When I met Esther Dyson over 20 years ago she was already playing a very important role in tech. I subscribed to her Release 1.0 newsletter and flew in from Japan to attend her star-studded annual PC Forums in Arizona.
Esther has never stood still. She is an observer, analyst, connector, investor, philanthropist and advocate who never tires of learning something new.
Early in her career following graduation from Harvard, Esther worked for Forbes. In 1974, she traveled to Japan, on her own vacation time to write an article that Wired Magazine referred to as “seminal” about the competition Japan would bring to computer hardware. I can attest that Japanese industry was largely ignored by the press in the 70’s and this was certainly an early sign of Esther’s ability to detect important trends.
She has used her multiple talents to foster start-ups over the years. Companies she has invested in include Del.icio.us and Flickr (both sold to Yahoo), Medstory and Powerset (sold to Microsoft), Brightmail (sold to Symantec), as well as ChallengePost, Doppler, Icon Aircraft, Patients Like Me, Relief in Site and Xcor Aerospace.
Her current board seats include 23andMe (personal genomics), Airship Ventures, CVO Group, Eventful.com, Evernote, MeetUp, WPP Group and Ameritocracy, AnchorFree, Choicestream, IBS Group, Keas, Live Journal, PGP Corp., ReframeIt and Viewpoint.
She is also a trustee of the Eurasia Foundation, the Long Now Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, Personal Genomes.org (for which she has posted her genome and soon all her medical records online), the Santa Fe Institute, Stop Badware and the Sunlight Foundation.
Esther is wrapping up a five month stint training as a back-up cosmonaut in Star City, Russia. Her father Freeman Dyson, and brother George Dyson will fly in to watch the launch with her on March 26th and then she will return to her home base in New York City. Esther looks forward to coming back to her whirlwind lifestyle – along with the opportunity to resume her daily swim again.
I asked Esther what she took from her experiences in the Russian space travel training program. She is invested in – and passionate about – private space travel, so she took joy in learning to be a space traveler, her enhanced understanding about the business and technical challenges, and her ability to be an advocate for NASA.
She also shared something about her cosmonaut training that resonated with me and – I expect – with the powerful women I surround myself with. She said, “I am not used to not controlling my life. [This experience] allowed me to learn to cede control with dignity.”
Where will her next investments be? “People talk about investing the way they talk about having sex , but in both cases you need to consider the consequences – the time it takes to raise the children or guide the companies to success.”
You can expect that Esther will continue to be a visionary, identifying new areas worth further investigation. Here she will follow one of her favorite mathematician quotes: “The remainder of the proof is an exercise left to the reader.”
Mathematician quotes come easily to Esther, since her mother is the accomplished mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson.
Photos above courtesy of Esther Dyson’s extensive Flickr photostream.