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.

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