Jim Clark, founder of high-end computer workstation maker Silicon Graphics (SGI) and Web-browser pioneer Netscape, is an entrepreneurial legend in Silicon Valley. But lately he has lost his ardor for the Valley, which he now calls an "insanely depressing place." In fact, he's relocating to Florida. Clark shared his thoughts on the future of technology recently with BusinessWeek's Steve Hamm. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: Do you spend much time in Silicon Valley these days?
A: I have been out of Silicon Valley for five or six years. I go there for board meetings, then I split. I find the place depressing.
Q: Why do you find it depressing?
A: There's nothing going on that's of interest. There are only very few things. It used to be a vibrant, happening place. I'm speaking pre-1995. Once Netscape went out and the place turned into rocketland, everything got so insanely out of whack -- salaries, demand for people, commercial real estate. It became an insane place. And now it's an insanely depressing place. Now it's in such a funk.
It will survive, probably, but I'm no longer part of it. We just moved out. We're now developing real estate in south Florida. I'm in a group called Hyperion Development Group, and we're developing four or five real estate condominums and rental apartments. The city of Miami is booming. It's vibrant in the real estate business. So we're developers now. [Laughs] We've gone back to making money the old fashioned way.
Q: So you're not in technology at all anymore?
A: Not at all. I mean I'm an investor in Shutterfly, and that's doing quite well now. I'm in Neoteris, which is doing very well. Beyond that, MyCFO got acquired. All the other things I was involved in essentially wound down. I'm in the process of selling all of my property out there. I just don't want to be there. California is not very interesting to me.
Q: Do you think the tech industry is going to come back?
A: Of course it is. Technology mutates. New areas of interest and invention and entrepreneurship [will spring up]. You never know quite where that's going to be, but I'm willing to bet it's going to be some blend of information technology with other things.
The computer world, for the foreseeable future, is controlled by the players in it now. They have all carved out their niches. You have Microsoft (MSFT) dominating the PC, the personal desktop. You have skirmishes going on in certain areas where IBM (IBM) and Microsoft are competing. But who the hell else is there? The big vendors, Dell (DELL) and so on, have longevity only as long as they have a [much] better business model to make commodity products.
The semiconductor industry isn't changing much. It's established. Technology is a very big word. Technology means anything technical. It could be computer, physics, biology. When you combine computer science with other forms of science, you're going to yield new things. One area is biomedical -- molecular biology. There will be new things that constitute new opportunities. Technology will still be vibrant.
Q: What about in information technology? Do you think there will still be opportunities for startups?
A: I don't know. I tend to think there will be some. But it won't be like the wild wild West. It's like, there was a period when new states were being formed in the U.S. That's over.
In the same way, there won't be significant new computer companies born. Computer software companies, perhaps. But it's hard to see. Microsoft has the strength and the position and the control in the marketplace to wait until somebody creates a billion-dollar industry, but once they decide to take it, they'll take it.
I hate saying things like this, because in my nature I believe in the inventiveness of the human spirit. In the late '90s so many companies were formed, and most of them are going to crash. I'm not aware of any industry where it doesn't eventually consolidate to an oligarchy with a few dominant players. We have the dominant players in the software business, with Microsoft and Oracle (ORCL) and PeopleSoft (PSFT), etc. And in networking we have Cisco (CSCO), Nortel (NT).
Q: You don't plan on doing another info-tech startup? Is that what you're saying?
A: I'm completely out of it. The only things I'm still invested in are the ones I was invested in while the boom was still happening. I'm not in the venture-capital business. I'm not a Silicon Valley player. I'm not putting money actively to work in any technology sector. I'm on the back end of the power curve.
I'm taking time, enjoying. In fact, right now I'm lying in the sun in Santa Monica [Calif.], on the shore. It's too hot in Florida right now.