Forget method acting. How about method reporting? In order to find out why kiteboarding’s so popular with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists, I immersed myself in the story by learning how to kiteboard. Being a former professional water skier I thought, “How hard could it be?” The only difference is you’re towed on a wakeboard or water ski by a kite versus a boat. And everyone seems to be doing it these days.Virgin Group Founder and Chairman Richard Branson kiteboards. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin ride as well. In fact, they’re the real catalysts driving the sport’s popularity in Silicon Valley. They’re known to hang out at one of the top kiteboarding spots in the Bay Area, 3rd Avenue in San Mateo. What better way to break the ice with two of the most sought after techies than asking them if they need help launching their kites.
I first heard about the sport three years ago while attending a networking event at Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco. I was talking with David Hassell, CEO of a software firm currently in stealth, who told me that kiteboarding was his secret to success. Each year he attends an exclusive gathering of techies in Maui called MaiTai, created by Charles River Ventures Partner Bill Tai and professional kiteboarder Susi Mai. So, I asked for an invite.
Who knew I’d be rubbing shoulders on the beach with folks like Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, SolarCity’s CEO Lyndon Rive, Apple‘s Engineering Manager Andy Belk and PayPal Co-founder and Founders Fund Partner Kenny Howery. They’re three of the more than 150 entrepreneurs, executives and investors who attend the annual event. I was so excited to be hob nobbing with some of the execs I couldn’t even get appointments with in Silicon
Valley, that I barely made it on the water. Aurora Networks Project Manager May Yam, who’s also a kiteboarding instructor in California, gave me a few land lessons to learn how to fly the kite. And Charles River VenturesPartner Bill Tai took me on a tandem ride across the water on our stomachs, pulled by a kite. It’s called “body dragging.” But that was the extent of my kiteboarding experience. I was a little too intimidated to try it on my own after watching the kiteboarding prowess of SVB Financial Managing Partner Aaron Gershenberg and former Apple engineer and now Jawbone Product Manager Jason Faas catch some BIG air alongside some of the pro kiteboarders, who also attended the event, such as Jesse Richman and his brother Shawn.
So, it wasn’t until my second year at the event that I actually took an ‘official’ lesson on the water. That meant more body dragging. This time, it was on my own. It’s part of the learning process. It helps beginners learn how to negotiate with Mother Nature. She’s ultimately in charge of your fate. My instructor told me that if I tried to jump on a wakeboard too early in the process, without learning how to steer the kite first, I’d likely sail off to Japan. But when you first learn how to body drag, you get tossed around like a rag doll. It’s like a form of hazing by Mother Nature. Not too fun! I’m surprised the islands are still afloat after I ingested so much of the Pacific – seaweed included. I called it quits after getting dragged across a bed of coral and decided to take a different approach to earning my spot at this invite-only event.
I pulled out my swivel ski, which I used when I performed water ski stunts at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California. The swivel ski is a stationary ski with a binding that rotates 360 degrees, allowing me to hold the rope with my foot and turn backwards. Since I was with a group of entrepreneurs, natural innovators who love to take risks and try new things, I asked if they could
give me a tow behind the kiteboard. They thought I was crazy. No one had ever done that before. But, a group of entrepreneurs can’t walk away from a challenge. They figured out how to make it happen. They tied my ski rope around the harness of pro kiteboarder and Axon Kiteboarding CEO Ben Meyer, and we gave it a shot.
It took me a few times to get the hang of the pull. Mother Nature doesn’t have the gentle touch of a brand new Mastercraft XStar ski boat. If you don’t hold on to the tow bar tight, her wrath will yank it right out of your hands. I almost lost a pinky on that first pull. The other challenge in performing the trick was I typically perform on smooth water at 13 miles per hour. To kiteboard, you need at least 10-15 knots of wind, which means white caps, and a pull that’s about twice as fast I typically would have behind a boat. To add to the danger of it, when I hold the rope with my foot, I can’t let go of the handle if I fall. It’s locked in. On a boat, there’s what’s called a “trick release.” The driver or a passenger use that device to release the rope manually when I fall. Without it, I could easily separate my hip while being dragged by my leg with my face submerged in the water. So, it’s one of those “don’t try this at home” tricks. But despite all the potential what-if scenarios, we did it! No one expected it. So, the photographers didn’t follow us the first time and all we got on film was a silhouette picture of the performance. So, I did it a second time with Wind Over Water Kiteboarding School Owner Jeff Kafka and everyone lined the beach cheering us on.
It’s the first time they’d ever seen a trick like that performed behind a kiteboarder. Hey Guiness Book Of World Records…are you paying attention? Pro kiteboarder and Kiteworld journalistJenna Hannon certainly was and mentioned me in a recent article. Except she added a line, which I now have to live up to: “Kym of Forbes is a ripping kiter.’ If that’s not a set-up, I don’t know what is. So, I had to suck it up and give kiteboarding another shot and who better to teach me than Wind Over Water kiteboarding school owner Jeff Kafka, who taught Google’s founders. Charless River Ventures Bill Tai and SVB Financial Group’s Aaron Gershenberg were there to witness this momentous occasion that was arguably three years overdue.
Take a look:
You’d expect the CEO of a solar company to have the most energy efficient home on the planet. But as SolarCity’s Lyndon Rive recently discovered, even with a newer house with all the latest Energy Star appliances, heating and cooling systems, there’s no such thing as 100% energy efficiency, no matter how hard you try.
“I decided to put my house to the test because I’m asking my customers to do it through our new Home Energy Evaluation program,” says Rive. “I just didn’t expect my home, which is on the newer side, to have as much leakage as they found.”
He really didn’t. That’s why he invited my cameraman Anthony Nielsen and I to his home to be there during the audit. The look on his face was priceless when his Home Energy Evaluation team broke the news that he had quite a bit of air leakage, or draftiness, throughout his home. Take a look:
Energy can leak through gaps around doors, around electrical sockets, appliances, sinks, even lighting. Leaks are also common in air ducts. In fact, SolarCity reports that for every $100 you spend on heating and cooling, $40 is typically lost through leakage at most homes.
“If we added up all the cracks and put them in one place, it would equate to a 17-inch hole in the side of his house,” explains Johnathan Walker, Home Energy Consultant, SolarCity. “An old co-worker used to call it, ‘death by a thousand cuts’ because it’s a bunch of little things that add up.”
Leakage is one of the biggest problems Walker’s discovered in the more than 300 homes he’s audited so far since he started performing audits for SolarCity last fall. Other major problem areas include the heating and cooling air systems as well as the water heater.
“Lyndon definitely has a high-efficiency home,” says Walker. “But there’s always room for improvement because technology just keeps getting better and better.”
For example, his Kitchen Aid Refrigerator costs him about $187 per year. A new, more energy efficient, one could save him $98 annually. His GE clothes washer costs him about $59 per year. And a new one would save him $32 annually.
“Sometimes the cost savings isn’t enough to outweigh the cost of replacing appliances, which we think is the case for Lyndon,” contends Walker.
But as for his heating and cooling systems? Rive’s Home Evaluation Team suggested it could be worth his while IF he starts seeing problems. His furnace is 12 years old and 13% oversized, with the potential to heat 1.1 homes. His air conditioner is 13 years old, 17% undersized and has the potential to only cool 0.8 homes efficiently.
Rive could also buy a new water heater to improve energy efficiency in his home. Although, Rive’s team says his is more efficient than most homes in the United States. More than half the U.S. uses a natural gas water tank. He uses a tankless water heater. It’s seven year old. If it breaks, the team says he should get a new one. But until then the energy savings wouldn’t outweigh the cost of replacing it.
So, for now, Rive is focusing all his efforts on reducing the air leakage in his home. Fixes are underway.
Adventure writer and business executive Thayer Walker is leading the charge to protect sharks in the Bahamas by raising money to help the Bahamian government create a management plan, infrastructure and enforcement team to protect a 70 square mile marine protected area in the South Berry Islands.
VIDEO: WHO IS THAYER WALKER?
The area was granted protection by the Bahamian government 10 years ago, but there hasn’t been any funding to support the country’s first No Take Marine Reserve. So, commercial fishing continues to deplete the waters. To put the protection plan into action, it’s going to cost about $1 million. Walker, a correspondent for Outside magazine, is leading a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Summit Series to raise that money.
Walker is also the Chief Reconnaissance Officer for Summit Series, which is a group of young entrepreneurs who have set out to change the world, putting on annual events with an exclusive, invite-only list of executives and philanthropists from around the world. At this year’s Summit At Sea in the Bahamas, actress Kristen Bell, billionaire Peter Thiel, Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie and other celebrities and executives joined Dr. Neil Hammerschlag–director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami–to tag sharks for research. After that event in April, the Summit community committed more than $750,000 to create the marine protected area and protect the sharks of the Bahamas. For more information, email Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org
When Ed Holme isn’t helping clients such as Coca-Cola, Lowe’s, Emerson, Ryobi, Hunter Fan and Oxford Industries innovate as a Principal at consultancy firm, BOLTgroup, he’s out on the ranch. Ed Holme and his wife, Katie, are the “Horse Healers” near Fort Mill, South Carolina. Four years ago they started a non-profit, “Healing Horses,” after Katie bought her first horse, which had been abused by his previous owner.
Since then, “Healing Horses’ has rescued and rehabilitated more than 100 horses. A small number compared to the more than 100,000 unwanted horses that are slaughtered each year across the U.S. (The American Horse Council).
“It’s just the start for us,” exclaims Holme. “We’re fundraising to try and expand and help more horses.”
Ed spends every weekend both trying to raise money as well as hands-on helping victims of trauma or abuse, get back on their feet and find new, loving homes.
In the video below, Ed shares the most moving experiences he’s ever had and how working with horses has changed his life both personally AND professionally:
David Hitz grew up in the suburbs in a middle class family and ended up on a ranch before heading to Silicon Valley. That’s where the co-founder of data storage and management company NetApp says he learned the most about himself and business. Hitz was attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania as an engineering undergraduate when he dropped out to attend a two-year, all-male liberal arts college in the middle of the desert called, “Deep Springs College.”
“I realized there was more to life than engineering, exclaims Hitz, “And I thought, ‘I want a broader focus than just 100 percent engineering classes. So how can I do that?”‘
Deep Springs College is basically a cattle ranch, located in the middle of the California desert, with only a couple dozen students who attend regular classes such as composition, public speaking, natural sciences and mathematics– but the rest of their time is spent shoveling cow manure and performing other ranch duties.
“I even castrated a bull,” says Hitz, as a smile erupts on his face.
FORBES: So, you left programming for a more ‘worldly’ experience?
HITZ: As much as I respect the programming life, to work on a ranch I realized that I was doing so much more. It was back to the basics. It was very rewarding to me to know how I fit into the world in terms of actually doing something for somebody. And since then it’s made me ask the question, ‘how does the work I’m doing actually matter to anybody real?’ And I mean you can– NetApp is the company I work for. It’s a data storage company. It’s pretty abstract stuff. You know? Bits and bytes. How do you make that real? But you start to dig into it and you go, ‘you know, the data that we’re storing might be the movie of somebody’s kid walking for the first time.’ And all of a sudden you go, ‘oh, okay.’ We’ve made a link from this abstract stuff that we’re doing through to something much more fundamental and human. Even if what you are, which I’ve been as a programmer, and you like to type and you’re doing your puzzle solving. I mean it’s great fun. But I think most people – once you can pay the bills and you’ve got the food and maybe someone to love you — when you’ve got that stuff you start thinking about how does my work impact the world? Is there a link there? And I’m not saying you have to be curing cancer or something, but just to ask that question. Am I helping somebody somehow?’ I don’t know. I think that makes work more real.
FORBES: Well, I think that’s the key to any successful business — make it real! You’ve just chosen an unconventional way of learning that lesson. So do you think that all entrepreneurs should experience what it’s like on a ranch before they start a company?
HITZ: No. What I would say is that I do think it would probably be good for all entrepreneurs to do some kind of blue collar work. I mean suburbs kid. Being on the ranch was the first time I’d interacted with a lot of people who had no college degree, no sort of formal education. And it’s pretty easy to imagine, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got the college degree. I grew up in the suburbs. I’m better than all those guys.’ And when you’re on the ranch and the job is something that they know how to do really well and it involves sharp knives or heavy lifting equipment, skip loaders and stuff, suddenly you find out those folks are a whole lot smarter than you are in some pretty important domains about how you get to keep your fingers. And it gives you a different perspective on the roles different people play. And maybe you don’t feel as superior as you thought you were. Like, those are pretty smart folks in their own domain. And the reason I think that matters for entrepreneurs and for business, two reasons. In big giant companies, you’ve hired a lot of people, either yourself or outsourced it, who are doing that kind of stuff for you. Do you respect ‘em or not? And you kind of can’t fake that. And if you don’t, they’re gonna feel it. And people don’t do so well in environments where they’re not being respected. So I think that’s important. And the other one, in smaller companies especially, if you’re an entrepreneur, you may find yourself doing some of that. I mean if you’re the CEO and it’s a 10-person company, probably you go pick up the pizza yourself. You sweep the floor if it didn’t happen and it’s important for it to look good. You don’t wanna be handling a lot of weird stuff, ‘Oh, well, that labor’s beneath me.’ So does it have to be a cattle ranch? No. But I think something like that that just sort of helps get you in touch with not your Ivy League high faulting background. I think that is very healthy.
FORBES: But back to the ranch… and tying that into the boardroom. Your book is written as if castrating a bull has certainly played a role in your success. So, has it really?
HITZ: When I look at the linkage between some of the experiences I’ve had in business, a lot of time I don’t see them as like a tight coupling. ‘Oh, you shoveled cow manure and therefore you’re a better manager. Like you learned these three lessons shoveling the manure.’ I see it much more as management is a situation where you often don’t know what you need to do. You’re confused. And if you’ve been in positions in your life before where you just were kind of thrown in and you didn’t know what you were doing and you’re confused and you did it anyway and you came out the other side, those kind of experiences– whatever the domain, those kind of experiences are probably gonna help you. Just, ‘yes, I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m–’ you know, you look at the financial meltdown two years ago. Lehman Monday. Every CEO in the world’s trying to figure out, ‘Oh my god. What do I do?’ There was no expert to help them. There was no like, ‘Oh, here’s the instruction book.’ They’re just winging it.
FORBES: But see that’s where you’re kind of contracting yourself just a little bit in terms of…you had mentioned to me before to respect the people that knew more than you did out on the ranch that were showing you how to do that. And then now you’re saying that there wasn’t anyone around you that knew what they were doing and you had to just figure it out.
HITZ: So that’s fair. Because Deep Springs was an educational institutional, it’s a college as well as a ranch, part of the experience of it was to just kind of throw you into situations where you didn’t really know what you were doing. So there’s kind of a combination. If you’re gonna jump the fence and try and castrate a bull, you really ought to get some instructions. Right? I mean there are some things that you sort of look at risk/reward profile. But there’s other things where it’s perfectly reasonable– and I think the ranch staff sometimes enjoyed this. ‘Let’s just put the suburban kid in his place. You go in and fix that car.’ ‘I don’t know how.’ ‘Here’s a wrench. Start looking.’ You know? And so part of the educational experience of it– and I don’t think this was just that Deep Springs was an educational institution. Well, depending what the thing was. Sometimes the instructors on purpose would not give you any help and then the real lessons was here I am and I just have to figure it out. And maybe its work that either you just don’t know how to do it or maybe it’s work you would have said was beneath you. Like I’m a suburban kid. Why am I shoveling manure? But either way, you’re just kind of thrown into it. And yet there were people to learn from. And one of the interesting things about the ranch staff, these were folks– college educated parents, suburban kid. These were folks with no education. Blue collar work who if the situation were different I might have been looking down on them and thought, ‘well, that’s not someone I’m gonna learn on.’ But there you are in the ranching situation and suddenly you realize that they’ve got stuff to teach me. They’re smarter than I’d given ‘em credit for. And I think that– these days NetApp’s 10,000 people and I’ll sometimes have lunch with the guys who do the loading dock. You know? I’ve gotten a different sense of respect for all of the different types of work that there are. And I think that feeling of comfort with people who don’t have the same background as me, I think that’s something that really developed in the cattle ranch environment.
FORBES: And that’s what you deal with especially in a start-up situation…
HITZ: Right. I think in large companies, it’s problematic. In large companies I think it’s pretty easy for a CEO to be insulated from anybody normal. You know what I mean? There’s handlers and handlers of handlers. And it’s pretty easy to get weird. But in a start-up you can’t do that because you have to deal with the whole range of issues going on in a company. In a large company you can do it, but I’m not sure it’s healthy. If you’re a CEO or any executive, you’re leading a whole organization. And it’s not all just made up of the high level folks who are directly on your staff. It’s a lot of people with different backgrounds. The ability to just sort of appreciate where they’re coming from, I think that’s very healthy.