Category Archives: Silicon Valley Business

The Google Doodler: His art for search engine is among the most widely viewed in the world

This is a column I wrote in 2004 when I met the Google doodler at the time. I was reminded of the proflic doodlers today with Google’s toast to Yosemite Park’s 123d birthday on the very day it was closed because of the government shutdown.

You want pressure?

Try sitting in Dennis Hwang’s chair the day before Earth Day, knowing that tens of millions are waiting to see what you’re going to do about it.




“The number of people that see my images is mind-boggling, ” says Hwang, 26. Hwang, yo
u see, is the Google Doodler, a man in one of the hottest seats at one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. It’s Hwang’s job to create the whimsical holiday logos that regularly show up on Google’s main page — a page visited by many tens of millions of Web searchers every day.

He’s not bragging. More marveling.

Who would have thought Hwang’s art would become among the most widely viewed in the world?

You bet users expect something special when a special occasion rolls around. And Hwang, who works primarily as a Web master, feels an obligation to deliver.

Think about it. Anybody who visits Google regularly (OK, everybody) has seen Hwang’s modifications of the multicolored Googlelogo. Not since the Yahoo Yodeler has a search engine icon reached such heights.

“I don’t walk around going, ‘Oh, I’m the Google designer, ‘ ” Hwang says.

Of course, he doesn’t. He’s an artist — an artist who creates art for art’s sake. Well, and for Google’s sake.

It started simply enough, back in 2000, when Hwang was hired as an intern at the Mountain View company. The doodles, which were created by a contractor at the time, were already appearing on the company’s site. Hwang occasionally would clean up the designs.

“I started dabbling in it, ” he says. “They later found out I was an art major.”

And it was all over.

Hwang became the go-to guy. New Year’s Day? Hwang. Martin Luther King Day? Hwang. Valentine’s Day? Hwang.

Fan e-mails poured in with praise and suggestions. A small committee was formed (hey, it is a corporation) to decide which days to commemorate.

The committee wanted to mark the traditional holidays, but it wanted to throw in a few curves, too. So, the anniversary of flight was doodled, and Einstein’s birthday. And of course, Gaston Julia.

Gaston Julia?

“Sometimes I have to do extensive research, ” Hwang says.

(Of course, we all know Gaston Julia was the French mathematician known for his work on the iteration of rational functions.)

Hwang’s work has become a happening. His images, which usually play off at least one letter in Google, are preserved at


logos.html. Doodle fans have sent in their own versions, some of which are also displayed on the sites.

Hwang plays it close to his vest. He won’t say what’s coming next. And no, he won’t say whether he has anything in mind for Google’s expected initial public stock offering.

His doodles still bring in oodles of laudatory e-mail. Well, mostly laudatory. There was the DNA incident. After Hwang sketched a double helix among G-O-O-G-L-E to mark the 50th Anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s structure, he heard from renowned scientists.

Great job, they said, except two of the threads were intertwined in reverse order.

“They were just joyfully pointing it out, ” Hwang says.

It’s all part of being in the hot seat — a seat from which Hwang anxiously counts down to his next doodle-worthy day.

(Photo of Dennis Hwang by Mercury News photographer Nhat V. Meyer)




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Maria Elena’s in Alviso gets a side order of regulation

This is a column I wrote about Maria Elena’s having regulatory trouble and becoming a hot spot in Alviso in September of 2011.

Maria Elena’s is another Silicon Valley business at a crossroads.

No, not a Yahoo, should-we-sell-the-company, crossroads. Or a Hewlett-Packard, should-we-hire-a-new-CEO, crossroads (which seems like a weekly crossroads for HP).

See, Maria Elena’s is a bustling Mexican restaurant in sleepy Alviso — a restaurant that holds a special place in the high-tech ecosystem. It is one of those joints, like the old Wagon Wheel or the old Peppermill or the old Old Pro, where valley worker bees congregate to plot out everything from the next killer app to their weekend plans.

“It’s a serious tech watering hole for lunch, ” says Rudy Mueller, a regular who works for Juniper Networks, and whose beverage of choice is the bottomless Coke. “It’s like an icon.”

And now it faces the low-tech version of the “adapt or die” challenge so common to its customers.

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Replay it: Alviso Getting Some Respect

Here’s a column I wrote about Alviso’s transformation on April 18, 2003:

Call it the TiVo effect.

Little Alviso, San Jose’s most picked-on neighborhood, is Silicon Valley’s new hot address.

OK, warm address. OK, at least companies will admit to having it as an address.

Three of the valley’s top 150 companies in terms of sales (Genesis Microchip, Foundry Networks and TiVo) now claim Alviso as corporate headquarters.

Yes, three. But for the buzz, I credit TiVo.

You know TiVo. It’s a machine. It’s a company. It’s a verb.

“SouthPark marathon? Dude, I like so TiVo’d that.”

TiVo — the digital recorder for people with 500 channels and no time to watch them — is approaching pop icon status. In fact, you might know TiVo better than you know Alviso.

Alviso has always been a contradiction. Sitting just north of Highway 237, Alviso holds the beauty of the bay and the odor of San Jose’s sewage plant. It has the refuge of the Don Edwards wildlife preserve and the refuse of San Jose’s dump.

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Tilted Kilt “Silicone” Press Release

Sometimes one letter can make all the difference — as in Silicon or Silicone. This slip-up by the Tilted Kilt sports bar folks was particularly unfortunate.

Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery Coming to Northern California

Famed Sports Bar Chain to Introduce 10 New Locations

TEMPE, Ariz., April 9, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Californians will soon enjoy the rousing tradition of Scottish, Irish and English pubs in their own backyard as the one-of-a-kind eatery with the sexy kilted servers unveils ambitious expansion plans.

Tilted Kilt Franchise Operating, LLC (TKFO, LLC) has partnered with NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC to establish the Celtic style “Best Looking Sports Pubs you’ve ever seen” in Northern California. NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC signed a 10 store deal to develop Kilt sites in Fresno, Sacramento and the Silicone Valley/East Bay areas over the next five years. NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC is currently scouting sites for its first location scheduled to open by early 2014.

“We are very excited to grow our current franchise partners and continue to expand the popular Tilted Kilt brand,” said Mark Hanby, Vice President of Franchise Development, TKFO, LLC. “We’re extremely confident that an experienced and business savvy partner like NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC will succeed in expanding our footprint in a tremendously appealing market like Northern California.”

NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC is a hospitality group that combines a team of skilled executives, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, including CEO David Kaufman and Area Developer Justin Lemos. Lemos will be responsible for overseeing Pub operations and management, having spent the last five years working for TKFO, LLC as a Director of Field Operations, opening more than 50 Pubs while developing its operations, management and training programs.

“Northern California has been longing for a Celtic-style pub like the Tilted Kilt,” said CEO David Kaufman. “Its expansion plans will be in very capable hands under Justin who knows the brand from top to bottom and appreciates what Northern Californians look for in a new sports bar eatery experience.”

With more than 80 locations open across the US and Canada, the Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery features an appetizing menu serving up savory choices like its “Big Arse BurgersTM,” “Danny Boy’s Shepherd’s Pie” and its “Maggie Mae Fish & Chips.” There’s also plenty of beer and perhaps its signature asset — the beautiful and alluring servers in sexy plaid kilts and matching bras.

For more information about franchising and Tilted Kilt, contact Justin Lemos at or David Kaufman at

About Tilted Kilt

Currently with 80 open units in the US and Canada and 20 in development, the Tilted Kilt is known as “The Best Looking Sports Pub You’ve Ever Seen.” It is uniquely different than other sports bars because of its theme that combines Celtic decor, humorous and slightly bawdy limericks and sexy cast members with great food, drinks and a fun entertaining atmosphere. The original restaurant concept was developed in the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas in 2003. For more information, go to


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Bloom Energy’s Mexican workers problem reminds me of IBM scrape years ago

This Bloom Energy story about bringing in welders from Mexico to do work in Silicon Valley that they are not authorized to do got me thinking about a brush IBM had with immigration authorities back in 1996.

IBM was eventually — and somewhat controversially — cleared of wrongdoing. Not so for Bloom, which the U.S. Department of Labor fined about $38,000 for back pay and penalties.

Publication:       SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS



Web Headline:

Reporter:          By MIRANDA EWELL, Mercury News Staff Writer

Day:     Thursday

Print Run Date:             10/3/96

Section:            Front

Edition:             Morning Final

Page Number: 1

Section Letter: A

Memo:             Thomas Farragher of the Mercury News Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

     Immigration officials said Wednesday that they were satisfied that IBM did not violate the law by using visas generally reserved for training to import Mexican workers who assembled disk drives at Third World wages in its San Jose plant.

“We reviewed their documents and received a clarification of the company’s training program, ” said Sharon Rummery, an official in the San Francisco office of the INS. “Based on our preliminary inquiry, the INS is satisfied that the B-1 visas were used appropriately and that IBM is in compliance with the law.”

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Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer invents new drinking game at Davos: When she says “mobile,” take a shot

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer joined the proud tradition of valley CEOs travelling halfway around the world before opening up to provide an interesting interview about what’s going on at their companies.

Switzerland Davos ForumAh, Davos. Bloomberg Television is calling its Swiss sit-down with the rock star CEO at the World Economic Forum as her first one-on-one interview since becoming CEO. For the time-challenged, here’s a brief summary of the half-hour interview: mobile, mobile, mobile. She said “mobile” a lot.

“I think there are amazing things you get to see all the time,”  all kinds of amazing technologies on mobile,” Mayer said concerning  what technology excites her. “When you think about what it means to be location sensitive…Some of these are very basic in terms of things like being able to check in, so there’s Foursquare, but if you actually know where people are and where they check in, there are all sorts of sophisticated and interesting thing you can go on to do.”

But Mayer made it clear that Yahoo wasn’t going to be doing those sophisticated and interesting things on its own. Maybe it was the Swiss air, but Mayer was all about alliances when she talked to Bloomberg TV’s Erik Shatzer about Yahoo’s mobile strategy. (They do so have one.)

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Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley Teaches Some Lessons


My Nov. 11, 2012 column on the recently departed Bravo reality show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley:”

A Reality Check for Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs


For me, the birth of reality TV pretty much marked the end of human civilization.

I don’t see how we could go much lower in our never-ending search for banality and time-sucking dreadfulness. In short, I’m not a fan.

But I’m fascinated by Silicon Valley’s culture. So when I heard that the reality TV gods at Bravo were training their cameras on the valley, I knew that one day I’d watch “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.” That day has come.

I refuse to join the brutal bashing of the show featuring young and beautiful entrepreneurs (sometimes even fully clothed and sober) struggling against personality conflicts and market forces to launch the next tech home run.

“Silicon Valley is just balls to the wall, ” says Dwight Crow, 27, who has a Puritan work ethic for work and partying. “It’s not something you want to do if you don’t want to roll the dice. So if you’re not aiming for something $1 billion or larger, why waste your time?

Yeah, why?

But again, no hater here. (Besides all the good snarky lines have been taken. Get this tweet from TechCrunch co-editor Alexa Tsotsis: “Here Comes Silicon Valley Boo-Boo.” ) So rather than make fun of a show that surely someone finds entertaining, how about we try to learn? Yes, there are lessons in “Start-Ups” for all those many entrepreneurs who, like the shows’ stars, are working to raise buckets of money to create the next app to help you reach your goals, or track your real-time life expectancy, or upload videos of your fabulous life for all to see.

In that spirit, I’ve picked through the first episode of the show for pearls of wisdom.

First a funding primer from Hermione Way, 27, who with brother Ben, 32, is working on the life-expectancy app. (And if you must know, Hermione is mortal enemies with Sarah Austin, 26, who lives for free at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto in return for blogging about the place, and kind of has a thing for Ben.)

“In Silicon Valley there’s a number of ways to get cash for your startup, ” Hermione explains. “There is angel investors, which is like a rich person that now wants to invest in the next best thing. There’s venture capitalists, also known as VCs. They’re kind of like more corporate, bigger rounds of funding.”

Lesson: What the heck. Go for the bigger rounds. How hard can it be?

Next, let’s talk about dressing for success. OK, it isn’t done in Silicon Valley — unless you’re on a reality show.

“Bloody hell, ” Hermione, who is from England, says one morning while getting dressed. “This is the worst outfit ever.” Now, I’m told Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg is often heard to say the same thing. Well, yeah, he wears the outfit anyway, but, you know.

The truth is the “Start-Ups” kids seem really lost on this fashion question. Take this from Sarah: “On a typical day it takes me two hours to get ready for work.”

Lesson: Honey, if you want to look good, go for it. I’m just saying, you tack a two-hour commute onto that two hours getting ready and you’ll never have time to create that $1 billion company. Balls to the wall, remember?

Now a word on networking. Hermione has got this down.

“Nobody goes clubbing here, ” she says. “It’s about costume parties at people’s houses.”

So, next time you’re invited over to some VC’s place to schmooze, be sure to rig up a costume. Togas appear to be big. Or take a tip from Sarah (who says she’ll take three to four hours to get ready for a party) who showed up at a bash wearing what looked like two fig leaves covering her breasts.

And, of course most importantly, some pointers on the pitch. Hermione actually got herself and Ben a meeting with Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups and an A-list tech investor. How’d she do it?

“I sent him a message with this, ” she says saluting the camera with her middle finger. Really, flipping the guy off? I wondered about that one. But Hermione explains: “He says, ‘If you’re not upsetting someone in business, you’re doing something wrong.'”

I’m just wondering whether your prospective funder is the one you want to be upsetting.

Anyway, the kids got the meeting and of course they had to wait quite a while in McClure’s office. “VCs always make you wait, ” Ben says. “It’s their little power game. They want you to sweat it out, so they can take control of the meeting.”

Lesson: The VCs already have control of the meeting. You want money. They have money.

Finally, it’s best to never waste valuable time. Sure Ben and Hermione had to wait around, but not to worry. Hermione, you see, was terribly hung over from that toga party the night before. Why not use the wait to catch a little nap, in McClure’s conference room, under his conference table? Talk about madcap!

Suffice it to say McClure was not amused. His advice: “Don’t sleep under my (expletive) table anymore.”

Lesson: Just hope he was joking.

Contact Mike Cassidy at or 408-920-5536. Follow him at


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