Meet Jon Staenberg, the latest Silicon Valley Tool. Here's an assessment you won't get on LinkedIn: "Every time I meet him, I feel like I need to take a shower," says a Valleywag tipster. Why the unclean feeling? It's not clear why Staenberg should generate such visceral dislike. And yet he's a sort of Silicon Valley Everyman. He worked at Microsoft from 1988 to 1994, which means he got a firsthand education in how to scream at your colleagues and made a lot of money on stock options. He's now an "advisory partner" — translation: not a real VC — at Rustic Canyon Partners, one of the VC firms foolish enough to back perpetual money-raiser Visto. And he's on the board of LimeLife, a wireless-content startup which targets women. I guess it's board meetings at that last company which drive Staenberg out into the woods to get reacquainted with his masculine side. After the jump, an email Staenberg sent to friends, casual acquaintances, and at least one frenemy, recounting his recent trips to the "Family Farm," a Bohemian Grove-like elite retreat in bucolic Woodside, Calif., close to the VC epicenter of Sand Hill Road, and to Buenos Aires.
From: Jon Staenberg To: email@example.com Sent: Sun Oct 21 10:19:49 2007 Subject: in the redwoods this weeekend and not out of the woods in the buenos aires airport
I spent this weekend amongst men, smoking cigars, drinking good wine and having fun, intelligent (mostly) conversations. It was a place called the Family Farm in Woodside, CA. Several people have called this place a less pretentious Bohemian Grove but I have not been there so I cannot say.
"I do this for my soul," one of the guys said to me. By the end of the weekend, I understood that. Something about those trees and the smells and the leisurely pace with the meandering rhythms of the nonschedule.
And the music. Everywhere. Is there anything quite as satisfactory as sitting around singing songs in a group? The simple pleasures are the best. All of this we know but often take for granted.
It is hard to describe this place but it has magic. I believe in the magic of positive human gatherings. Religion was built on it. Burning Man has it. All of it is not guaranteed but when it works, the heart soars.
Off to Oaxaca for Dia De Los Muertos, another magical gathering.
Trying to walk a little more lightly on this Earth.
24 hours in the Buenos Aires airport is not exactly the best way to end a trip. Because of the baggage handlers strike and some alleged stolen money and maybe a drunk pilot, I missed my board meeting in NY and two Springsteen concerts in Philly. At least I got through, "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves."
A long trip it has been. Many stops. Good travel. New ventures included Colonia and Montevideo in Uruguay. Mostly, I am starting to get to know people with second and third meetings and the streets, smells, and sights are now just that more familiar.
When I arrived on the final (long) day to the airport I found people sitting in the check-in line. They were sitting, not sure what to do. Don't want to lose your place in line. How long? Know one knew. Why? Not sure exactly. This is all part of the great privatization of industries many years ago.
People expect this in Argentina. We do not. What are other things that are questionable? Traveling to South America this time I am struck by things we assume to be. For example, we assume that things pretty much work, that the government is not too corrupt, that hard work is rewarded and that all things are possible. We even believe that if we help others, we will be rewarded. Karma as used by the capitalists.
Argentines believe that you are better off to get now while the getting is good. Things may be ok now but these things are in cycles and that it is only a matter of time before it turns again. The government is tolerated but clearly the best you can hope for is not to be screwed too badly. I prefer to believe in the good, give to charity, help those who want to help themselves, and to remain excited about the road ahead.
The Argentine (and much of Latin America) basic beliefs make it hard to create start-ups, for example. Why trade off salary for ownership if your view of the future is clouded. I was asked to speak in Chile on how to make venture work there. I believe that our Silicon Valley model can be "exported" to some degree but I wonder if it can be truly replicated. There are some many small, symbiotic pieces that make it work. You need many of them or you just wont have it.
In Argentina, one of the most successful startups is Mercado Libre, the ebay of Latin America. They went public this year and have a market cap of almost $2B. When I asked people about it, many didn't know that it was so successful. I realized then how much we celebrate such success in the USA and glorify it so others will strive to emulate it.
It makes me think about what is held up to be celebrated. When the plane took off people clapped. Some of it was relief but some of it was just the basic idea that a plane was taking off. That seems a bit low on the Maslowian hierarchy of celebrations.
We enter the season of celebrations: May we celebrate our good fortune and our belief in what could be and what is not.
Go jump in a bag of leaves.