Eric discovered, at a very early age, one of the most common attributes of entrepreneurs: “I want to do things my way!” This, however, was not welcome in France, where he was growing up.
SM: The old “I am going to do it my way” saying … EB: That’s right. I even started a small business when I was 13. I had observed that where I grew up, in the town of Grenoble, there were quite a few abandoned bicycles and mopeds. I felt there was quite a bit of waste there, and recognized there should be a business in recycling parts. I started a business recycling moped parts with my friends.
It did not go very far, it turns out I was not able to mobilize enough discipline to create a real business out of it and I ended up doing most of the work. I was not able to get enough leverage.
I went to engineering school in France, but resolved right away to not just stop there but rather to get a piece of my education in the US. Like many people in my generation, I was fascinated with America in a positive way.
SM: What did you see in America at the time which captured your imagination? EB: It was mostly the energy. I had no idea about American entrepreneurs, and I certainly had no idea about venture capitalism. I felt, all the external sides of American culture exuded openness and energy; I felt comfortable with this mindset.
SM: I wonder how youth in different parts of the world view America today! When did you come to America? EB: When I finished my engineering school in France I came to Stanford for graduate school. In some ways it was like throwing a dart on a map because I had applied to a bunch of schools and did not know whether I should go to MIT or Stanford. I was fortunate enough to have a bunch of good schools to choose from. In retrospect I am glad I picked Stanford. I only picked that school because one of my cousins taught there a few years before me and he raved about it, mostly because of the climate and the beautiful campus – but small things can make a big difference.
SM: Did you plan on studying engineering at Stanford? EB: I came to Stanford with the intention to learning about biomedical engineering – I was fascinated with applying technologies to medical ends, but it turned out when I got here something else became even more exciting. I got here in the mid 1970’s, at a time when the microprocessor had just been invented, and networking had just been invented. Xerox Sparc had just started sending Ethernet packets the year before. I realized that computers were getting smaller, cheaper and more powerful. I was fascinated by this, so I shifted to computer science and electrical engineering. In the end I decided not to finish my PhD, so I walked out with a second masters because I wanted to have work experience right away.