A thin profile—in every sense—of one of the few high-tech movers and shakers who has so far failed to become a household name.
Now in his early 50s, Ron Conway was raised in Silicon Valley, where he got to know some of the geeks and wonks who would put personal computers in every home. Though not particularly technically adept himself, Conway quickly proved himself to be a gifted salesman, “never a crude backslapper,” as journalist Rivlin (A Fire on the Prairie, 1992) puts it, “but instead the type who killed you through attention.” That talent served Conway well as he talked his way onto the boards and into the stock-option plans of one startup after another, amassing a sizable fortune while carefully spending other people’s money. His influence grew with his founding a venture-capital fund called Angel Investors, which capped at $150 million in 1999 and had holdings in dozens of tech firms large and small—which, in turn, had holdings in the fund, the high-tech world evidently having little interest in the question of conflict of interest. Conway rode (and sometimes drove) the dot.com boom for all it was worth, netting his investors massive returns and garnering a reputation for turning one dollar into ten nearly overnight. When reality caught up and the tech bull market got swallowed by a giant bear, Conway’s fund declined with all the rest; at the end, Rivlin quotes the once-optimistic Conway: “At this point, I'd be happy if I was able to get people their money back.” Conway has something of Gatsby about him, but Rivlin doesn’t tell us much about what makes him tick, and he fails to provide any of the parallel-universe detail that makes Po Bronson’s The Nudist on the Late Shift, Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing, and Douglas Coupland’s thinly fictionalized Microserfs such absorbing reading on the matter of Silicon Valley.
Sadly, there’s no moral to be learned in Rivlin’s weak tale, a classic example of a magazine article fattened up to make a book—and, in this case, an e-book as well.