Mitch Kapor was our guest speaker last week. It was a magical moment when he spoke to the room full of founders. Not just because he’s rich and famous, but because he is the kind of person they are. There seemed a special sort of fellowship of founders.
One of the guys wrote to me the next day, “Wow, Mitch was truly great. Definitely a nominee for Best Speaker Ever.”
I first met Mitch when I interviewed him for Founders at Work. I remember being on the edge of my seat when he told me about the early days of Lotus.
Chapter 6, Founders at Work: "I was so convinced that VisiCalc had a lock on the market that I had to convince myself that we were going to do something that wasn’t fundamentally a spreadsheet. Of course, what we did was fundamentally a spreadsheet, but the self-deception I engaged in wasn’t sufficiently damaging to be fatal. But there was a big push to call it integrated software, to add other capabilities, to wrap other things in it.
The galvanizing event was when IBM announced the IBM PC in August 1981, and it was very important in the history of PCs because it legitimized the whole field-- because of IBM’s imprimatur. Until then, the personal computer hardware companies were Apple, Tandy and Commodore. IBM was the first “real” computer company to come out with a PC, legitimizing it for the business marketplace. And that was not lost on me. And they made some very smart decisions." Read (a little) more.
Mitch’s interview is filled with stories that we cite to founders. But it’s not just his experience with Lotus that makes him so knowledgeable. He’s a cofounder of the EFF and was an early investor in companies like RealNetworks, UUNET, and Second Life’s Linden Labs. He talked about his experiences with these and other startups at the most recent Startup School. You can tell immediately that he is genuinely interested in new technology.
What I like best about listening to him talk is that he’s so candid. I found myself writing down much of his advice. Dinner talks are off-the-record, but he’s given me permission to share one of my favorite quotes. Someone asked what it was like running Lotus and taking the company public. He replied:
“I actually woke up scared every single day that I would do something so stupid that the company would crash as fast as it went up.”
I like this because it shows that even a successful startup founders didn’t always think he had all the answers.
Since then, he’s seen a lot in the world of startups-- and continues to (he gave us a peek at some stuff he was working on with Foxmarks). But what struck me last week was that he does not seem to have lost any enthusiasm for new ideas.