Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The New New Thing, Part II

This is a continuation of my notes about Jim Clark, billionaire technology visionary.*

**

The one hard rule in Jim Clark's life was to always pursue the new new thing. His one rule about his new new things was that each one had to be bigger than the last.

The moment of conception was, to Clark's way of thinking, the critical moment of any new enterprise. It was important not merely to hire people bent on changing the world but to avoid hiring the people bent only on changing jobs. He loved hiring people who were ferociously, recklessly competitive.

He also wanted everyone to have a stake in his businesses. Clark couldn't stand the idea of anyone working for him without having the chance to accumulate a bit of wealth. Coincidentally, this stake also made them more committed to the job.

As someone said, "Jim Clark has a clarity of vision that is prompted by the purest form of greed." Clark was incapable of creating new technology without finding away to make money from. In other words, the purpose of the technology he developed was 'to make money'. And the way you make money is by changing the world.

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Clark admitted he was not the charismatic leader who could sell the new new thing to Mainstream Business. He needed someone who could take an inherently inplausible idea and lead others to believe it.**

A start-up costs almost nothing to start. All you need is an idea, some excellent engineering talent and a pair of big brass balls to execute the idea. Jim Clark’s unofficial sequence was: 1) find the concept, 2) write the software to exploit the concept, 3) sell the company to the public, then 4) announce the new new thing.

Clark's business plan seemed to be: wander along the top of the cliff overlooking the US economy, deciding which rock (if kicked) would wipe out the largest section of the slope below. When it came to presenting his business model to potential financiers, all he did really was describe how he planned to make money.

Clark also made enough money that he could finance his own start-ups. As far as he was concerned, the Finance Department of the American economy was expendable.*** Clark's faith in his new enterprise was actually faith in his own imagination.

The thing I can’t relate to at all is that Clark didn't care if the share prices on his start-ups dropped enormously. He wasn't focused on preserving money but on creating something new.

For Jim Clark, a plan was merely a theory of how he might spend this day; all times it clashed in his mind with half a dozen other theories. Clark was far happier doing something he had just decided to do in something he had decided long ago. No decision was worth sticking to unless it had replaced several other decisions

What happens to Clark in Silicon Valley was the interplay of a character who had a deep feel for technology, and a taste for anarchy, with an environment that rewarded both traits. However, Jim Clark was an outsider. He could see human society in ways that most businessman could not, because he was not very much a part of it.

Above all, one thing was clear: his pursuit of the new new thing depended on his curious amnesia. His ability to forget what he said he would do next, or what he'd thought would make him happy, was the mortar on which he laid his endless tiers of self renewal. He'd made a kind of religion of keeping only those parts of his past he needed for fuel, on his journey into the future.


* And most of these notes are verbatim from the book, “The New New Thing” by Michael Lewis.

** Of course Clark had this quality with engineers and his reputation for making billions of dollars didn't hurt.

*** That's the Goal: Become the investor so you don't get cut out of the decision-making process.
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