RIP Steve Jobs
POSTED AT Oct 06, 2012  |   Blogging | Leave a comment

My article on Steve Jobs for Vogue Italy

One year later, most people tend to remember where they were when they heard the news.  I was moderating one of our Singularity University Executive Programs and the news pretty much stopped the class.  We took a few minutes at a break to talk it over and then continued in a much more subdued fashion.

A couple of days later, I got a call from Vogue Italy asking if I’d write an article about it.  Writing it took me all the way back to 15 years old, when I learned to program on an Apple II.  Click on the image to get the full article.

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Three Singular Years
POSTED AT Sep 10, 2011  |   Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Private meeting with President Shimon Peres of Israel

We just closed out our third spectacular third at Singularity University.  Aaron Saenz has a great summary of the final Team Project presentations.

It’s been a hell of a twelve month period for me personally and my primary focus has been about spreading the word about SU around the world. Here are some of the highlights.

In September 2010, my wife and I traveled to Israel and had a private meeting with President Shimon Peres. In November, we traveled to Brazil and Chile and ran a one-week course in Sao Paolo.  In December, we went to Milan, met the Mayor and laid the groundwork for a major deal between the 2015 World Expo and SU.  In April we again did a roadshow with the faculty for a short course in Abu Dhabi to some of the royalty there.  In June, we kicked off our third summer with 80 students from 35 countries.  The summer ended in fine style, with 10 new startups spinning out of SU.  Probably the highlight was Matternet, which uses drones to deliver medecine and food in areas where there is no road infrastructure (ie. in most developing countries).

We had our closing ceremonies 10 days ago keynoted by Reid Hoffman and Vinod Khosla. There’s a great story about it at Singularity Hub (  In the closing talk, I describe a breakthrough idea from one of our students about how we could use an Elance-type platform to dissolve conflict zones around the world.  Truly inspiring (if a bit grainy).

Couldn’t get much better right?  Oh, but wait.  At TED, Chris Anderson invited me onto the main stage and I gave a (very) short talk on the structural issue with democracy (basically, how does one do long-term planning in a democracy with short-term, high metabolism election cycles?) It’s a question that’s been bugging me for a while now and it was good to pose it to some of the smartest thinkers in the world.

Giving a short talk at TED 2011

2011 certainly has been unique… sorry, Singular!




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Handing over the ‘Rains’
POSTED AT Oct 13, 2010  |   Blogging | Leave a comment

Today we announced that Neil Jacobstein was joining the Singularity University team as President.  This is an incredibly welcome addition and I can’t wipe the smile off my face, as Neil is also a good friend with whom we’ve all shared a great deal since the founding of SU.

I’ve been at the helm for two years now (working hand in hand with Susan and Bruce Klein, Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, Kathryn Myronuk and the rest of the team) and am incredibly proud of the work we’ve all done (including Neil in his faculty role) to get SU to this point.  As I write this, SU is featured in the current issues of Nature magazine, Entrepreneur magazine and the BBC’s Focus magazine.

As a small example of the intensity, this past summer we had 160 different speakers delivering over 300 hours of lectures for 80 residential students from 35 countries for 10 weeks – and all with a core team of eight people.  Stress/accountability anyone?  And that’s not to mention student selection, PR madness, our 9-day Executive Programs (one is starting today!) sponsors, goverment regulations etc etc etc.  Owning that level of accountability for that length of time has been a challenge and a feat that couldn’t have been borne without a great purpose, great team, great founders (Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis) and a great community – all the necessary components of success.

In the many weeks of transition discussions leading up to today, Neil and I had an interesting conversation that I thought was relevant to startups everywhere.

A startup is like landing on an exposed Caribbean island at the beginning of a hurricane.  As you’re building out, gale force winds/rain are delivering body blows.  And you get used to it.  At the end of the hurricane, there’s a survival relief, a trail of destruction and it’s still raining hard.

Neil and I were going through the various transition threads and issues and he said “boy, lots to do!”  Essentially, he was saying “boy, it’s raining really hard on this island”.  My response was “Yeah!  Ain’t it great?!?”  It took us a few minutes to reconcile that and set me pondering about the inflection point of these kinds of transitions.  For a new executive, the rain looks bad (it should be sunny).  For the team who’s been through a hurricane, it’s utterly great.  Startups are hurricanes and when you encounter merely heavy rain, it feels lovely.

The last few months have been increasingly taxing with the international exposure we’ve been receiving.  Talks at the State Department, meeting President Shimon Peres and other demands mean we’ve needed more help at home.  So Neil’s arrival has provided much relief, and I can fully focus on the global expansion of SU.

So, having gone through a two-year hurricane, it is with great pleasure that I hand over the ‘rains’ of Singularity University.  And to fully butcher the metaphor, Neil can bring the sunshine and be in its eye, because this hurricane is going global.

Look out world – and welcome, Neil!

Salim is a successful angel investor and entrepreneur – his last company, Angstro, was acquired by Google in August 2010. He has operated seven early-stage companies and is a frequent speaker on internet technologies, private equity and entrepreneurship. Salim is currently the CEO and Executive Director of Singularity University, which is training a new cadre of leaders to manage exponentially growing technologies. Prior to that, Salim was a Vice President at Yahoo and the Head of Brickhouse, Yahoo’s internal ‘ideas factory’ where game-changing ideas were brought in, built and launched. The unit analyzed thousands of ideas and launched four products during that year, the latest being Fire Eagle. He also serves as co-founder and Chairman of, co-founded PubSub Concepts and is also on the board of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization focused on violence against women, racial justice, and immigrant rights.  He twitters his thoughts at
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Unplugging Internet Identity
POSTED AT May 08, 2010  |   Uncategorized | 1 Comment
As generated by Angstro

Rohit's Social Graph

We’re coming up to the next Internet Identity Workshop (May 17-19) and with all the hubbub about the dilution in Facebook’s privacy policy (see Cory’s excellent post about it here), I had to add my 2cents to the fray.? Note that my blog posts are about as frequent as Halley’s comet, so it’s a reflection of how importantly I view this topic.

Currently identity on the web is a mess.? Your personal identity is fragmented between email systems like google/yahoo, social networks (FB, LI, Twitter), various messaging services (skype) and Apple with its unique blend of music/apps.? Each wants to own your identity and each is a separate walled garden.? As one of my mentors used to say “if you have a foot in two separate boats, there’s only one place you end up”.? Well, consumers’ feet today are in many boats and I keep hoping we’re at that watershed moment (pun intended) where something appears that forms a baseline for user-centric identity going forward.

The first open vs. closed battle on the web was AOL v. everyone when AOL tried to ‘own’ the keywords (there have been others since).? An a propos summary by MG Siegler recently on Techcrunch nicely depicts that battle.? MG makes a great observation around the inevitability of Facebook opening up or being opened up with something new… the question of course, is *what* is that something.

Having attended and spoken at two or three IIW workshops and having worked on Angstro with Rohit Khare for a while now, I think I can speak to what’s next in this identity game.? For the web to jump to the next level, it’s critical that we handle identity with some elegance.? Now, elegance unfortunately takes time to evolve in an open system – the ability for identity to be managed (think ‘published’) locally is critical to the success of the open web and it’s great to see the list of efforts warming up to that task.? Past a certain point, the internet community won’t accommodate a closed system.? A new layer is required that both allows easy access and lookupability (sorry) with protection and adequate privacy.? Simply put, the difference between an open and a closed system is access to the user ID.

The product that Rohit and I launched at the Techcrunch Real Time Crunchup was the first address book across all the social networks.? ? Yesterday, Rohit published a great post on Techcrunch about how to download your OWN information off Facebook.? The application to do that is at

The important and necessary idea is that users should be able to own their own data? – so the ability to store all your facebook info locally (and search/filter it) is one step towards this overall vision.

We have to be able to link to people the same open way we link to websites today.? And where back links on the web (via pagerank) created an entirely new market, back links on the social web will do the same… though probably a much bigger one.

For the sake of the overall innovation on the web, I hope we get unstuck from the current madness soon.

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A most Singular project
POSTED AT Feb 03, 2009  |   Blogging | 20 Comments

Over the last 2-3 months, a lot of people have been watching my tweets and listened to my various conversations wondering what exactly I’m up to. I haven’t been able to say much, but can now finally talk about it. Biting lips for this long has been tough, but I can finally say I’m heading up Singularity University – some great coverage from TechCrunch and CNet (among others).

I’ve been fascinated with innovation and growth for many years, and my experience at Yahoo building and running Brickhouse was very foundational. Analyzing thousands of ideas, putting together great teams and working with some of the world’s best engineers to launch cutting edge products was a hell of a privilege. While at Yahoo, I established an important relationship between Brickhouse and NASA, which led to an invitation to the founding meeting of this initiative.

Once there, I was pretty well hooked. The vision that Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis laid out was extremely compelling: Fundamentally, the world is facing some very large challenges and the technologies identified by Ray can lead to scalable solutions to address these global issues. Add to that the interdisciplinary expertise brought by Peter’s experience and it was too much to pass up. They only had to ask once.

The full press release is here.

Great innovation almost always happens when two disparate concepts are brought together. At SU, we’ll be bringing together dozens of experts across several distinct, accelerating technologies and letting them think about some of the grand challenges facing humanity.

A well-publicized example is 3D organ printing. Scientists are combining 3D printing with stem stell research to ‘print’ human organs. And that is one idea…

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Analysis: Blackberry Curve vs. G1 Android
POSTED AT Jan 18, 2009  |   Blogging | 8 Comments

As part of a new project, our team was donated some G1 Android phones to play with. Already being a T-Mobile customer, it was a no-brainer to play with it for a couple of days and I got to put the phone through its paces. Here’s what I discovered when comparing it to my Blackberry Curve (readers of this blog are no strangers to my endless attempts to optimize my mobile experience)…

Moving over to the G1 was very simple given I’ve been using a lot of Google services. I have Google Sync on my BB, so my contacts and calendar are already online and I use Remember The Milk for task (mis)management, so that was also easy. I was up and running in less than 5 mins, including IMAP setup

– the G1 is intuitive and easy to use with an excellent interface
– the keyboard is surprisingly good and not having to hit ‘shift’ for periods or numbers is huge – I could actually use this for medium-heavy typing efforts
– I downloaded a few apps and they worked really well. The big draw for me was Skype (worked well) and tethering (which I didn’t finish configuring)
– screen is awesome – very bright
– browser is awesome – very thorough and easy to use
– GPS! Fabulous (easy to update FireEagle)
– youtube on the phone – excellent

– profile – bigger and heavier than my Curve
– battery life (SUCKS!) – big problem – lasts a half day with heavy use
– sliding open and turning sideways everytime I have to type – slight hassle and requires two hands
– calling someone requires way more clicks (and often, both hands)

The Curve is totally optimized to be a great, great phone/email tool and other stuff (music, video) is secondary. The G1 is great for rich media but clunkier as a phone/email tool.

Overall, I’m sticking with the Blackberry for now as I make a lot of calls and emails and doing that really well with a whole day of battery life makes a big difference for me. But I will continue to play with the G1, and if I can get tethering working, then will carry it along on trips.

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Sonal Shah Appointed as Key Obama Adviser
POSTED AT Nov 10, 2008  |   Blogging | 2 Comments

Wow – when it rains it pours. After eight years of Bush drought we finally get a big relief – first Obama runs away with the election and now I just heard that he’s appointed Sonal Shah to his inner circle.

I first met Sonal in 2003 at the awards gala where she was appointed India Abroad’s Person of the Year for founding Indicorps. Then she then came out to California to run a big chunk of and we were housemates for most of last year, during which we became very good friends. I haven’t seen her much recently as she’s been heavily involved helping with the campaign, so was taken quite unawares with this fabulous news.

I am, however, not at all surprised. Sonal is an extraordinary choice. She’s dedicated her life to social causes and philanthropy and is one of the wisest, brightest, most energetic people I know.

Certainly if I were President I’d have her in my inner circle :))

Go Sonal!! The full story is here.

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