Entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists in Silicon Valley have a new winter obsession: snow gliding.
To me, being lifted 200 to 300 feet in the air by a kite powered by Mother Nature is simply terrifying. I mean, look at this picture (below) of my first attempt at snow kiting. The kite ended up dragging me on my back instead of my skis.
I’m far from ready to try “gliding,” the hottest new derivative of snowkiting that is luring
winter sport thrillseekers to the slopes, such as Voxer’s CEO Tom Katis, Charles River Venture Partner Bill Tai, Tango’s CTO Eric Setton, and Second Life Creator Philip Rosedale.
Gliding takes the already intense snowkiting to a whole new level. Skiers and snowboarders soar off the side of a mountain, launching into the air, lofted by a kite.
Seventy-five entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and even professional kiteboarders converged on Park City, Utah this winter, at a snowkiting/snow gliding event sponsored by Charles River Ventures & Bridgescale Capital. It was supplemented by private events hosted by attendees, including Amazon’s original CFO, Joy Covey, and other successful entrepreneurs.
The event is one of a series called “MaiTai.” It’s named after pro kiteboarder Susi Mai and Bill Tai of CRV. It’s now an annual winter event, which started just 5 years ago with just 15 attendees and has since grown to five-times that number. MaiTai’s main gathering is an exclusive event built around kite boarding on the ocean and occurs annually on Maui, drawing 150 top tech execs from around the world.
Attendees of the MaiTai events work hard and play hard. They have been key figures associated with companies generating more than $16 billion in market value over the last few years. The latest was Zynga’s IPO. Farmville creators Sizhao Yang and Amitt Mahajan first took to kiteboarding in 2010 at MaiTai Maui. Others include MaiTai attendees’ James Lindenbaum and Constantin Bisanz. Ruby On Rails developer Heroku, co-founded by Lindenbaum, sold to Salesforce for $250 million a year ago, December. That same month, Bisanz, who became the first person to kiteboard from Alaska to Russia across the Bering Straight earlier this year, sold Brands4Friends to eBay for $200 million. Fortinet’s CFO Ken Goldman is a MaiTaier. The company had a $1 billion IPO in 2009, and its market cap is nearing $4 billion today. Elon Musk took flight last year with a kite at MaiTai, after taking Tesla Motors public last year raising $226 million for the electric car company. Its market cap is now $3.6 billion.
The tech community that makes up MaiTai has grown organically around what was an “extreme tech exec” group, including CRV’s Bill Tai and Silicon Valley Bank’s Aaron Gershenberg, hitting the waves in Maui more than a decade ago with pro watermen. Since then, techies across Silicon Valley have caught the bug with high profile tech folks like Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s developed a passion for the sport. Other big personalities, like Virgin America’s Richard Branson, can be found kiteboarding around his own private Necker Island.