From ON Magazine
By Tim Devaney and Tom Stein
June 29, 2010—Jeff Clavier is the founder of SoftTech VC, a seed-stage angel fund that has invested in about 41 startups, mostly related to Web 2.0 and the Internet.
Obviously, you're so immersed in the Web in your everyday business life. On a personal level, what impact has the Web had on your life over these last 20 years?
Well, basically the Web has enabled the existence of people like me—where I’m one guy with an office somewhere in Palo Alto but always carrying everything that I need to do business. Give me a wireless connection, some power for my computer, and I have my office with me. All the tools that we have today at our fingertips compared to how we were doing things 20 years ago—it’s just completely amazing to think about all that progress which has happened in such a short time span.
You talked about you are a walking and talking mobile office.That’s how you view yourself?
Yes. It used to be I could support my computer by plugging in and connecting to the Web. I don’t even need to anymore because my iPhone does that now. I think that we are about to get a real 3G connection in this country (because for me the U.S. is still sort of a third world country from that perspective, at least coming from France which has more bandwidth available and 3G is really high-speed there. Anyway, with so much of that information and so much of the infrastructure available via mobile phones or smart phones, your computer is no longer required.You can actually travel for one day trips and not have your computer anymore. That’s something that has been true for the past couple of years.
What impact has that had on your life? Any kind of anecdotes or really positive experiences that you can recall offhand?
The notion of having people find you on the Web and be able to get a complete picture of who you are—what you’ve done, how you behave, what your personality is—is quite amazing. Recently I got 161 submissions for updating my logo. The person I chose had done an amazing amount of research in terms of what I had posted on my blog, what I had tweeted, and some of my companies. She came up with a design which is just unbelievable because it really characterizes what I do. The amount of information she extracted from what is on the Web was very profound.
In the past, she would have had to spend hours with me, meeting face to face, trying to understand what I do and what I think, and trying to derive a design out of that. It would have taken a lot of time for her and me. Here, the designer just nailed it. I was like, “Wow!”
Are there any kind of obstacles or traps with that kind of connectivity, the awareness of you out there for so many people to see?
We need to understand the implications of having all this [information] out there. In my field, I have quite a bit of visibility. There is a lot of information about me out there, and I actually need that visibility so entrepreneurs can discover what I do, find out about my investment strategy, and eventually reach out to me. I can see why people would be concerned about having so much about themselves—pictures, what they’ve done, what they’ve said—out there. We just have to adapt to that instant and constant visibility. Even though I’m pretty public in what I do, you won’t find any information about my children posted. I think that is part of the information that has to remain pretty private. Some of my friends do that very openly. I think that having a bit of a Chinese wall between the very public persona and what is more family-related is important.
What is the greatest impact the Web has had in your mind on business and/or society, the way we operate our society and operate in the business world?
Each of us who has access to the computer has a voice. We’re able now to express our thoughts and there are services on the Web that make it easy to be part of a global community. So, the biggest, most radical innovation is this ability to have access to a medium that has potentially millions of people that you can reach. That’s fundamentally the contribution that the Web has brought.
What’s fascinating is that nothing is impossible to anyone who wants to take on the task of sharing information, even in some of the most challenging parts of the world. They can communicate and let the rest of the community be aware of their issues and challenges.
Absolutely, and it’s an ongoing process as we get deeper and deeper in to the future with even more clarity and more openness you foresee?
Yes. I think it has enabled a more global conscience.
What do you think the Web will look like 20 years from now?
I have the fantastic ability to glimpse the future just by working with entrepreneurs and meeting people every day who come to me and say, “Hey, I want to do this because I have this vision.” It’s absolutely amazing what those guys have in mind sometimes.In terms of how things are going to evolve, I think that with the mobile Web, which has been revolutionized essentially by the iPhone, suddenly this whole notion of personalization that we’ve been talking about for years is going to come true. We’ll see a super imposition of the world and the way web-based information can be added to that true world that gives you more information about businesses, about people. The mobile devices will give us access to infinite information about the places we go to, about the things we look at. I’m driving on 101, and “Hey, three miles down the road there is an accident. Go right at the next exit.”
So, it’s much more personal, much more real. I can’t say in 20 years. Twenty years is a long, long time. In the next five years, we’ll see some radical innovation happening that will make everything available at our fingertips—but pushed to us as opposed to us having to search for databases.