When I recognized the brown horse saddles around the table with the Mexican style blankets underneath, I knew this was going to be an interesting morning. Tim Draper is famous for a lot of things. A third-generation venture capitalist, he founded the firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 1985. He invested in Bitcoin and several successful companies such as Hotmail, Baidu, Skype and Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX. He also once proposed slicing California into six pieces.
You can therefore ask anybody in Silicon Valley. They all would think of Draper as a strange or even very strange multi-millionaire. Fortunately, eccentric personalities are the reason I love my job.
I sat down in the office at Draper University in San Mateo, a crowded coworking space with gigantic comic strips of Batman and Robin on the walls, and reckoned everything. But when the 56-years-old entered the room I wondered how gentle Draper was. “Hi, what can I do for you?”, he asked smiling and almost reluctant. The only thing eccentric about Tim Draper was how little eccentric he was.
Of course we talked about the Apple Watch. Draper invested in Cupertino’s rival Pebble Watch. He’s fascinated by the innovative smart devices. “They will change the way we live tremendously”, Draper said. “We can count our steps, our heartbeat, even our blood pressure. We will learn a lot more about our body.”
He lifted his sleeve to show proof of it. Unfortunately, there was no watch. He looked at me, first surprised, than with a broad grin. “Ok, I have to admit, most of the time I don’t like wearing anything at my wrist.”
This is probably because the venture capitalist not only does meetings in horse saddles but also co-owns two Safaris, a luxury island in Tanzania and once “escaped” from Alcatraz - just for fun. Who needs an Apple Watch in the middle of ice-cold water.
“I wanted to show that it’s possible”, Draper explained to me why he swam two kilometers from Alcatraz to shore without wearing a wetsuit. Water-temperature in the Bay Area does not rise above 12 Celsius all year. Draper’s simple advice for his followers: “You just say to yourself: Don’t feel how cold the water is.” Right, that sounds reasonable. For Batman or Chuck Norris.
Later I understood Draper better. The most important thing, he said, was something he picked up from his father Bill, who is a powerful venture capitalist too. “You must learn to say “yes” more than you say “no”. An optimist may not always be right. But a pessimist has never accomplished anything.” First of all, a pessimist would never try to escape Alcatraz.
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Britta Weddeling is Handelsblatt's correspondent in Silicon Valley covering the internet economy, latest trends and small curiosities in the valley of the nerds.