Paying It Forward, Silicon Valley-style

Steve Blank

Steve Blank, former POST Board member

Visitors to Silicon Valley continually mention how willing entrepreneurs are to help, network and connect, and how seriously those who’ve made it give back to the next generation. We take it so for granted that we never bother to talk about this “pay-it-forward” culture–the unspoken Valley ethos of giving back.

This culture of generosity has deep roots in the Valley. When the first spinout companies began to leave Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1960s, they discovered that fabricating semiconductors reliably was a black art. At times you’d have the recipe and turn out chips, and the next week something would go wrong, and your fab couldn’t make anything that would work. Engineers in the very small world of silicon and semiconductors would meet at the Wagon Wheel restaurant in Mountain View and swap technical problems and solutions with co-workers—and competitors.

In 1975, a local set of hobbyists with the then-crazy idea of a computer in every home formed the Homebrew Computer Club and met in Menlo Park at the Peninsula School, then later at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. The goal of the club was “Give to help others.” Each meeting would begin with people sharing information, getting advice and discussing the latest innovation (one of which was the first computer from Apple.) The club became the center of the emerging personal computer industry.

This same “pay-it-forward” mentality within the Valley’s tech community also extends to how we think about giving back to our community.

David Packard, co-founder of HP, found time to sit on the Palo Alto school board while building a love of the wilderness on his San Felipe Ranch in the hills above Morgan Hill and San Jose. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation later became one of POST’s largest supporters.

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, grew up in Pescadero with a love of the San Mateo Coast. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation later became one of POST’s largest supporters, as well.


Pescadero © Courtesy of Steve Blank

Today, Donna Dubinsky, founder of Palm and Handspring; Andrew Bosworth, head of advertising at Facebook; and other Silicon Valley executives continue the tradition of supporting POST as Board members and donors.

POST allows Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to “pay-it-forward” by giving back to their community while being able to measure the results. Historically, that approach hasn’t commonly been part of philanthropy, but it’s a major part of engineering and business.

Ultimately, having POST as a recipient of “pay-it-forward” support from successful entrepreneurs and executives makes Silicon Valley more attractive to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Because of POST’s land-saving work, our Silicon Valley coast is not wall-to-wall condos, our hillsides are still unspoiled, and our connection to nature thrives in the midst of high-tech commerce. The global workforce is drawn here by a fertile combination of stunning landscapes, temperate climate and the opportunity to innovate and prosper. Most importantly, our children can still see what attracted their parents to the most exciting and unspoiled region in the world. By “paying it forward” through POST, we set a powerful example that will continue paying back for generations to come.

Steve Blank
POST Board Emeritus

Steve Blank is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former Board member of POST. He is a consulting associate professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford and teaches at UC Berkeley, Columbia University, and UCSF. A native of New York City, he lives in Pescadero.


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