John Chisholm is the founder, former CEO and chairman of Decisive Technology, a pioneer in online survey software (now part of Google), and of CustomerSat, a leading provider of enterprise feedback management systems (now part of MarketTools). A 30-year veteran executive of Silicon Valley, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He chairs the MIT Club of Northern California, serves as trustee of the Santa Fe Institute, as member of the MIT Corporation Development Committee, and as mentor with the MIT Venture Mentoring Service. Previously, he has served as Chairman of the Board of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, one of Stanford’s twelve independent laboratories; as a member of the visiting committee of the MIT Department of Mathematics; and as vice president of the worldwide MIT Alumni Association. He is author or co-author of two patents in online polling. We met with Mr. Chisholm in the San Francisco bay area to explore his thoughts on the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship.
Kaizen: You have founded two high-tech companies, Decisive Technology and CustomerSat. Were you technically oriented as a youth?
Chisholm: I think you would say so. I liked to take clocks apart and try to figure out how the gears and springs worked together. I grew up in Jupiter, Florida, a small town about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach. In junior high school, my best friend Al Pion and I each memorized pi to over 100 decimal places—we would recite it alternating the digits, like tossing a ball back and forth. Talk about geeky!