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GigaOM Interview: Bill Hambrecht, Legendary Silicon Valley Banker

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Last night I watched with morbid fascination as a group of talking heads on CNBC discussed the fall (and subsequent bankruptcy) of Lehman Brothers, the 158-year-old firm that survived the Great Depression, two world wars, and a devastating attack on the American way of life. Yet the investment back could not survive greed, nor its enslavement to the quarterly earnings cycle. Neither could Merrill Lynch, which agreed to sell itself to Bank of America, nor insurance giant AIG, which was scrambling to avoid a credit downgrade that threatened to put it out of business as well.

I watched the drama unfold and wondered if and when this tsunami unleashed by subprime loans and the subprime intelligence of our bankers would reach Silicon Valley. Unable to grasp the nuances of it all, I turned to Bill Hambrecht, one of the Valley’s legendary bankers and co-founder of Hambrecht & Quist, which took some of the largest tech players in the world public. (Disclosure: For a brief while I worked at H&Q Asia Pacific, one of the many offshoots of H&Q.)

H&Q was eventually sold to Chase, which is now part of JP Morgan. Bill went on to start W.R. Hambrecht & Co., a boutique investment bank that uses auctions to sell company stock — most notably those of Google in its IPO. Bill, to put it bluntly, has seen it all — the good, the bad and the ugly. So I stopped by his office in downtown San Francisco earlier this morning to talk about the economic disorder.

I was expecting to find him deeply worried; instead he was amazingly optimistic and, most importantly, wholly confident in the Silicon Valley way of life. Disruption will always prevail, he said, despite the current crisis, the rise of China and any of our backward government policies.

“I don’t think it will  have much of an impact on Silicon Valley as an operating entity,” he remarked when I asked him how the current crisis would affect Silicon Valley. “What is going to be interesting is what happens to the underwriting/IPO market.” In other words, fewer underwriters will be focus on tech companies — unless they’re really big, he said. In other words, it’s just like old times, like back when he started H&Q.

I loved this conversation so much that I decided to share the entire 25-minute chat with you. Roll the tape.

23 Responses to “GigaOM Interview: Bill Hambrecht, Legendary Silicon Valley Banker”

  1. Shattered my image of a banker! Very worldly. Especially fascinating comment about China and developing companies not wanting to import monopolies.

    Is that “Fire & Gold” on his bookshelf? Kind of a new-age spiritualism book I think. I guess it works, he’s very calm.

    –Andy Green
    Avaya Global Managing Editor

  2. OM – good one – you should do more of these “impromptu interviews”. Flip or no flip – do more… The straight talk from Bill H is simply refreshing.

    Had to use a headset to get that audio flowing – but still enjoyed every minute of your interview with the ledgendary Bill Hambrecht. Cheers –

  3. forget the flip – get the new Canon HF11 – shoots to CompactFlash w/ 32GB flash built in. Granted its the AVCHD format but you can shoot at 24Mbps and full 1920×1080… and gigaom really needs a better than YouTube solution – why send the click-on traffic to youtube away from gOm? check out custom player + video backend solution – tis perfect for gOm.

  4. @Alan,

    This was shot with my Flip and well since this was an impromptu interview, this is the best I could get. Sorry about that.

    That said, the quality isn’t as bad as you make it out to be. The funny part is that it audio is fine on the AVI file and is very clear. I think YouTube drops the quality and that impacts voice as well. I am going to try on one of the other services and see if the voice quality is any better. I know it is a bummer.