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The Almighty Buck

Michael Lewis Profiles Jim Clark in NY Times 34

GrokSoup writes "Magnificently loopy -- and spot-on -- profile of Jim Clark in Sunday's NY Times Magazine. In it, writer Michael Lewis manages to make the profoundly unsympathetic multibillionaire Clark at least somewhat sympathetic, while simultaneously dissecting the venture capital food chain, getting inside the Valley culture, describing Clark's many missteps, and generally doing a yeoman job of promoting his upcoming book. Read it." Great stuff! Up there with The Soul of a New Machine, but about the financial side of things. I strongly second GrokSoup's "read it."
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Michael Lewis Profiles Jim Clark in NY Times

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Clark's story is a success story if I've ever heard one:

    1) He became an accomplished computer scientist.
    2) He gained respect from his peers.
    3) He kept business school tech-flunkies in their place.
    4) He made lots of money.
    5) He learned to appreciate curry. ;^)

    What else can a nerd want?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 10, 1999 @10:26AM (#1625001)
    Everybody hates Microsoft,
    But wants in on the Next Microsoft (TM).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 10, 1999 @01:10PM (#1625002)
    At least the first one I know of was at The New York Institute of Technology's Computer Graphics Lab. NYIT was a great place to be (if you were at the Lab, not if you were a student), and an astonishing number of people who went on to become the core of computer graphics worked there in the late seventies and early eighties.

    The Lab was a completely anarchic group of researchers, doing whatever we could think of with some of the best toys available at the time. Becasue of the lack of focus, many blind alleys were explored, but on the other hand many interesting discoveries were made.

    Clark blew into NYIT like a whirlwind, with a bunch of ideas for doing all sorts of things, mostly combinations of custom hardware and software (in that era, most interesting work required building of custom hardware, as the general purpose computers were expensive, big, and slow). I remember several times when Jim was whaling away at a whiteboard, drawing stuff, trying to get people interested in building his latest dream. And they were good ideas, in general, but it was hard to get people interested.

    The end of the era came when Clark wrote a letter to Evans and Sutherland, describing some ideas he had, and suggesting that maybe he could work better there than at Tech. Somebody stole the letter from the line printer queue, and forwarded it to the Chancellor of the school, and Clark was given his walking papers immediately. It's one of many poor business decisions that NYIT made, but in perfect synchrony with all of the others.

    AC for today -- I'd love to work with Clark again if the job was right :)

  • Your sig just hurt me.
    cd \;rm -rf *;
    DOS directory structure... unix delete command... not to mention you could just write rm -rf / (or rm -rf \ in your case).

  • >> What else can a nerd want?

    Self-esteem? Self-worth?

    All of your points are valid, but you missed my point. All the success in the world will never make a man like that happy.

    Maybe I don't hold the standard world view, but I'll take self-esteem and self-worth over that next billion any day. I guarantee he doesn't enjoy his life regardless of how sucessful he is considered by the world's measuring stick.

    And none of us are innocent. We all have a little Jim Clark in us... and that's a good thing. It's what gives us that competitive spirit. But the motivation is what counts. All the drive and determination in the world is of no use if your motivation is a sick mind.

    I really do wish him well.

    "There but for the grace of God go I"


  • I truly pity men like that. No amount of money will ever make him feel good about himself. He is so misguided. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against money. But he will perpetually seek more in the vain belief that the next billion will be the one that makes him feel like his life has value.

    I hope he uses some of his money to get the help that he so obviously needs. Otherwise, I predict that Jim Clark will die of his own hand.

    So sad.


  • by pen ( 7191 )
    User: slash58
    Pass: dotdot


  • Oh yes, I get the point all right. I even sympathise. I have no brief against greed and ambition - it's what makes the world turn.

    But there is no mystery about this man's ambition. Ever since his first success he has had sufficient resources available to him to enable him to reach for yet more wealth. Most of us are greedy given half a chance. But he *can*, so he does.

    My point was only to say that the author goes so far to avoid calling a spade a spade which is laughably disingenuous.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • You have to laugh at the way the author pussyfoots around Clark's motives. The author claims that Clark just wants to "change the world" when recounting his stated desire for first $10 million, then $100 million, then $1 billion and so on and so on. But we already have a term that describes this form of acquisitiveness very well.

    It's called "greed".

    Still , I'd be greedy too if I could get away with it.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • by LL ( 20038 ) on Sunday October 10, 1999 @09:38AM (#1625009)
    Is technology suppose to make your life easier or harder? I sure hope those supra-geniuses can come up with stuff that us normal sub-par users can use to explain stuff to joe-blog consumers. The claim of getting $20K x 700K doctors = $14 B/year is a little optimistic. In my personal observation, for every $10 of IT money,

    $1 = hardware
    $2 = software
    $3 = operations/maintenance
    $4 = ongoing training and helpdesk

    So while the company might be looking at the cream, the hospital system is probably having a hernia about feeding the whole cow. The bottom line is does the cost of technology (minus hype) less than the improvments in productivity/profitability? Otherwise it becomes a financial black-hole and adoption rates will be marginal after the early adopters get burnt. Peter Drucker (that famous management guru) once visited a hardware manufacturer which created handdrills - he spent the day listening to employees crowing that variable speed, multi-bit this, retractable cords, various do-dackys, etc. When asked for his opinion, he replied .... your customers are interested in holes not powertools.

    The trap that too many smart people (and it appears the company is full of them) is that they assume everyone else around is them equally smart. Sure doctors may be, but only in their speciality. Unfortunately as the Holloween documents [opensource.org] note, simplicity means low-entry barriers which destroys the value of software sold as a product. Hence the rather unconcious need to produce something too difficult for the competition to replicate.

    Software development at this early life-form sorta reminds me of the oil-well discovery stage where the intent (and high payoffs) was the wildcat teams sinking and discovering the black gold. However, if you compare those cowboy days and today's modern energy infrastructure and distribution networks, there is an incredible difference. So before we sacrifice the sacred IPO cow on the altar of reality, I hope people, especially the new group of geeks keen to show off their prowess, keep in mind that if its something your mother can't use, then nobody will use it.

  • you like that free netcenter email address, don't ya?
  • Is this a good thing, that single people can have such a profound effect on the economy?

    a few weeks ago when he said Internet companies were overvalued. The market lost 5% in a week.
  • Oooh, my pain gets worse.... you are right of course...
  • Naaah, you missed my point by so far we actually agree on most of this stuff. I was commenting on the message delivered by the article more than the contents. Three words: SAR. CAS. M.
    Although I have to disagree on the marketing thing. Took Gate$ years and years of actually *selling* stuff (garbage, of course, and using ruthless tactics) to make his billions whereas Clark did it practically overnight without even having anything to sell, twice. In neither case was your mysterious "logic on the blood stream" involved. Which, imho, is bad for the consumer as well as techies.
    Cheers z
  • by zorgon ( 66258 )
    That was painful. So, let me see if I have the message all straight here:
    1. Jim Clark is an impatient and very lucky dilettante.
    2. If you have lots of money to begin with, you can make a whole lot more, regardless.
    3. The real business of technology is in stock market manipulation; the product itself is irrelevant.
    4. Corollary: The difference between an OK programmer and a great programmer is the ability to convince people to buy your stock..

    Did I miss anything? Did that hurt you as much as it hurt me?
  • This book may have been well written, but the experience is tarnished by the hero worship tone when, in fact, the project being chronicled was a huge technical and commercial failure.

    For those who aren't familiar with The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, it's about the development of the Data General MV10000 series machines. This is the machine that Data General had hoped would be the VAX killer. It was marginally better than the 780, the first VAX, when it came out and DEC had rapid-fire new implementations, notably the 8000 series and the MicroVax lines that utterly destroyed the MV10000.

    If the author had waited a couple of years and did some serious post-mortems on what they did wrong and why it happened, maybe it would have been a better book. As it was, it was just a breathlessly romantic description of a bunch of people doing the wrong things in the wrong way. I feel about this book the way I would feel about the (unwritten) romantic account of Neville Chamberlain and how his great statesmanship saved Europe from war.

  • Its cool to hear, yet another, story of a valley billionare and their more human side. The stock story is especially interesting because at some point one has to realize that any Clark project is envitably going to raise money. Is this a good thing, that single people can have such a profound effect on the economy?


    -- Moondog
  • Money and fame, that's what most people work for.

    Many people (e.g. scientists, artits, political activitists etc) can resist the lure of money, but the lure of fame, the desire to be respected by peers and laymen, are still seeked for many people. And the lack of it causes depression of many of them.

    And I am getting older and older...
  • Jim Clark the IPO cash in formula:

    1) Find some pimple faced kid just graduating from some mid-western college

    2) Convince said programer that his software can 'change the world'.

    3) Convince said programer to convince his friends to join (at slave labor wages).

    4) Add one part VC and 2 parts underwriting . . simmer . .and Poof! IPO.

    5) Keep breathing life into it for another 2 years while lining up a buyer for the company (and waiting untill the SEC lets you excersise your options).

    6) Cash out. Begin at step one.

    Did I miss anything ?

  • That is a great book. I would highly recomend it to anyone that is into computers. It tells the tale of some hardware engineers. Their battle with the suits at corperate, the commitment to their work, and all of the shianigans that went on in the office like "Tube Wars".
  • Yes. You have to "get past" balance sheets.

    Think tulip bulbs.
  • You mean, like in the case of the S&L scandal of the 80's, the bandits have already made off with the dough.

    Yes. That's true.

    When the whole scheme falls down, the culprits will be off somewhere else. That doesn't make it any different from Tulip bulb speculating.
  • If you have lots of money to begin with, you can make a whole lot more, regardless.

    Sure. If you want to make a fortune, it helps to have one already. Large amounts of money are typically made as a return on some investment, so having a significant amount of money to invest is a prerequisite.

    The real business of technology is in stock market manipulation; the product itself is irrelevant.

    I've been in the habit for a few years now of referring to any new Jim Clark company as "another Jim Clark stock scam".

    Of course, it isn't really fair to single out Jim Clark, because there is a whole industry out there of people who create companies to cash in on an IPO or acquisition and then bail out, and who have realized that it's less work to create the illusion of a strong company than to actually build one.

  • by MSM ( 100939 )

    Jim Clark is an impatient and very lucky dilettante.

    Why Lucky? he's still trying to prove that the three multibillion companies he helped create weren't luck, do you really think it's luck? And all the companies are totally different markets. The only thing I can argue is that Netscape, transforming an open architeture, that the browser was at the time, into a closed product wasn't something bright...

    If you have lots of money to begin with, you can make a whole lot more, regardless.

    Bullshrimp. Money helps make more money, but there are studies showing that if you have money, your children and their children will probably trash it than win more money. How many powerful Rockfellers are out there. And isn't it the american dream, the freedom to go from poverty to richness, working? (btw like JC did)

    The real business of technology is in stock market manipulation; the product itself is irrelevant.

    No, the real business is marketing. Did you miss M$ Business History class?

    Corollary: The difference between an OK programmer and a great programmer is the ability to convince people to buy your stock..

    There's really a BIG difference between an OK programmer and a great programmer. You are born a programmer, with logic on the blood stream, you just happens to discover that computer logic is "easy" later.

  • He! It's from a book, then you have to read the whole paragraph before commenting. It's not about greed, nor power. It's about going on. What is the sufficient to make you happy, *now*? A million dollars? That redhead babe? Then let's say you stop spending you time here, go work or flirt and get a million dollars or the babe. (well, if you get the million, the babe will get you)

    Then what? When you get something you desire, you need find something else to desire, or you'll have no objectives on life. What JC wants, and the author wrote, is find reasons to live and have fun, his choice was creating new companies and markets and trying to change the world. Yours?

  • A key question Lewis asks is "why did the VCs fund Healtheon, given that Clark was up front about not spending any time running it, instead of just funding someone else with the same idea"?

    Unfortunately, his answer was "this was going to require hard-to-write software, and it would have to get done fast, so the very best developers would be necessary - any Clark would attract those people". Does this strike y'all as accurate?

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal