On Wednesday, I was honored to participate in the CGI America meeting in Denver in a panel moderated by Bloomberg Special Correspondent Willow Bay. Other panelists were Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Jacqueline Hinman, president and CEO, CH2M Hill, a global engineering and manufacturing firm. The title of the discussion was: A New Competitive Era: America in the World.
This was a stimulating hour as Willow navigated us through a range of topics about American competitiveness in the increasingly global economy. As the resident tech guy, I had some opinions about the lack of computer science training and programming being taught in U.S. schools. (I leaned on and promoted my friends at Code.org and their important efforts to push states and U.S. schools to include computer science as part of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] curriculum.) What I think surprises most people is that only 1 in 10 U.S. schools offer computer science classes, and when they do it often doesn’t count toward graduation. It’s unbelievable really, especially since it’s not news that we have a supply shortage in the area of computer science and engineering, impacting most tech companies. This led to a discussion about the need for immigration reform to allow qualified workers into this country to fill these jobs, and help fuel even greater growth and innovation. I’ve long supported the simple idea that we should staple a green card to every PhD earned in this country.
Geekwire’s John Cook tuned in via webcast and captured some of the discussion in a post.
After our panel, former President Bill Clinton joined Willow for a one-on-one discussion. I had a great vantage sitting in the front row watching one of the rhetorical masters of our time.
While this was my first exposure to CGI, I was impressed with the format and caliber of attendees, and the emphasis on commitments and follow up. After all, it’s important to have these conversations, but it’s more important to fix the problems and address the barriers that inhibit progress. I like the fact CGI is focused on being more than a forum, but a platform to create solutions across industries, and across the aisles. So far, it seems to be working.
The replay of the panel conversation can be found below:
I’d read that 18 million sexy and inexpensive Xiaomi Smartphones had shipped in China last year, the company’s 3rd year in existence. And, I’d heard about the MiTV, Xiaomi’s smart TV that was shaking up the market in China. Still, when Lei Jun, the Jobs-ian co-founder and spiritual leader of this Chinese manufacturing, design, and marketing phenomenon, slid me a gift — the Mi Charger, a sleek 10,400 mAh charger (4x faster charge than the closest US competitor — Mophie), I was smitten. How could a phone charger elicit lust? After returning from my China Week with the Benchmark Capital partners (including Bill Gurley, who authors a must-read blog called AboveTheCrowd), I gave the Mi Charger to my wife, Sarah, who is constantly, annoyingly short of battery on her iPhone. Her reaction after an hour of use? “This thing is amazing! Suzie wants one, too. Where can she buy it?” Nowhere yet. But I assume we’ll have it in the US soon. And if Xiaomi follows the China playbook, it will be shockingly inexpensive.
“What is different about Chinese Xiaomi vs Google, Apple, and other American tech companies?” we asked Hugo Barra, the new, intriguing Xiaomi VP swiped from Google in his prime, as we sipped Japanese whiskey at the mega-high style Opposite House hotel in Beijing last week. Hugo said the Chinese simply work harder. They are as smart and capable as their American counterparts, but the pain and shame of poverty and obscurity is much closer to them than it is to us. When we left a meeting with Victor Koo, Chairman of China’s Youtube, Youku, at 7:00p on a Wednesday evening, we walked into a sea of cubicles. Every one was occupied. Some by napping engineers and editors. Evidently, this continues well into the night. The Chinese work harder. They are trying to make a much better life for themselves and their mothers.
The Chinese have great universities, loads of capital, and a government that supports and protects (to non-Chinese’ great disadvantage) new company creation. This has created a startup ecosystem that is thriving and dying to challenge the hegemony of the West in the decades to come. As Lei Jun gave me the Mi Charger and described his strategy, through a translator, he said: “The revolution begins”.
Related: I recently spoke on Bloomberg about the China startup environment, among other topics, with @ErikSchatzker & @SRuhle.
Me on Bloomberg w/ @ErikSchatzker & @SRuhle
I have called Seattle home for more than two decades and my wife and I are raising our children here. There’s a lot to enjoy and be proud of about Seattle – the City Council’s vote on ride sharing earlier week this isn’t one of them.
Seattle is a different city from when Microsoft imported me shortly after college in 1991. Seattle then was best known for Grunge rock, which i happily ruined my eardrums on. Since then technology has completely transformed our lives, and our culture of innovation makes our community a haven for entrepreneurs and investors to create visionary startups that become lasting and enduring brands.
While Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing startups may not be headquartered here, the local impact and benefits are not inconsequential. I recently shared my own experience and week-long test of Uber-only transport. But, ride-sharing isn’t just about the convenience of consumers finding a ride in minutes, it about the livelihood of these drivers who are now operating their own small businesses and becoming entrepreneurs in their own right. I hear nothing but glowing reviews of Uber from the drivers and how the service has had such a positive impact on their lives – schedule convenience, income, and safety. (I recently heard a driver’s story about how, as a taxi driver, he’d had a knife to his neck when a fare demanded he be taken to a location without paying. His words: “Uber changed my life.”).
The spark of an idea, the power of geo-located mobile devices, and an archaic and highly inefficient, supply-constrained taxi system gave way to the creation and rise of Uber and other ride-sharing services. I have no doubt the City Council’s short-sighted decision will be overturned in time. I am just extremely disappointed – and more than a little embarrassed – that it was Seattle (the land of legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage) that failed to recognize the future is here, and the past – well, isn’t.
Last year when I spoke at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur, I talked about the seeds of innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem starts with good government. I boasted that while not perfect, our system in the U.S. provides a supportive and rational system that enables innovation. I used Seattle as an example of a vibrant ecosystem and progressive pioneer in policy that many model and follow. Apparently, Seattle’s City Council didn’t get the memo.