Mon09222014

Books

LAH resident shares ‘Secrets of Silicon Valley’ in new book


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Sometimes it takes an outsider to accurately describe and shed light on the environment you live in or assume that you know extremely well.

Such is the case with “Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else Can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World” (Palgrave McMillan, 2013), Los Altos Hills entrepreneur Deborah Perry Piscione’s exploration of the unique culture of the epicenter of high-tech.

I have lived in Silicon Valley for 30 years, but there were plenty of things I learned from the book.

To be fair, many people, places and events described in the book are familiar, but Perry Piscione has done her homework well. After relocating to the area from the East Coast with her husband and two small children in 2006, she was surprised to discover a very different environment and culture from the one she left behind. Working in Washington, D.C., for example, Perry Piscione noted that “you need to be schooled in the art of war. … I knew no other way – until I moved to the innovation capital of the world.”

The author contends that 10 primary ingredients combine to make Silicon Valley so innovative. She devotes chapters to each of the components, among them: Stanford University, a population of highly motivated people (many of whom are highly educated immigrants), a continual cycle of innovation, the unique qualities of entrepreneurs here, a very different concept of the traditional business model and a different breed of investors.

Then there are softer, less-tangible factors, including services such as the prevalence of startup-friendly law and design firms, high-quality but casual dining establishments, a pleasant lifestyle and the advantages of being raised in such a milieu.

What may be new to readers are some of the anecdotes and details behind the big players. I didn’t know, for example, that Larry Page of Google fame first shopped the concept of applying ranking to Internet searches to a senior associate at Stanford University’s Office of Technology Licensing – and failed to spark much interest from other local search engine companies. Nor was I aware of the backstory of RPX, a company founded in 2008 to pool resources and proactively buy patents before they could be purchased by nonpracticing entities – often called “patent trolls” – who “exist for the sole purpose of enforcing patents against operating companies,” according to Perry Piscione.

“Secrets of Silicon Valley” also includes a smattering of fun stories about local residents who have experienced success such as Sandra Kurtzig, founder of ASK Computer Systems, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX and chairman of SolarCity.

And there are tales of service providers willing to do business a little differently, including Egon Zehnder International, a head-hunting firm that has placed numerous Silicon Valley women on corporate boards, and Y Combinator, a technology incubator in Mountain View that provides startups with mentorship, advice, introductions and, in many cases, seed funding.

Perry Piscione addresses if and how the success of Silicon Valley could be replicated in other states or countries. She notes that several places are poised to pose some real competition, including Israel, China and Chile.

Anyone with an interest in reading about the roots of Silicon Valley’s success should enjoy the book, including those who live in the area and those who may want to re-create it elsewhere. History buffs will enjoy the richness of detail, as will those who participate in nonfiction book clubs.

Longtime Mountain View resident Leslie Ashmore belongs to two book clubs.

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