I done kept it real from the jump
Living at my mama’s house we’d argue every month
N@#$a, I was trying to get it on my own
Working all night, traffic on the way home
And my uncle calling me like “Where ya at?
I gave you the keys told ya bring it right back”
N@#$a, I just think its funny how it goes
Now I’m on the road, half a million for a show
And we started from the bottom now we here
—Drake, Started From the Bottom
When I was 20 years old, I was a computer science major at Columbia University and I needed a summer job. It was 1986 and I was barely aware of a place called Silicon Valley. In those days there was no “startup culture or entrepreneurship movement”. Most people were only recently becoming aware that computers existed and almost nobody knew where they came from. The startups themselves were quite different than today’s breed. Most of the important startups were computer companies like Sun Microsystems, Apollo Computer, Cydrome, Compaq and Silicon Graphics. In 1986, there was no outsourced manufacturing and China was largely irrelevant to the technology industry. All the companies in those days had their own manufacturing—often in Silicon Valley—and were very large in terms of employees compared to today. Having more than 100 employees prior to shipping a product was not unusual.
Although there were important exceptions, very few 20-year-olds started companies in those days. I was not the exception—I just wanted a job. I wanted a job, but I knew absolutely nobody in technology or in Silicon Valley and there were no technology startups in New York. I had no idea how to get a job and then I got a break.
My father’s friend had just married Ed McCracken, the CEO of Silicon Graphics. I had my father ask her if she would talk to Ed, which she did. Ed then passed me to his head of Administration, Ken Coleman. Eureka! I had made the proverbial “friend of a friend of a friend” connection.
Ken agreed to meet with the son-of-a-friend-of-the-CEO’s-wife. After we met, he also agreed to take a chance on me as a summer intern.
Silicon Graphics was the Google of its day—the place where all the best engineers wanted to work. The company invented modern computer graphics and was building the coolest machines in the world. Prior to arriving, the only jobs that I’d held were paperboy, busboy, waiter, bellhop and valet attendant. Coming from those environments, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. One day I’m washing dishes and the next day I’m helping debug the operating system that would run the graphics for Jurassic Park. In one connection, I’d gone from the outhouse to the penthouse. Everybody at Silicon Graphics seemed to be a genius, the products were incredible and I never wanted to leave work. I knew that I had to do whatever it took to get myself to Silicon Valley permanently.
Unfortunately, I had not been properly socialized for life inside a big corporation. As the son of a new left radical (who later completely switched sides), I was combat trained. If somebody said something that I didn’t agree with, I wouldn’t hesitate to attack them ruthlessly, call their ideas stupid or personally insult them. I couldn’t help it. It was how I was raised. It was like I was Huey P. Newton and everybody else was The Man. I am quite sure that I would have and should have been fired several times, but for some reason Ken Coleman took an interest in me and smoothed things over whenever I got myself into trouble. He was my personal guardian angel. He helped me to build my life and career doing what I loved.
Over the years, despite being about 100 times more important than me, Ken always found time to meet with me and give me pointers about how to be effective. Much of what you read on this blog originally came from Ken.
After we met, Ken’s career continued to accelerate. He eventually became the chief operating officer of Silicon Graphics. He is now chairman of Saama Technologies and on the board of City National Bank, United Online and Accelrys. And Ken continues to help people like me. He helps people figure out how to fit into the amazing, innovative, magical world known as Silicon Valley.
This fits in very well with how we think about Andreessen Horowitz. We help technical founders learn how to be CEOs, we help engineers find the right company and we help executives find the right match. So, it’s natural, obvious and awesome that today we announce that Ken Coleman is joining Andreessen Horowitz as a Special Advisor.