Remarks by Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft; Jon Perera, General Manager, Academic Programs, Microsoft; Aurther Vanderveen, CEO, Office of Innovation, New York City Department of Education; Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director, The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management, Columbia University; and Dennis Crowley, Co-Founder and CEO, Foursquare
New York, N.Y.
July 8, 2011
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, General Manager, Microsoft Academic Programs, Jon Perera.
JON PERERA: Hello Imagine Cup. (Cheers.) I can’t hear it. (Cheers.) It is a delight and an honor to be the host for the 2011 Imagine Cup, and welcome you all to New York City. Are you guys ready for this? (Cheers.) Let me hear you say “Imagine Cup” on three. One, two, three.
AUDIENCE: Imagine Cup!
JON PERERA: Not even. Not even. Let’s make sure all of New York City hears you. One, two, three.
AUDIENCE: Imagine Cup!
JON PERERA: Great. Well listen, tonight’s opening ceremony kicks off a celebration of you, your achievements, your innovation, your hard work. And I want to be the very first person to actually congratulate each and every one of you, because the fact is, no matter what happens this week, you guys have already won. More than 13,000 projects were submitted for this year’s Imagine Cup. We have 134 projects represented right here in this room. You guys represent your cities, your universities, and your countries, and the world, in fact, is already a better place because of what you guys have done. You’ve started a conversation. You’ve built new solutions. You’ve started discussions with partners around the world. And that’s important. That’s critical. And that’s what the Imagine Cup is all about. It’s the world’s largest technology event where we challenge you to solve the world’s hardest problems using technology.
And I think it’s really special for two key reasons. First and foremost is you. There’s something quite unique about competitors in the Imagine Cup. When you see a problem in the world, you don’t just walk by and do nothing about it. It’s quite the opposite with each of you and your teams. You guys say, you know what, we can make a difference. We can change the world. We can solve problems around global health, climate change, and much, much more together. And that’s terrific.
The second reason I think is really unique about what you guys have done is that you’re part of something very big. More than 300,000 students around the world registered for this, and a large-scale conversation has begun around how are students, the agents of change, harnessing the power of technology to address these global challenges around the world.
We’ve got a big, big week in front of us. Over the next six days, you’re going to be challenged in competitions. We’ll have nine different awards that go out. It will be tough. It will be challenging. We have some fun things for you along the way. We want to make sure that you all take advantage of those. In particular, take advantage of the chance to learn. So, on Sunday, for example, we have seminars and workshops on things like the Kinect SDK, Windows Phone 7, Azure, and more. We’ve got opportunities to learn about how to work and partner with NGOs. Take advantage of those things.
And you’ve got a terrific opportunity, I think, overall in a couple of different dimensions to learn from each other. So, don’t miss the opportunity over the course of the week to learn about how different teams in different countries approached some of the same challenges that your team thought about.
So, I just want to give you a couple of pieces of advice as we head off into the week. No. 1 is to take a moment, take just a few seconds by yourself, and with your team, to really appreciate what you guys have already done. You’re in New York City. The next six days are going to fly by faster than you can possibly remember, but make the moment last. And so think about that. The second thing I want you to do is actually seize this opportunity to learn. And then, finally, let the Imagine Cup be a beginning for each and every one of you.
So, with the opening ceremony, we have a terrific lineup of speakers for you. To welcome you all to New York City, it’s my honor to actually introduce Mr. Arthur Vanderveen, who is the CEO of the Office of Innovation for the New York City Department of Education. Please join me in welcoming him to the stage.
ARTHUR VANDERVEEN: Hello. Welcome to New York City. On behalf of Michael Bloomberg, our mayor, and our school chancellor Dennis Wolcott, I want to welcome you to this fabulous city of New York, and hope that you take advantage of it for these next six days. This will be, I think, one of the most memorable experiences of your life, and it’s not because I’m here talking to you. But this is a great event, and a great city.
We are pleased and honored that Microsoft has chosen New York City for the ninth Imagine Cup, and we want you to make the most of your time in New York City. I hope you’ve had a chance to get around. This is one of the most diverse cities in the world, from the Bronx to Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens. It’s not all here in Manhattan. You need to see Times Square, but you need to get out and see all of the diversity of this great city, from the Statue of Liberty to Broadway, everything is so tremendously exciting. I’ve lived here now for eight years, and every single day is so stimulating, and so exciting. I love to live here, and I hope you take advantage of your time.
Since you’ve come, New York City is a smarter place. I want you to know, it’s in the air. We feel all your brain power and your intelligence, and we are so excited that you are bringing that intelligence to solve some of the most challenging issues that our global society is facing today.
On Monday, I sprained my ankle, and I understand that the Romanian team actually has a device that’s going to help me improve my orthopedics. These are the things that matter. (Cheers and applause.) If you tried to come up in the elevators today, you know we’ve got some logistical challenges that also need some good programming. (Cheers and applause.) The Marriott Marquis would welcome any help you could offer.
New York City prides itself on being a center of innovation, from finance, of course, but to biotech, to silicon alley, and new media. People come to New York City to design and develop new things. We bring talent to New York City like nowhere else in the world. And we hope that you will consider returning to New York in your own professional careers, because we want to be a place where you want to come and live and work and help bring greater talent to the challenges that we are all trying to solve.
And one of the reasons New York City is a center of innovation is because of our investment in education from our universities to our public school system, New York City takes education very seriously. And Mayor Bloomberg has made it a priority of his administration to invest deeply in education.
In my role, leading the Office of Innovation, I spend every one of my days trying to make sure our 1.1 million students, each and every one of them, have an opportunity to become participants and finalists in the next Imagine Cup. They need the kind of knowledge and skills that you have had an opportunity to develop, advanced courses in science, technology, engineering, in mathematics. Our students aspire to that, and yet we have to work so much harder to improve their opportunities and their access to those higher courses. You all are a model and an inspiration to our students. I wish you were here longer, and we could have more time for our students to come see the solutions that you’re designing and developing.
From Brooklyn Tech, one of our highest selective high schools where students are working on challenging problems in advanced physics to East Bronx Academy, where our students are doing creative, innovative things despite really challenging circumstances. All of our schools across all of our boroughs, every one of our students aspires to have the opportunities that you’ve had in all of your countries. And coming together in an event like this keeps us focused on what the possibilities are. So, I thank you. I thank you for demonstrating what hard work and intelligence, collaboration, creative thinking, and problem solving, and engineering and design can do for your lives, and for our global society. Thank you so much. I hope it’s a great week. Good luck to all of you, and congratulations.
JON PERERA: It’s a distinct honor and a pleasure to welcome our next guest and speaker, ladies and gentlemen, students, the CEO of Microsoft, Mr. Steve Ballmer.
(Cheers and applause.)
STEVE BALLMER: This is my first Imagine Cup, and that’s all the love you can show? One more time. (Cheers and applause.)
What’s the difference between a student and a programmer who already works at Microsoft? A student still thinks that really means you’ve got to sit down now. Congratulations, everyone, you’re here. It means that you have done some absolutely awesome, awesome work. And I want everybody here to stop and applaud not only for yourself, but for all of the folks who put in the work, the energy, the passion.
And then, I’ve got to say, I had a chance to see stuff from about 10 or 11 teams this morning. You guys have done some unbelievable stuff, so a round of applause for all your hard work and great work. (Cheers and applause.)
This is actually for me my first Imagine Cup final. I feel terrible and guilty about that. But, even more important, I feel like I’ve missed so much. As I was preparing to come on out, flying out yesterday, and I do a lot of this and that speech, and look at this and that. I found myself getting real fired up and excited. I get to actually go see people who love technology, and are doing amazing work with it. And then I arrive, I meet some of the finalists, I look at some of the projects, and in a sense I’ll tell you, it more than anything brings alive to me why I love what I do and I love what Microsoft does.
We are involved, all of us, in this business. We’re involved in changing the world. We get to do things, just based upon our creativity and ingenuity, and brain power they really can make the world a better place, whether it’s a technology innovation that actually translates into technology, or technology innovation that transforms healthcare, the environment, accessibility for the disabled, quality of life for the elderly, or many, many other things. Information technology is the one thing that we can count on in the world over the next 5, 10, 20, 30 years to be the rising tide of innovation that really helps society in a total win-win way.
And when you get a chance to really step back and think about that and read the descriptions of all of the projects and the problems that you’re trying to solve, that fires me up. And I hope it does the same thing to you. Some of you will say, Imagine Cup was wonderful; I’m done with my project. Some of you will say, Imagine Cup was wonderful, I want to push it to the next level, to have it have a life in a bunch of social welfare, or other community activities. Some of you will say, I want to make a business out of this, I wonder if I can. Some of you will love your team so much you’ll say, that was great, but let’s go find something new to do. Some of you will pursue careers in information technology, and some of you will pursue careers in some of the application areas that have been so meaningful. And I think it’s just all exciting.
Folks from 183 countries started out in the Imagine Cup competition, 183 countries. It’s a reminder to us that there is no border or boundary for the kinds of work and innovation ideas, and hard work can drive in terms of a global impact on society, at least not in this business not in information technology, 1.4 million students registered. That speaks to us about how many people around the planet are charged up and excited about all that we do.
And when you look at the 358,000 people who actually participated. When you look at the work of the 400 or so finalists that are here today, as I said, it’s just the kind of thing that can fire you up, not just about our company and our industry, I think it can fire you up about being part of kind of one of the greatest things going on on the planet today. So, again, I say congratulations and I’m just excited to have a chance to kick this event off with you.
As we take a look over the next several years, we’re certainly excited about what we’re doing, just like you all came together into project teams and did exciting work and you got excited about it, that’s kind of what we get to do every day at Microsoft. Hey, what’s Windows 8? How do we drive it? What do we make happen? What are the key phenomena? When do we get to release it? How do we make it better, and better and better? Yes, there are some other guys we compete with. Boom we’ve got to do better, and better, and better, and better, and better. It’s pretty exciting, pretty exciting stuff.
Windows Phone. You know, a year ago we didn’t have a phone in the market. Now, we’re charging forward with Nokia. We have the second generation of our phones coming out this Christmas, and people are starting to do things they had never imagined before. I love the applications that I saw for the Windows Phone from the people in this room, and the way you’re pushing that device, and using that device. It was really exciting for me.
Xbox. The Xbox, I’ve got to tell you, when we first decided to do Xbox, it was about 1999. I think it was Valentine’s Day, in fact, an important holiday for my wife. (Laughter.) And for me, of course, a very important holiday. But we had to make this decision, should we go ahead and get into the not only in the videogame business, but were we excited about innovating and building hardware, because we have done mice and keyboards, but this was kind of a major activity. And here we are, 12 years later, and the kind of excitement and innovation that’s being driven through the Xbox into the living room around the world, I think, is quite remarkable.
We’re moving to the cloud. Everything is moving to the cloud. I had a chance to visit with customers here in New York. And I was talking about our new Office 365 productivity service. I was talking about Windows Azure, which many of you used as the backend for your projects, and the world is completely different than 12 months ago.
Twelve months ago, you talked to these big corporate IT departments and they’d say, we’re not moving to the cloud. They were very conservative. Here we are 12 months later, and people are saying, we know we’ve got to go, we’ve got to move. We don’t know exactly how quickly, some things will move fast and slow. And when we take a look at the kind of things we built in our Office 365 service, our Azure service, we think we’ve got a head start that’s really important, but like all of you, we know we’re going to have to continue to run very fast.
I’m sure some of you may have noticed that we have offered and been accepted to buy Skype. Pretty excited about that. We’ve got to get government approval, regulatory approval, very important. So, we don’t own the thing yet. But I hope we’re Skype’ing in right here.
Yet, nonetheless, when you think about the range of things that can be done to continue to transform the closeness and the connection in the world by new forms of communication, it is quite remarkable. I think we’re all fired up and excited that we’re all here. We’re together. We’re in one room. We’re in New York City. And yet, as a person who runs Microsoft, I say, gosh, we ought to be able to fire people up and get the same sense of community and excitement if we’re using information technology built around Skype to do exactly the same thing in a virtual setting. And whether we get there first, or the people we compete with, or young entrepreneurs and innovators in the room, there’s a great opportunity to really do things better and different.
Bing. Bing is a service that is probably amongst the things I’m most excited about at Microsoft, most excited. When I say that to our shareholders, and they go look at our financial reports, and they notice that we lose a lot of money, they asked me, “Why are you so excited?” Because there’s a lot in Bing that I think represents the future of information technology.
The real holy grail of what we all need to do is transform these machines so they understand you and what you mean. You ought to be able to say to your computer, verbally, type it, I don’t care, “Get me ready for my trip to the Imagine Cup.” That ought to mean something to these systems. It means nothing today.
I’ll give you another one that’s even funnier. If you go to a search engine today and you say, “Print my boarding pass on Southwest,” you’ll get nothing back but chaos. The truth of the matter is, computers, search engines, nothing really understands verbs today. We only understand nouns. And yet, most of us as human beings want to command these systems to do something for us. And the core technology we’re developing to understand and try to simulate the world of users and what they’re interested in, and how they want to get it done is all being done in Bing.
We’re pretty excited about the work we’re doing there with Facebook, where we’re starting to integrate, so you can see not only information about the world, but how your friends think about the world, and see the world, and vote on the things that are of interest to you. And I just think there’s so much opportunity for more exciting things to happen.
We see it in our own products, and our own work, and I’m excited about it, and I could go on and on. But, we’re here on the first night of the Imagine Cup. So, I want to give you a little bit of a sense, really, about where things are going, and what some of you did with these technologies.
A number of your projects used Azure, and Bing Maps, and Windows Phone 7. Nearly half of the projects were actually Windows Phone-based. Azure was used in 46 percent of the projects. Bing Maps in 27 percent. The one that I thought was most interesting was about 10 of the projects actually used Kinect hooked together with the PC, and a lot of the interesting projects in healthcare, rehab, education particularly saw a lot of value in the technologies we’ve built in Kinect that help recognize the voice, and motion, and skeletal tracking, and the like. So, the kinds of interesting things you’re doing, coupled with the kinds of interesting things that we’re doing at Microsoft, I think, are really quite remarkable.
We want to make sure we’re feeding your level of interest in some of these new things. So, we’re going to make an announcement tonight. There will be an Xbox Kinect for all of you, all finalists will get a free Xbox Kinect, and we hope you will use it to further stimulate (cheers and applause) your innovation. (Cheers and applause.)
You can hook it up to your Xbox and play games, you can hook it up to your PC and write code, just make sure you hook it up. That’s the only thing I would ask you, and make sure you enjoy it. (Cheers and applause.)
I knew that would be the easiest remark I had to make. (Laughter.) I want to move up. I want to move up from what you’re doing, and some of the specifics of what we’re doing, and I want to talk a little bit about what I think are the broad technology trends that are actually switching on these exciting possibilities for all of us. And they fall into three buckets. The cloud, next generation devices, and natural user interface.
The cloud is, I think, probably a bigger deal still than most people even in our industry think. When you use the word “cloud” some people roll their eyes and say, the cloud is the Internet, that’s not a big idea. The cloud is bigger than that. We are really in the process of redesigning the whole way in which applications get constructed, and managed, and deployed. And the ability to reduce the amount of cost and complexity in the management and deployment of applications to free up capacity to focus in on invention and innovation in the applications themselves makes the cloud a tremendously big deal.
When I got started in this business the question I’d get as I traveled the world was if I do a great application how will I ever get anybody to find it, how will I ever get sales force, or technical capacity to get it installed if I’m living in Toronto. How will the customer in London go buy it? In the world of the cloud the friction and barriers to your innovation, living and working wherever you want on the planet really comes down.
The cloud does more than that. The cloud will also unlock new ways of writing applications. Today we write applications that know about people that we can enumerate, and know about data sets that we somehow control. And yet in the world of the cloud all of the world’s people and all the world’s data is somehow out there. But, it hasn’t become programmable yet. We think about this a lot in the Bing context. We have almost like our own little private copy of the Internet and how do we help people take the data that’s out there, that we’re storing and processing, and indexing, and put it in a form where you can use that data in your application?
I saw an application today from a team from Germany that focuses in on water quality and availability in Tanzania, great. A lot of that data will come from people who want to input it into the systems. A lot of that data, the data I think might be relevant is crawl-able and index-able on the Internet, but how do we put it in a form where that team could actually program against it? So, the cloud frees up new resources for innovation, and the cloud lets us mash up to the world’s data and people in new ways. And that gives us all a platform for additional exciting work that we can go do.
Next generation devices, the devices we have today, PCs, phones, TVs, slates, those devices will not be static. If anything with the embrace of sensor technology, with the availability of both higher performance processors, and lower power processors, with Intel, with ARM, with things driving in a number of different directions, we’re going to have more new device categories over the next few years than ever before.
Will we in 10 years think about owning a PC and a phone and a slate, and a TV, or will we think about the whole architecture for the device world that’s somewhat different? I carry a computing device and it responds flexibly, big screen, small screen, middle-sized screen, how much processing will get done on the device versus in the cloud? One thing we’ve clearly seen is, we’ve moved from a world where all computing was centralized to all computing was decentralized, to where all computing in the Internet tended to be centralized, now to a world where smart devices in a balanced way work with a smart cloud.
So, both from a software and a hardware architecture point of view devices will continue to be a source of innovation on which we can all piggy-back. Natural user interface, I talked a little bit about this earlier in the context of Bing, but in a sense we have to do two things with the computers, or with the phones, with the intelligent devices, they have to learn to recognize you, your voice, your touch, your writing. They have to learn to recognize you, but they also have to learn to understand you. That’s what natural user interface is all about, recognize me and understand me.
And the amount of innovation that we’ll see in that area will also be a springboard for incredible opportunity for everybody in the room. So, if you sit here 2011 and you call your parents, or you send them a text message and you say, hey, what did I learn at Imagine Cup, the one thing I want you to remember from my talk, and what’s going on here today is you made a great choice of an area to get interested in.
There’s at least another 30, 40, or 50 years of great opportunity in the information technology world. And whether you consider yourself a businessperson looking at technology, or a technology person looking at technology, the opportunities for you are really going to be pretty fantastic. There’s a lot coming in our own case I think the news, the things that we have to talk to you as a group of technologists over the next few months, Windows 8 will be pretty important. You’ll hear more about that at our developer conference Build in September. But, you’re going to see a stream of things from us, and I thought maybe I’d show you just a quick video clip just on some of the things that you’ll see in Xbox this Christmas.
Roll the video, please.
STEVE BALLMER: I can’t resist just kind of one last set of comments. Amongst the most fun things I get to do is talk to people who are in school trying to decide what to do, moving forward. I had a chance recently to give a graduation speech at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
And so you have to say, hey, what’s the core message? And I’ve been in Microsoft 30 years. I joined — 31 years — I joined Microsoft, I was 24 years old. I dropped out of school to join a friend of mine from college who had a 30-person company that my parents had never heard of.
I’ve been through a lot since then. We’ve got a few more than 30 people, and a few more than 2.5 million of revenue.
And the question is, what do you learn, what’s important, what counts? It’s going to be a different technology at different points in time, there will be different business models at different points in time, it will different application areas.
But a few things I think do matter, and I’d just give them to you as parting words of thought. First, ideas matter. Sometimes people get all caught up at speed and agility and execution, which is certainly vital, but part of the reason you’re here isn’t just because you work really hard and you did some really good programming; it’s because you had an idea that somebody thought mattered. You picked something interesting to do. You picked something that somebody thought was important to work on. And in our business ideas matter.
No. 2, and at least in this industry, you’ve got to find something that you’re passionate about. You’re going to put in way too much time and way too much energy to not be completely fired up about what you’re doing.
When I get excited, I get noisy and volatile and rrrrrr — you saw a little bit of that today. (Laughter.) Some of you probably get quiet and focused and steely. But you have to find something that you can put yourself into heart, body and soul. And hopefully part of what you learned from this Imagine Cup exercise is you found some part of your passion, something that really resonated with you that you could get very enthusiastic about.
And No. 3, you’ve got to be tenacious. There’s a view in the technology business that all great things are achieved by three people in three months. Most of you know that the greatness of your project couldn’t be achieved by three people in three months, probably took you more like eight or nine, and probably most of you understand that if you want to take your ideas to the next level, they would require more time, more attention, more tenacity. You’ve got to keep with these things and keep working on them, because whether you’re Microsoft or Apple or Facebook or Google or Oracle or VMware or SAP or IBM, it doesn’t matter who you are in this business, there’s no substitute for really being tenacious and keeping after those ideas that you are really passionate about.
I encourage you to enjoy your time here in New York, enjoy the Imagine Cup. To those of you who win something I say congratulations for that extra honor in advance. For those of you who do not, I say congratulations, because certainly everybody who’s here is a winner who’s done incredible work, and you should be incredibly proud.
Enjoy, have fun, and all the best. Thanks. (Cheers, applause.)
JON PERERA: So, our next speaker is going to be really interesting. He is the special advisor to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals. He’s the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia United Nations. He’s the world’s leading expert on extreme poverty. He’s just spent the last few weeks in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Mozambique, and more. He’s a leader, he’s an innovator, and he’s somebody who really understands the power of students. Please welcome Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.
DR. JEFFREY SACHS: Wow. Wow, amazing, and congratulations to you and congratulations to Microsoft for launching this incredible championship and stimulus to the whole world.
You heard nice things said about me, but you didn’t hear probably the real reason why I’m here. I do advise the secretary general on the Millennium Development Goals, and I know that that is a passion for all of you. And I do think a lot about extreme poverty and the problems in the world, and how technology can solve them. And we know that that is your joy and your success already.
But what you didn’t hear is that 49 years ago, there was some kid sitting next to me in kindergarten, who you just happened to see onstage a minute ago. (Laughter.) Because I gave Steve Ballmer his start. (Applause.) We were kindergarten classmates, and then I moved to a different part of town, and he moved to a different part of the Detroit area, and then naturally what would we do when we reached I think 7th grade in Steve’s case and 8th grade in my case, how do you spend your summer? Probably like many of you, we spent our summer in math camp, right? (Laughter.) Of course, what else would you do?
So, there we were at math camp, and I was the second youngest guy in the group, and Steve was the youngest and smartest guy in the group. And we reconnected after kindergarten and learned some group theory together for a couple of summers, and then we reconnected in college. I made only one major mistake in my life: I graduated college. (Laughter, applause.)
I’m sorry, a little boring, a little pedestrian. I’ve spent the rest of my years trying to make up for that last speech. But fortunately, I was very lucky in my life to find a little bit later than you this incredible joy of problem-solving. I was an academic economist doing the things that academics do, writing papers and publishing papers, and got lucky to be asked to fly to La Paz, Bolivia 26 years ago, and faced what was then a catastrophic economic crisis. And thank God the ideas worked up at 13,000 feet above sea level, and Bolivia was able to stabilize, and I got hooked on the idea that Steve was just talking to you about of this passion of problem-solving, and the sense that we can make a difference, and the sense that if you combine brains, technology, tools, and persistence, that perseverance is absolutely essential if you do that.
You already are on a path of global change. Now, the truth is this is an incredibly weird time in the world that we’re living in. I feel more disoriented now, I have to say, than at any moment of my adult life and my time in thinking about global problems. The international economy is in deep dislocation. I was just on the phone talking about the Greek economic crisis, which is something that is very dangerous and could spiral to a Europe-wide crisis, dealing with one of the worst droughts in history in the Horn of Africa, and a myriad of problems, and yet at the same time, more power in our hands, more tools, more innovation, more hope that you not only symbolize, that you are it. By virtue of your being here, you are the problem-solvers that are going to solve these problems.
Now, I have been a professor for 31 years now, and I’m pretty tough on the exams that I give, and I have to say that my generation is giving you guys a pretty tough exam. Because while Steve and Bill Gates and a whole remarkable, remarkable, remarkable generation of leaders that pioneered these great breakthroughs that you are now taking on and taking farther, it’s also true that our generation, I think we have to acknowledge it, is leaving you with a mountain of problems, the likes of which the world has never quite seen.
We really have a race that on the one side the tools are more remarkable, more mind-blowing than ever before, and you just saw some of them and you’ve made many of them.
And yet at the same time, the problems are absolutely harrowing. We will reach 7 billion people on the planet in three months. We are more crowded in the world and pressing against limits of ecosystems, limits of food supply, resource limits, barriers and threats of contagion, of diseases that spread more rapidly than ever before, of rising numbers of extreme poor, at the same moment that we have all this power, the technology, the potential to address these problems.
So, we’re giving you a homework assignment. It’s not for the semester, it’s for your lifetime. But a homework assignment really that is nothing less than saving the planet and making sure that we have the future of the prosperity and hope that future generations yearn for and that we, as fragile as we are, as stewards of the planet are desperately seeking.
The Millennium Development Goals, which I’ve advised Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, the two great recent secretaries general, are our first way station in this effort. They go to the core of whether we have the decency and the smarts on the planet to ensure that everybody can survive on the planet, because it’s nothing less than that.
As you know, 8 million children die every year before their fifth birthday for completely stupid reasons, for diseases that don’t even exist in rich countries and for conditions that by being smart, by having systems, by having information, and by mobilizing best technologies, deaths that can be ended.
We have a billion people living in chronic hunger right now, and the numbers have risen because we’ve had climate shocks, we have the growing food demand coming from the vast growth of the emerging economies, impinging on the demand side while the supply side has been dislocated by climate change.
We’ve had a tripling of staple food prices on two occasions now in the last three years, went up, came down, now it’s gone back up again, 2008 and 2011.
We face a profound energy crisis. Not only are energy prices back at extraordinarily high levels, the way we deploy energy, as all of you know, will wreck the planet if we simply continue in this direction.
But for you of all people this is not a litany of woe, this is not meant to be a breast-beating testimony of all that is wrong, and it is not meant for one moment to be a measure of pessimism. But it is I think for all of us a wake-up call to the reality of the planet and to the fact that while we feel very comfortable and very lucky and fortunate to be here and to be living in the circumstances that most of us are fortunate to find ourselves, you know that that is but a part of the planet, and you have been the ones to pioneer how to address the challenge that those less fortunate continue to face by the hundreds of millions, and that the planet as a whole will suffer unless we move forward.
In every area disease control, educational access, information systems, the fight against hunger, the fight for a sustainable climate, for a new and secure energy system, information technology will be at the very center of the solutions.
And I can tell you, Steve, everything you said I feel when you see it in the villages, what it has meant for computers and for mobile phones to come to places that were completely isolated, and that were suffering, dying and hungry, and now are empowered with every form of information, and have access, and with the tools that this group has been innovating and will further innovate in the future, you know that these are problems that this generation, as hard as it is, you the new leaders of the world are going to be able to bring to success.
There’s one more part of this challenge. We know and we demonstrate it every day, we can’t look to governments for solution anymore. We can’t even look to government for amusement anymore. It’s too frightening to watch what’s going on in Washington or going on in so many of the other capitals.
What is amazing, though, is how many solutions can be made by innovation and by the empowerment of technology and by the wonders of what you are doing in bringing information and communications technologies to bear on the truly life and death challenges of the planet.
It’s an enormous, enormous honor for me to therefore greet you, to thank you for your work, to give you that homework assignment. You don’t just leave here with the Imagine Cup and think your work is done; you have a lot of work ahead.
My journey, I only understood a little bit later, started 49 year ago sitting next to this kid, and I’ve watched how this revolution is unfolding. I’ve been lucky to see what it can mean for people all over the world. You are extremely fortunate to have started already on finding these solutions. There’s a lot more to come. I’m grateful for what you’re doing. I want to congratulate you for this great achievement of coming to the Imagine Cup. I want to thank Microsoft again for all that it’s done to change and improve the world, and to help inspire you for your future leadership. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
JON PERERA: Our last speaker for the night is co-founder of a very, very cool and innovative startup that you’ve probably heard of. It’s called Foursquare. They’ve got more than 10 million users around the world. (Cheers.) You might also know that he was a pioneer of a very cool company called Dodgeball. So, please welcome me in joining Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare. (Cheers, applause.)
DENNIS CROWLEY: Hi. How are you guys doing? (Cheers.) All right! You guys warmed me up, so it’s like the crowd is a little going here.
So, by the way, first of all, congratulations for getting to the finals. I didn’t realize there was going to be this many people in the room. It’s kind of great. I would have put on like a shirt and tie for you guys if I had known that. (Laughter.)
So, my name is Dennis Crowley. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Foursquare. Do you guys know what Foursquare is? (Cheers, applause.) Yeah, all right, that’s awesome. I tell you, I was backstage, and I could hear some of you guys yelling, and I’m like, that’s awesome, thank you, thanks for knowing that.
So, you know, at Foursquare we’re making — for those who don’t know, we’re making things for mobile phones that make cities easier to use. You know, it’s the whole idea of what Steve was talking about, like inventing the future and making software that lets you know that you’re lost before you know it, before you know it yourself, like we’re building that stuff. Like we’re the ones that are building the future of what’s going on with social and mobile and location technologies, and it’s really, really exciting. We’re doing it here in New York.
The company is about two years old, and we’ve got 75 people, which is crazy. This is my first time being CEO of a company, and it’s very exciting. We’ve hired a lot of our friends, a lot of our old co-workers. It’s been a lot of fun.
We’ve got about 10 million people that are using the service. It grows by about a million users a month.
And this is all something that I started with my co-founder Naveen around my kitchen table like two years ago, two years and change. Back in the winter of 2009, like we were working out of my kitchen table like making grilled cheese for lunch, like hustling on this thing, and here we are like I’m on the stage in front of you guys, we’ve got 10 million users, we just raised a big amount of financing. It’s like all the stuff that we wanted to do is started to happen.
So, actually it’s really fun to be up here. Like I’ve been in New York about 10 years, and I’ve worked at a couple different startups. I went to NYU for grad school. And it’s just funny, because when I was at NYU I took a class that was sponsored by Microsoft, and it was like a design expo class. And what we had, like we worked in teams of three or four, not dissimilar from what you guys are doing, and we competed against other schools. Now, there was only like three or four schools that we competed with, but basically like a much, much smaller version of this contest.
But like, you know, I was sitting in the exact same seats that you were sitting in, you know, this is like five or six years ago, but we learned — you know, we were learning how to make products. Like at that time we were trying to — you know, the question that we were trying to solve is like how do you make music social and more interesting. And so, you know, we were doing product development, designing with our class, and we brought it to Microsoft, and we were part of this design expo, and our project won, because we were awesome, thank you. You know, a couple years ago. (Applause.)
But remember it’s like, you know, all the stuff that we learned from this experience, the experiences that you guys are having right now, is the stuff that’s powering what’s going on at Foursquare, and it’s really exciting.
And, you know, even what Steve was saying before about the folks that you’re working with, the folks that you’re meeting here, like this isn’t the last time you’re going to see these people. These people are going to go on to run different startups, to run different businesses. The people that you’re sitting next to, you might be working with them on your next project, or two startups from now, and it’s just the way like the space works and it’s the way the community works, and that’s exactly what happened at Foursquare. The people that I had that class with at NYU, like half of them work at Foursquare now, it’s great. And so it’s a really interesting kind of tight community.
So, what I really want to talk to you guys about — and this might go a little bit longer than five minutes, so sorry — is so many people, like we talk about 10 million users for Foursquare and 75 employees, people always say like, oh, you guys are so successful, how did you do it? And I’m like, successful, like it’s we’re not there yet. And if you go back, like we’ve been working on a lot of these ideas for about 10 years or so. I’ve been in the city about 10 years. My very first job was like being a research analyst at this Internet company, like making pie charts and doing like Internet like data crunching and stuff.
And when I was bored at my desk job, like I taught myself how to program, because I had things I wanted to build. Like I wanted like, hey, I want to build a city guide, I want to build things for phones; I don’t know how to do it, I’m just going to teach myself how to do it. And I did it when I was bored at work, and I started this little company called Dodgeball. And it was nothing for a while, but I used Dodgeball to get the attention of another company called Vindigo. And they’re like, hey, you know how to make product stuff, you’re totally not qualified for this job, but you seem to have made something, so they hired me. And I was like, sweet, that’s a nice little stepping stone.
And when I was at Vindigo, I was really excited, I was working on stuff that tens of thousands of people are using.
And then eventually I got laid off from that job. It was in the big Internet crash of 2001 where all my friends lost their jobs.
And so, you know, I went from like the height of my career to like the rock bottom of it. Like I didn’t do anything, I kind of bummed around all summer. Eventually 9/11 happened in New York, and like all the jobs were gone; there just wasn’t a lot of hope then. I ended up leaving the city, I worked as a snowboard instructor for a couple months before trying to figure out what to do next. And that’s when I ended up back at NYU.
Even when I was like up in New Hampshire teaching kids how to snowboard, I was tinkering with stuff, I was trying to build software that you would use on the ski slopes, which totally didn’t work. (Laughter.)
And then, you know, bringing back — coming back to NYU, started thinking more about these things. I ended up meeting my co-founder for Dodgeball, this guy named Alex Rainert, and we worked together on it for a couple of years. Like we worked — you know, we ended up taking the Dodgeball ideas and trying to make them a little bit smarter, a little bit more interesting, and eventually like our little grad school project, our grad school thesis project at NYU, we got bought by Google. And I’m like, wow, that’s amazing, that’s like a huge, huge win.
And so, you know, we were at Google and trying to make this stuff happen, and we spent about two years there, and we couldn’t make it happen. Like it just like wasn’t the right time, like not enough people understood social, not enough people understood what was going on with phones, and the project eventually went away. So, it was like another like you go from the very top of your career kind of down to the bottom, like I was unemployed again and no one wanted to hire this startup founder that couldn’t make it work and, you know, it was tough.
And so I looked for — you know, looked for work for a little bit, and eventually ended up, you know, with another friend of mine, Naveen, my co-founder for Foursquare, sitting around my kitchen table, you know, winter of 2009, being like why don’t we just try this thing again. And so we started rebuilding. And we knew the ideas were really good, like we knew they were good in 2001, we knew they were good when I went to NYU in 2004, we knew they were good when we went to Google in 2005, we knew they were good in 2007; we just couldn’t make it work. And so we said, why don’t we just try this again, right, like pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and like let’s see if we can make it work. And so far it has, right?
So, we’re about two years into it, as I was saying. You know, we’ve got employees 75 — we have about 75 employees, it’s very exciting, 10 million users we just hit. It’s just, you know, Foursquare usage is happening all around the world. It’s just like it’s blowing up in ways that we just never anticipated it would.
And so it’s funny when people ask me that question, like, oh, how did you guys get to be so successful, it’s like we’re not — like Foursquare’s success is built off of 10 years’ worth of failure. Like everything that didn’t work out at NYU, everything that didn’t work out at my first job, everything that didn’t work out at Google or Vindigo or teaching little kids how to snowboard, all that stuff has gone into the formula that makes Foursquare interesting and special.
So, whatever you guys are doing here, that’s kind of the big thing. It’s like it’s not an easy path. You’re going to be — I’m sure this is the start or maybe even the midpoint of like a lot of you guys starting to become entrepreneurs, doing stuff on your own, being very excited about this.
So, like I’ve got two last — well, really I’ve got two things for you. The first lesson is just, you know, don’t give up with whatever you’re working on. Like whatever the projects are here, you know, whether you win or lose the competition, whatever happens after this, and whatever you guys end up doing a couple of years from now, there’s always going to be people that tell you they love your stuff and there’s going to be people that tell you they hate your stuff. There’s always going to be people that don’t get it. There’s always going to be haters, right? And so just keep in mind that like if you have good ideas, just keep working on them to make them right. If the time is not right now, it might be right in a couple years, it might be right when you get some more people, it might be right when you start to learn a little bit more. So, just keep plugging away at that. And it’s really that’s my big lesson.
The second thing I wanted to say now that I’m two minutes over on my time here is like you guys are in New York for a couple days, which is great. Who’s been in New York before? (Light cheers.) A couple of you guys? Yeah, well, here, look, just promise me this: If you’re here as your first time here, get out of Times Square, right? Go down and walk around the East Village, go walk around the West Village, explore New York. New York is like the most inspiring place ever. Like the density of people and places and things to do, everything that we’re building at Foursquare, everything I’ve done in my career has been inspired by what goes on here. We see problems in the real world and we want to fix them, and we try to use technology to fix the problem that New York has. It’s like what, how do you make it easier to meet up with your friends, how do you make it easier to find places that you want to go. Everything that’s inspired us and inspired our whole team has happened here. And when I say here, I mean away from Times Square. So, please go out there and experiment.
So, that’s about it for me. I just want to say congratulations to you guys again. Keep pushing at whatever you’re doing. I’m proud of you guys already, and good luck with everything next. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)
JON PERERA: How are you guys doing? (Cheers.)
We’ve got a little tradition. It’s the cutting of the ribbon to really kick off Imagine Cup 2011. So, to close out the night, I’d like to invite Steve Ballmer, Arthur Vanderveen back onto the stage, and what we’re going to do is really kick off the overall competition, the event itself.
How many of you guys have been to the Imagine Cup before? (Cheers.) How many of you this is your first time? (Cheers.) Congratulations to all of you, and with that let’s go ahead and open up the Imagine Cup 2011.
STEVE BALLMER: Let’s share one huge scissors. One, two, three. (Cheers, applause.)
JON PERERA: You guys are good, this is it, get ready to compete, look forward to seeing you in the next six days. Have a wonderful night! Thank you very much. (Cheers, applause.)