Lunch with Austin Hill – Canadian entrepreneur & angel investor

Jan 29, 2014 update: Many of the links seem to be broken. I’ve fixed a few links by using the Internet Wayback Machine. So if you see a broken link, you can use the Internet Wayback Machine to check out the old site.

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I had a wonderful lunch with Austin Hill today. Austin is a Canadian entrepreneur & angel investor based in Montreal. Here is a very detailed “about me” section where he shares with us his background and accomplishments. (a good read) I will just highlight a few things here,

  1. Austin created his first company Cyberspace Data Security when he was seventeen. He did computer security testing and awareness training for customers like the Calgary Board of Education and TransAlta Corporation.
  2. In 1997, Austin co-founded a company called Zero-Knowledge Systems, with his brother and father. He was the companies President from 1997-2001 where he helped the company in raising $75 million in venture capital.
  3. He was selected as a technology pioneer of the World Economic Forum in 2001 and presented at the meeting in Davos.
  4. He designed the concept and copy behind a series of popular advertisements that Zero-Knowledge produced. [K: Really neat and creative ad.]
  5. He is now working on a new project involving social entrepreneurship, philanthropy and online communities to be launched in early 2007.

My impression of Austin is that he is an incredibly entrepreneurial, smart, creative and friendly guy. In the 2.5 hours we spent together over an extended lunch, we had a wide and engaging discussion over many topics of interest to both of us.

We ended up chatting about the following things (and this is *not* a complete list): The Band of Angels (a Silicon Valley’s organization that funds and advises seed stage startups), the film Gandhi, The Gandhi Project (Austin’s uncle is one of the film Gandhi’s producer and has 60 Oscars under his name), Whitfield Diffie, Bruce Schneier, freedom.net (shutdown in Sept 2006), the concept of community production vs crowd sourcing, Tara Hunt of Citizen Agency, Social entrepreneurship, Larry Brilliant of Google.org, and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn. Austin considers both “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” and “How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas” insightful books and I have put them on my to-read list now.

We also talked a lot about Project Ojibwe. Austin and project co-founder Alex Eberts are on a grand quest of creating online communities that will help people to make the world a better place one small step at a time — in short, saving the world Wikipedia-style. As the project is still in stealth mode, I will blog more about it as more information become public.

I don’t get impressed by people easily. And I am impressed by what Austin has achieved and his determination and wish to help to create a better world. Of course, I am pragmatic enough that I will still have to see the details and the execution of Project Ojibwe first before I can make any objective and rational assessment.

Will keep you posted of the new adventures of Austin.

P.S. We also talked about Dean Kamen briefly. Without going to lengthy details, I think Dean Kamen is a super smart inventor and his over-hyped Segway project is truly a technological wonder but also a massive business failure “not as successful as it could have been” at the same time.

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3 Responses to Lunch with Austin Hill – Canadian entrepreneur & angel investor

  1. C. Pineiro says:

    “I think Dean Kamen is a super smart inventor and his over-hyped Segway project is truly a technological wonder but also a massive business failure at the same time.”
    Sales of the $5000 Segway PT are slow to grow, but this is natural and common for any new invention. Over 24,000 units have sold so far in just 4 years, and sales are growing. By comparison, it took over 10 years for the personal computer to be accepted by the consumer.
    “Massive business failure” hardly describes a product being sold daily worldwide through 150+ dealerships with virtually no advertising. Mr. Kempton, you would be more informed if you did a little more research before making erroneous claims like this in your next blog.
    **************
    Dear C. Pineiro,
    I think and guess Dean will at least agree that the business is not as rosy as he or others would have hoped compared to his other more successful inventions. The money invested in all aspect related to Segway (R&D, production, PR, legal lobbying, etc.) and most important of all, Dean’s time and energy can be much better used elsewhere. I had the great fortune to meeting Dean in person in a conference in Vancouver a few years ago. He is one smart inventor and the Segway looked cool on stage and was fun to ride when I got a chance to ride it myself. The problems are all the other factors/challenges associated with the Segway.
    Over the 10 years for the personal computer to be accepted by the consumers, the computer’s power has grown by leaps and bounds and the price just dropped and dropped. If Segway can also behave in similar manner, then may be your claim has some validity, but computers and electronics really fall into a class by themselves.
    Also, Dean, the initial massive hype, and the cool factor of Segway really greatly reduce the need of traditional advertising. The fact that there are 150+ dealerships mean that there are 150+ investors willing to take that risk, nothing more, nothing less. Have they made the right investment call, it is too early to tell. Both Ford and GM have thousands of dealerships, but that doesn’t mean that they are good businesses.
    I’ve toned down my claim of “massive business failure” but remain that Segway is a very niche market for very few people who enjoy the cool factor of having the Segway to fool around. The idea of it as a plausible new mode of transportation has come and gone. Renting Segways (by hours) in selected tourists’ locations (where the law allow them to ride on sidewalk) might be a niche possibility.
    Thanks for taking me to task to clarify a few points and making my presentation clearer. Of course, this post wasn’t about my view on Segway after all.
    Cheers,
    Kempton

  2. C. Pineiro says:

    Thanks for being such a good sport. I will enjoy reading your column in the future. :)
    **********
    Hi C. Pineiro,

    It was my pleasure to address the concerns you raised. I hope you will enjoy some of my other postings.

    Cheers,
    Kempton

  3. [...] You can read Kempton’s write up of our lunch here. We had a wide ranging conversation about many interesting topics including our shared interest in Richard Feynman who has always been a hero of mine. [...]

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