Mitch Kapor, one of the early business icons of the personal computer revolution, shared an informal keynote and Q/A session with Vator CEO and Founder Bambi Francisco where he proclaimed that Oakland is the new destination for tech company startups and the Venture Capital firms that nurture those tech start-ups. He also thinks the diversity of Oakland and of its many non-profit organizations will catalyze and transform the tech industry.
Kapor is the founder of Lotus Development, the company that created Lotus 1-2-3, the first popular spreadsheet and graphing program that ran on personal computers. Later, in 1990, he was a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and served as its chairman until 1994. EFF has long been an advocate for personal privacy and the rights of digital natives. Kapor now resides in Oakland and, with his wife Freada Kapor Klein, runs the Kapor Center for Social Impact on Broadway which invests in start-ups with economic and social missions. Francisco called Kapor “the first mover” on Oakland’s growing tech startup scene. He agreed with Francisco that tech companies and start-ups are coming to Oakland. “Oakland’s time is coming, in fact Oakland’s time is already here,” Kapor said. “Tech IS coming to Oakland and it’s terribly exciting.”
Kapor used his metaphor about seeing around corners, meaning that an investor has to consider longer time frames for planning and take account of rising trends.
“If you go back to the 50s and 60s …there was zero tech in SF, ” Kapor told the audience. “It was all in the Valley.. and it crept northward in early 2000’s.” He said the same economic and housing pressures that led that northward expansion of technology companies was now leading to eastward movement to the East Bay and to Oakland
Kapor shared a bit of his history. He explained that he was the first investor in what became, in his terms, the “massive failure” of Go Corp which had an early tablet design and created the graphical PenPoint Operating System. It was an early tablet design before people understood how to use tablets and before there was mobile broadband. Kapor said Go Corp was the first tech startup in SF but at the time it couldn’t get enough engineers to come there from Silicon Valley and its lack of a valley address lessened its credibility. That’s no longer true, Kapor noted, with Twitter and Google being in San Francisco.
Things have changed since the tech boom of the 1990’s, according to Kapor. Young engineers and marketeers can start earlier in their careers and have less professional risk. These younger tech people wanted to live in San Francisco and have a richer cultural life. That same situation is occurring as young families – and new companies – are being priced out of San Francisco.
“Our approach to start-ups… it to fund and work with entrepreneurs that are not only creating economic value but social value as well,” Kapor said. “For instance, closing gaps in access or opportunity in education or health… and Oakland is a terrific environment for those kinds of start-ups, given its history and who lives here and what the community is like”
After questions from Francisco, Kapor added. “We think it’s very important for the success of a business that the team reflect the community that is being served [because] the problems they face become the opportunities they seek and if you have a different lived experience, you’re going to see different problems and opportunities.”