I’m very excited to announce my friend Steve Jackowski has launched a new book chronicling his experiences, guidance and lessons learned working in Silicon Valley. Steve and I had a chance to work together in the past and I have always been amazed by his balance of building great product and building awesome teams.
In the Silicon Lathe, Steve hopes to pass along his wisdom to other entrepreneurs doing business in SV and what it takes to create a successful business.
Q. What was the motivation to write this book?
A. I’ve always wanted to write.
For most people starting to write fiction is difficult, so I decided to
start with my life story and fictionalize it. I had an interesting career
in the Silicon Valley, encountering many major players along the way.
Some made it honestly, some stabbed people in the back, and quite a few
brilliant people, with earth-changing technologies, were trampled by forces
they never expected. I think Silicon Valley is very fertile ground for an
author. They used to say there were eight million stories in the Naked
City (New York). I suspect there are at least that many stories in the
Silicon Valley. Wherever there is money to be made or power to be gained,
you’re going to see the best and worst come out of people as they strive to
succeed (whatever that means to each individual).
Q. Given your passion for technology and recreation, how have these two passions influenced your view of how to run a business?
A. California is seen by the world
as a place of movie stars, high tech geniuses, and extreme sport
fanatics. While I don’t know much about movie stars, I do know quite a
bit about the other two. I am a fanatic about my many sports and I have
been a fanatic about new technologies. I’m a strong believer in a work
hard, play hard philosophy and have encouraged all of my employees to follow my
example. I’ve always felt that if you give people the flexibility in
their work schedules to do what they need to do outside of work, whether
family, health, sports, or other interests, they’ll work that much harder when
they do work. This is particularly true if you can give them significant
challenges and enough autonomy to apply all of their skills, even if these skills
are not obvious to management.
Q. What are the new challenges for getting start-ups off the ground today versus when you started your first business?
A. With new technologies available
and unprecedented connectivity and social networking, I see it as both easier
and harder to get a start-up off the ground. When I started, the concept
of a virtual office didn’t exist. You needed people in the same room at
the same time to launch any project. Today, you could build a start-up
with people who are physically disparate, even located on the other side of the
globe. Add in social networking and you can create a start-up quite
easily with less capital. On the other hand, people are much more
expensive, so starting up can be more difficult. In addition, competition
for ideas is fierce and time to market is even more critical. A start-up
usually can’t afford to take years to get a product out.
Q. What guidance would you give new Founders regarding scaling their business?
A. This depends on what they hope to accomplish. If they are looking to build a sustainable business, I’d say delay venture investment as long as possible. Build a rock solid business with reliable income and take outside money when you’re in the strongest position possible. When you do, make sure you know exactly what you’re going to do with the funding. Then stick to the plan and don’t let the Venture Capitalists push you into spending their money faster than necessary. That just leads to a dependency on them you don’t want to have.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to get rich quick and don’t care about a sustainable business, get a prototype going as quickly as possible and shop it thoroughly to get the best deal on a venture round. Bet big and go for it win or lose.
Personally, I like the first
approach. It will make you money. I managed to build three
successful startups and while I’m not a billionaire, I can’t complain. I
was fortunate enough never to see a failure of one of my businesses. The
other approach might make you billions, but you’re more likely to end
failing. If you have the temperament to dust yourself off and try again,
you just might make it.
Q. Describe the ideal team culture
A. I would say the most successful
profile are supremely confident people whose egos are so strong, have no fear
of criticism and who have no fear of admitting to a problem or even a failure.
Each person on the team can realistically recognize his/her individual
strengths or weaknesses and don’t get defensive over the weaknesses.
Mutual respect among the team members is critical even if their
skills/responsibilities are different. Most important, leadership that
enables each individual to thrive in his/her efforts, and who recognizes that
each member is a contributor to the team and the final results: an all for one,
one for all philosophy.
Q. Do you think Silicon Valley will continue to be the center of the universe for innovation?
A. When I first saw this question, I thought I was going to respond that of course Silicon Valley would lose its place as the center of the universe for innovation. But as I thought about it more, I thought about places like Paris, New York, and Hollywood. For decades or even centuries, these cities have retained their places as cultural and financial centers. Sometimes I think it’s the mystique that enables a place to continue its role. That mystique or reputation attracts people.
Technology and innovation are
happening everywhere, but people are intrigued by Silicon Valley. They
gravitate there. They want to be part of what’s happening here just as
wanna-be movie stars or directors go to Hollywood, as budding financial
geniuses move to New York, as writers, artists, and musicians move to
Paris. If this keeps happening with Silicon Valley, and there’s no reason
it shouldn’t, I think it’s quite possible that Silicon Valley will remain the
Center of the Universe for Technical Innovation for some time to come.
Q. What other information would you like people to have about you and your book?
A. This is my first novel. I tried
to capture the passion for technology and for the California lifestyle that
drives people to the Silicon Valley. Much like the gold rush, people
come here blindly, dazzled by the possibilities of fame, fortune and unparalleled
opportunity. Like the gold rush, the rush to Silicon Valley does not
bring riches to everyone. In fact, it brings disaster to many.
Still there is something to be said for recreational side. Most won’t be
disappointed with that. The Silicon Lathe is my attempt to show the
Silicon Valley as it is (or was, as it evolved over the last 30+ years).
Steve Jackowski is a writer, extreme sports enthusiast, serial entrepreneur, technologist. Born into a military family, Steve traveled extensively throughout the US and overseas, attending fifteen schools before graduating from High School. After studying mathematics, computer science, comparative literature and French at the University of California, Steve began his career with IBM as a software engineer. He later founded three successful high-tech startups. A former competition hang glider pilot, Steve continues to surf, ski, kayak whitewater, and dance Salsa with his wife Karen whenever possible.
Learn more about Steve at www.stevejackowski.com