Sunday, June 06, 2010

Meeting Fred Wilson In Person

Chinese AmericanImage via Wikipedia
So I got to meet Fred Wilson in person for the first time. I showed up for the AVC MeetUp at 29 Union Square West around 3 PM. It took me a while to find the location. A Broadway or Park Avenue address would have been easier for me to find, and the MeetUp site had listed the address as 29 Union Square East. It was West.

I did 1,000 crunches before I showed up, and here was Fred Wilson trying to impress me and a few Indians with yoga talk. There is a Bruce Lee school of thought. Your tummy muscles are the most important. If you want to feel the strength, do your crunches.

I did my 1,000 crunches, had my lunch. I was sweating like Mark Zuckerberg by the time I headed towards the train station. Zuck has proven beyond doubt genius is 99% perspiration. (The Hoodie)

I thought I was running a little late. The place was downstairs, in the basement. It was dark. When Fred showed up half an hour later, he was like, "Ugh, this place is so dark, I needed to be here at 2 AM instead."

It took you about five minutes to get your eyes adjusted to the light. I caught both Fred Wilson and Scott Heiferman during their first minutes. I had the advantage of well adjusted to the dark eyes.

"Are you coming Tuesday"? Scott asked me.

"Of course I am coming. Absolutely," I said.

Internet Week: Going To Three Events So Far

I briefly talked about Reshma 2010: Reshma 2010, Square, And Pro.Act.Ly.

"The Scotts in the Bay Area are behind her," I said: Jack Dorsey, Randi Zuckerberg. "We need to get behind her here too."

Scott is one of the earliest people I got to know after I moved to New York City. Every time we meet, we meet like old friends, but I have never been able to get him to reply to my emails, most of which have been FYI emails anyways. I have long made peace with that as a productivity issue for him. The circle he maintains email communication with must be tied to his work. And I am glad. Look at the distance has covered in five years. Scott in many ways is the original tech entrepreneur in town. The NY Tech MeetUp he launched has been a major platform. If no longer saying hello to me will mean goes to ever newer heights, I will happily swallow that pill too. Scott is one of those people who can make it sound like "change the world" is not a cliche phrase.

This was a few years back. A friend told me Scott was number five on the list of the top people in tech in New York City, as put together by the Silicon Alley Insider. I was like, no way. But I know the guy!

Today I told Scott I had applied for a job, but Greg told me it was an entry level position.

"It does not have to be," Scott said. "Good luck."

That is Scottspeak for has a department that handles the hiring decisions, I hope they like your application. I liked the spirit in which it was said.

"Honored to be meeting you for the first time," I said to Fred. "I watched your debate online. You won easy. But you did have a hometown advantage."

disrupt on Broadcast Live Free

He was as gracious as possible before, during and after the debate. He has been the exact opposite of Mike Tyson after a victorious championship fight. He maintained that mode in his response.

"It was not much of a debate," he said. Talking to a group of Republicans about tax cuts is not hard, he has insisted.

He got hold of his name card as if anyone there needed to know what his name was or what he looked like, then he went to the bar to grab a soda, walked back to me and said, "Who put this together? Who organized this?"

He sounded puzzled as much as curious. I could have burst out laughing right there. I did not know. I took a guess and pointed at two important looking guys. Maybe them? Then I spotted Shana. I motioned her and asked her. She took him to the guy who had organized the MeetUp.

People got together in small groups. People moved around. Fred moved from group to group. I mostly wanted to listen to what he had to say. He was relaxed, and he was making insightful comments about some of his portfolio companies, and some of their founders.

The Gotham Gal did not show up because she was busy cooking for a party they are throwing Tuesday evening, Fred said. I have not visited her blog nearly as often as I have visited Fred's whose blog I visit almost daily, but when I have visited her blog I have learned a lot, perhaps more than from Fred's blog because she touches upon topics I know very little about, stuff like the local non profit scene, for example.

At one point I found myself with these three other Indians, two business partners, the leader of the team was married to this young woman who had made it to the interview phase of the two job openings at Fred's VC firm.

I got to meet the Columbus, Ohio, woman who is now in the Analyst position. Fred said one of the new hires is going to be bi-coastal, maintaining apartments in both the Bay Area and in New York.

So Fred walks over. He says he just wanted some water. I pass on the message. I get a glass of water in my hand, I pass it on to him. He sits down. A small crowd forms around him, about 10 people.

There is this discussion about the entrepreneurship scene in India. There is some frank talk. Some of the Indians volunteer to say things can get rough. The bureaucracy can be a nightmare sometimes. Society is more hierarchical. The culture is more sexist. The venture capital industry is not there yet. It can prove hard to pay your electric bill. They don't want your money. And if you don't pay, they cut off your electricity. But there are rewards to being able to navigate the culture. Labor is cheap and top quality. I said a high school friend of mine tried it in the US, that did not work, now he works his dot com based out of Kathmandu, and it has been working wonders, making him a lot of money. The guy gets on national television there, I said. That would be Kathmandu.

He talked at length about Twitter and David Karp of Tumblr. Twitter is set to do $100 million in revenue, but could they do a billion, he asked. He said Karp had that personality type that is the entrepreneur personality type. Every conversation he has with you he is trying to sell you something, either he wants you to invest in him, or he wants you to partner with him, or he wants to sell some idea.

He also pointed out New York is not there yet when it comes to the tech startup culture that the Bay Area has. Culture is really the word.

Fred said he was making an effort to get more software engineer graduates from the top schools to end up in New York City. That is another thing I really like about Fred. He loves this city. Look at the names of his current and former venture capital firms.

Then he walked over to the next group of people before he walked away. With that final group, there was a spirited discussion about "gold." I was feeling a little lost. Da what? Ends up Fred's blog post for the day that I had not yet read was about gold.

Fred Wilson: Gold Vs Real Assets

These were people who were fond of Fred Wilson. Fond is the word. It was a nice gathering. The gathering was proof a blog is a very real, social entity. It can bring together people. But if Fred had showed up at the San Francisco AVC MeetUp instead, the 100 plus RSVPs would not have been in New York, they would have been in San Francisco.

Fred has his standing in the tech community for work he has done, companies he has invested in. A few years back Geocities had been the best deal he ever did. By now it is between Twitter and Zynga, although the Twitter story is more compelling, and FourSquare could be doing really well in a few years. A Twitter IPO will get the Twitter story into the mainstream. Jack Dorsey talks about Fred Wilson every chance he gets.

I have a feeling after a Twitter IPO he and his firm might reach new heights.

Meeting Fred in person was not dramatic, as in, now I know what he looks like, what he sounds like. After months of reading his blog, I have a fairly good idea of his thought processes. I have watched hours of Fred Wilson videos on YouTube. So I had a fairly good idea of what he looks like, what he sounds like. But there is something about meeting in person. It feels real. Not that he ever felt unreal to me. He is down to earth, normal, pleasant, curious about things, passionate about his work. It is just that his accomplishments are outsize.

During the event I felt a certain tension. I can't be a full fledged tech startup guy right now. That is a year or two away for me. But I advise one startup - PayCheckr - and am in talks to become a full timer with another: TeaSpiller. I am itching to get into the scene.

Larry Ellison's 1995 Network Computer Vision
Lady Liberty Whispers

After the event, around 5:30, I walked over to the Apple store on 14th and 9th. The iPad felt a little heavy in my hand. The virtual keyboard sucks. The thing had to heat up if held long enough. I think the world of Steve Jobs but I don't seem to relate to his products. It is as if he is a great president of a country on a planet I don't live on, or at least a country on a continent very, very far away. I found myself gravitating to a large screen Apple computer with a regular keyboard. I just wanted a browser, a big screen, and a physical keyboard. My fear is they might make the Chrome OS netbooks too small. Got to keep the screen big enough.

From there I walked over to the Chelsea Piers to take in the Hudson. There is something about that smell of water that can collapse time. That water can smell like some of the water from a long time ago.

I walked back to Union Square and went into the McDonald's there. I eat healthy for the most part. But I think it is important to eat one bad meal once in a while.
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