The entrepreneurial neighborhood of Palo Alto

Something is in the water in the neighborhood surrounding Emerson Street in Palo Alto. View map of neighborhood.

This is the neighborhood that’s brought us Google. Paypal. Facebook. HP. Java. BarCamp. Among other things.

But the entrepreneurialism doesn’t end with the big tech names. Gordon Biersch, a popular chain of microbreweries, started on this street.

I first learned about some of the entrepreneurial activity happening in the shadows of bigger companies back when I first took my car to a little garage in this neighborhood back in the early 1990s. If you visit Ole’s Car Shop you’ll meet Ole Christensen. This is no ordinary mechanic. He was so sick of the management systems available to car mechanics that he wrote his own in Microsoft Access and Visual Basic.

He’s not the only guy who has a college degree that’s coming up with new ways to run small businesses in this neighborhood.

On Thursday I went roaming around the neighborhood looking for other entrepreneurial stories.

Mahmut Keskekci, Owner of Sumner Frames

I met up with Mahmut Keskekci. He’s worked in a small retail store, Richard Sumner Gallery, in this neighborhood for 23 years. He moved here from Turkey and has a degree in Electrical Engineering. What does he do now?

He frames Silicon Valley’s most expensive artwork at the shop he now owns, Richard Sumner Gallery. Just a couple of weeks ago he had a million-dollar Picaso in his shop. Today he’s hosting professional photographer Marc Silber, blog, who swears by Mahmut’s work.

Marc Silber, pro photographer

I met up with Mahmut and Marc in the shop and videoed them. Here’s Marc talking about his photography and why he loves Mahmut’s work. Mahmut told me he does framing for the local Stanford University hospital, and local museums, among others. The video gets a little choppy, cause I’m using my cell phone but you get an idea of Mahmut’s philosophy. I restarted the video and we continue the discussion of Marc’s photography and Mahmut’s framing work.

Marc Silber and Mahmut Keskekci

This afternoon if you drop by the gallery you’ll meet both Marc and Mahmut at 3 p.m. for the opening of Marc’s exhibition.

Jessica Gilmartin, co-owner of Fraiche Yogurt -- new Silicon Valley hot spot to hang out

If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the Fraiche Yogurt Shop where you’ll probably meet Jessica Gilmartin, co-owner. She gave up a job in finance to follow her dream of owning her own business. Instantly you’ll see that she has created something special. Just ask the customers, which includes famous Facebook employees and venture capitalists like Jeff Clavier, who says: “People, these things are SOOOO good. You have to try them out.” (I caught him eating one of Jessica’s treats).

Her store was packed the day I came in. I asked Jessica what her secret was (the shop has been open less than a year and it’s rare that such a new retail business gets so busy so fast). She said she was lucky to have a location nearby Facebook, which brings her lots of customers, but then she started talking about her product. Says she’s one of the only stores in the United States that makes their own yogurt on site. She also said that she spends almost every moment of her life in the store and watching her serve customers I realized that she not only is putting in the hours, but also pouring her soul into her work.

Fraiche Yogurt

Chocolate block in Yogurt shop

She told me that she wanted to make treats that were healthy, not just sweet. Even her toppings are pretty unique with a good mixture of fruit, nuts, and a block of chocolate that caught my attention.

Anyway, if you find me in the shop, now you know why. Damn these things are yummy!

Jessica Gilmartin serves at Fraiche Yogurt

More photos from my walk around the neighborhood are on my Flickr feed along with some snaps I made of Larry Lessig. Maybe I’ll see you over at the yogurt shop this afternoon. Who knows what kind of entrepreneur you’ll run into there!

The “ventures” we need…

I just read Dave Winer’s essay on the future of the venture capital industry.

Ditto. Great insight. One thing before I start thinking, I always thought it was bizarre that entrepreneurs couldn’t get funded when they needed it (when the economy sucked and they needed a little revenue to get them through the rough patch). Anyway…

…then I started thinking. Yeah, I know, that’s dangerous. ūüėČ

What are the “ventures” the entrepreneurs actually need?

See, in the 1980s, they needed money. Why? Cause the growth was in computers and other electronics goods. I worked on an assembly line at Hewlett Packard one summer in the early 1980s. Why did these (and smaller startups like Apple or Atari back in the early 80s) need money? Cause building physical machines costs money. Assembly lines. People. Materials. There was a high marginal cost of goods.

But today’s world isn’t money constrained. You don’t need much money to build software or services.

Today’s world is mostly an audience aggregation one. At least that’s where the money is. Think about it. What does Google do? Gather audiences! How about Yahoo’s Flickr? Or Microsoft’s (More on that in the next post about guitarist Robert Fripp, don’t miss that one).

So, if money isn’t in short supply (it’s not, which is why being a venture capitalist right now is actually very tough work) what is? Here’s some ideas of “ventures” that we need:

1) Venture USERS. How do you build a Flickr? Get half a million users. But how do you get there? After all, there are hundreds of services vying for our attention right now. So, anyone who can provide a network of users is going to be valued. Got a network of users that listen to you? You’ll be sought after.

2) Venture Search Juicers. If you are an audience starved startup how¬†do you exist if you aren’t in the first page of Google results for what you want to be known for?¬†So, how do you get there? You gotta get people who have search engine juice to link to you. You need “Venture SJ’s” (for search juicers) to be in your network. You think you can just get a few bloggers to link to you? That’s increasingly going to be difficult. Wanna come and look at my “blog this” folder? It has 2321 items in it. So, how you gonna get noticed in that kind of world?

3) Venture advertising. You’re in the audience aggregation business now, remember? How do you get an audience? Well, you won’t get one if no one has heard of you. So, if you can advertise services (say, if you’re particularly talented in front of a video camera, like, Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom) you’ll be sought after.

4) Venture offices and IT. If you’re a geek who can build cool things in Ruby on Rails what’s the last thing you want to worry about? Having an office in which to work and all that entails (stocking the frige, answering the email and phones, paying the bills). Got a way to bring those services to a number of startups for less than anyone else? (I saw such an operation working in a house on Sand Hill Road) Then you’ll be sought after.

5) Venture deep technical help. Let’s be honest. The skills to get a prototype service up and working are far different than making it work for 10 million users. Building UI’s in Ruby on Rails is a lot easier than building a server farm that can handle exponentially-growing loads. So, can you build a network where you share one tech team among a group of startups? Then you’ll add value to the whole network and be sought after. I saw just this happening at startups in Silicon Valley where one deeply-skilled¬†tech guy was shared among three or four startups.

6) Venture marketing. Hey, every entrepreneur needs a logo, business cards, stickers and swag to hand out at shows, and other things. But, you don’t need a full-time graphic artist. So, the new Venture capitalist who has a graphic designer shared among his or her network will add value and be sought after. At Microsoft I’m really a “venture marketer.” Every team doesn’t need a guy who can get 100,000 views on a video shot with a camcorder. So, I’m shared among many teams. Same skill is gonna be needed at every startup (but only an hour at a time).

7) Venture ideas. I’ve hung around the industry now to realize that there are a few people who generate far better and far more ideas than anyone else. Microsoft has one of those guys. His name is Eric Horvitz. He owns the most patents at Microsoft and I believe he has about twice the number of the person who is in the #2 spot. Now, you probably couldn’t afford him full time (I’m sure that other multi-billion-dollar companies even regularly bid against us for his time) but you might be able to, say, rent Dave Winer or Steve Wozniak or, even, Matt Mullenweg, to come out and give you some ideas for a day. So, “venture IG’s” (Idea Generators) will be sought after.

8) Venture PR. I remember the days when startups would need to hire a PR company for something like $15,000 per month (and that was for a low-cost set of services, some services would run many times higher than that and often required handing over some of your equity to get really great services). But, in today’s world of blogs the skills needed aren’t as big. You need someone who can deal with the new PR (even the big companies are realizing this, Nokia has a program to send phones out to bloggers so they can try them out). Get a new set of PR skills which can help you build an audience fast and you’ll be sought after.

9) Venture testers. You just spent four years at Carnegie Mellon coming up with a great robotic or speech recognition idea. But now you need testers and other people to help you finish off your project. The network that can help you with those will be sought after.

10) Venture management. You’re two kids from Stanford. You’ve built a team of 20 geeks. Some in SF, some in London or Cork, some in China. But just keeping 20 people working together is not your core skill and it’s making you unhappy. So, you need some really great managers to help you out. The network that can help you will be sought after.

11) Venture evangelists. Hey, I’ll be honest, when I see something that excites me I want to have a piece of the company. It makes me even more evangelistic if I know my own bucks are on the line. Ahh, sorry, Dave Winer already made that point. So, I guess I should have stopped at 10 “ventures” that are needed.

You got any others? If you’re an entrepreneur, which ones are you willing to give up some equity to get?

Small ideas, big companies

Turns out in the past hour I’ve met strategists from eBay, Yahoo, Amazon. They are here to see the small ideas. Some of them are pretty cool.

Here’s my favorites of what I saw at the Entrepreneur 27¬†event that just concluded at Stanford University.

Flagr. Take a cell phone. With a camera preferably. Walk into a sushi restaurant. Take a picture of the front, of the menu. Of the food. Write a little review. Send it to Flagr. It puts it on top of a Google map. Very cool. Limited window to make money, though. This is too big an idea to be ignored by Google/Yahoo/Microsoft for long. In the meantime Flagr is it. Here’s a photo of the Flagr team with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington.

Skobee. No, this isn’t named after me. Heh. But, let’s say you want to find something to do tonight. So you email your five friends asking what’s up. That all causes a flurry of email. But, while that flurry of email is going on Skobee is listening in and is keeping track of what you’re talking about and builds a site for you automatically (and, if you’re clueless, it helps you find something fun to do).

Billmonk. When Buzz and Doc and I shared a room Buzz picked up the hotel room and he said “you owe me some money when you get your expenses back.” Turns out Doc owes him money too. How do you keep track of situations like that? Billmonk. And you can do it from your cell phone. Text 60×3 to Billmonk and it’ll automatically create an entry that says your friends owe you $20 each.

LicketyShip. When Robert Pazornik, co-founder of LicketyShip was hanging out with his buddies in Yale they wondered why they couldn’t apply small-idea thinking to the shipping business. FedEx and UPS had done the big idea (moving boxes around by shipping through a hub). But they were at their local computer store one day wondering why they couldn’t move a box of toner down the street in a few hours. LicketyShip is their answer. They found that in certain areas they can use existing courier networks and a smart database of their locations to ship packages across town in less than two hours. The eBay and Amazon strategians were first to visit their table, they have an impressive small idea. Ever want to email a 200MB video file to someone? I have. Yeah, I’m an edge case but there are other reasons you’ll need online storage. Backup. Moving servers. And such. is the answer. They have a cool gadget for the Google online page (I’m trying to get them to build one for too so you can play with your server-based files while you check the weather.

I met Michael Arrington of TechCrunch there too. He says he’ll have a review up shortly of the event (update, it’s up). I said “I’ll stay here and beat you.” ūüôā

I love the valley!

Scoble’s boring, Tom says, but Phillip ruins it with 3D RSS reader

I am going to MacWorld on Friday. Why? To be a little less boring. Huh? Well, Tom Bridge says I’m boring cause I’m not a Mac fan. Oh, where were you in 1989 when I was fighting for Macs? Or, in 1991 when I was in an Apple commercial? (I actually was, someday I’ll let you see that).

Personally, I’d rather hang out with Phillip Torrone. Why? Cause he has a 3D RSS reader (photos here). Point your Tablet PC (boring!) toward the north and my blog comes up. Point it south and Dave Winer’s blog comes up. Point it east and…¬†

Phillip¬†used a Tablet PC that has tilt sensors to build a pretty wacky RSS reader. Why? “It’s pretty fun,” he told me. Oh, Phillip, you’re gonna ruin this whole boring post, aren’t you? Heheh.

Don’t know who Phillip is? He is an editor on Make Magazine which definitely isn’t boring.

Of mice and blogs…

Today I took Maryam and Patrick over to see Douglas Engelbart. He’s the guy who invented the mouse and a whole lot of other things we all take for granted every day.

Anyway, we were there to talk about blogging. After all, we’re a blogging family. Doug had invited us over to his house, along with Bill Daul’s NextNow group. About 15 people showed up. Anyway, I think we got some more bloggers to start. Doug showed his engineering thoroughness. Took meticulous notes. I can already tell he’ll be a great blogger — if he starts.

I got lots of questions about information overload. How do I keep up? How do I answer all my email? Answer: I don’t, but I try (166 are waiting, sorry for not getting to them).

Anyway, at the end of the very interesting discussion Doug disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back he was holding a little box. He sat it on the coffee table in front of him and gingerly¬†opened it. He called Patrick over and said “I have something to show you.”

Slowly he took out something that looked like a wood block. He said “this is the first mouse.” I couldn’t believe it. This thing belongs in the Smithsonian. If put up on an eBay auction I’d expect it to get $250,000 or more. It is one of the most important computer artifacts I’ve ever seen. And here it was sitting in front of us and Doug was encouraging us to play with it.


What a start to 2006. Here’s another picture with a Channel 9 guy sitting on top to give some scale.

By the way, you can see Doug (and other famous geeks) on NerdTV. That’s really a cool program.