PAUL BOUTIN — Breakfast at Buck's in Woodside is the Valley version of a media power lunch at Michael's in Manhattan. Bring your laptop demo, suck down the free Wi-Fi, and order the pancakes. But it's not the power brokers you want to shmooze — it's the guy behind the counter.
For visiting tech execs, Buck's is a hotter destination than Lombard Street. Scandinavian entrepreneurs will skip the Golden Gate Bridge for a 7am pilgrimage. The restaurant itself is an unpretentious-looking pancake and egg house in tiny, affluent downtown Woodside, where Valley moguls keep their equestrian estates.
Buck's is, basically, a roadside diner. Ample portions of affordable, predictable fare are served beneath giant model aircraft that hang from the ceiling (welcome to Woodside - you fly, right?) It's not the food, it's the clientele: You're more likely to breakfast next to a billionaire than to spot your frazzled tech support manager. Power brokers like DFJ's Steve Jurvetson are regulars. Laptop demos of startup sites and software are a common sight.
But don't fanboy the VCs over their eggs. The man to meet is the owner, Jamis MacNiven. MacNiven is a de facto member of the Valley's power broker elite, yet one to whom you're allowed to walk up and introduce yourself should your visit coincide with his irregular onsite hours. Shut up and listen, and you'll realize the guy is smarter than some of his patrons. It was MacNiven who gave Wired the last word on free Wi-Fi, when he told the mag that charging for Internet access was "like charging for salt and pepper."
Still, don't get your hopes up. Gossipy techies and lazy journalists have overplayed Buck's reputation as the place to be discovered. MacNiven is to blame, too — every month he reminds another reporter that Hotmail was funded right there at table 15.
Instead of pitching your business plan, kick back and listen to MacNiven's life story if you want a toehold among the Valley's movers and shakers. Woodside, by design, is a long detour for breakfast from the go-go grid of Highway 101. But it's instructive to watch VCs chill over pancakes before 12 hours of pulping startup founders. And unlike Michael's, MacNiven will give you table 15 before you get rich.