Most of the time I find myself so amazed by the ways in which the world is disappointing, I have to write it all down, both to vent my frustration and attempt to correct the issues at hand. I'm sure there will be plenty more of those experiences to come. For a change, though, I'd like to write about some people I've met who are anything but disappointing. Nor are they average. These people amaze me because they are incredible.
I first learned of Verdi Ergün when he filled out the Contact Us page on the FaceCash web site. A lot of the people who fill in that form typically want to know when FaceCash will expand to their country, or have a support question, but Verdi had something else in mind. He'd spent two years growing Ergün Technologies into Own Point of Sale Corporation (http://www.ownpointofsale.com) after starting a burrito stand. When I saw his product, I was stunned.
Working with the best graphic designer I've ever had the opportunity to meet, Erol Ahmed, Own had put together a cash register system (and web site) better than any I had seen. (Erol is also a pretty good piano player.) In the process of building FaceCash I had started keeping track of over sixty point of sale products. Own looked better than all of them.
Even more impressive, Verdi and Erol recently decided to move from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Own got its start, to the Bay Area. They made this decision less than a month ago, and with about a week's notice, every engineer on their team decided to follow them and make the move as well, leaving leases and girlfriends behind (most of them are guys). I'm lucky to have met many of the people working at Own, and I know why they were willing to drop everything and drive out west. Own is onto something big. (Does it help me to say so? I suppose it might one day. But really, look at their web site.)
I try to avoid over-hyping people and issues that have already merited a lot of media attention—and maybe one day Own will be in that camp—but one more person comes to mind when I think of people who really deserve more praise than they've received. Tonight I saw a talk by Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, Inc. (http://www.dropbox.com). Most people are probably already well aware, but Drew is the real deal. He knows his code. He's down-to-earth. It's clear that he works really hard on really hard problems. His company, which produces a practical, useful product, is growing. He is one of the few people I am glad to see with millions of dollars behind him.
I say all of this even though Drew was just profiled in Forbes, in an article that reads a lot like one might expect for a business magazine—it's very positive. Yet with so many technology celebrities portrayed in a glowing light simply due to their riches, it's often difficult to tell who is worthy of the press.
Well, make no mistake: Drew Houston is worthy of the press. I wish there were more people like him. (His co-founder Arash, who I've only met briefly, is similarly worthy from what I can tell.)
I say all of this not to embarrass any of these people, but to make a point about our collective ideals. As time goes on, I'd love for the ranks of Incredible People to fill out with more individuals, especially because there's a certain Machiavellian mentality in Silicon Valley that it's easy to think is all-pervasive. After all, stories of 1980s software industry backstabbing are now popular legend. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both financially successful despite frequently being horrible to others, so some think their models of management are worth emulating. But the peculiar traits of Bill and Steve should not define us. We are different people, and it doesn't have to be that way.
Verdi, Erol, Drew and Arash have all proven that great things can be built without hurting the product, and without hurting people—and that is exactly how it's supposed to work.