Coming to San Francisco for the first time in a few years brings home how much it has been transformed. Whatever you call what is happening — a boom, a bubble or a flood of money into what was known as new technology before the “new” became redundant — has augmented the city’s reality.
Tom Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, made a terrible mistake by comparing criticism of rich Americans – the “1 per cent” – to the Kristallnacht attack on Jews in Germany in 1938. Mr Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, has since apologised.
Thousands of chief executives, politicians, leaders of non-governmental organisations and media folk are once again assembled in Davos for their annual debates on how to improve the world. It is a worthy affair, with “stakeholders” discussing how best to combine business with societal good, like an ersatz global parliament.
Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat (AP)
Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.
But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.
In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more
Many years back, an American friend who was visiting London from New York remarked on the odd way in which people were walking around with blocks of plastic held to their ears. “Why don’t they just use normal phones?” she asked.
About a year ago I was in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, gazing down at the Golden Gate Bridge from one of Larry Ellison’s many spectacular homes. The Oracle chief executive wasn’t there – he had lent the house out for a reception. In any case, he would be the last person to apologise for enjoying the fruits of his success. But the view from technology executives’ balconies is getting stormier. After banks and bankers, could they be next to feel the sting of a populist backlash?
Facebook investors: you have been warned. The last time I was in Silicon Valley was 12 years ago, in the very week that the Nasdaq crashed, marking the end of the dotcom boom. That I should fly back into San Francisco on the eve of the social network’s initial public offering cannot be a good omen.
I’m not here to write about Facebook – for expert insights, read the analysis of my San Francisco-based colleagues or the FT Lex team – but the IPO overshadows most discussions. What strikes me is how entrepreneurs, technology executives and analysts I’ve met are reluctant to talk publicly about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. Ask them what they think about him and they tend to preface their remarks with a polite request that this part of the interview should be off the record. Read more