A Rare Mix Created Silicon Valley's Startup Culture
When Facebook goes public later this spring, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, will be following in the footsteps of a long line of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs that includes Steve Jobs and Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But there was a time when the idea of an engineer or scientist starting his or her own company was rare.
In 1956, what is now called Silicon Valley was called the Valley of the Heart's Delight. Its rolling hills were covered with farms and orchards. To become Silicon Valley it needed four ingredients: the first, brilliant scientists.
Collecting Scientific Talent
William Shockley was certainly brilliant, says Leslie Berlin, a historian and archivist at Stanford University.
"People tend to collectively agree," she says, that "[Shockley] was one of the smartest people to walk about this valley for quite a long time."
In 1956, Shockley won the Nobel Prize for co-inventing the transistor. His next dream was to make transistors out of silicon; he decided to set up his lab in Mountain View — near Palo Alto — largely for personal reasons.
"He'd grown up in Palo Alto," Berlin says. Most importantly, she says, "his mother was still living in Palo Alto."
Of course, it helped that nearby Stanford University was also doing federally funded electronics research. Shockley was a magnet who drew more brilliant scientists to the valley. Among them was Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and the man who would come up with Moore's Law — the observation that the number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years.
Moore says of Shockley, "He really understood the physics of these things more than anybody else at the time."
Unfortunately for Moore and the other young scientists who gathered around him, Shockley turned out to be a terrible manager. "He really had no idea what motivated people," Moore says.
Even worse, Shockley was paranoid and erratic. He put his employees through lie-detector tests, Moore says. Then, within a year of opening the lab, Shockley decided he didn't want to focus on silicon transistors.
But Shockley had brought the first ingredient to the area: brilliant scientists. And they still wanted to make Silicon transistors. So, a group of them decided to leave Shockley's lab.And the rest, as they say, is history.
In those days, it was typical for scientists to spend their entire lives working for a big company. Moore says that's why at first, they were simply hoping to find a company to hire them.
One of the men sent a letter to his father's investment brokerage firm in New York City asking for advice, "saying there's a group of us here who are thinking of leaving the company," Moore says. "You think there's a company that would like to hire the group?"
The scientists wanted to keep working together. Somehow the letter to the investment firm made its way to the desk of a young Harvard MBA named Arthur Rock....MORE