.

The Savio Lecture speaker last evening was former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who is a Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. I captured his speech to high definition video and presented it on my blog earlier today.

Camping tents being moved onto Sproul Plaza as part of the Occupy Cal protest November 15, 2011

Camping tents being moved onto Sproul Plaza as part of the Occupy Cal protest November 15, 2011

In the photograph above you can see some of the camping tents already in place, along with another tent being carried into place already set up. Organizers were distributing hot food on the Sproul Hall steps. Even though there were a lot of people there, it was possible to easily move among the crowd, and I had no trouble taking pictures and video, even though I had brought a tripod with me, for many of the time exposures I took to capture the low light images you see here.

Soap bubbles by the hundreds liven up the view from the steps of Sproul Hall during Occupy Cal protest at UC Berkeley November 15, 2011

Soap bubbles by the hundreds liven up the view from the steps of Sproul Hall during Occupy Cal protest at UC Berkeley November 15, 2011

Sproul Hall after Robert Reich concluded his speech on the steps. UC Berkeley, November 15, 2011.

Sproul Hall after Robert Reich concluded his speech on the steps. UC Berkeley, November 15, 2011.

I took the above shot right before I departed, after 10pm. The group front and center appeared to be in their 50s and 60s. The age mix of the crowd was inspiring — it definitely wasn’t just current students in their teens and twenties. I felt that people were really passionate about the Occupy movement, and that this movement will be long lived and will accomplish real change in the world. I am glad I made the trip from San Francisco.

I uploaded these pictures at full 21 megapixel resolution. To see them at full size, click on them twice, with a pause in between the clicks to allow the photographs to load in a separate window. If you’d like to use these pictures for something, please give me a link back to my blog. If you like this blog, please subscribe, and please add this post to your status feed on Facebook. Thank you!

Written by Kevin Warnock

November 16th, 2011 at 4:41 pm