John Chisholm, who took office as president of the MIT Alumni Association (MITAA) on July 1, is passionate about startups. A serial entrepreneur, he is the author of Unleash Your Inner Company: Use Passion and Perseverance to Build Your Ideal Business, which will debut at a book signing event at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in November at the MIT Media Lab. The book is dedicated to his friends and colleagues at MIT.
“The quality and diversity of our 130,000 alumni worldwide make an extraordinary social network,” he says. “We—MITAA—simply need to provide the tools enabling them to find each other and connect. Who are the alumni in each of our cities, regions, and countries who most share our interests and passions, whether personal or professional? The eight billion possible alumni-to-alumni pairwise connections represent a universe of opportunities for collaboration, new ventures, and friendships.”
Chisholm has pushed for support of tools that facilitate such connections. At the fall Alumni Leadership Conference, September 25-26, the Association will pilot a new mobile app that allows alumni to find peers and MIT events nearby, receive MIT news tailored to individual interests, and invite and offer career networking opportunities.
Chisholm earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, while he interned with GE in digital signal processing through the Course 6 co-op program. He received his MBA from Harvard in 1978 and started his career in Silicon Valley at Hewlett-Packard.
After working for several startups, in 1992 he founded Decisive Technology (now part of Google), publisher of the first desktop and client-server software for online surveys. His second company, CustomerSat (now part of ConfirmIt), became a leader in enterprise feedback management. Today he is chair and cofounder of Pyze, a mobile intelligence firm, and CEO of John Chisholm Ventures (JCV), a San Francisco–based venture investment and advisory firm. JCV’s investments include HighFive, a Web-conferencing platform founded by Shan Sinha ’01 and Jeremy Roy ’99.
He also enjoys advising aspiring entrepreneurs through the MIT Club of Northern California’s mentoring program, the Silicon Valley Plug and Play Tech Centers, and the Thiel Foundation 20under20 Fellowship. “Mentoring is satisfying and keeps me abreast of technology trends,” he says.
Over the years, his volunteer roles have ranged from local club leadership to membership on the MIT Corporation Development Committee. He served as president of the MIT Club of Northern California from 1990 to 1992 and as its chair from 2006 to 2014. Chisholm has been an MIT Educational Counselor, Corporation Visiting Committee member, Venture Mentoring Service mentor, Annual Fund board and reunion committee member, and LGBT advocate. In 2006 he received MIT’s highest alumni honor, the Bronze Beaver award.
“MIT alumni form the most creative, thoughtful, and proactive network of which I am privileged to be part,” says Chisholm. “Their ideas, plans, and achievements constantly energize and inspire me. Beyond that, alumni events and programs let us extend the intellectual growth and excitement we experienced at MIT throughout our lives.”
Finally, he advises young alumni, in particular, that volunteering can build skills: “Your regional club and class reunions are safe environments for developing leadership skills and discovering your management style. My long experience in alumni activities was key to the success of the companies I founded, for example. Any alum can enjoy these priceless resources and opportunities just by getting involved and volunteering.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issues of MIT Technology Review magazine.