Just about everyone in Silicon Valley acknowledges that running a successful startup takes more than a great technology and the right people—it takes a little bit of luck.
And Marissa Mayer, former Yahoo CEO and Google employee number 20, doesn’t deny the power a little luck has had on her career. She once told me that she wouldn’t have landed the Google gig that sent her career trajectory shooting skyward without “a long-distance relationship and a really bad bowl of pasta” that kept her up late in her Stanford dorm room, randomly opening the recruiter emails she had previously decided to ignore.
When Mayer started that job at Google in 1999, the company had just moved into offices on the second floor of 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto, recently vacated by an outpost of Logitech. Google didn’t stay in that space for even a year, quickly outgrowing it. But Google’s tenancy at 165 University kicked off what became a string of successful renters, including PayPal, Danger, Milo (sold to eBay), and photobook startup Picaboo (still private) have since inhabited that space, a track record that has turned into the legend of the lucky office. “There’s a lot of good juju” in that space, Mayer told the New York Times in an article published this week.
So Mayer rented it for her new tech incubator, Lumi Labs. Given that the company’s product will be startups, being able to offer entrepreneurs a little magic dust along with more concrete forms of help couldn’t hurt. With cofounder, Enrique Munoz Torres, former senior vice president of search and advertising at Yahoo, Mayer, according to the Lumi Labs website, will be focused on consumer media and AI. It doesn’t appear to have any employees beyond its founders to date, but is recruiting people to develop “some projects and prototypes.” And it’s so fresh it doesn’t yet have a nameplate on the door.
The name Lumi, by the way, is Finnish for snow, according to Mayer’s New York Times interview. And Mayer loves snow, so much so that she had a winter-wonderland themed wedding and in recent years has been trucking in snow to cover her Palo Alto, Calif., front yard around Christmas time.
No word on what Mayer is paying for the space—or if owner Saeed Amidi, who has been known to take equity in lieu of rent and to invest in companies he houses, will be getting a stake. Amidi’s family has a rug store nearby, and the businesses feed each other; reportedly, Amidi met Andy Rubin, Danger’s founder who is now running an incubator of his own, when he was buying a rug. Amidi likes startups so much, he too got into the incubator business, starting the Plug and Play Tech Centers, a concept he calls “Silicon Valley in a box.”
One thing Mayer’s new office doesn’t have is parking. And in downtown Palo Alto, parking is a challenge. Mayer once told me that during her initial series of interviews for her Google job, she thought the parking restrictions that divide the city into color zones had sunk her chances.
“Because the office was in downtown Palo Alto,” she said, “everyone had to move their cars every two hours—because there was the rose zone, the lime zone, the violet zone—and you can’t re-park in the same zone on the same day. So [all the people at Google] were all moving their cars around to not get tickets.”
When she sat down for an interview with a key executive, she recalled, “He said, ‘It’s 3:30 now. At 4:00 p.m. I need to end the interview and move my car so I don’t get a ticket. So in addition to testing your coding skills, I’m also going to test how responsible you are. At exactly 4:00 p.m. you need to stop the interview and tell me to go move my car.’” Mayer, immersed in a coding problem half an hour later, failed that test. “I looked at my watch and it was like 4:08 or like 4:10. I missed by 25 or 30 percent in terms of overshooting on a 30-minute interview,” she said.
The experience clearly didn’t put her off moving her new company to downtown Palo Alto even though, nearly 20 years later, the colored parking zone scramble can still make people run a tight meeting.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.