I’ve had advice from people in the past to “work with companies led by people you strongly believe in”.

As I reflect on 2011, I am fortunate to recall several amazing people I was able to meet. Thus, I wanted to share my thoughts on 5 San Francisco entrepreneurs you should know about.

As I went through photos from the interviews I conducted with each of them, certain characteristics emerged. These were characteristics that are serving each of them well as they build their respective companies.

Enjoy our introduction and perspective on 5 San Francisco entrepreneurs you may or may not know about.

We’d love to hear about others that have had a positive impact on you as well.


I was fortunate to meet Astrid CEO Jon Paris in July 2011. I met Jon through an engineer on his team, and he had come highly recommended.

It did not take me long to figure out that Jon is a special person. My impression had nothing to do with business plans or algorithms. It had everything to do with the kind of person he is.

He is a strong believer in his team, and loves to empower them. He has an infectious energy that breeds positivity throughout his organization.

He provides his team with confidence at a juncture when most businesses have uncertainty.

It will be fun to see how things develop for Astrid in 2012.


Most people reading this have heard of Justin Kan. I had definitely heard of him before I had the chance to meet him.

The first time I met Justin, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was at Justin.tv to film one of our first videos for Ongig. I was nervous, and this was a guy who had lots of experience in front of the camera.

He quickly put me at ease, and went with the flow. He made doing the video easy, and was an incredibly great sport.

Since then, I have visited the new home of Justin.tv and breakaway spinoff TwitchTV on Geary Street.

Wouldn’t you know it…I saw Justin in the lobby, and he came over to shake my hand. He even offered to do an update to our Ongig video on the spot.

I’m guessing that the team around him is impacted in an awesome way by Justin’s humble attitude.

The hallmark of a leader with staying power is one who does not let success change them. That’s what impressed me the most about Justin.


I got the chance to meet some awesome people disrupting some well-established industries this year. One in particular really stood out.

Weddington Way CEO Ilana Stern has a very kind and generous demeanor about her. But make no mistake, she’s got an awesome vision that is changing the game in wedding planning.

These days it is easy to find a lot of companies who have a “me too” strategy, or implement a “social” component as a sort of check box.

You will not find either of those with Ilana and her team. Wedding planning is big business. Her team started with wedding dresses and the bridal party.

I suspect that Ilana’s vision is to disrupt other components of wedding planning in the near future.

One example that she doesn’t have a “me too” company…Weddington Way moved into a new office in the Marina this year, not SOMA. They are the only company I visited this year that can say that.


I have heard a common theme from San Francisco CEO’s in 2011: hire the best people, and let them create something they are passionate about.

No one seems to understand this better than TinyCo CEO Suli Ali.

As I sat with Suli, I was struck by how honest he was about how the company was started.

He talked about wanting to start a company and making sure they had the right people first. He figured that having the right team would help creativity and beat the uncertainty of starting a business.

The mobile gaming company found success, and continues is growing at a rapid rate. This is a result of hiring tremendous people.

It serves them well as they expand the company, and this is a direct result of the way Suli founded the company.


It’s a cool thing to be talking about business AND to be talking about ways to make your community better. That’s what it’s like to talk with Spark Co-Founder Chris Balme.

In addition to having a magnetic personality, Chris also co-founded a business which is improving the lives and prospects of middle school children. Make no mistake though, Chris has an exemplary business sense.

As I toured the Spark office, I was impressed at how motivated his staff is to improve the lives of others. I was inspired by the pictures on their walls of kids starting to live their dreams through the Spark program.

It made me want to give back to my community right then and there. I suspect anyone who comes in contact with Chris and his team gets the same feeling.

Because of that influence, Spark is opening new locations to make an impact on children across the United States. The business sense and exceptional attitude of Chris Balme are a big part of the recipe.

We Are Blessed In San Francisco

There were 5 entrepreneurs profiled in this article. I know that there are certainly many more talented entrepreneurs in our 7×7 mile community.

We are tremendously blessed with talent that not only changes each others lives, but the lives of many who live outside of our cradle of creativity.

Here’s to recognizing what we have in 2012, and making the most we can of ourselves and our community.

by in Entrepreneurship