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 Confabb.com, 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 twitter.com/salimismail.
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