A Note From Peter
When people ask who I am, I usually say that I’m a sixth generation Northern Californian. That’s a pretty rare thing, especially on both sides of a family. What’s more, my parents were in the same 1st & 2nd grade class together! Going back generations, my ancestors were pioneers and originally came to California in the mid 1800s in ships, wagons and more, and have been mostly entrepreneurs or public servants since. My great, great, great grandfather, Jacob Gundlach, sailed to California from Germany in 1851 to prove himself in business (a demand of his girlfriend’s parents). Speaking little English, Jacob befriended a number of German-Americans, bought into a brewery, then sold his interest in that business, and bought 400 acres of land in Sonoma north of San Francisco in 1857 and started a winery. The land, which Jacob named “Rhinefarm” became the home base for my ancestors, including a safe heaven after the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, when their San Francisco homes, and business offices and warehouses (which were located in what is today San Francisco’s SOMA district), were all destroyed by fires. Their personal and business reinvention and renewal in the years after the earthquake is an inspiring story of perseverance and resilience. Today, that winery Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest family owned winery in California, and is led by my cousins, the Bundschus. We (Jacob’s decendants) all return to Rhinefarm several times a year, including for Easter with our families, including for an Easter egg and treasure hunt. I’m clearly biased, but the wine is awesome!
For years, I stumbled around in my career, at times quite lost before finding my calling. In the end, I had to invent my career and job, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (Some people, including various family members, are still trying to figure out exactly what the hell I do!) At core, I’m an entrepreneur, social entrepreneur, and voracious learner. I began my career in strategy consulting, then worked as a venture capital investor, with fortunate opportunities in the United States and Europe with Summit Partners, a leading global venture capital firm. At Summit, I learned a lot about investing, and the chance to learn from some of the world’s most (and least) successful entrepreneurs every day. The entrepreneurs were my heroes. After my first year at Summit, I moved from Boston to London with a partner in order to start Summit’s European office, and though we worked around the clock, loved building something from scratch. I felt lucky to get into Stanford Business School and moved back to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, where I have been since.
I thought I would become an entrepreneur after business school. My career took an unpredictable turn when Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic, asked me to coauthor a book on leadership, so I became an author very much by accident. The book we wrote is called TRUE NORTH: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. I met Bill during my first year when he visited campus to give a speech, and found it very inspiring. I spent much of the remaining year-and-half of business school knee-deep in dozens of books and research studies, while reflecting on what was important, and seeking to find my own “authentic” way for combining work and impact. Some classmates and I were so motivated by such learning that we created a second-year class called “Leadership Perspectives” in collaboration with two professors at Stanford: Joel Peterson and Charles O’Reilly. Bill George was our first guest, and today thanks to Professors Peterson and O’Reilly, the class continues to be the most popular second-year class.
Since then, my craft was consuming, understanding, and synthesizing a range of research — from empiricism to hundreds of in-person interviews with practitioners, being a collaborator with faculty at the Stanford d.school to write another book on entrepreneurship and creativity called LITTLE BETS: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. Out of that craft of writing books and articles and being a deep student of “thought leadership,” grew two companies that I founded: Silicon Guild, a publishing platform where we’re focused on reinventing the traditional publishing model, and Parliament, Inc., a place and ecosystem for learning and invention where we work in close collaboration with our executive Members.
When I entered business school, I figured that it would take two years to discover how I could best make a contribution in the world. It ultimately took nearly 10 years, including countless failures and setbacks, and two books! I don’t recommend this approach, but am forever grateful for the support from my family and real friends, and the struggle taught me to take nothing for granted.
All the while, my passion projects have long been to utilize creativity and social innovation to make a positive social contribution, which we do through both FUSE corps, a year long fellowship that places talented entrepreneurial leaders inside mayor’s offices, as well as the BLK SHP (black sheep) Foundation. BLK SHP seeks to empower the artist and creative side in everyone, something that happened for me in my 30s thanks to my experiences at the Stanford Institute of Design (the d.school). Recognizing that no one ever takes the creative path in life alone, BLK SHP builds communities and “outposts” to support creativity around America, and increasingly the world, and we estimate that over 3,000 people are now in the BLK SHP ecosystem. Once the community is built, we encourage and support positive social actions and initiatives that are aligned with our mission of unlocking creativity. You can learn more at www.blkshp.org.
In all works, I seek to unlock potential in myself and others, and aspire to leave the world having made a contribution that both my ancestors and daughter might be proud. I hope that we can collaborate or conspire some day — after all, as the technologist Alan Kay has said: The best way to predict the future is to invent it!
“The inspiration of a noble cause involving human interests wide and far, enables [people] to do things they did not dream themselves capable of before, and which they were not capable of alone. The consciousness of belonging, vitally, to something beyond individuality; of being part of a personality that reaches we know not where, in space and time, greatens the heart to the limit of the soul’s ideal.” — Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Civil War General & Former President, Bowdoin College