Tag Archives: Silicon Valley

How Venture Capitalists Are Deforming Capitalism

This is the title of a great article from the not less great New Yorker, dated November 23, 2020 and written by Charles Duhigg:

How Venture Capitalists Are Deforming Capitalism,
Even the worst-run startup can beat competitors if investors prop it up. The V.C. firm Benchmark helped enable WeWork to make one wild mistake after another—hoping that its gamble would pay off before disaster struck.

Illustration by Golden Cosmos (from the New Yorker article)

I am infringing copyright here and hope the magazine and author will forgive me. But the illustration says so well what the author describes! Yes, for a few years now, venture capital has become a crazy money spending machine.

I already posted blog about VC crises as over time the activity as evolved. From frugal investors in technology in the 60s and particularly in the 70s (Apple, Microsoft,..) and 80s (Cisco, Sun, …) The internet “bubble” was not the first period of hubris, there was one in the early eighties with tons of PC clones. But the real hubris came with the social media. Today, startups raise hundreds of millions of dollars before going public and experience huge, huge losses even at IPO as you may want to check in my 600 startups analysis (and it will be probably even worse in my 700 startups analysis to come). Here are past articles:

September 2020: Theranos, the (not so)-Silicon Valley biggest scandal ever – https://www.startup-book.com/2020/09/12/theranos-the-not-so-silicon-valley-biggest-scandal-ever/

April 2016: Is the Venture Capital model broken? – https://www.startup-book.com/2016/04/26/is-the-venture-capital-model-broken/

January 2016: Is Silicon Valley crazy (again)? – https://www.startup-book.com/2016/01/28/is-silicon-valley-crazy-again/

January 2011: Is there something rotten in the kingdom of VC? –

At this point read carefully what venture capital was according to the author of the article: From the start, venture capitalists have presented their profession as an elevated calling. They weren’t mere speculators—they were midwives to innovation. The first V.C. firms were designed to make money by identifying and supporting the most brilliant startup ideas, providing the funds and the strategic advice that daring entrepreneurs needed in order to prosper. For decades, such boasts were merited. Genentech, which helped invent synthetic insulin, in the nineteen-seventies, succeeded in large part because of the stewardship of the venture capitalist Tom Perkins, whose company, Kleiner Perkins, made an initial hundred-thousand-dollar investment. Perkins demanded a seat on Genentech’s board of directors, and then began spending one afternoon a week in the startup’s offices, scrutinizing spending reports and browbeating inexperienced executives. In subsequent years, Kleiner Perkins nurtured such tech startups as Amazon, Google, Sun Microsystems, and Compaq. When Perkins died, in 2016, at the age of eighty-four, an obituary in the Financial Times remembered him as “part of a new movement in finance that saw investors roll up their sleeves and play an active role in management.”

But some famous experts of innovation are quoted about the current situation:

Steve Blank: “I’ve watched the industry become a money-hungry mob. V.C.s today aren’t interested in the public good. They’re not interested in anything except optimizing their own profits and chasing the herd, and so they waste billions of dollars that could have gone to innovation that actually helps people.” and his answer to the crisis is quite strong: “The first time you see a venture capitalist prosecuted for failing to uphold their duty as a board member, you’re going to see Silicon Valley transform overnight. All it takes is one V.C. doing a perp walk and everyone gets the message—you’re responsible, you have a legal duty, and if you do things that are bad for society you’ll be called to account.”

Martin Kenney, the professor at the University of California, Davis, said, “Obama loved Silicon Valley and V.C.s, and Trump craved their approval.” He went on, “Regulators have been totally defanged from doing real investigations of venture-capital firms. I think people are finally waking up to the damage the tech industry and V.C.s can do, but it’s slow going.” Today’s V.C.s, “money-losing firms can continue operating and undercutting incumbents for far longer than previously.”

Josh Lerner, a professor at Harvard Business School: “Proclaiming founder loyalty is kind of expected now.”

A Harvard Business School professor, Nori Gerardo Lietz, noted that the document exposed WeWork’s “byzantine corporate structure, the continuing projected losses, the plethora of conflicts, the complete absence of any substantive corporate governance, and the uncommon ‘New Age’ parlance,” the S-1 was “misleading, and probably fraudulent.”

I will finish my post with a quote mentioned by Bruce Dunlevie, the partner from Benchmark who was one the WeWork boardmember, a task he did not handled perfectly even if not that badly. Nothing to add. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton and the rest of the quote (not mentioned in the article) is “Great men are almost always bad men…”

Airbnb files to go public – the last giant?

Airbnb just filed to go public. Finally! It maybe the last IPO of the recent giants (and not the latest only), these giants which emerged in the 21st century, such as

and of course is the cap.table, not that far from what I had tried to guess in 2017 in www.startup-book.com/2017/03/13/what-is-the-equity-structure-of-uber-and-airbnb/

The Microchip Revolution (Final Part)

I just finished reading The Microchip Revolution about which I wrote for posts here, there and there. This is a beautiful recollection of what Silicon Valley brought to the world. The revolution began with the Traitorous Eight who looked like this when young

and like that a few years later (from the New York Times Julius Blank, Who Built First Chip Maker, Dies at 86)

Fairchild Semiconductor’s founders in 1988. Victor Grinich (left), Jay Last, Jean Hoerni, Julius Blank, Eugene Kleiner, Sheldon Roberts, Robert N. Noyce (seated, left,) and Gordon E. Moore. Credit: Terrence McCarthy

I could not finish this history witout some cap. tables, the ones of companies mentioned here, that I could build: Intel, AMD, Cypress, IDT, Lam Research. I desesperately looked for data about Intersil, but neither the SEC nor Thomson Reuters could help me. Will you?

and as a postcript on Oct 13. 2020, Micron Technology, which had every unusual local investors from Idaho with a convertible loan structure:

The Microchip revolution (part III) : the maturity

You will find part I here and part II there. If the 60s were the early days which ended with the oil crisis in 73, the maturity came in the 80s with a second crisis coming from Japanese competition.

There was still a lot of uncertainty as the authors show in the chapters dedicated to Cypress, IDT, Micron. For example:

Another example about the uncertainty around which technology was superior for memory products at the time is that in 1986, when I was a founder of a semiconductor startup company with a business plan predicated on making bipolar RAM products. This was Synergy Semiconductor. We were funded by two premier Sand Hill Road venture capital firms, Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Funds. Even these supposedly smart VC partners couldn’t predict the superiority of the MOS technology in the memory chip business. Rodgers and Cypress made the correct bet on CMOS. It is also interesting that Sequoia Capital invested in Synergy with bipolar technology and Cypress with CMOS technology, thereby covering their bets. (Synergy never went public, struggled for 10 years and was eventually bought by Micrel.)

Intel didn’t believe that they needed CMOS for their memory or processor products for years. They knew that CMOS was a more complex process, and therefore more expensive, and they were not yet dealing with the high-power limitations of their process. Intel did not switch to CMOS for memory products until 1986. [Page 260]

Entrepreneurship is the ability to face these uncertainties and also to act by taking risks:

I already knew that [Rodgers] was a special guy, very smart, in great shape, from running every day and probably a risk taker, but this was nuts [diving in a dangerous place in Hawaii]. What if the timing was wrong and he gets sucked into the tube? How will I get help, it is a 15-minute walk over lava. But he did it. And then he jumped it. He did it twice! This event defines Rodgers. He is self-assured, even egotistical, but able to back up his decisions with actions and willing to take risks even if the parameters are not totally known. Shortly after the lava leaping escapade, he quit AMD and started Cypress Semiconductors. [Page 252]

While he was still at AMD, [Rodgers] got a call from a venture capitalist who was doing reference checks on an executive and inventor while at Fairchild and who also trying to raise money to start a new business. This got Rodgers thinking: “If this guy can raise money and start a new business, why can’t I do it?” And he began exploring the possibility of doing just that. [Page 253]

This reminds one of my favorite quotes ever, from Tom Perkins the famous P in KPCB (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers): The difference is in psychology: everybody in Silicon Valley knows somebody that is doing very well in high-tech small companies, start-ups; so they say to themselves “I am smarter than Joe. If he could make millions, I can make a billion”. So they do and they think they will succeed and by thinking they can succeed, they have a good shot at succeeding. That psychology does not exist so much elsewhere.

The Microchip revolution (part II) : the very early days

If you missed Part I, it’s here. All the culture of Silicon Valley was born in these early years. Here are a few examples.

In the early days of the semiconductor, it was mainly about high-quality research: With an absentee boss, Sherman Fairchild, on the East Coast, the group could focus mainly on doing pure research, with no boss to bug them. Their main direction came from intense competition between each other. No VC or corporation would finance anything like this now! [Page 14] The authors are right. Only Google maybe is doing it with or without VC or boss approval and peer pressure is similar.

They finally make and ship their first product in 1958, 100 transistors to IBM. [Page 17]

Jack Kilby was awarded the Nobel prize in physics in 2000 for the invention of the integrated circuit. Unfortunately Bob Noyce had died 10 years earlier and Jean Hoerni passed away 3 years earlier. The Nobel prize is never awarded posthumously. The scientific community informally agreed that both Kilby and Noyce had invented the chip and that they both deserved credit. [Page 21]

Chapter 2 is about a non-startup, Hughes Research Labs, based in Los Angeles.

We did not have stock options; few of us even knew what they were. [Page 48]

Having dynamic leaders who gave free rein to ambitious young engineers and scientists meant that the engineers and researchers were stimulated by competition among themselves rather than by management layers above, which helped create an explosion of papers and patents. However, in both cases [at Fairchild and Hughes RL], the transfer of technologies from R&D to production was not easy. Although they were distinctly different organizations, both were very large corporate structures. But in the case of HRL, having R&D and production in the same physical location meant that discussions between the two groups were quite frequent.

Another difficulty was the lack of stock option program at HRL. This definitely caused significant personal turnover, especially among the non-attached young scientists who were hearing about the new utopic world, and its lucrative stock option packages, up in Silicon Valley. [Page 67]

Chapter 3: Intersil, a lost opportunity.

Another genealogy of Silicon Valley and extracted, the impact of Jean Hoerni.

Intersil was founded by Jean Hoerni, one of the eight traitors. The early days are best described as a mix of genius and chaos. The two most versatile personalities were Jean Hoerni and Don Rodgers, the VP Sales and also ex-Fairchild. Hoerni with 2 PhDs in physics was a shy genius quite the introvert but given to unpredictable mood swings. Rodgers was an extrovert. He came from the rough and tumble, hard-drinking, hard-living Fairchild sales team of the 1960s. One of the early frustrations was the ineffectiveness of the marketing department. [Page 71]

Hoerni’s contentious and rebellious personality often appealed to the young managers and engineers who were also looking for the next opportunity and also rejected conformism and authority, in part to the traumatism of the Vietnam war.

When I [Luc Bauer] started working with Hoerni, he strongly advised me not to be blindly loyal to any company, but only to my own ambition and goals. He said that if your employer doesn’t help you reach them, then you better change companies or start your own because life is too short.
[Page 74]

But Bauer talks about a missed opportunity and the reason follows: just have a look at the revenue growth of Intersil (founded in 67, IPO 72) and Intel (founded in 68, IPO 71):

Joe Rizzi, one of Intersil founders summarized his seven years at Intersil with two words: Lost opportunity. He said that all, or most of the seven product categories could have become sizeable businesses on their own, given enough care and focus to nurture their growth.
At the time, uncertainty in the market pushed to diversity of products. Intel’s narrow product focus was a risky gamble.
[Page 102]. Intersil had $572M in sales in 2014 and was acquired by Renesas in 2017. Intel is now a $71.9B business…

The Microchip Revolution by Bauer and Wilder (part I)

I felt a but of nostalgia when I received the following email : “The idea of doing a book on semiconductor startup had been teasing me for a while, I finally found a longtime buddy who has been okay with doing this book over the past 2 years. We were greatly assisted in this mission by the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, CA. The book focuses on the period from the late 1950s to the late 1990s, about the development history of MOS and CMOS industrial processes mainly but not only from the point of view of managers, but also workers in fab and fab managers that we were at the time. We describe the development of 9 companies that we knew well and that had developed original technologies: Fairchild, Hughes, Intersil, Eurosil, Intel, AMD, IDT, Cypress, and Micron. The title is The Microchip Revolution – A Brief History.” [1]

I met Luc Bauer in the early 2000s when investing in a startup he was a business angel in and a mentor. I remember how he lectured me saying that Kleiner Perkins was much more professional than we were! Luc is a gentleman which does not mean he cannot be tough when he is frustrated; when people have been working hard in Silicon valley like he did, they can be really tough! But we stayed in touch and I was so happy to begin reading his book a few days ago.


This is a poster about the Silicon Valley Genealogy of semiconductor startups from the mid 50s to the mid 80s. This is what Luc is writing about through 9 companies which I am pretty sure are on this poster. By the way, Luc is there too.

His book begins with Fairchild and the Traitorous Eight and it makes sense as it is at the beginning of the genealogy. By the way the book is dedicated to one of the eight traitors, Jean Hoerni, A Swiss national and one of the rare people I have heard about with 2 PhDs. Luc has the same double culture and double education (BS, EPFL Lausanne and MS, PhD Caltech)

So here are a few excerpts: “A good part of our motivation [for writing the book] was to relive the intensity in our lives when we started in this industry: the endless and stressful hours of looking for yield crash factors, the great excitement and shouts of joy when you see a brand new integrated circuit product coming alive and functioning perfectly when the “hot out of the furnace” processed wafer is put for the first time on the electrical test prober. Another great motivator for us was to propagate an important story to younger generations, that working in high technology fields is hard and exhausting, but also a source of joy and pride as it is easy to see the impact of your hard work on the company you work for and possibly on the workd you live in.”

Let me put this again below, in bold this time:

Another great motivator for us was to propagate an important story to younger generations, that working in high technology fields is hard and exhausting, but also a source of joy and pride as it is easy to see the impact of your hard work on the company you work for and possibly on the workd you live in.

More to come I am sure!

[1] The real email was in French: “L’idée de faire un livre sur le démarrage des semi-conducteurs me taquinait depuis un moment, j’ai finalement trouvé un copain de longue date qui a été d’accord de faire ce livre avec mois ces 2 dernières années. On été beaucoup aidé dans cette mission par le Computer History Museum (CHM) de Mountain View, CA. Le livre se concentre sur la période entre la fin des années 50 jusqu’à la fin des années 90, sur l’histoire de développement des processus industriels MOS et CMOS principalement mais pas seulement du point de vue des chefs, mais aussi des travailleurs de fab et managers de fab que nous étions à ce moment. On décrit le développement de 9 compagnies que nous connaissions bien et qui avaient développé des technologies originales: Fairchild, Hughes, Intersil, Eurosil, Intel, AMD, IDT, Cypress, et Micron. Le titre est The Microchip Revolution – A Brief History.”

A letter to and about America

While looking at old files, I found a letter, written by a family member in october 1993. At the time, I was living in California. I read it again, loved it so much for personal reasons but also found it so farseeing that I decided to share it here. Hopefully some of you will like it. If you read French, go to the French page, if not forgive my awkward translation…

Tell me, my good friends, what is America? The roughness of the confines, this impossible frontier where humans find themselves by violence stripped of lies, where the truth is revealed? The old southern lands, so carnal, so indolent, so cruel? The devastating wind gusts and hurricanes in the business that are moving people across the country? The Blacks, the Yellows, the Darks, the Goldens and the Indians who open casinos in their reservations, just to take some power from the Whites? The Indians are a faded dream, like Route 66, like the Rocky Mountain train. In Europe, paradoxically, we experience America in a visual mode more than in writing or thinking. Everyone does not read Tocqueville, but then, who is Tocqueville’s successor? There remains the image. Fake images where violence and melodrama reigned, between popcorn and ice cream, the tanned men of westerns, statues of dust and wind, the dazzling comedians of the musicals, Miles Davies, head down, dark glasses, emaciated face, pushing on his trumpet in a corner, excited suffragettes and delusional sodomites. The true and the false mix, merge. The memory stutters. De Niro continues to return to his companions, the steelmakers, on a rainy night, climbing a muddy street lined with small pavilions, in the blue-gray, monstrous and motley decor of foundries; Kennedy collapses again in the back of his big convertible car, under the bewildered look of Jackie; and I still go around Long Island and Brooklyn to approach the arrogant challenge of the Manhattan Towers. Or I fly high mountains, deserts, lakes, endless plains, where the eye hangs, staking the immensity, pressed and tight clusters of skyscrapers, mounds of the day, monuments of glass and concrete in the silence of nights, built to the glory of which unknown dead god.

I watch sometimes CBS Evening News, I see people worry about everything and anything, to the obsession. Haunted by cancer, cellulite, poisoned milk, fast weight loss, tobacco smoke, the nimble hands of men and the eyes of others. I wonder: what has become of proud America? Or did it ever exist only in presidents’ speeches on the state of the Union? What is America? Thoreau and the transcendentalists, Charles Ives, the musician insurer, who has captured better than anyone else the roar of the choral society, the feast and the provincial slowness, the immensity of the lands and the simplicity of the beings? Or Blacks who are perhaps the most American of Americans since they have really lost their roots (Africa is not a place, but a myth and rhythms while emigrants still have families, which in Sicily, which in Korea, which in Mexico, which in Ireland)? Or this “melting pot” that does not mix, but that unites because in the manner of the feudal society, the membership is aimed at people, the sworn faith, requests the individual to the noblest of itself? (Perhaps we should not laugh too much at the Bibles deposited in the hotel rooms, which symbolize the direct and intimate relationship that Protestants establish between man and his creator. Transposed, we perceive the direct relationship, transcendent of all the administrative, legal, institutional mediations that unite the American man to America: God is America. Like God, would it be inaccessible to our intellect?) We find everything, apparently in America. Would it be the store of the creator, La Samaritaine of eternity? Is America out of time? Alice in the land of rubble wanders among abandoned silos, deserted factories, discarded jerrycans, worn tires, rusted bodies, to discover in the spreading fields the unexpected, the surprising, the eternally new. America, pioneering and tired.

I say this to myself, but maybe I’m wrong. The ambiguous attitude that we Old Europeans have towards America is rather a parent-child relationship that combines ambition, hope, expectation and disappointment, surprise and misunderstanding, rapture and exasperation, tenderness and anger. Recognition, ignorance. A new being has come out of us, which prolongs us but which is not ourselves and whose destiny escapes us. America, America, the dream of the emigrant, but also in some way our dream to all of us. The new Jerusalem or the new Babylon. Something strikes, if one tries to fly over the centuries. The other side. The other side of the hills, the other side of the mountains. We are people of little witnesses, of limited horizons. Who have often quarreled, fought, gorged from valley to valley, from castle to castle, from village to village, from country to country. Less to take, if not rapine, less to enlarge than to establish a place, a domain, a territory as part of oneself, from which the other will be excluded, tolerated at best, always in an extraneous situation. And suddenly, these Lilliputians are leaving. Do you realize, my friends, what such a departure represents? It is not exactly a question of travel, of the traveler’s curiosity – there has always been Herodotus, Marco Polo. No more the trade or the wandering that follows the path of exchange. Demographics, economics, politics of the powers, religion can nourish the motivations and satisfy the historian. Still, there needs to be a higher determination that guides choices. How to name it? The call of the unknown, the will to force the destiny, the ability to face the mystery? We are lacking beings, says the philosopher. Beings of desire. To miss is to have the desire of something else, which can not be defined since one has a negative idea of it. An incredible audacity: to deny the present to open oneself to the mystery. Standing, eyes open on the horizon. To confront the immensity of the ocean and its fury, to approach lands as vast as the sea, to sink deep in immense forests, shadow cathedrals swarming with a strange life, to follow the trace of the sun in the mirages of gold of the desert, to discover bizarre, incomprehensible, wild manners, and peoples more numerous than grains of sand on the beach. But above all to be in front of the excess in the excess without yielding. And to stay, or to come back, with in the head, the distant little world, so far away, left so long ago, whose tiny outlines slowly become numb in the sleep of remembrance. What was at the heart of this obstinate will? Perhaps the secret trace of a very long memory. After all, each of us goes down more or less from distant invaders. Celts, Franks, Germans, Goths, who were our ancestors? And have we kept in the recesses of our desires the imprint of these ancient migrations?

Asia, Africa, America, all these continents were not equally offered to the coming settlers. Asia, Africa, worlds too full already or natures too difficult, too hostile. There remained America, and particularly North America, with a cowardly occupation whose Atlantic coast, at the 40th parallel, was not altogether so exotic for Europeans. The spirit of enterprise of Protestants did the rest. One could build a New England and imagine that one would reproduce while purging it in a sort of Virgilian dream the old mother Europe. What is America then? Viewed retrospectively, it can appear as the development of a simple historical conjuncture, as the fruit of chance and necessity. Or would one say such was the fate inscribed, almost from all eternity, on this piece of continent? Why do I think that, thinking of America, I have the feeling of an infinitely old reality and an unfinished promise? In this sense, if America stems from a destiny, this destiny is always to come, always remains an opening on the unexpected.

This for example, which is about understanding. We Frenchmen have the religion of a well-conducted text, according to the order of the reasons: we like a well-conducted reflection and what is more amiable than to go from the idea to its consequences; we are legislators of writing. American pragmatism tends to advance general ideas that are supported by the analysis of facts. [I put this in bold, it was not in the letter.] This does not free them from prejudices, but gives them a powerful mobility and protects them against the excess of systems. But I believe that in the intellectual crisis that we are going through, we will not be able to find the way if we do not find a satisfactory understanding of the multiple and multiplicity, which is blocked, or at least thwarted, by the need for a unitary interpretation, a deeply rooted need as it comes from Christian theology and its Hebrew antecedents. Because America is essentially multiple, because the unitary is at home only the means to associate and coordinate these multiplicities in the faith in America and the faith in the individual, perhaps the novel thoughts will come from across the Atlantic. And as usual, we will systematize them. For the pleasure of order. Eternal youth of America? But what is America?

Forgive me for writing to you so late. (I hope this overloaded letter will come to you.) Thank you for giving me some news. So few people do it. But I am a bad letter-writer. I run after the money that runs after clever evils and I miss the time.
I kiss you,
Georges, October 2, 1993.

The Code – Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America – by Margaret O’Mara

About 15 years ago, I was challenged by a colleague, who knew my passion about Silicon Valley, about why the region should survive and lead for the years or even decades to come. I had just arrived at EPFL and now that I am leaving this place where there are many people I love, I could give the same answer to my colleague: the talent and capital gathered there, with an expertise which seems to be never lost and an appetite for experiments and risk with not too much fear of failure, at least no stigma, are reasons why Silicon Valley has a bright future. Yes it has many drawbacks and weaknesses, but even when there is a major crisis, there is stil, whatever we think, enough diversity to continue to strive.

Margaret O’Mara probably thinks the same. At least she has written one of the most comprehensive history of the region and describes brilliantly all its strong and weak, positive and negative attributes.

The Code
Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
By Margaret O’Mara

You have to think of it like a horse race, Morgenthaler would explain. That’s how the high-tech game worked. The horse was the technology. The race was the market. The entrepreneur was the jockey. And the fourth and last ingredient was the owner and trainer – the high-tech investor. You could have the best jockey, but if he rode a slow horse, then you wouldn’t win. Same thing if you have a fast horse but a terrible jockey. Great technology without good people running the shop wouldn’t get very far. And the race had to have good stakes. Riding a fast horse to win at the country fait wouldn’t reap many rewards, but the Kentucky Derby was another matter indeed. So it went with the market. These needed to be customers and growth, not saturation. [Pages 11-12] (You can check the Computer Museum archive about Morgenthalerhere (as a pdf).)

The flow wasn’t about transfer of technology, it was about talent – about people who moved back and forth from the labs of Stanford to the offices of its research park to the ramshackle warehouses and prefab office buildings that began stretching southward down El Camino Real. Everywhere else in the 1950s, academia was a true ivory tower, surrounded by impregnable walls between town and gown, between “pure” research and business enterprise. At Stanford, those walls dissolved. [Page 32]

“Inventions come from individuals,” observed Regis McKenna, “not from companies.” [Page 152]

“Good ideas and good products are a dime a dozen,” [Arthur Rock] later explained. “Good execution and good management – in a word, good people – are rare.”

More controversial maybe is John Doerr’s comment: Much later, one of the regions most successful and influential VCs, John Doerr, got in hot water after admitting that a major factor guiding his decisions was “pattern recognition.” The most successful entrepreneurs, he found, “all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life. So when I see that pattern coming in”, he concluded, “it was very easy to decide to invest.” [Page 76]

After HP went public in November 1957, fortunes rose along with its share price. Yet from the start, the two founders consciously presented their firm as a business concerned with higher and better things. “I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money,” Packard once told HP managers. “While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper to find the real reasons for our being.” Nonhierarchical, friendly, a change-the-world ethos paired with an unflagging focus on market growth and the bottom line – HP created the blueprint for generations of Silicon Valley companies to come. [Page 33]

The missile maker, the entrepreneurial university, the distinctive business sensibility, the professional networks, the government money, the elite (and homogeneous) workforce: many of the key ingredients were coming together in Palo Alto by the middle of the 1950s. [Page 38]

O’Mara combines anecdotes, stories and economic trends. For example, more than 500 companies went public in 1969. Only 4 did in 1975. […] in 1969, the national venture capital industry had raised more than $170 million in new investment. In 1975, it raised a paltry $22 million. What’s more, only one venture investment in four went to tech companies. [Page 158]

She shows there were thousands of similar (and unknown) companies to the one which became phenomenal success. In parallel to Apple, there had been ProcTech (or Processor Technology), IMSAI, Cromemco, Xitan, Polymorphic. Vector Graphic, with an initial $6’000 investment in 1976 reached 4’000 units and $400’000 in sales in 12 months, and $25M fiver years later. By 1977, there were 50,000 personal computers in use. [Pages 144-6]

(A side comment about a book I did not know of: The Innovation Millionaires: How They Succeed by Gene Bylinsky (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1976.)

She also clearly illustrates the role of public intervention and support. One story I did not know about is how much John Doerr was involved in fighting proposition 211 in 1996. It shows that despite the general view that Silicon Valley has no interest in politics, on the contrary, many individuals and institutions are much more interested than generally thought. (See Proposition 211 ) [Section The Litigator – Pages 333-8]

Similarly, the complexity of things is illustrated with Peter Thiel, a famous Libertarian, a strong advocate of weak states and of President Trump: he is the (funding) founder of Palantir, a startup which most revenues at least early in its history, came from the government… [Pages 384-7]

But culture is never far. When Russian president Medvedev visited Silicon Valley in 2010 to try and understand the region’s secrets, he concluded that there simply wasn’t enough appetite for risk. “It’s a problem of culture as Steve Jobs told me today. We need to change the mentality.” [Page 388]

So Silicon Valley’s success does not stop… “By mid-2018, Facebook had made 67 acquisitions, Amazon had made 91, and Google had made 214.” [Page 391] Let us remember tough that in the GAFAM group, 2 companies are not based in Silicon Valley, showing how powerful the region is, just in terms of perception! Let me just add here an old post about startups M&As: Cisco A&D published in 2016.

It is also from an architectural standpoint as mention on Page 392. With the new Facebook building in 2015, or Amazon biospheres and Apple Park.

And there is a lot of money made. Google has a few years after its IPO more than 1’000 employees or former employees with a $5M wealth including an in-house massage therapist. [Page 392]

As a conclusion of my reading, a final quote:

“As wealth grew, so did the mythos around how Silicon Valley was able to generate one innovative company after another. It was about allowing risks and not penalizing failure, they’d say. It was about putting engineering first – finding the best technical talent, with no bias about origin or pedigree. It was about that “pattern recognition” so fatefully identified by John Doerr, looking for the next Stanford or Harvard dropout with a wild but brilliant idea.

Of all those assertions, Doerr’s slip-up came closest to the heart of the Valley’s secret. “West Coast investors aren’t bolder because they are irresponsible cowboys, or because the good weather makes them optimistic”, wrote Paul Graham, founder of the Valley’s most influential tech incubator, Y Combinator, in 2007. “They’re bolder because they know what they’re doing.” The Valley power players knew tech, knew the people, and knew the formula that worked.

They looked for “grade-A men” (who very occasionally were women) from the nation’s best engineering and computer science programs, or from the most promising young companies, and who had validation from someone else they already knew. They sought out those exhibiting the competitive fire of a Gates or a Zuckerberg, the focus and design ascetism of Kapor or Andreessen or Brin and Page. They funded those who were working on a slightly better version of something already being attempted – a better search engine, a better social network. They surrounded these lucky entrepreneurs with support and seasoned talent; they got their names in the media and their faces on the stage at each premier conferences. They picked winners, and because of the accumulated experience and connections in the Valley, those they picked often won.” [Pages 399-400]

The Ideology of Silicon Valley by Fred Turner and Jean-Pierre Dupuy (among others)

Excellent issue of the famous French review Esprit on The Ideology of Silicon Valley. You’ll find contibutions by Emmanuel Alloa, Jean-Baptiste Soufron, Fred Turner, Shoshana Zuboff, Antonio Casilli and Jean-Pierre Dupuy.

I was especially struck by the surprising interview with Fred Turner: Do not be Evil. Utopias, borders and brogrammers. This is in fact a translation from LogicMag, which you can find here: Don’t Be Evil. It is really worth reading! It is his explanation of the roots of Silicon Valley that surprised me the most and how they still influence today this region which in the end is not very ideological, even if the other authors have different points of view.

For example: “It owes its origins to 1960s communalism. A brief primer on the counterculture: there were actually two countercultures. One, the New Left, did politics to change politics. It was very much focused on institutions, and not really afraid of hierarchy. The other—and this is where the tech world gets its mojo—is what I’ve called the New Communalists. Between 1966 and 1973, we had the largest wave of commune building in American history. These people were involved in turning away from politics, away from bureaucracy, and toward a world in which they could change their consciousness. They believed small-scale technologies would help them do that. They wanted to change the world by creating new tools for consciousness transformation.” Then on the influence today: “It varies depending on the company. Apple is, in some ways, very cynical. It markets utopian ideas all the time. It markets its products as tools of utopian transformation in a countercultural vein. It has co-opted a series of the emblems of the counterculture, starting as soon as the company was founded. At other companies, I think it’s very sincere. I’ve spent a lot of time at Facebook lately, and I think they sincerely want to build what Mark Zuckerberg calls a more connected world. Whether their practice matches their beliefs, I don’t know. About ten years back, I spent a lot of time inside Google. What I saw there was an interesting loop. It started with, “Don’t be evil.” So then the question became, “Okay, what’s good?” Well, information is good. Information empowers people. So providing information is good. Okay, great. Who provides information? Oh, right: Google provides information. So you end up in this loop where what’s good for people is what’s good for Google, and vice versa. And that is a challenging space to live in.”

Jean-Pierre Dupuy in “The New Data Science” brilliantly explains there is no data science. Science is about causes, data are more about correlations which can not really help in predictions (I hope I understood his message!). Let me quote one sentence: “The ideology that accompanies big data, meanwhile, announces the advent of new scientific practices that, putting the theoretical requirement in the background, endanger the advance of knowledge and, more importantly, undermine the foundations of a rational ethic.” Really brilliant!

Steve Jobs in Paris in 1984

My friends at INRIA just mentioned to me a short but great interview of Steve Jobs by French Television in 1984, when he was asked if France could have similar start-ups to Silicon Valley. Here is his answer:

Even if you hear more the French translation, you can hear his voice too:
– Research level is good but concrete applications seem to be a problem, and this is an important step for innovation
– This is coming from a lack of companies ready to try
– The risk is seldom taken by large corporations, but by small ones
– You need many small firm with talented students and venture capital
– You also need champions you take as models, that enable saying “innovation is this”
– There is a more subtle problem, a cultural one: in Europe, failure is serious. If you fail in Europe right after university, it follows you for ever. In the USA, we keep failing all the time.
– What you also need is a solid software industry, because software is the new oil. You need hundreds of small firms and then you can dominate an industry.
– You need talented students, a good understanding of technology and encougare young people to create small firms.
– It’s all about private initiative. Big companies should not interfere, neither the government should. We should let entrepreneurs own it.

Thirty-five years later, is the situation different? And if he was still alive, would he say the same things? I let you judge …