I am a tech entrepreneur, these days focused on Diamond Foundry.
Before pioneering Silicon Valley’s path into greentech in 2002, I created the 2nd fastest growing Internet messaging service in the late 1990s (funded by Sequoia Capital) right after graduating from Stanford University.
I grew up in Munich, Bavaria and came to the Bay area to receive a PhD in computer science from Stanford University — during possibly the luckiest year of 1992 just when the Internet became more than a “special interest group”. For example, I was in the weekly meetings of five of us with Larry Page where we figured over time that it’d be good to try to extract information from web links.
After the dotcom bust, initially semi-retired with money I made from my startups having gotten acquired, I felt that there’s big industries, in particular energy, that could be transformed through a Silicon Valley type approach. Like making solar power ten times less expensive. So in 2002, I started Nanosolar and ran it for eight years until 2010 — as one of the longest serving CEOs in the solar industry. Nanosolar was the first solar tech startup funded by American venture capital (Benchmark Capital) and became Silicon Valley’s solar flagship co as we were developing an ultra-low-cost solar cell and building two substantive high-tech fabs. I ran Nanosolar from zero to $2.1B in market value. Then I was forced out over our competitor Solyndra filing for an IPO ahead of us, and three years later, Nanosolar failed and left $640m of investor capital in the sand. At least we managed to never get close to being forced into Congressional testimony as our competitor whose IPO never materialized.
In 2010, I adopted an embrace-don’t-compete attitude towards China and moved to Shanghai. I worked on creating a greentech park and a battery company in China with the support of local investors and the highest levels of government and gained some first-hand insight into how things work entrepreneurially on the ground over there.
I keep trying to figure out the “high-beta tech economy” — an activity that tends to be as humbling as refreshing. I also find that stories we read and tell, in particular journalistic reporting, tend to succumb to “narrative fallacy”. So if this blog appears at times a bit non-linear, this may as well be closer to the truth.
I generally stay away from the tech conference circuit where CEOs or founders hang out with each other. I also do not take advisory roles and rarely if ever invest in startups. I prefer to be all in with my time on the business I’m actually in. (Instead I led the first three rounds in my current company and invested in it seven times…) Still through this blog, I am looking forward to occasionally share some perspective on things I find worth noting. [2022 Note: This blog has not been updated in years as I’ve gotten busy at Diamond Foundry!]