This interview was conducted by Fran Tarkenton, on the Fran Tarkenton Show, a weekly talk radio show on SiriusXM Indie Channel 104 airing Saturday mornings from 9–11 am and 4–6 pm. The show features interviews with entrepreneurs and business leaders sharing their stories and insights from the small business world.
Fran: The hippie movement was centered in Haight-Ashbury and San Francisco in the 1960s, and you were there. What was that era like?
Tim: The whole world was changing. If you go back to 1968, what was started a few years earlier in the Bay Area, by 1968 it wasn’t just New York and San Francisco, it was all of the U.S., and it was Paris; and it was London; it was Mexico City, Tokyo. It was a whole generation waking up to change, and new ideas. Such as maybe, just being older doesn’t necessarily make you smarter. And maybe power isn’t always right.
Those were fun times, I must say. I mean, my part of it was just probably the happy coincidence for me that I grew up on the San Francisco peninsula, so I was close. When I turned 18 I had my rebellion from my family, and was as stupid as most 18-year-olds. But I left home, and joined a group in the Haight-Ashbury, as part of this awakening of great ideas. And I didn’t last. I have to say, I failed as a hippie, thank God.
Fran: How long were you there?
Tim: Just the summer of 1966. I was actually with a group of people who, about 12 of us, rented an apartment, month-by-month, right in the Haight-Ashbury. We were just a half block from that corner. It was people I knew from a camp that we had in the mountains, a summer camp for kids. And we shared the rent.
“Hippiedom” was about ideas. But I will say this, without going too long on this, the reason I failed as a hippie, was that there was a lot of pressure to get involved with drugs. I was really stupid at 18, but I wasn’t that stupid. Because that scared the hell out of me. And there was a lot of, “Everybody dance to your own music,” but then very quickly it became, “But be just like us while we’re being different.” I started to get a lot of pressure from the other people I was with to take LSD.
And I had been present at two bad trips. My experience with LSD was as a watcher of people, on two different occasions, who had horrible, nightmarish, being trapped in their own heads and their own nightmares, due to LSD. And, thank God, it scared the hell out of me. So much so that, that after a matter of eight weeks, it was an issue over which I said, “Nope, nope, not for me. I’m going back home.”
Fran: Now, you had the hippie days. You’re out there, but then you go to Notre Dame and get a real education. But you become a technology giant. Did some of that stuff that came out of the hippie days of San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, did that help fuel the revolution of technology that’s happened in Northern California? That fueled Steven Jobs and all the stuff that went there?
Tim: Certainly, it was part of the fundamental change in society. When I talk about age, one of the things that’s happened through the years is, we grew up with the assumption that people in their 40s and 50s were supposed to run the world. And that was the way it was supposed to be.
That began to change in the late 60s and the 70s. And by ’76, ’78, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, were already batting around with the Apple computer. And you can see in the growth of the personal computer industry, with Bill Gates being one of the giants, and Steve Jobs beings another giant, how the age hierarchy breaking down helped open up new ideas and new opportunities, and a new appreciation for entrepreneurship that made a huge difference.
Yes, I think there is a link from the late 60s all the way through to the amazing explosion of possibilities we have with social media today. Bill Gates was like 18 when he did the early version of Microsoft. And the changes in society made that more feasible, compared to the 50s. By the 80s, and this was late-70s, it wasn’t just assumed that you had to be 40 or 45 before you mattered or did anything. That had changed.
Fran: How old were you when you started really making an impact in Silicon Valley? I know you helped your friend start Borland, and then you did Palo Alto Software. So when did you get into this technology binge that was going on out there in such a wonderful, great, explosive way?
Tim: For somebody whose career has been in planning (because that’s what my company has been about), it’s ironic how unplanned my actual path was. I went to Mexico City in 1971 as a journalist. I was with United Press International. I spent ten years in Mexico City and went back to the States to do an MBA at Stanford, because I had grown up, and I wanted to “sell out,” in hippie terms.
And Stanford was a path to that. I ran into computers with a great deal of fear and negative anticipation, but I fell in love, instead. And that was 1979, so I was 31 years old.
Fran: Yes, but now you’ve got a skill. You’re helping people; you’re consulting with people. But now you take the leap to be an entrepreneur. How old were you when you started Palo Alto?
Tim: That was 1983, so I would have been 35. By the time I started Palo Alto Software, we had had our fourth of what became, eventually, five children. And here’s an interesting point about entrepreneurship. Nobody was willing to pay me what I needed to earn, or what I wanted to earn, to support the family well. That was a lot of my impetus for going out on my own. I was sure I could earn more money on my own, than as an employee.
And I had a great job. I loved the founder and president of Creative Strategies International, where I was an employee. So much that I told him I needed to leave to make more money, he changed my salary structure a couple of times. But finally I left, and, as it turned out, I was able to support the family better in business planning consulting than as an employee of a market research company.
Published: November 21, 2013