E375_A: Mitch Kapor – Founder of Lotus & Kapor Capital

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Mitch Kapor fell in love with computers in 1966, when he was just 15. He developed some of the first spreadsheet software, Lotus 1-2-3, became friends with Steve Jobs, went on to help found the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and now funds startups that work to fill critical gaps in society. In a conversation from LAUNCH Education & Kids, Kapor reflects on half a century in tech, the role tech leaders play in a era of NSA surveillance, and the value proposition of college. Plus, what makes a great startup.

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Highlights

1:10 You’re the guy sitting at the keyboard. It’s 1966 and you’re in Ojai, CA. What computer is that?

It’s a computer from the 1950s, literally built out of tubes… Even before they were using binary. it was an antique even then, but it was great to learn on.

1:44 And I see there’s a hood there, so you’re cooking hamburgers on top or something?

1:55 You’re 15 years old there. When did you start seeing technology and computers as a career?

3:33 Had you met Steve Jobs by that point?

3:50 When did you start Lotus? How did that come about?

5:25 You wrote it yourself?

5:45 And you get these things printed, disks printed, and you start selling them?

6:40 This period of time in the 80s, the computers came with almost nothing on them. There was a lot of talk from Gates and Jobs about education being the reason these would get into the home. Did it do well?

8:00 You’ve done how many investments to date?

9:05 So what do you look for? What makes for a successful startup?

11:25 Mandrill is transactional email from the fine folks behind MailChimp. http://mandrill.com

13:35 You mentioned access and bridging the gap. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of content and courses become available for free. It feels like (barriers to) access the information have gone away. Is that a fair statement?

15:43 Let’s segue to college, is it worth it today?

!7:08 You’re talking about University of Phoenix. I’ll name it. You see people come back on GI Bill, take courses, think those courses are actually going to get them a job but they actually get them in debt and they don’t help get a job.

18:20 What is the startup you invested in (that provides low cost accredited courses)? Tell us about it.

19:13 What do you think of the skills-based approach? Let’s get you proficient in Photoshop, statistics.

20:43 How do you see teaching changing because of all this activity? What do you think teaching looks like in the next decade?

21:55 If you were put in charge of public school funding, where would you start? What would it look like if you could fast forward it?

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27:10 In five decades in technology, what has exceeded your expectations? And what did you think would absolutely have been accomplished with technology that hasn’t been?

31:52 When you look at what’s going on with Snowden, with the NSA, PRIZM, is this the business that America should be in, of collecting this much data on its citizens?

33:45 What do you think the role of technologists is morally?

36:45 Snowden, Bradley Manning: heroes or something else?

38:45 Obama was supposed to be change, I’m fairly certain you’re a pretty big supporter. When you see this, it’s a disappointment, no?

40:31 Circling back to education and this divide we see in society, are you hopeful for society or scared to death at this point?

43:33 This generation of entrepreneurs, specifically millennials, they’re very cause driven. Do you think that will lead to great success as entrepreneurs? The older generation, like Gates, were cutthroat, but he’s now working on huge problems.

 

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  • j.r.

    Very informative. I agree with the education problem, ie u.phoenix model,..world needs to get back to the apprenticeships.
    Lots of obama slogans there..”everyone deserves a shot”..dc is too complicated too get things done..hello, had both houses, got obismalcare…poor economic plans..not helping us small biz folks!

  • David Wolf

    Thoughtful, “humanist’ of an entrepeneur/tech mogul. Interesting to hear him discuss how

    education retains elements of an “art”–that its effectiveness cannot be boiled down to mere analytics, etc. The venture with “University Now” and “Patton U.” sounds very intriguing.