“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
― Samuel Beckett (Endgame)
What I will blog about:
I write about silicon valley startups, entrepreneurship and technology.
It is a big unwieldy word – entrepreneur – and I really think founding startups is more like art than any other pursuit. Art is the process and the product of creating, changing, arranging, manipulating components to achieve an end-result that influences emotions and thought for the creator, viewers, and anyone else involved in the process. It seems that entrepreneurs and startups do the same thing and sometimes even create products that are useful as they are expressive/aesthetic. There is an inherent elegance to good design and good art. Much like there is a certain pleasure in reading well written text, there is a unique aesthetic to startups, not just utility and sometime both. In this blog, I intend to ask questions and comment on a variety of technologies, startups, and technology based products to learn more. Occasionally there will be reactions to tech news, startup news, and other assorted happenings that pass for life in the valley.
Among the various areas I follow, information infrastructure technology of all kinds – from core fiber networks to data centers and the software running it -is probably foremost. Cloud computing seems to be everyone’s favorite term to describe the transformation underway when it comes to connecting people & devices to information, applications, data centers, and networks. And among the devices of particular interest to me are those that either enable mobility or use it. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and others will one day replace information network monopolies. The changes are already underway. Of all these companies, my money is on Twitter as the most impactful other than Google.
Applications use this infrastructure to deliver something of value to the end user and it is the reason infrastructure remains of interest and will continue to evolve in interesting ways. While most current applications of interest are in the consumer domain, enterprise applications and infrastructure required for them will remain a big area of expenditure by corporations and I like the possibilities for deep and disruptive innovation in this particular space. Productivity gains in the enterprise have plateaued as consumer technologies took the lead in the past ten years. It is only a matter of time before the next set of productivity platforms make their way to knowledge workers inside corporate walls.
One of the areas we still know little about is Genomics or how human-systems (biologically) work. Some remarkable people at Pacific Biosciences (disclosure: I am an individual investor in the company) and other sequencing companies are building tools and platforms to better decipher genomic information. I think a whole new software and hardware platform for genomic information computing is required. As I learn more about this area, I will be writing and asking questions. Companies like Ion Torrent (Jonathan Rothberg) are re-imagining how it needs to be done and are already trying to move beyond sequencing to include interpretation. Bit for bit that is the most complex computational problem to solve today.
Outside technology, I am a fan of spaces that make me feel at home. Living in the suburbs here makes me want urban spaces even more. Though not quite Rem Koolhaas, Sightglass & FourBarrels in SF and Caffe Del Doge (renamed Cafe Venetia) at the Caltrain station in Palo Alto are two such spaces. Cafe Batavia in Jakarta has that rare feel as well as did Cafe Wim circa 1992 in Ottawa and an underground pub in lancaster with brick vaulted ceilings whose name I forgot over pints of beer bought with strictly no tips permitted. (Really: the bartenders gave back exact change, and did not want any tips).
Another activity that occupies my time is flying – I fly small, single-engine planes (with West Valley Flying Club, Palo Alto) and am learning instrument flying as well. It is one of those things that when I had the time for it, I didn’t have the money required and now that I have the money required for learning, I struggle with putting together enough time to do it as often I would like. And finally, a recent interest is early childhood education (Reggio Emilia approach) and K-12 public education in California. I hope to volunteer some day to work on entrepreneurship (there is that big word again) with high school students in the area and would welcome pointers/advice about good organizations (e.g. Build) in the SF Bay area that are doing a good job and not just ‘teaching’ entrepreneurship.
So what is in it for you? I hope you will get to read about smart people, their ideas, and a hopefully non-obvious takes on new technologies and startups in my areas of interest.
And who am i?
My name is Rohit Sharma and I currently live in Palo Alto, CA and constantly – at least once a week – wish I lived someplace else – Lucca, Tokyo, Mumbai, that little piece of land where Terekhol fort looks over the Indian ocean in northern Goa, Kinnaur valley, Morelia, Jasper, Tofino,… the list is endless. But I am happy here for now and much of the wishful thinking is limited to watching ‘house hunter international’ on HGTV. Yes, I watch tv – mostly in HD. Some days for a few hours at a time – mostly Netflix streamed movies and especially when something like Black Books (on DVD now) or a football (soccer) match or cricket is on tv. If all I had was BBC programming, I’d be happy. I used to be a movie nut (Jamon Jamon, Almodovar, Luc Besson, Jean Reno, Diva, Patrice Leconte, Daniel Auteuil, Krzysztof Kieslowski). I produced an off-bollywood movie in India – Anaahat – a few years ago.
Some day soon, elegant computing machines will replace cable/dish HD sources. I want to want that day today. I wish news.google.com was my tv-guide so I could click and watch anything from anywhere anytime on any screen. If I can find it, I should be able to stream it.
The growing stack of unread books is my private little guilt pile. It is growing. Kahneman (Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow) trumps laziness. It was a great read – am still digesting it.
I also have a (non guilty) list ‘o pile of things to acquire if I win a lottery (Disclosure: Sometimes I buy a lottery ticket when in towns with populations less than 500). Some days this list consists solely of Yoshitomo Nara’s paintings or Tinguely’s machines which is ironic since art isn’t so much the end-product but the process of creating the end-product. Some days I wish I can buy the FourBarrels space and open my own CafeSpace for coffee, tea, and startups. Or that mystery building at 635 Waverley St, Palo Alto and build a nice open sun filled two-story startup-exploratorium. I used to like cars. Now I drive them as little as possible. I am lucky that Palo Alto is one of the few places where walking everywhere is practical.
Most of the time every day however, is still spent thinking about and doing something about new technologies. And writing this blog is a way of organizing the somewhat random way I think. I like the process of thinking mostly when I am engaged/talking with someone clueful and I hope the writing here sparks a few good discussions here and over coffee. Entrepreneurial discussions are always welcome – and free. I am not a consultant. And if you can express ideas in sketches like Tufte, I will buy you coffee, a lot of coffee.
As of October 2012, I am a venture partner at True Ventures, working for their portfolio companies and for founders-to-be.
From summer 2011 to summer 2012, I was the CEO (chief experience officer) at Syfto – working with some talented folks on unlocking the mysteries of data-curated commerce.
Prior to Syfto, I have seed/angel-invested in a cross border (India-USA) mobile and video advertising company (Vdopia) and spent nearly two years at MDV in the IT group. It was an educational experience with some very smart people/partners. I was not ready to be a VC then. I shouldn’t have gone there. Learning how to be a good investor should happen outside the confines of an established partnership so you’re ready to contribute when you do become a principal or a partner. For a personality like mine, the path clearly is small/angel investments, advising other startups, and then an organized structure for investments. I wish I had understood that in 2006.
Prior to this stint at MDV, my wife and I spent some time travelling all over the US, Canada, and Mexico in our trusty Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. Part of the impetus to travel came after a seed stage startup I had founded and shut down within a year – MetaMachinix (what an unnecessarily complex name) as an EIR at MDV working on desktop virtualization technology. I became an EIR at MDV after a year at Ciena which had acquired ONI Systems in 2002.
ONI Systems (Nasdaq: ONIS, Acquired by Ciena) was an education for a lifetime compressed in to an amazing set of five years (1997 through 2002) with amazing people. I was the co-founder & CTO there and still am interested in all things optical and networking – there is never a case for lesser bandwidth and other than Infinera, no R&D of note in the whole area in the past ten+ years. ONI Systems was spun out from Optivision which was my first job in 1996 right out of grad school (PhD, MSc) at University of Alberta & TRLabs Edmonton.
I grew up in Kurukshetra, India where I also went to school at (National Institute of Technology) NITK - five years of blissful “learning”. In the next few years I hope to spend a few months a year in Chandigarh, India (working, not just visiting) and the rest in Palo Alto, CA.
I have been a misfit in most (all?) jobs I have ever had. I sometimes wish it was otherwise and some days I long for a job where I will work 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch and two coffee breaks and someone will tell me every day what to do.
I will be a misfit there too.