Malick, DJ Shadow, and PG

Today’s NYT article on the forthcoming film by Terrence Malick is fascinating: “…thanks to [Malick’s] scarcity of output, his sphinxlike reticence and the near-religious fervor of his fans, [he] also provides exactly what Cannes thrives on: mystique and anticipation.” This quote immediately reminded me of one of my favorite musicians, DJ Shadow, who is world famous but only has a few albums, despite having the largest personal record collection in the world. Malick and DJ Shadow are so selective in what they share and so secretive during creative periods that when they are about to surface, everyone becomes giddy with excitement. Not every artist is able to afford this type of “artistic process,” but many of them could, yet choose not to. There’s too much money to be made.

Reading this article and listening to DJ Shadow got me thinking — who else has exhibited this cycle of reclusive hiding broken by a creative burst of genius in the startup world? I’m sure the list is long and there’s no way I could capture every one, but the one that immediately comes to mind is Paul Graham. He’s been writing essays on startups and entrepreneurship for years. They are long. They are deep. They are prescient. And, they are infrequent, and when one hits the Internet, it is topic du jour and required reading. He has been so successful that he could probably write one essay in 2011 and that particular offering could be one of the most influential pieces of the year. And, he is not easy to find out in the wild, though I’m pretty sure I saw him sitting outside Coupa today taking advantage of a sparser crowd because of the cooler weather. I hear his name often from founders who have graduated from YC, referencing him as “PG.” 

In a place where everyone is looking to disrupt existing businesses and industries, one could argue that PG has probably done the most to disrupt Silicon Valley traditions than any other individual. Investors used to wait for deals to come to them. Now they have to track all the YC companies. YC also has an alumni network that seems to foster real connections, friendships. I’ve seen this first-hand. It may be that today, the YC brand is more important than where one went to school. YC is already a more attractive proposition for those looking to build something than traditional graduate school, and I think we’ll see more kids dropping out of college if they get accepted to YC — I’ve already met three kids who are hoping for just this, much to their parents’ chagrin.

But, everyone here knows this. What’s fascinating to me is to think of PG as an artist, like Malick or like DJ Shadow, surfacing only every now and then, and in between, toiling away on the next offering. As everyone is looking for the next big thing, he seems to have created one of the best magnets for attracting those who could one day — maybe not today — build it.