I’m sure everyone’s seen Intel’s big advertising push “Our rock stars aren’t your rock stars“–comparing the firm’s technologists to celebrity rock stars.
I was thinking about this recently in respect to Southern California–land of Michael Jackson—and its technology industry, and I find it interesting how Silicon Valley’s own list of “technology celebrities” compares to Southern California’s own set of “technology celebrities.”
In Silicon Valley, it’s Apple/Facebook/Twitter, Doerr/Jobs/Arrington/Scoble/Moritz/Zuckerberg/Calacanis/Ron Conway/etc. day in and day out in adoring (or scathing) press coverage.
Here’s it seems like–despite of, or perhaps because of our proximity to the celebrity center of Hollywood–the people I hear most as idols in the high tech industry are way more subdued and under the radar. In fact, even though most folks in high tech here (given the carpet bombing coverage of Silicon Valley companies) know the tech celebrities of Silicon Valley, only the “in-the-know” folks seem to be aware of the huge successes here.
I’m thinking of folks like Mike Jones (Userplane/AOL/now MySpace), Matt Coffin (LowerMyBills), Sky Dayton (Earthlink etc.), Irwin Jacobs (Qualcomm), Kamran Pourzanjani (Pricegrabber), Michael Robertson (MP3.com, etc.), Jake Weinbaum (Business.com, eCompanies), Scott Blum (Buy.com), all the folks from Applied Semantics (now Google), Overture (now Yahoo), and so on. Sure, there are some who have achieved some level of tech fame (or, notoriety, in the case of Broadcom’s Henry Nicholas III), but in most cases these names are not at all well known. Probably the most “Silicon Valley celebrity” here is Jason Calacanis, who is better known in Silicon Valley than in Southern California. The “connectors” in Silicon Valley are pretty easy to find, but not as easy here. For example — Peter Pham, formerly of Photobucket/Fox Interactive Media–despite running a company now in Silicon Valley–is a huge connector in Southern California and beyond, is known to every startup CEO, entrepreneur, and VC in SoCal, doesn’t show up on the “tech celebrity” radar. Neither does Jason Nazar, who is a huge connector, particularly with his Startups Uncensored events. There’s immensely successful folks like Gil Elbaz (hiding out on the XPrize board of trustees with the likes of Elon Musk, Arriana Huffington, Larry Page, J. Craig Venter, Dean Kamen, and Ray Kurzweil)–who I suspect only a tiny, tiny number of people in SoCal know about. There’s also a slew of “behind the company” folks–too many to mention, but people like John Morris of GKM/Tech Coast Angels, Randy Churchill at PricewaterhouseCoopers–who are key to connecting the technology industry here who only insiders might know. There’s lots and lots more I don’t mention who are equally as successful, prominent, and important here.
Is this good or bad? It seems some level of interest in local, successful and/or ambitious entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and others (beyond what we provide, of course) would be helpful in better connecting the community together. But then again, it also shows the–probably good–tendency of local startups to care about results, revenues, and success over celebrity and flashiness.