Because highly ambitious, educated, and hard-charging Washington is a city of authors, it also is a city of book parties, and for the most part they are of a type: a friend’s home, crudité and canapes, a bar or two, and a speech or two in which the author thanks host, family, publisher, agent, publicist, and party planner, and pats self on the back. That is, of course, unless the author is tech wiz Michael Saylor. His book party was Thursday evening, and at toast time he thanked his MicroStrategy team and then launched into a dense but beguiling master class on where technology is headed. The lecture was suitable for MIT, his alma mater, but nonetheless kept his cocktail-sipping friends riveted.
He stood before the fireplace in Rick Rickertsen’s ballroom-size Georgetown living room wearing a black suit and a belt with a large silver buckle, a wad of keys hanging from his hip, exuding eccentric billionaire chic. Saylor is a mogul more occupied with his thoughts than this wardrobe. A scruff of beard on his face, he practically paced as he talked, arms gesturing, the wheels of his mind visibly spinning as he hit the main points of his first book, The Mobile Wave.
Saylor, who founded MicroStrategy in 1989, said he
wrote the book because of his “intellectual interest in science.” At MIT
he got one of his two degrees in the history of science, after
his 18-year-old mind lit up in the class of engineering professor
Carl Kaysen. “To me he was a legend and God on the subject” of
technology, said Saylor when we talked for half an hour in
Rickertsen’s dining room. It was just the two of us, with the
party going on elsewhere in the large home. “MIT was my awakening
about technology,” he said. He worked double hard to succeed.
“At MIT we thought we were better than people at Harvard because
we were smarter and worked harder. We were Eagle Scout
valedictorians from the middle class. They were rich.” He said it was
a decade later, after graduate school at Stanford, that he
began to see Harvard with new eyes, that the perfect package was
a combination of MIT’s intellectual ethic and Harvard’s
appreciation for talent, beauty, and means.
Saylor was eager to show me some of the software he had created that will eventually—he hopes—make credit cards, driver’s licenses, and cash obsolete. The version he displayed on his iPhone was for Emirates Airline. It provides access, identification, and security.
At the table, as he put the personal identification software through its secure paces on his Apple device, I reminded him of a private dinner we were at several years ago that also included the late Joe Robert, a close friend of Saylor’s. “The two of you stood there with your brand new editions of the Blackberry, playing with them like boys with new toys,” I said. “You thought they were the hottest thing.” He seemed to remember.
So what happened to the Blackberry? “RIM [Blackberry maker Research in Motion] is going to zero,” Saylor told me. “They aren’t a core software company.” They won’t be in the game, he said, as the world’s population moves toward massive ownership of “app phones.” He switched to the iPhone three years ago. The “wave” is rushing toward 5 billion people owning smartphones, what Saylor calls “a computer in your pocket,” and which is why he sees the world moving toward more software. “The future is software, not hardware.” He did allow “if you own a diamond mine or an oil well, maybe you can ignore software.” Well, yes.
When Saylor gave his tutorial before his friends, he echoed many of the same thoughts, and put special emphasis on the importance of tablets such as the iPad, which he called “the most powerful device.” He said, “We’re now at an inflection point where it is cheaper to read with a tablet than with a book,” adding, “an inflection point is when you see it and no one else sees it,” yet. We must believe Saylor, and his 3,000 employees at MicroStrategy, see it.
Despite the heat, the party was elegant and relaxed, half inside the home and half outside on the sprawling green lawn. Rickertsen invited his guests to jump in the pool, but no one took him up on the offer. Many of the men took off their jackets; the women were in light summer dresses or suits. Cosmopolitans, Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and beer were popular drinks. Waiters in white jackets passed bite-size roast beef, crabcakes, and quesadillas. The people there were a mix of Saylor’s colleagues and friends but also included three exotic young women no one could quite identify, which is part of the Saylor mystique. He’s not married. Where he goes, young women tend to follow.
Rickertsen, himself also a bachelor and a private equity success story, said he’d been on MicroStrategy’s board for 12 years. When he introduced Saylor before the fireplace, he said of his friend: “Sometimes he’s a little ahead of himself, but with this book he’s right on.”