In Silicon Valley, it's often who you know

We’ve been struck by the personal relationships behind recent business decisions in Silicon Valley. Uh, pretty obvious you say. But have you ever sat there, dwelling on ideas for your career, hankered by ambition, and not had the right person around to bounce ideas off of, to “catalyze” things just right? Here are some thoughts about how the valley brings energetic people together in one place, and gets deals done:, a search engine to shop with

We know what you�re thinking: �Ohmygod, not another search engine, and especially not another shopping engine.� Well, we feel your pain, so we�re going to ask for some patience with It has a lot of promise, and we�ll explain why.

iControl makes you the "Big Brother"

One new Silicon Valley company that catches our eye today is iControl, the latest to demo at DEMO. As its name suggests, it literally gives the user control over the whole home — including everything from video-recording to the thermostat — from a Web-based system. Nice analogy by Business Week about Big Brother.

Open source, with Sugar on top.

One thing’s for sure, John Roberts knows how to pitch. We sat down with him in October. The CEO of SugarCRM starts cautiously, but give him a chance, and he gets on a roll, and is pretty convincing by the end. He proclaims the demise of the customer relations management software industry as we know it, pledging to turn the bloated $6 billion a year industry (dominated by the likes of and Siebel) into a mere $1 billion market — by undercutting competitors on cost.

Have you got a digital home?

If not, you may want to consider it, because a lot of Silicon Valley venture capital money is being invested into technologies that will wire your home in cool ways. Check out our stories (go here for the main story, but see “related links” on the same page) from yesterday in the Mercury News. It can be cheap to try out services from start-ups awash with cash from VCs, because they’re often trying to win market-share by charging low fees, if anything. Seems like everywhere we turn, there’s more money flowing into the space — now that VCs are convinced consumers are driving growth in the technology sector.

Fiorina's failure: One more for the road

We’ve been thinking about how Roger McNamee, a well-known investor, and most of the market, really did think all along that Carly’s proposal for the HP-Compaq merger was a lousy one. And if that’s true, how did she ever pull it off in the first place? If institutional investors on Wall Street were voting against the merger, which they were, why were HP’s own specific shareholders signing up for the deal?

Fiorina ousted

UPDATE: Interesting to see Roger McNamee’s take on this, i.e., that the HP-Compaq merger was destined to fail. And while he diplomatically says Fiorina wasn’t a “total failure,” his argument nevertheless suggests she wasn’t the right person for the job.

When M&A and IPOs are up, who needs to make money?

The market for M&As and IPOs is strongly up, which is good for Silicon Valley venture capitalists, who can use those transactions to make money off their investments. That’s all good, because it helps fuel optimism, and means more money for promising entrepreneurs down the road. Here’s a table that shows how 2004 was the strongest year since 2000.

A blog tool to fence in your children

WaveMarket has just landed $9.4 million in venture capital to take blogging tools to the next frontier: Allowing your friends and relatives to see where you’re blogging from, giving them a map of where you are, and even creating alerts when you arrive somewhere. The company boasts it can create protective “geofences” around children — notifying their parents if their kids stroll out of a certain limited area.

Orb Networks a good start

Our colleague Mike Langberg today takes an even-handed look at Orb Networks, the Emeryville start-up that claims it can connect you to your music, video and other files wirelessly, via any device. Turns out Orb is a good start, but isn’t quite ready for most potential customers. It’s just the latest example of a Silicon Valley start-up going after what some have summed up as the “digital living environment,” a broad term that is more accurate than the much-maligned “digital living room”. Maligned, because much of the living room is now accessible from outside the home. Morgenthaler Ventures led a $4 million investment into Orb Networks, just one in a string of companies Morgenthaler’s partner Gary Little has pumped money into as part of the firm’s initiative to target such personal technology. Others he’s invested in are the file-sharing company SNOCAP, and the stealth file-sharing company imeem.

Epinions saga continues

Wow, what a dog’s breakfast this Epinions suit is. Private Equity Week, in its story on the latest developments in the case, says that “Naval Ravikant is learning the hard way that the venture industry doesn’t take long to close ranks,” and the story suggests that’s certainly the case. He’s even been booted from the VC firm, Dot Edu Ventures. (Thanks, Dan, for the link)

Hate to spoil the Google party, but…

As we’ve argued before, the “PE ratio” is the granddaddy of all yardsticks used to measure the stock market’s value. It measures the price of a stock for every dollar of annual earnings, or profits, per share of the company. A PE of 100 means that investors are willing to pay $100 for every dollar per share of profits made by a company.

Is VC money going abroad?

Venture capital firms are still raising large amounts of money from their investors, but data about their actual investments in U.S. start-ups is showing anemic growth at best. Here are our recent stories (here and here)

The Geo-Green alternative

We’ve been writing about clean technology for a while now, but we haven’t articulated how Silicon Valley’s possible contributions to new energy sources can directly help foster world peace. Thomas Friedman, in today’s NYT, outlines an interesting argument along these lines. Not everyone will agree, and some environmentalists will take issue with his endorsement of nuclear power (which critics say creates a huge radioactive waste problem, sucks up subsidies, is more expensive than the industry sometimes owns up to, and leads to verification problems precisely in prickly places like Iran). Yet it’s worth mulling over. Of course, only a tiny fraction of the Silicon Valley’s venture capital investments are earmarked for energy related technologies, perhaps a sign of the limits to how much technology can produce alternative energy sources. Still, even if the opportunities are few, they are potentially huge.

More on clean tech in Silicon Valley

San Jose’s chip company Cypress Semiconductor, run by the outspoken Mr. T.J. Rodgers, has taken a hit recently, as demand for its chips has fallen, forcing layoffs. The good news is Cypress has put its semiconductor expertise to work in a whole new sector, solar power. Its solar cell subsidiary, SunPower, recently announced it was doubling production capacity, and customers and analysts are saying good things about it. We’ve written about Rodgers’ unsentimental reasons (see link to Mercury News story) for the investments (it’s purely a capitalist endeavor), but it’s a feel-good story nevertheless.

Razzed by PhoneBites

San Francisco start-up PhoneBites, a company that allows people to “razz” others by injecting sound clips into their phone conversations, said last week it has raised a first round of $3 million in financing.

Epinions founders sue Benchmark, August et al.

Three of Epinions’ five founders filed suit Jan 19 in San Francisco Superior Court against Silicon Valley venture capital firms Benchmark Capital and August Capital, alleging the firms conspired with fellow founder Nirav Tolia to deprive them and other employees of nearly $40 million. Here’s a copy of the complaint, filled with intrigue.

Venture investments lowest in 7 years. Really?

Can the latest VC report — see our story here — really be true? Silicon Valley venture capitalists invested less in the fourth quarter of last year than they did in any quarter over the past seven years, according to a study by VentureOne and Ernst & Young. Most people we’ve talked with in Silicon Valley’s entrepreneur community swear activity has picked up, so we raise some questions about the data in the story. Here are three other reasons to believe any dip, if it happened at all, is a temporary aberration — items that we didn’t mention in today’s Merc story.

Silicon Valley's engine chugs on

Here’s another example of what makes this place so dynamic. Stanford scientist, KJ Cho, developed a great nanotechnology method, but didn’t know how to make a business out of it. He meets a veteran like Bill Miller, who helps him throw a business plan together — and within 18 months, the new company, Nanostellar, has gotten $3 million in venture backing and already cranked out a prototype for a new catalytic converter that aims to undercut prices of existing models, and help save the environment too. Worst case, it may end up one of the nine of ten start-ups that eventually fail — but hey, better the idea is given a chance to fly than to let it die in the labs.

The wiki wars

Palo Alto wiki company JotSpot leaked news today that it had signed up Walt Disney as a paying customer, stealing it away from its Palo Alto competitor, Socialtext. Disney is JotSpot’s first major customer. Though Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield doesn’t seem fazed.

Tech magazines are back; Forrester latest entrant

Yep, there’s five of them, and we write about their aspirations in our Mercury News story today, “Tech mags return — can they survive?” (Or here, if you haven’t registered and can’t be bothered.) The overriding theme is, you’ve got to have a “niche,” or else. As usual, print constraints meant we couldn’t get everything in. Here are some more thoughts:

BusinessWeek launches VC/start-up blog

We welcome Justin Hibbard and Sarah Lacy, who “cover tech venture capital for BusinessWeek” as the latest mainstream media folks to join the blogging world, here. Similar to our own, though they’re apparently more nationally focused — relative to our own Silicon Valley myopia.

IPO in three years, no revenue

Here’s the latest Silicon Valley company to file for an initial public offering despite having no source of revenue. It’s a biotech company, so we’ve been here before, and ibankers seem ready to extend the tradition.

Silicon Valley's contribution to energy problem

Here’s a link to our story that ran in yesterday’s Mercury News about how Silicon Valley is turning to the challenge of finding alternative energy sources. The headline omits the more sobering subtitle carried in the print version: “…but sector offers little home-run potential and new ideas are still few and far between.”

VCs and blogs

Interesting discussion today over at the Venture Capital Journal corner, about the trend of VC blogging. Lawrence Aragon writes a provocative piece here (apparently available free until 2pm PST), suggesting more VCs will need to consider blogging, to develop their relationships.