Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

SDForum Awards: Silicon Valley Tales

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 26, 2008

SDForum Visionary Awards are my favorite event of the year. It's full of insiders and Silicon Valley tales. And the setting is Heidi Roizen's backyard in Woodside which provides for a relaxed atmosphere that generates some great stories.

Here are a few snippets and photos from the evening:IMG_0814.JPG

[Photos: SDForum CEO Susan Lucas-Conwell in light-grey with Heidi Roizen and Dan'l Lewin. The backyard view of the visionary awards.]

At the champagne reception before the main event I met Steve Kirsch who had a badge that identified him as a "past visionary" (2000). That seemed like an unfortunate title. I joked that he maybe could tell us what happened in the future.

Steve Kirsch is still very much active as a visionary. He was a founder of Infoseek and his latest venture is Abaca, a spam filter that is accurate "to five nines. But nobody believes me!"

Diane Greene, CEO of the extremely successful VMware was one of the visionaries celebrated that evening. She got a great introduction from Mendel Rosenblum, also from VMware about how you can succeed in business and still treat people fairly. "You can build a multi-billion software business and not be a jerk about it," he said. I wonder if Larry was listening?

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Diane Greene was very gracious, she spoke about how she approached several people, some in the audience, for seed money and how they turned her down for various reasons (sound of people smacking their heads in the audience and kicking themselves in the shins.)

VMware never did spend its seed money and it never took VC money.

Another 2008 visionary, Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix was great. He gave out some advice to other companies, "Don't limit your employees in any way." He said that one of his staff said "You don't keep track of the hours I work why do you count my vacation days?"

So after several months Netflix did away with its vacation policy. Take as much as you need. Mr Hastings said it was tough to get that one through but he said "We don't have a dress policy but people don't turn up naked."

Mr Hastings couldn't resist recommending three great movies: Just Another Love Story; American Teen; Phoebe in Wonderland. I'm sticking those in my Netflix queue.

IMG_0824.JPGI had an interesting chat with Richard Atkinson, president emeritus of the University of California. He is based in San Diego but spent 20 years at Stanford University. He said that the area is very crowded these days. When he lived in these parts highway 101 was still being built!

Mr Atkinson introduced Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm, one of the world's top communications firms--and which has helped create a very large economy for San Diego. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Jacobs a few years back when I was working for the Financial Times.

Qualcomm has made a fortune from its intellectual property portfolio and continues to hold a dominant position despite some large challenges. Mr Atkinson revealed some interesting facts about Mr Jacobs. For example, when he was at university, Mr Jacobs was advised to qualify in hotel administration. Also, he and his wife have quietly made several very large gifts in the $100m plus range. Mr Atkinson estimates that the Jacobs have given away more than $1 billion.

More recently, SDForum Visionary awards have featured writers and this year Steven Levy was honored. He was introduced by John Markoff who mentioned Mr Levy's book "Hackers" as a must read. I agree but the title is a bit misleading today - it refers to the original meaning and captures the essence of the life of programmers.

Please also see:

Silicon Valley Visionaries Mass in Heidi's Backyard...

I went to a garden party....and Carly Florina was there. So was Scott McNealy, Larry Sonsini, Ray Ozzie. and a digital Bill Gates, seeking valley love

Garden party part two: How McNealy creates room at the top...

Garden Party part three: Bill Draper, the godfather of Silicon Valley's oldest VC dynasty

Garden Party part 4: Larry Sonsini leads valley lovefest for Carly Fiorina . . .

Garden party part 5: SVW uncovers backyard plot by Microsoft loyalists. . .

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