Co-founders from two of Silicon Valley's most innovative companies gave a South Florida audience a glimpse into the early days of developing the technology that would reshape the world.
Steve Wozniak, of Apple, and Chris Hughes, of Facebook, were back-to-back speakers for the three-day Americas Business Council Foundation’s Continuity Forum that wrapped up Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton in Coconut Grove.
The conference brought together innovators, activists, and thought leaders in entrepreneurship and philanthropy and also showcased 32 emerging social entrepreneurial ventures from around the Americas.
On Wednesday afternoon, both men relayed plenty of stories.
As a teenager, Wozniak used to hole up in his bedroom on the weekends, designing a computer on paper. And he made a game of it — every weekend he would try to make a machine that would work just as well or better but cost a little less than the last design.
That engineering mentality to build things more efficiently as well as the desire to learn never left him, he told the audience. “I would buy my college books on a Friday and be halfway through before the first class on Monday.”
Then he met Steve Jobs, and began working with him on a variety of projects. “Steve Jobs was a hippie with no money. I was an engineer with no money. We had to think creatively. I designed projects for fun, and he would figure out how to make money,” Wozniak recalled as he told how he invented the Apple I and Apple II that started it all and the company’s ups and downs through the years. He called the iPhone the greatest product ever.
Wozniak, who now is with Fusion-io, said he has plenty of ideas for projects in his head -- some from decades ago -- that he still would like to build. He advised students to never stop building, even if they are all personal projects rather than part of a business.
“Our dorm wasn’t like a luxury condo, there was no sex in the bathroom, as far as I know. An alcohol-fueled hackathon, while it looked like a lot of fun, didn’t happen.”
Hughes told the real story of Facebook and described his roommate Mark Zuckerberg as “highly analytical and very skeptical of conventional wisdom.” What the movie did get right, Hughes told the crowd: “Facebook is the defining example of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the 21st century.” And at the core: “There’s a new universal respect for the entrepreneur.”
Hughes, now owner and publisher of The New Republic, also talked about his current passion: How to use mobile and social technologies to support serious long-form journalism into the 21st century.
“Conventional wisdom says this kind of journalism isn’t sustainable. Cynics say the golden age of journalism has past,” said Hughes.
Yet, over the past six months Hughes said it is the long, in-depth New Republic stories that have gone viral. He said the magazine is working on better curating the convesations around the big stories -- from many sources on the web, not just the comments on the story -- and that curated emails, slideshows and audio have become imporant tools of the social web.
“Folks are reading just as much news today, if not more. ... We have an opportunity to deliver it across a limitless number of devices." Hughes said. "[These trends] all come together to suggest … we are entering a true golden age of journalism.”
Earlier in the day, Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva.org, told the crowd about how her idea to start the crowdfunded microlending site came from the heart. The first year, the platform handled $500,000 in microloans; this year it is more than $400 million.
She later started Profounder, a crowdfunding site for small business. She raised two rounds of funding in Silicon Valley, but after three years the team made the "painful decision" to shut it down earlier this year. The timing wasn't right, she said, but she has been a big advocate of the JOBS Act and said she would like to try a crowdfunding solution again when the regulations shake out.
She had this advice for startup entrepreneurs seeking funding for their ventures: "You're not begging for a favor, you're offering them a genuine apportunity to participate."
On Tuesday, hip-hop recording artist Emmanuel Jal, who was born into the life of a child soldier in Sudan but has gone on to release three albums and collaborate on numerous philanthropic music projects, brought the crowd's energy level up as he sang about peace and had the audience joining in.
As part of the conference, 32 social entrepreneurs from around the Americas, some of them Ashoka fellows, showcased their companies or organizations during the event. The Americas Business Council will be funding three of them for two years, and will be announcing its decision next Wednesday.
Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg