Tech’s Young Guns

By Scott Budman:
They’re the Young Guns. Seen by some as too young and too cocky; seen by others as the future of the world’s greatest wealth creation engine.

Here in Silicon Valley, we hold a special place for young executives. Men and women who wouldn’t get the time of day in most traditional smokestack industries, but who are treated like royalty in tech. They start companies, convince people twice their age to part with hundreds of millions of dollars in Venture funding, and then become billionaires.

Recently, we’ve referred too many of them as “The next Steve Jobs.” But they’ve been here as long as there has been a Silicon Valley.

And thanks to people like Jack Dorsey, I’m confi dent that there will always be a Silicon Valley.

We catch up to Dorsey at the headquarters of Square, a growing company changing the way we buy things. The “Square” in question is a small attachment to your iPhone or iPad that lets you accept credit cards payments anytime, anywhere. It’s simple, and extremely lucrative. And it’s not all Dorsey does for a living. He also started Twitter, the much larger company currently informing just about everyone about just about everything. Nowhere near 40, Dorsey is what the tech industry is all about: Youth cool, and success.

He is, however, a lot older than Mark Zuckerberg. Another executive clearly ahead of his time, pushing through decisions that, after initial skepticism, prove to be spot-on. Speaking of Facebook, let’s not forget Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Not as young as Mark, but ahead of her time in the tech world, with a strong feeling that education is what’s needed for a better tech industry (remember, Apple used to push that pretty hard, too).

All corporate neighbors, by the way, of Aaron Levie, the young CEO and co-founder of Box. His is a company focusing on cloud storage - not as consumer sexy as Facebook or twitter, but crucial to the future of tech. He has written several posts recently pretty much saying that he does what he does because he watched Steve Jobs do it. Touching and thoughtful, from someone who will surely be part of the next big tech wave.

Box’s chief competitor is called DropBox, and there’s more in common there than storage, and the word “Box” in the name. Drop- Box also has a young hotshot founder. Arash Ferdowsi, along with his co-founder (they were classmates at MIT) just pulled in enough money to rate a staggering $4 billion valuation.

Which, while impressive, is likely dwarfed by even the personal wealth of Google’s Marissa Mayer. While young in age, Mayer is already treated (deservedly) like a Valley veteran, taking a big role in guiding Google to its huge success. One of the company’s first hires, Mayer is given credit for the company’s easy to use design, and much-imitated culture. Search “success,” and you’ll find her.

Also in the neighborhood (what is it about Palo Alto, anyway? Is there something in the water that makes young people more ambitious than you or me?), a company called Pulse, with two co-founders still in their twenties, Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta. Both out of Stanford (again, where else?), they’re quiet young men, but determined to change the way we find and read news. Their app makes the iPad an intelligent device. On top of that, the Amazon Kindle Fire chose Pulse as the first built-in app for its new, popular tablet.

And, how about Ernestine Fu? We first met her as a High School student, already starting companies. She went on to Stanford, and while still there, became an associate at Alsop Louie Partners, a Venture Capital firm. Wait a minute, you ask, a 20-year old VC? Well, why not. This is, after all, the land of the 20-something founder of companies used by twenty somethings; why not tap into a young mind when it comes to deciding who to fund?

Admittedly, some of the youth movement is here because good times are here; When the dot-com boom went bust, it also took also took a lot of the young founders down with it. This makes some sense: When people get nervous, they’re less likely to take risks, and few things say “risk” like trusting ten million dollars of your money to someone who could be your kid.

That said, we here in Silicon Valley love our risk takers, and we love our rock stars. We have a special place for young people – after all, Jobs and Wozniak were young founders, so were Marc Andreessen of Netscape, Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia, and many others.

They’re not worried about being the “next” Steve Jobs, as much as they’re worried about their next round of funding, next line of products, or when the IPO hits. And as long as they’re still here, Silicon Valley will rightly be known as the Wild West, where the Young Guns rule.

Scott Budman is an Emmy award-winning reporter, covering business and technology for NBC Bay Area News. He is also the host of the weekly NBC show, “TechNow,” and can be heard doing business updates every afternoon on KNBR radio. You can find Scott on Twitter: @scottbudman


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