This was the most unpleasant trip to Silicon Valley I’ve ever made.
Almost as a premonition of the Valley’s disintegration, we passengers smelled smoke on the airplane to San Jose. After a few minutes of internal panic, we found out that the Angeles National Forest was burning and the smell was coming in from the outside through the plane’s air conditioning. Luckily, I flew Southwest Airlines, where they share information with the passengers. Had I been on any of the more traditional carriers, I probably would have been reduced to chanting and meditating. I recalled fondly how much I used to love to fly before 9/11.
Next I had to contend with the fact that I would have to stay in a hotel, as both Bay Area resident daughters were out of the area on business. I had called the Westin Santa Clara in the morning for their room rates, and they quoted me $215, a rate that recalled better days. Knowing that hotel rooms are perishable, I decided to take my chances and not make a reservation. I figured that if I just showed up there at 9 PM after my last event, they’d give me a bargain.
My first meeting,with the principals of Monterey Ventures,(a fund in formation dedicated to investments in the sustainable energy and food spaces)was not merry. There’s not much competition from other funds in this space, and quite a bit going on in the area of food technology and the alternative energy arena (wind power has finally “arrived” after centuries of neglect). But it is taking longer than usual to raise the money.
One of the partners commented that the venture capital process in Silicon Valley has become so institutionalized that all the former risk takers are now spending time with their grandchildren, leaving the industry to younger,less adventurous types. Just what we need–more bankers.
With that thought in my head, I went on to a truly bizarre event: the first joint meeting of The Indus Entrepreneur (TIE) and the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce. The attendance strained the seating capacity of the Westin, despite a rather mundane program. It was also notable for its lack of dinner, although it was scheduled from 6-9. An open bar, some fruit, cheese, and brownies, but none of the elegance that used to mark Silicon Valley networking events.
During the long introduction to the panel,more than one speaker brought up the common experiences of Diaspora peoples and the similarities in entrepreneurial spirit between immigants from the Indus Region and those from Israel. (One of the Indian participants was the CEO of an Israeli company.)
My companion, a practiced observer of developing countries, made the disturbing comment that Indians and Israelis in California might be drawing together to the exlusion of the Muslim community. As California is both a harbinger of the future and an area in which immigrants have always found work and in some cases wealth, I felt uneasily that I ought to be watching business alliances with a more political eye. Scary.
Between speakers, I checked at the front desk of the Westin to see what the room rate was at 8 PM. Yes, the hotel had rooms available. Now the quoted rate was $239. Was this a metaphor for what is wrong with Silicon Valley? A metaphor for how little most businesses know about marketing? A fundamental disconnect between supply and demand?
Good old Southwest. They had a flight back to Phoenix at 9:55. On my way to the gate, however, I was subjected to more of the current indignities of air travel. The airport wasn’t crowded, and the screeners were really applying themselves to the task at hand.
A man in front of me had a ticket for the next day, and was trying to catch an earlier flight. He had neglected to print out his new e-ticket, and was politely directed back to the ticket counter. He tried to explain several times that he had changed the reservation over the phone, but the screener was adamant: no tickee, no boardee. He turned on his heel and swore loudly at the screener.
As I passed through the scanner, I saw a man on the other side sitting in a chair, socks and shoes off, feet in the air,shouting a stream of expletives. He looked like one of those cartoon characters with a balloon over his head that reads ?*@#! Frustrated and furious, he made his plight worse by pumping up the volume. I don’t know if he ever made the plane.
As I took my seat and nodded off, I wondered how long it will take us to decide never to travel for business again. Between the airports and the hotels, it may just not be worth it. Invest in Webex.