Kids Are Alright
hope I die before I get old " -The Who-My Generation
my desk, beyond the clutter of faded Dilbert cartoons, I
have a photocopied picture that is about three years
old. I don’t know where I got it, but it has always
been there for me as an inspiration.
It’s a three-paned picture.
In the left pane is an older gentleman with gray
hair, probably 60 years old, in a crumpled tweed blazer,
with a tie and nice shoes.
In the middle pane is a late 30’s
guy with a wry smile, stylish glasses and he is
dressed in a golf shirt and khakis.
In the last pane is an 18ish year old kid with a
big grin, messy hair, flannel shirt and pants that are
way too big. Each
is holding a sign.
For left to right, or old to young, the signs
read: Mainframe, Client/server, Web.
a web guy. I got into this business partly because of my fascination
with the Internet when I was just sending e-mail during
my MBA. The
web is changing everything.
I’m right in the middle of it and I couldn’t
be happier. Therefore,
I must be like the young guy, right?
Fantastically hip and riding the crest of the new
wave. So it
is with great disdain that I look at the reflection in
my computer monitor and see an early 30’s guy with
stylish glasses, wearing a golf shirt and some khakis.
It can’t be! I’m a web guy!
Clothes don’t make the man.
now I feel better.
my never-ending quest to stay relevant and avoid growing
old and tired (metaphorically speaking), I conjured up a
great idea for the summer.
I convinced my 19-year old baby brother to come
out to Vancouver and live with us.
Bryce is a 2nd year computer science
student at UWO in London.
Do you think he came here because I wanted to
“hang” with him and be more “with it”?
real catch for Bryce was a job for 10 weeks at
Electronic Arts, testing the latest video games.
EA hires summer students to help in Quality
Assurance and Bryce landed a job.
It seems it is pretty much a dream job for a kid
born in 1980. Was
he qualified for the job?
He has a Sony Playstation, a Nintendo 64 and a
Dell pentium 400 at home.
Before he could walk, he was playing
Intellivision with his older brothers.
can we learn from the bright-eyed 19-year-old with
little experience in the real working world?
A lot. A
whole lot. The
Nintendo generation is seeing great opportunities in
front of them. The world’s economy has been on a huge roll since these
guys and gals hit puberty.
They don’t know what a recession is.
They are very savvy and growing old very fast.
Just think about the things that they will never
use: stock brokers, real estate or travel agents, real
bricks and mortar banks, Sam the Record Man, nice
They are entrepreneurial.
They are used to Internet time.
Any kid in a college or university technology
program is likely to have his choice of jobs before he
finishes school. Demand
is so high and labour markets so tight for talent, some
kids are being recruited in high school.
An entry draft? Player agents? The
future’s so bright, they gotta wear shades.
is responsible for turning the entire recorded music
industry on its ear?
College and high school kids around the world who
found it a lot easier to copy songs from their audio CDs
into an MP3 format.
MP3 makes the sound files smaller without
appreciable quality loss.
This, in turn, makes it easier to fire the songs
off to friends and strangers via e-mail or FTP sites.
Once you have a few decent sources of tunes, you
make your own mix of songs you like and “burn” a new
CD. I spent
hours of my teenage and college life trying to make the
perfect mix for parties, driving, studying or… well,
you know, Barry White, Sade.
(Sorry, I was taking a moment)
Back then, I had to use the cassette deck. The only source of content was what my roommates and I had in
our collections. Imagine
an unlimited collection.
Now imagine that it’s free.
Well, almost (more on that below).
you heard the latest?
There is a huge new black market in digital
unbelievable quality of the handheld digital video
cameras has enabled a new underground copying of
Want to see Star Wars, The Phantom Menace at home
in full digital picture and sound on your TV, months
before the release of the video version? You can. How do
I know? Ummmmm. Just take my word for it.
Some guy went into the very first screening on
May 19th and filmed the entire movie from his
seat in the theatre. He went home, streamed the video through his MPEG encoder
hardware and software.
He split it up into downloadable chunks (video is
very big still) and put it up on an FTP site.
To watch it on your TV, all you need is some
simple shareware that takes the MPEG you downloaded and
burns it right onto a CD, in DVD readable format.
have a DVD of the movie before the first day of full
release in the theatres.
most fascinating development in the whole MP3
sub-culture is really a product of the power of a
completely free and open market.
Stay with me here.
I don’t want your eyes to glaze over.
The Internet, and bulletin boards before it, has
enabled a new form of barter that the kids understand.
It is based on the principle of knowing more and
knowing it faster than the other guy.
Programmers and hackers have been working this
way for years, but it is the emergence of MP3 that is
making a whole generation trade on the principle of
having something or knowing something before anyone
see, for obvious reasons, the guy with the Star Wars
video isn’t advertising that he has it or wants to
sell it. If
you have something he wants, say a Ricky Martin MP3
collection, he will allow you in to his site to upload
your MP3s. With
your credits, he allows you to take a copy of the video.
In this world of information, the kids are
clearly way ahead of the rest of us.
Unfortunately, they are also way ahead of the
law. (The complete how-to of digital copying is at http://www.system-failure.com
fact is that under current law, all of this is illegal.
I don’t believe that the younger crowd is
morally bankrupt. They
just have access to incredible technology and ingenuity.
Most of all, they are connected to a huge group
of like-minded individuals via the Internet. They are learning things faster and are often more relevant
than we give them credit for.
So don’t ever make the mistake of writing them
off because they are too young, or too inexperienced.
of us running a technology business should think about
harnessing the incredible energy and enthusiasm that the
younger kids have. Going back to the point that kids
value knowledge and that their currency is having or
holding information that others haven’t got,
harnessing this talent to work for you means you have to
offer them their currency.
Give them access to the latest information and
help them build the knowledge. Encourage them to innovate by giving them time to do more
than repetitive grunt work usually doled out to the
youngest and newest workers.
Arts is thriving on young employees.
They have built a shiny new facility to keep the
workers happy. OK, that helps immensely. So does the
fact that they are making entertainment.
That’s massively cool.
But they also have an open work environment that
encourages friendly competition amongst groups and
access to any information that the company has.
One employee, who used to work at another local
game developer, marveled at the access to market
research data from his desktop.
He went back and saw how many units sold of
titles he made or worked on at the other firm.
He had never seen the actual numbers before.
It filled him with a sense of pride and
accomplishment. My brother is motivated by the thirst to
learn more. A
course in 3D rendering, one of many offered by the firm,
will make him the envy of all of his buddies at school.
your workforce is a lot of mainframe and client/server
type folks, maybe it’s time for a little drink from
the fountain of youth. They can teach you a lot.
I’m looking forward to listening all summer.
Jeff Skoll, VP at eBay, brand new billionaire and fellow
Canadian, just gave $7.5 million to U of Toronto to set
up a joint engineering and MBA program.
It’s a great idea to marry technology savviness
with business acumen.
Haig Farris has been running a course at UBC
doing exactly that for 7 years.
I should know. I was in it and now I’m a
thought he would give a little back.
So, I thought I’d see how little.
He is currently worth $7.1 billion CDN.
He just gave U of T one tenth of one percent of
his net worth. OK.
$200 contribution to my alma mater is right in line.
Only, I don’t think I’ll get a building named
Oh God. Now the Convention Center.
Doesn’t it just make you want to cry?
Glen, you have the anti-Midas touch.
Anything you touch turns into a complete
didn’t go near the weatherman this summer by any
the failure of a convention center to get started will
hurt the technology scene.
Having high profile events, like developer
conferences and huge trade shows helps display the local
tech scene to the world.
Well, not for a long while it appears.
Is it possible to get no votes in an election?
A great primer for what it takes to succeed as a Net
based startup today can be found at Business 2.0
I think that most of the points are bang-on.
A must review before careening off on your new
Net start-up career.
Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net
British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and
possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to
share some of the perspective and trends that I see in
my role as a VC. The column is always followed by
feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the
flames to myself, thanks).
Venture Capital Guide