It is with profound sadness that I heard today’s news of Bill Campbell’s passing. This is an enormous loss for the technology ecosystem and many of us who thought of him as our “coach” and our guide through our entrepreneurial journey.
In addition to Bill’s family, so many lost so much today in Bill’s too-early departure. Much will be written about Bill’s intense charisma, enormous compassion, unrivaled focus, and his big, full, gregarious laugh. But what might be less easy to convey is the grace and humanity that Bill brought to everyone around him. A board room with Bill in it was at once more intense and focused and at the same time more real, sensitive, and more human. He had an uncanny ability to bring people forward into a discussion, and debate it with intense intellectual rigor and passion. But, at the same time he was challenging a group with a problem, he was also expressing immense care and concern, even love.
Thanks to a 2009 investment in Danny Shader and the team at PayNearMe, I was one of the lucky few to have had time with Bill Campbell. For seven years we served on PayNearMe’s board together, and (like he did with SO many others) as I entered into Bill’s remarkable orbit, he took interest in my and my partners’ new business, True Ventures. We had a series of True-focused update meetings where he would coach me on how we could be more differentiated in our market, which revolved mostly around how we could be more human, more real, more “true” to our entrepreneurs.
We at True were so very lucky to have Bill speak to our Founder Camp in September 2011. Founder Camp has never laughed so hard nor been so incredibly spellbound as we were with Bill on Pier38 that afternoon. I was really nervous, and I recall him hassling me about my “showy clipboard,” which had not only a long pale green ribbon (a gift from one of my sons), but also another son’s artwork pasted on the back. I admitted to him that this was “there for good luck” for the interview, to which he asked “oh yeah, how’s that working out for you?” I mumbled something into my mic along the lines of “damn good so far today,” and we both broke out laughing. It was a relief. The truth was, I was INCREDIBLY nervous to interview Bill in this forum. With his legendary experience among our industry’s titans — Jobs, Schmidt, Page and Brin — there was so much to be wowed by, so much to cover. And this was Bill — he wouldn’t for a second cut me a break if I screwed up. We talked for the better part of two hours, and we all could have talked in this setting for days. Coach was in the room, and we were all learning from the master. Many times in the years after, Bill would comment to me about how different he found the True Founders: how down to earth and sharing he found us — the ultimate compliment coming from the most ultimate of mentors and coaches.
The valley loses so much with the loss of Bill: his experience, his intensely close network of friends that formed one of this industry’s tightest and most trusted webs, his wisdom. We lose a hero for the “real” side of what we do in this business. The human side. When you spoke to Bill, he asked about you. The real you. Not the Facebook or Twitter persona of you, nor the “you” that was shared at Coupa or Bucks. He was asking about the real “you.” Your partners, your family, your state of mind. You as a person. You.
Bill was the heart and soul of so much of what we do here in Silicon Valley, and we would all be wise to remember him by being just a bit more real, a bit more human, a bit more present with each other. We can honor him by bringing more of these values to our everyday work and life.