The Godfather of Silicon Valley

Guy Kawasaki and his golden touch

Photo courtesy of Guy Kawasaki

For Guy Kawasaki, entrepreneurialism is all about “anticipating people’s needs before they know it”. He has applied this philosophy to an impressive list of Silicon Valley projects and shares with us which ones have caught his much sought after attention – and why.

Hi Guy. When we last caught up with you (all the way back in Issue 1 of The Collective!) you were managing director of venture capital firm, Garage Technology Ventures. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since?
That’s a few jobs ago! Currently, I am the chief evangelist of a company in Sydney called Canva, on the board of trustees of Wikimedia, and an executive fellow at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

Since then Canva, your “amazingly simple graphic design software” has garnered 2.5 million users. What initially drew you toward innovating in the design industry?
I like to democratise technologies and markets. My tech career started with democratising computers when I worked as an evangelist for the Macintosh Division of Apple. Now my tech career is going to end with Canva and democratising design. I want to help people who cannot afford to buy expensive software or to overcome a difficult learning curve to create amazing graphics.

Since its launch, why do you think Canva has been so wildly popular?
Canva is so wildly popular because of what’s called Guy’s Golden Touch. This doesn’t mean that whatever I touch turns to gold. It means that whatever is gold, Guy touches. Canva is, in the words of Steve Jobs, an “insanely great” product that combines ease of use and power. It’s very easy to evangelize something great—whether it’s a Macintosh or Canva. It’s very hard to evangelize crap.

How can you tell when a start-up has legs?
When thousands of people sign up for the service everyday – such as Canva, it’s a pretty good sign. At the very start before anything is shipping, then it’s just gambling. No one really “knows” in advance whether something will work. What we do in Silicon Valley is throw lots of stuff against the wall. Then we paint a bulls-eye around what sticks and tell people that we hit the target.

In your experience, where do start-ups fall short?
The most common reason start-ups fall short is excessive optimism. They “know” that their product will be on time and popular so they build the infrastructure to handle it. The product is always late and seldom takes off like they predicted, and start-ups run out of money. That said, entrepreneurs have to be excessively optimistic – or they would stay in their current jobs or go to work for large companies. There is no way to solve this dichotomy but to try – and possibly die.

Those of us miles away would love to know – what tech trends is Silicon Valley abuzz with these days?
Don’t let anyone tell you that Silicon Valley sees tech trends before the rest of the world. Information is fast, free, and ubiquitous.

We can’t wait to see you at this year’s Wired for Wonder. Can you give us a sneak preview of the topic/s you’ll be talking about on the day?
No, I can’t and won’t. I’m going to prepare right before my speaking slot so that I can provide the most up-to-date information and thoughts possible.

Finally, you do a lot of public speaking for someone who claims to be “not a professional speaker”! Any tips on how to effectively get your message across to an audience?
I have quite a few tips for this:
• Have something meaningful to say. If you don’t, don’t make a speech.
• Obey the 10-20-30 rule: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point font (minimum size).
• Use a dark background.
• Use graphics instead of words.
• Tell stories.
• Speak often.
If people just did this, they would be better than 90 per cent of the speakers in the world.

Guy Kawasaki is speaking at  Wired for Wonder 2015,  running August 26-27 in Sydney and August 28 in Melbourne. Find out more and book tickets here.

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