June, 2011

Jun 11

My Talk for Adventures of the Mind 2011

I’ll be giving a talk in a few minutes to a conference of high achieving high schoolers called Adventures of the Mind. Amazing collection of students and speakers. Anyway, here’s what I’m going to say.

Adventures of the Mind 2011 Talk

A couple of years ago when I gave a talk for Adventures of the Mind 2009 in Princeton, I talked about how important the people around you are to success. Because you never know what the big decision points in your life are, it’s really hard to intentionally design your life. But you CAN design who you spend time with, and being around amazing people — always trying to put yourself into rooms with people who are smarter than you, even if it makes you feel bad — that that strategy will tend to mean that great opportunities will find you.

So that was a “HOW” talk. How to make sure to be around great choices in your life.

Today I want to give more of a WHAT & WHY talk. I always like starting with the punchline, so here’s the punchline for my talk: everyone in this room is amazing potential. But we need to move potential into action, into change, into improvement. Everyone in this room needs to think about how you want the world to be, AND THEN YOU NEED TO GO MAKE THE WORLD YOU WANT.

Make the world you want to live in. That’s the only way you get it.

But let me start by giving you a little background about me. When I was graduating high school 20 years ago and getting ready to go to Stanford, I figured I would be a physicist. That was the plan until about the 3rd problem set of my Stanford career, which was approximately the hardest thing I’d ever seen. It was immediately obvious to me that I could never be world class as a physicist, so I went looking for things I could be world class at. And my next stop for several years was computer science and user interface design, which I was pretty good at. But again, as I got out into the working world, it became clear again that while I could be really good at interaction design, there was no way I could be one of the best in the world at it. So, again, I went looking for what I was good at, and what I found was that I was really good at thinking about how to organize people, how to lead them, how to manage them. That I felt I could be world class at, and that’s been what I’ve done, working at startups in Silicon Valley for the 20 years since then.

I’ve meandered around doing interesting things with awesome people since then, but am best known at this point for the job before the one that I have now, as the CEO of Mozilla, who makes Firefox.

So how many of you have used Firefox?

And how many of you knew that it’s made be a tiny 300 person company that’s a non-profit?

I want to show you a short video about Mozilla, Firefox, and what a unique organization it is.


That’s what I’ve done over the last 5 or 6 years, and it’s been amazing. Just trying to make the web better, getting to about 450 million users in the world, breaking the Microsoft monopoly on browsers and operating systems. Making the world a little more like we wanted it.

It was sort of an accident that I ended up at Mozilla though — let me tell you that story: after my own startup, I was trying to find my next thing — I actually wanted to be a venture capitalist, which is what I am now, but in 2005 I couldn’t find the right place for me. I ran into Mitchell Baker, who ran the Mozilla project, then about 15 employees total, and told her I really liked what they were doing, and that I’d like to help. She said great! So we had this awesome brainstorming session, felt like we could make things better, I went home and wrote up this really long e-mail about what I thought she should do. And she never responded to me. This happened a couple of times, and I eventually said, “Shit. If I want to help, I probably need to go actually work there.”

But still I was on the fence.

Then something lucky happened: Mitchell invited me to go to a meeting with her and the other leaders at Yahoo (this was back when Yahoo was still marginally cool), where we would meet with Jerry Yang. So I tagged along, excited to meet Jerry. Well, he showed up 45 minutes late for an hour long meeting, and he started yelling at us right away. Long story about exactly why he yelled at us, but roughly it’s because people were adopting Firefox so quickly that it was causing Yahoo real market share problems. He yelled at us for a while, but I really wasn’t listening that closely, because it was then and there that I decided I had to join Mozilla full time.

I figured if we could get a billionaire to get so angry that he yelled at us, we were probably doing a bunch of things really, really right.

Since then I’ve discovered that it’s actually a lot easier than you might think to get billionaires to yell at you, but those are stories for another time, maybe once you’re all over 21.

Here’s my point: everyone expected me to go be a venture capitalist or start my next for profit company — but I accidentally found an opportunity at this weird, funky non-profit that gave me a massive chance to make the world a little closer to the way I wanted. So I couldn’t escape the gravitational pull, and signed up. Best decision of my career.

Let me shift gears – today I’m a partner at Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. We find interesting, early startups to invest in and help them grow into great companies that change the world. We’ve been very fortunate to find and work with some of the most successful companies in history, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Pandora.

(And I have to tell you quickly about one of the incredible companies we’re involved with that just announced – it’s a company called Lytro, and I figure they’re about to change photography forever, by introducing what’s called a ‘light field camera’ – a camera that doesn’t just take a picture of one plane of focus, but rather captures all the light rays in a scene at once, which means you can do things like focus the picture after the fact. Incredible.)

And these are incredible times in Silicon Valley and around the world, with technology having such a huge impact — more things are changing, for more people, more quickly than in any time in history. We’re going through a massive, and fast, revolution. Apple and Facebook and Google and Mozilla and others are changing the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we live.

There are 3 massive shifts happening all at one time:

1. The rise of ubiquitous and mobile computing: phones and tablets are going to be 10 or 100 times bigger than anything we’ve ever seen. Soon we’ll have 2 billion smart phones on the planet.

2. Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have connected everyone together, which means collaboration happens at a wicked fast pace. And it’s speeding up. You can get your products to hundreds of millions of people in a matter of days now. Think about that.

3. And we’ve figured out how to make the “cloud” work. So anytime you’re anywhere, from any device, you can get to your pictures, your data, your life.

Nothing like this has ever happened before. I can’t overstate how massive this is.

But we still have many choices to make. Do you want to live in an Apple defined world? Or a Google one? Or a Facebook and Twitter world? The point I’m trying to make is that technology choices have implications. Technology platforms have points of view. The choices that you make matter. And an Apple-y world is very very different than a Googley world. So which one of those do you want?

I suspect you all know that the answer is “none of the above” — as you all go become scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs and citizens, I hope you think hard not about whose technology world view you want to adopt, but rather what the world you want to live in looks like, and that you think hard about how to make that world happen.

For me, that’s the definition of creativity and entrepreneurship. Finding the things in our world that are broken, and then going and fixing the ones you care about.

So I hope all of you head into your next phase of life with the mindset of an entrepreneur, looking for things to fix, wondering why things aren’t the way they should be. And then going and making the world the way you want it to be by starting the next Facebook or LinkedIn or Kiva or Mozilla.

Jun 11

My Shoulder a Year After Surgery

This may not be of much interest to folks who usually read my blog, but I’ve been trying to document how my shoulder has felt – after dislocation, leading up to surgery, and through rehab – because when I was going through it I just couldn’t find much information about how it actually felt to go through it. So I’m trying to make sure I put up some info on it in case others are looking for it, too.

To recap, last May I dislocated my left shoulder – not the first time, but more like the 15th, although it was the first time in the past 10 years or so. I had it surgically repaired in about 1990, and so went to see the doc, who recommended surgery again. (I’ve documented that previously, but don’t have the links handy – will update.)

The surgery was just about a year ago now, and went well, followed by a month in a sling and about three months of intensive rehab with a physical therapist, and I’ve been working out with weights and such pretty consistently since then.

The short story is that at this point, my shoulder seems really good, but not without issues. It’s probably stronger than it’s ever been – I can do way more, and more controlled, pull ups and push ups than I ever have in my life – feeling incredibly great about that. But I do notice my shoulder a lot. I find that I still pull my shoulders (hunching) forward a lot, sort of subconsciously protecting the joint. And I still can’t sleep on my left side without the pressure on the shoulder pushing against where the capsule was replaced, which both hurts and feels vulnerable. The shoulder clicks more than it used to (I think that’s essentially a bone related problem from the injury, not particularly related to the surgery). And sometimes it feels a little unstable, like it might dislocate again – but that really could be in my head – tough to know for sure.

But all things considered, very happy I was aggressive in getting it fixed, very happy with my doc and physical therapist, and optimistic that the repair will serve me well for a long time.

Jun 11

My Interview in Fast Company

Fast Company just put up an interview with me done by Kermit Pattison, and I’m really, really happy with it. It covers a lot of topics, including how I think about leadership & management (they’re not the same!), some lessons I’ve learned about how to be more extroverted, some things I’ve only recently started to really understand about some of the very important lessons I’ve learned along the way. Kermit did a really good job in capturing the essence of how I think about this stuff. Would love to read any impressions, reactions, arguments or otherwise that you have. 🙂

Jun 11

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

I picked this book on the suggestion I saw on Twitter of @mikeyk (one of the co-founders of Instagram, and coincidentally an alum of Stanford HCI like me), and really liked it.

It’s pretty straight-up high fantasy, but much better written and way more inventive than most. It’s a thousand page book, the first in what’s intended to be a ten volume series, so it’s gonna take a while to get all the way to the end — the second book isn’t expected to be out until later in 2012.

Even so, I really recommend it. There’s something really disorienting, but awesome, about the opening book in a new universe — so much you don’t know yet, so many interactions that have nuance and backstory that you only really start to understand as you go through — lots of stuff just doesn’t make any sense except out of the corner of your eye on the first reading. It’s a confused feeling, but fun at the same time.

If you like this type of book (and if you don’t know exactly what I mean when I say that, trust me, you don’t like this type of book), I highly recommend it.

Jun 11

Alone Together, by Sherry Turkle

I’ve always found Professor Turkle, from MIT, to be both thoughtful and thought-provoking — she’s spent her career observing and learning about and thinking about how we interact with technology, and how that interaction shapes us as a society. It’s interesting stuff that I wish more people paid more attention to, so I was happy to read this book about how a couple of types of technology are changing us.

The first part of the book I was a little ambivalent about; it focuses on how we interact with what I’ll call robots: physical machines in our environment, more or less humanoid. Lots of good experiment-based reflection on how we interact with objects, and I think significantly deeper and more nuanced than, say, Cliff Nass’ work a decade or so that he wrote about in The Media Equation. (Admittedly, we’re a lot further down the road now than when Nass wrote that, but even when it had just come out, I found it to be an extremely superficial analysis.)

The second half of the book is what I really wanted to get into: how are we changing the way we relate to other actual human beings as we moderate more and more interactions through electronic media. In lay terms: how are digital social networks affecting the way we communicate, experience, and live our lives, both with those who are physically with us and those who aren’t.

I thought Turkle did a good job with a bunch of this topic, with one proviso: the technology and products we use are now evolving so quickly that it seems to me that any clinical, experimental understanding of what’s going on is going to necessarily be years out of date, even for highly motivated, diligent, and speedy researchers.

I think there weren’t a ton of clear conclusions in the book, but much that we should all think about more deeply, so I’ll leave you with a few of Professor Turkle’s passages. If you care about understanding what’s changing and why in our communications and interpersonal interactions, you should read this book. A few quotes:

“Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone. And there is the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed—and only for the parts we find useful, comforting, or amusing.”

“The media has tended to portray today’s young adults as a generation that no longer cares about privacy. I have found something else, something equally disquieting. High school and college students don’t really understand the rules. Are they being watched? Who is watching? Do you have to do something to provoke surveillance, or is it routine? Is surveillance legal? They don’t really understand the terms of for Facebook or Gmail, the mail service that Google provides. They don’t know what protections they are “entitled” to. They don’t know what objections are reasonable or possible. If someone impersonates you by getting access to your cell phone, should that behavior be treated as illegal or as a prank? In teenagers’ experience, their elders—the generation that gave them this technology—don’t have ready answers to such questions.”

“The networked culture is very young. Attendants at its birth, we threw ourselves into its adventure. This is human. But these days, our problems with the Net are becoming too distracting to ignore. At the extreme, we are so enmeshed in our connections that we neglect each other. We don’t need to reject or disparage technology. We need to put it in its place. The generation that has grown up with the Net is in a good position to do this, but these young people need help. So as they begin to fight for their right to privacy, we must be their partners. We know how easily information can be politically abused; we have the perspective of history. We have, perhaps, not shared enough about that history with our children. And as we, ourselves enchanted, turned away from them to lose ourselves in our e-mail, we did not sufficiently teach the importance of empathy and attention to what is real.”

Great stuff. Read it. 🙂