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Startup Grind

John Perry Barlow: A Good Ancestor

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John Perry Barlow: A Good Ancestor

Our evening spent with John Perry Barlow felt like an oracle experience: every story astounding, every twist and turn visionary, every insight profound. A magnetically brilliant mind; a dynamically inspiring life; a terrific second installment of Startup Grind Jackson Hole.

Resume points fail to capture Barlow’s charisma, though they do impress: Cyberlibertarian, Grateful Dead songwriter, Wyoming cattle rancher, wastewater pioneer. Given free reign by Natalie Spencer of Navvi, Barlow regaled the full house with his matchless skills as a storyteller. With wit and wisdom, he sketched his life not as a line but an ever-looping system, akin to the way he views the world and its resources.

Take, for instance, his arc from working in finance to working in biofuel. As advisor to Herb Allison, then president of Merrill Lynch, he helped “electronify” all financial transactions and assemble bundles of speculative assets. During this time, he underwent back surgery to alleviate his chronic pain from an old ranching injury. Suddenly he saw a pain-free horizon, and something clicked: Instead of building wealth, he wanted to build infrastructure and address the “amount of alterations we are already enacting on Planet Earth,” he said. “We are not necessarily making it warmer, but weirder.”

Focusing on the global preponderance of poisonous water, he teamed up with a crew of young upstart scientists and formed Algae Systems, which converts biowaste into clean water and biofuel using . “All of these biological systems have to loop back into each other,” he said, something he learned during his contentious tenure as president of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. When he approached land use as a feedback loop as Council President, he raised the ire of both fellow ranchers and the Sierra Club. Instead of a loop, most people see “a continuous line of limitless resources at one end and limitless ability to waste stuff at the other.” Algae Systems bucks this notion.

As does Barlow: His allegiance to sustainable systems underpins every frontier he has found himself in, like the Internet. “When I first saw the Internet, literally, it was a religious experience for me,” he said. “Wow: This is a nervous system.” He knew the Internet would engage all humanity in the creation of “the collective organism of mind.” Since then, “I’ve been doing everything I can to be open to anyone, anywhere, so that they are able to find out everything that can be known on any topic to the limits of their curiosity,” he said. “Young people are teaching themselves how to see and experience and know beyond the dreadful education system, which is designed to produce interchangeable machine parts.”

Even casual descriptions evidenced his approach to the world as an independent organism: Grateful Dead songs, though often scrawled in the studio, “had to grow and metamorphose, more like marsupials.”

Over tea with Mardy Murie (who has been called the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement”), Barlow picked up a credo he would carry close for the rest of his life, a self-truth he’d like inscribed on his tombstone. “Environmentalists can be a pain in the ass,” Murie said to him. “But they make great ancestors.”

“I want to be a good ancestor,” John Perry Barlow said. Goal achieved.

Written by Katy Niner

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The World According to Dan Fredinburg

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The World According to Dan Fredinburg

Dan Fredinburg defines life differently: Jail time becomes an opportunity for reverse interrogation; his first grown-up job interview finds him choosing the occupation of his dreams at Boeing; and now as Google[x]’s Head of Privacy, he translates Twilight Zone technology into global good.

As the first speaker for Startup Grind’s launch in Jackson Hole, WY, Fredinburg set a maverick tone for the sold-out house at the Amangani Resort. Alternating between stories of innovation and shenanigans, Dan offered a glossary of ideas prime for entrepreneurial expression – some more universally applicable than others (see Glitter Marketing below), yet all inspiring.

The World According to Dan Fredinburg: A Glossary of Ideas

Moonshots: Google[x] projects, not directly in line with the macro Google business model, including the self-driving car, Project Loon, and Google Glass. The goal: Improve science-fiction-sounding technologies by a factor of 10. Take Project Loon, for instance: To address the fact that two-thirds of the world’s population lack Internet access, Google[x] imagined a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, providing coverage in remote areas, filling in gaps and bringing people back online after disasters. A crazy as a loon idea, made possible by people like Fredinburg.

Home: Originally a farm in Arkansas; now the Bay Area.

The Laundry: Yes, the pile you ignore, but also the co-work space Fredinburg is building in the Mission. An old laundromat turned big-data incubator: Good things are guaranteed.

Intrapreneur: As a behemoth like Google continues to grow, pitching intra-corporate innovations becomes all the more challenging. i.e., you have to persuade more and more people. You have to be more charismatic. You have to find more executive champions. And in a bottoms-up org structure like Google, you have to educate everyone on the ground to become advocates for your idea. The intrapreneurial time investment becomes exponentially more intense.

Google Adventure Team: The group Fredinburg co-founded (in his downtime) to translate the Google Street View concept into extreme, exotic locations like the summit of Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.  

Accelerometer: The cellphone built-in tool measuring tilt or motion. Recent studies at MIT and Stanford use accelerometer data to uniquely identify users – a scary notion Fredinburg sees as an opportunity for privacy innovation.

Sledgehammer Marketing: What you do to loosen up suit-clad potential investors who visit your under-construction co-working concept? In lieu of a deck, you hand them a sledgehammer and encourage them to wield it with abandon. A memorable experience is had by all; buy-in ensues.

Glitter Marketing: The follow-up to the aforementioned marketing push. To make your pitch even more memorable, fill a piñata with glitter and – in a similar stroke of brut buy-in – ask entrepreneurs to whack it. The inevitable explosion of glitter – magical in the moment – lingers in people’s memory as they discover the shimmery particles weeks later. Too bad it wreaks havoc on the host site’s plumbing.

Carstensz’s Pyramid: The tallest mountain in Oceania, summited by Fredinburg and friends, one of whom fell ill. Instead of trekking back the way they came (a long slog through Indonesian jungle), they went the more direct route – through the Grasberg gold mine – and almost emerged unscathed, save for the stint Fredinburg spent in a jail inside the mine. As mentioned earlier, he carpe diemed his jail-time into a personal investigation of Grasberg, ultimately securing proof of the expansion plans that would threaten the mountain altogether. Now, an effort is underway to save the UNESCO World Heritage Site from that mined demise.

Footwear: The hiking boots he used to top five of the Seven Summits.

Save the Ice Dot Org: The campaign Fredinburg spearheaded with friends to anchor their far-flung adventures in activism. Under the mission-guise of bringing awareness of global warming to the Baltic States, the friends traveled as the Vikings did, quite literally costumed as such, following the Swedes’ ameliorating route through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all while spreading awareness through mindful actions (eating locally, relentlessly recycling) aboard a 1998 Volvo spray-painted to look like(ish) a Viking ship.

Daily routine: The absence of one. A bit of a morning person, a bit of a late person, Fredinburg doesn’t sleep much and fills the intervening hours with things he rarely schedules in advance. The opposite of organized, he tries to keep churning through the important tasks on his queue, while still leaving room for plenty of genius spontaneity.  

Jackson Hole: A place to pack in adventure. Last Sunday, he went backcountry skiing with Startup Grind director Natalie Spencer of Navvi. Monday found him kite-skiing for the first time. And Wednesday, pre-talk, he took Tram laps in fresh powder, with work peppered throughout. Dan Fredinburg seems to abide by his own hybrid of work hard, play hard, achieving both triumphantly.

 

**Photo Credit: Austin Hopkins of Teton Gravity Research

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