Friday, June 01, 2012

The Great Andy Bechtolsheim

I had the good fortune to attend Stanford's most recent "Engineering Hero" lecture, featuring Andy Bechtolsheim, the legendary entrepreneur and investor.

You know that you're pretty darn amazing when founding and selling Granite Systems to Cisco Systems is only *third* on your career highlight reel, behind founding Sun Microsystems and making $1.7 billion as the first investor in Google.

I feel a special bond with Andy, because he taught me a valuable lesson via his example. Back in 2002, I was attending the SDForum Visionary Awards (at the time, I was running the Founder's Forum SIG). We had to park and take shuttle buses to the event. I sat next to a friendly fellow in a conservative suit with a pleasant German accent, and we struck up a conversation about blogging, emerging technologies, and many other topics. He listened attentively and appreciatively to my thoughts and opinions. At the end of the ride, I introduced myself, and he replied, "I'm Andy." As we got off the bus, he showed me that he was wearing sandals. "I can't stand those dress shoes," he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

I later learned, of course, that I had been sitting next to the great Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the visionaries being honored that very evening. Andy showed me that no matter what your accomplishments, you can remain friendly, humble, and open to new ideas. He has been a role model for me ever since, though sadly, I can't possibly aspire to his level of intellectual rigor.

(Side note: I spent most of that evening hanging out with Jonathan Abrams and Dave McClure, who were much less well-known at the time. Jonathan told me about a new project he was working on called "Friendster.")

At any rate, when I heard about Andy's lecture, I hastily RSVPed. Here are my notes from his talk. As you'll see, Andy was dropping a lot of pearls of wisdom.

If you want to see the entire video, Stanford has made it available here.

"Being first is not important (Google, Facebook), being the first to solve a relevant problem is all-important." -Andy Bechtolsheim

"The hardest thing is to say no." -Steve Jobs

Apple spends less on R&D than any of its peers. Innovation isn't a function of R&D budget.

The top sources of innovation are employees, partners, and customers.

Companies don't pay enough attention to the discovery phase.

The Horizon Effect: We don't pursue goals beyond the horizon. We only pursue goals we where we can see the path.

Most funding is applied to safe bets. Very little is applied to risky bets. You need to manage your innovation portfolio.

Apple's Innovation Strategy:
Beautiful products
Hardware, software, and cloud
Expect to invent the next big thing

Hire engineers out of school
Expect to solve the impossible

Hire people who like a rapid pace of change
Try lots of things at once

"Innovation is the never-ending search for better solutions." -Andy Bechtolsheim

"The most important thing is to pick the right project."

Why Do New Products Fail?
1. Too Early
2. Too Late
3. Too Difficult
4. Not Relevant
5. Too Expensive

A startup succeeds because of focus. It is spending 100% of effort on a problem that the big companies have overlooked.


Lindsey said...

I am of course a mental midget compared to all of these people you cite, but I heartily agree with your first point, which is that being successful doesn't have to eradicate one's warmth and interest in others. I agree fiercely with this!! xox

Chris said...


Thanks for stopping by! It's amazing to me how many people seem to think that warmth and kindness are time-wasters that they can dispense with once they have enough money/power.

Warmth and kindness are the very things that bring the happiness that money can buy and power can't compel.