Kara Swisher

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Believe: Brett Bullington and the Heart of Silicon Valley

Sometimes, on my more cynical days in Silicon Valley — when I become convinced that the tech industry is only about money and jostling for power and status and the next careless funding — it has always been good to remember there are people like Brett Bullington around here.

Because from the time I met him — he was an executive at Excite when I got here in 1997 — to now, his excitement and enthusiasm for the very best parts of the digital arena has never failed to make me smile.

Whether it has been interviewing him at companies he worked for or later at the many gatherings where we have invariably run into each other or via emails and texts, he always has strafed me with idea after idea. Brett is someone who has always had a truly pure love of innovation, and of the special kind of gumption that is takes to be an entrepreneur.

I cannot recall a conversation I have ever had with him that has not been saturated with a belief in the positive, an authentic connection and respect for talent, the hope of the new and, most of all, a deep interest in the next amazing thing to come down the tech pike.

While never pie-eyed in the way so many in Silicon Valley can be — Brett had seen failure close-up in the sad collapse of Excite@Home, and had worked hard to right Digg as it ran into trouble — he has always been one of those people who sees possibilities in tomorrow.

What’s the opposite of a naysayer? A yes-sayer, perhaps. That was clear to anyone who spent time with Brett and listened to his inexhaustible supply of energetic patter:

“Did you hear about … What do you think of … I just saw the coolest start-up … I really am amazed at the ability to reinvent … you have to see this company … I really believe we can make a difference …”

Which is what makes his recent and very serious accident on a laudable charity bicycling trip across America — which has resulted in a severe brain-trauma injury — all the more upsetting to those who know him well.

The ride from Santa Barbara to Charleston by bike — taking 41 days, averaging about 92 miles a day and riding 3,400 miles — is just the kind of thing Brett would do.

Back in 2007, he and his son Kyle became involved with Carolina for Kibera, a nonprofit to help one of Nairobi’s worst slums, and he has never lost one iota of energy toward figuring out ways to raise funds and awareness.

Before he left in mid-September, he wrote an ebullient email to friends about the ride:

“During the past few weeks I have received quite a few emails, calls, visits from friends and messages on Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin with words of encouragement as well as claiming that I am crazy to ride so far on such a small seat!” he said. “This should be an interesting time to cycle across the USA, with the election, the drought and the sight of 17 riders in spandex riding across Oklahoma countryside.”

And, indeed, it was a crazy idea — by which I mean crazy wonderful and crazy generous and crazy hopeful. While I was one of those who teased him about that seat when he first told me about his latest adventure, I could not help but smile again, because the effort was classic Brett.

Which is to say, it is about heart, which is something that too few people in this industry — and, really, across the world — have. Not Brett, whether it has been about one of the companies he invested in, like Flickr, or his many charitable efforts, or, most of all, in talking about his wife and two terrific children.

He’d beam while telling me about Kyle’s athletic or academic victories, or crow in sending me a note about his daughter Brooke and her journalism ambitions.

“You might like this!” he wrote me in late April. “My daughter is going to be editor in chief of her school newspaper next year!”

I did like it, mostly because he liked it so much.

Like I said, heart, which he will need a whole lot of going forward, to recover from what sounds like a very bad injury.

While I was nowhere close to his terrible situation, it was almost exactly a year ago that I suffered a stroke while traveling in China.

When I got back, Brett was one of the first people I ran into at yet another Silicon Valley party. While most people were loath to ask me anything, instead tending to delicately pat me and tell me to slow down, Brett immediately wanted to know all about what happened and how I felt and what I was going to do to recover fully. He peppered me with question after question, which again made me smile.

“I’m not going to tell you to stop working, because that would really kill you,” he joked. “As long as you keep getting up more than you fall down, you’ll be okay.”

Indeed. On a Tumblr blog created after the accident called “Brett’s Recovery,” there was an entry yesterday — a day of no progress for him — that read:

“I am thinking of an old version of Peter Pan where the audience is asked to believe in fairies. The millions who chanted ‘I believe in fairies,’ saved little Tinker Bell. I ask everyone to say, ‘I believe in Brett. I believe he will have a full recovery.’ Diana says you have to be specific when making wishes. So be specific. It is for a full recovery. You have to believe it. You have to believe that in spite of the odds and statistics, in spite of his terrible injury, that he will recover fully.”

Then today, in a lovely ray of hope, another post reported that Brett appeared to respond to his name being spoken, first by his wife Diana, and then by his neurologist.

A small improvement, of course, but it is definitely one on the way to getting up after falling down.

So, to help get him standing again, let’s all believe in Brett, and believe he will have a full recovery. Because, after 15 years of knowing this remarkable man, I am certain that is exactly what he’s doing right now.

I’ve included two videos in which Brett talks about the Valley with me, in 2007 and 2009, to give you an idea of him in action (Brett comes in at the 1:58-minute mark in the first and the 3:04-minute mark in the second):


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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post