Hello everyone and welcome to a bonus series I’m doing called A Personal History of Silicon Valley Recessions.
This is a five part miniseries of what it was like to go through two (and now starting three) recessions in Silicon Valley.
It’s January 2023 as I record this and I don’t think you need to be a genius to figure out that we’re in a recession.
Most experts would generally say that the spark that ignited it was when Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022.
Come to think of it, that was probably not the actual spark. Clearly it was an additional nudge but my guess is that our woes started during the COVID-19 lockdown that created a self-imposed recession back in March of 2020.
That’s when inflation started to accelerate and the supply chain got itself all tangled up.
Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll get to today in part 5.
For now, I’d like to give you some context as to where I’m coming from and why I would even do this.
If you have listened to this show you know that I talk a lot about actionable insights based on the folks I interview and my own history of entrepreneurship.
More importantly, our job here on the podcast is to educate and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Part of that education is learning from the past and since I feel we’re in for a bumpy next couple of years, I’d figured I’d share some insights from past recessions I have been through.
For part 1, let's level-set a bit of where my head is at when it comes to my relationship with Silicon Valley.
Born in the Most Creative Place on Earth
I’m lucky. I was born in Silicon Valley and I had a pretty normal childhood as Gen-Xers go.
This was the 70’s and 80’s where the only real limits we had were to be home when the street lights went on so we could heat up our Hungry Man dinners and watch the A-Team.
As was the fashion for the times, both my parents worked so being the eldest of three boys, it was my job to make sure the house did not burn down. We came close twice.
Once when brother Paul set the toaster oven on fire with his snack of Saltines, butter, and honey.
The other time was during a game of war where we used a road flair to smoke out our neighbor in the garage.
When you hear us old folks from Gen-X say we were lucky to be alive, this is what we’re talking about.
Hacker By Nature
Once of the most memorable things to come out of my childhood was a love of computers. My dad and I built one in our basement.
It was crude, borderline functional but it taught me a lot about electronics.
Since my dad was an Electrical Engineer, it was only natural that he would teach me as much as he could.
We had one of the first Vic 20’s, Commodore 64’s (two in fact), and an Amiga, which when you opened the case (because we did), the inside of the case had everyone’s signature that worked on it. The signatures etched into the mold so when the case came out, the signatures were raised. You could run your fingers across it.
We’d go to computer club meetings to “share” software with each other on 5 ¼ floppy disks that took eons to “copy.” It was the wild west for sure.
I probably even rubbed elbows with Steve Wozniak but back then everyone had a beard so it was hard to tell.
Now that I think about it, it was pretty darn cool for a kid whole loved hacking on computers.
I’d even follow in his footsteps to San Jose State, where 25 years after he did it, I got my degree in EE.
Instead of following my dad in the airline industry, I decided to try this whole startup thing.
Pretty much everyone in my graduating class of 1995 was going to some form of startup in Silicon Valley. It’s all anyone would talk about and the hottest ones to go to were Semiconductor and Networking startups.
Semiconductors because that’s what drove everyone's personal computers and networking because the Big I Internet was just starting to be built.
So I found a job at a startup called Adaptive Solutions, through one of my classmates Jim.
Adaptive Solutions created parallel processors to solve neural networks type problems. It was the precursor to Nvidia’s GPU back when no one knew how to build such a thing.
It was a great job but soon they wanted to shift to software development only and shut down our merry band of chip guys 1.5 years after I got there.
The pivot to software ended up going south quickly and they ended up going bankrupt.
I still remember the day my boss Mike and I closed the doors for the last time, put the key in a FedEx envelope and said our farewells.
That would not be the last time I would have to shut something down but it left a mark.
Not in the woe is me, I don’t deserve this kind of thing but that no matter how good you are, you can always be replaced.
Sad to say but it’s true.
So on that cheerful note, thanks for listening to part one of A Personal History of Silicon Valley Recessions.
Stay tuned for part two when I’ll let you know what it felt like during the dot com boom and bust that led to the 2001 recession ahead of the war on terror.
Until next time, chin up, shoulder back, and keep grinding.