I can’t tell you how many times entrepreneurs have asked me to introduce them to Sir Richard Branson, who I’ve interviewed a number of times. “Learn to kiteboard,” I tell them, “and I’m certain you’ll run across him on the water at some point.” Oh, and there’s one other piece of advice I can offer: Know venture capitalist Bill Tai and professional kitboarder Susi Mai. They are the creators of the annual MaiTai (Get it: Susi MAI and Bill TAI?) Maui gathering, which includes 150 of their closest friends in the tech community who meet each year to collaborate on their startups and play extreme sports.
The community is rapidly expanding and attracting accomplished entrepreneurs around the globe to a series of events in warm windy places. The MaiTaiGlobal community harnesses the power of its community to support charitable causes related to the ocean and the environment, while helping each other hone their skills as company builders and athletes.
The gatherings involve developer contests and startup launches in locations conducive to extreme wind sports including Australia, Latin America, the Caribbean (Necker Island) and several spots in the USA including Maui, the Hamptons, Utah, and elsewhere. Invitations to MaiTai Cabarete in the Dominican Republic just went out this week. Necker Island, for those who aren’t familiar, is Sir Richard Branson’s private island. It’s by invite-only, and Mai and Tai have the access.
Mai and Tai have been invited to bring a select group of tech entrepreneurs to the island several times over the past year to kiteboard, and talk tech. It’s kind of like a live TED talk on a tropical island paradise. You may have seen one photo that hit the tabloids with the controversial Bravo TV “Silicon Valley” show’s Hermione Way in the hot tub with Branson and musician Harry Styles. But that’s the fun side of the event, along with the kiteboarding excursions. On the serious side, Branson talks turkey with his MaiTai guests on business and entrepreneurship. During the Necker MaiTai gathering in May, entrepreneurs pitched their companies to Branson for feedback. (Makes you want to learn to kiteboard, doesn’t it?)
How were these companies picked? Those presenting at MaiTai Necker 2013 were a subset of the ones that Bill Tai is involved with either as an angel (Zoom.us, Canva, Posse, Treasure Data), as CRV seed investor (Ark.com); or they are charitable organizations such as KiteRight.org, where Susi Mai is a spokesperson, or otherwise attendees to MaiTaiGlobal.org events such as (zozi.com,& ansa.com).
Some were either there presenting live or beamed in via video conference using Zoom.us, a cloud-based video conferencing service that launched at the end of January. For you techies out there with background in video-conferencing, most that are held in the US cope with 20 millisecond latency. Zoom’s sophisticated cloud-based technology was able to provide a seamless video experience with network latency approaching 200 milliseconds — even with higher data loss rate due to multiple router hops to get the data to the island via a microwave link.
In contrast, Skype, based on 12-year-old peer-to-peer architecture, does not scale well enough to handle group video conferencing, while Zoom’s is cloud-based with on-demand access to computing infrastructure that allows massive scalability.
So while Alexandra Chong, CEO of LuluVise (Tai is an angel investor), was able to tell Branson in person why he should care about the guy-rating site, which broke into the top 20 in the iPhone App Store category of Social Networking this year, Zoom allowed many more companies who simply couldn’t make the event or couldn’t afford a $10,000+ ticket to attend, to have their 15 minutes of fame.
Lars Rasmussen, the inventor of Google maps, Google Wave and head of search at Facebook introduced two start-ups by video that he and Tai have collaborated on: Posse.com which presented from NYC and Canva.com. Posse, which is a “Pinterest of places” had its founder and CEO Rebekah Campbell, present from NYC, followed by Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins showed a preview of her company in person. Canva is a collaborative cloud-based content creation platform that’s more socially driven than Adobe Creative Cloud.
Othman Laraki, former VP Growth at Twitter came in via Zoom video from Menlo Park to do a talk on “Big Data, and driving growth and engagement” and to introduce the co-founders of Treasure Data, who appeared via video conference from Mountain View as well.
After the nearly one dozen companies presented, Branson said that there were a lot of new technologies he had not been exposed to previously, and that he wanted to learn more about for Virgin Group. However, he stopped short of saying exactly which companies truly piqued his interest.
Tai says follow-ups with some of these companies are happening now. He just can’t disclose which ones. But I would imagine that very soon we could see more announcements about future entrepreneurial investments from Branson, all in the name of kiteboarding.