Well, this was 1986. And it was right at the time when personal computers were starting to get fairly powerful.
I’d been used to using all sorts of separate programs–and custom software–for things I wanted to do. But I had the idea that perhaps I could make one really general computational system that I could just use forever.
And that lots of other people would find useful too.
Well, that was what launched me on building Mathematica. I was pretty definite and determined about it.
And I knew I needed to start a company.
There’s a lot to be said for careful planning and cautious review when starting a small business. But there’s another side to the story, say some entrepreneurs, and that’s following up a good opportunity and seizing it.
I have always been known for making very quick decisions. I seldom spend a prolonged amount of time agonizing or pouring through voluminous amounts of information. Quite often after being apprised of the salient information relevant to any business decision — I usually know what to do.
Cisco Systems, the San Jose, Calif.-based router maker, has made a billion dollar bet on India. With that one giant poker chip, the company has shifted the focus from India as outsourcer to India as an innovator. It is also a realization that India is a big market, perhaps not as big as China, but equally lucrative in the long run. The company plans to triple its staffing, start a $100 million venture fund and at the same time fund a $10 million rural broadband project. Rest of the money is going towards a R&D center.
I decided to try a little experiment. I went through a couple of weeks of local periodicals and I picked out people that were featured in articles and I send them each a handwritten congratulations note. I said something to the effect – “I saw the article on your business in XYZ Magazine. Congratulations on your success. I’d love to speak with you some time to hear the story of how you got to where you are.” I sent twenty of these notes.
The talk about the future received its name about a year and a half ago and like a stray dog recently adopted, the people can’t stop saying its name—hoping to both own it and save it at the same time. The idea, christened by an editor/publisher/developer named Dale Dougherty, came out during an O’reilly conference planning session—clever and inspiring. If you know anything about math, then you might understand what I mean when I say that it was like a vector, describing both magnitude and direction. In the name there was hope. There was promise. There was a path. The fate of the interaction between the work of the titans (Amazon , Ebay, Google, Yahoo) and the work of the people (you, me, and every other promising developer and entrepreneur)—this was the talk about the future. This was supposed to be Web 2.0.
Many people working for a relatively large corporation might bristle at the prospect of speaking face to face with 500 hackers with an average age of 22. I had exactly that opportunity this past Saturday as an invitee to Paul Graham’s YCombinator Startup School held in Harvard’s Science Center. Hands down, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my career.