GeekWire Radio: Nick Hanauer and Rich Barton on investing, technology, open skies and big bets

Nick Hanauer and Rich Barton are investors and entrepreneurs who have created and shaped some of the most significant companies in the Seattle region, and the world. They’re also friends, and we’re happy to have them both together in the studio this week for the GeekWire radio show and podcast.

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Nick Hanauer and Rich Barton in the KIRO studios. (Erynn Rose photo)

Barton is the co-founder of companies including Expedia and Zillow, a board member at companies including Netflix and Avvo, and an investor in a wide variety of startups. Hanauer branched out from his family business, the Pacific Coast Feather Co., to become the first person outside of the Bezos family to invest in Amazon.com, before leading aQuantive, Gear.com and many other companies, in addition to his role as a startup investor.

So what’s their secret to success? Part of it is their habit of getting away from the business world. One of the topics we get to talk about in this extended version of our conversation is their trips together to Burning Man other remote locales.

Barton says, “When you go to places with gigantic open skies — be that in the middle of the Black Rock desert in Nevada, or floating down a river in Montana, or running after rooster fish on a beach in Baja — when you put yourself in an existential situation, when you see how small you are relative to the universe, you begin to forget yourself and think bigger thoughts. You really do.

“And people need to do more of this. I realize not everybody has the opportunity we have to be able to do this, but we — Nick and I together and with our families, as well — we work hard at putting ourselves in these situations, and that provides a backdrop for being able to talk and think about big ideas. And it’s fun.”

Hanauer adds, “We share a tolerance for risk that makes most people extremely uncomfortable in every domain in our lives. Big ideas require a certain tolerance for risk that makes most people extremely uncomfortable.”

Was that inherent in their genetic makeup or the result of early success?

“Genes,” Hanauer says.

“But I gotta believe it’s because I felt safe growing up,” Barton says.

“We both had great, fantastic families that were super supportive,” Hanauer agrees. “But it is a virtuous cycle. You start taking risks early, those risks are rewarded, which encourages you to take bigger risks, and so on.”

“Just like the startup ecosystem here,” Barton says. “It’s OK to take risks, it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to succeed, it’s OK to succeed big. That fuels the ecosystem here.”

That’s one of the highlights from this extended version of the show, which includes not only the radio broadcast but also an extra segment for podcast listeners. Other topics include Hanauer’s political activism, and his philosophies on economic fairness. We also discuss Amazon.com, Microsoft and how Hanauer and Barton use technology in their own lives.

Listen to the show via the audio player above or this MP3 file. Look for additional highlights on GeekWire in the coming week.

The interview begins at the 8:00 mark, following our weekly news roundup, with topics including the Microsoft Xbox team’s rough week at E3, and the unveiling of iOS 7 by Apple.

App of the Week: Caspar Babypants Music Time.

Name that Tech Tune: The answer to last week’s contest: Arrested Development. Congrats to our winner, Allan.

GeekWire airs on KIRO Radio (97.3 FM) in Seattle at 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. every Saturday, except when preempted by live sports. The show runs every weekend on GeekWire.com. Get every episode using this RSS feed, or subscribe in iTunes. Also find us on Stitcher.

  • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

    So, here I was running Saturday morning and once I hit 3.5 miles or so I notice the podcast was longer than the other Geekwire podcasts — score! And I was wondering if John / Todd took my feedback, and once it gets the end of the podcast, there it is, a shoot out to me for pushing them to do longer podcasts! Double, score.

    To top it off, this is the best podcast GeekWire has ever produced. Rich and Nick were fantastic and covered everything from tech to politics, from innovation and thinking big to school and education. Every entrepreneur and investor in Seattle should listen to this podcasts. We need more Rich Bartons on this town.

    • johnhcook

      Ha! Thanks Marcelo. I was wondering if you discovered that little “easter egg” this morning. :)

      Hope you had a good run. I loved this show too, and we’ll continue to play with the idea of going longer for our podcast listeners!

  • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

    Marcelo is right. This was a particularly good podcast.