Power Players

The Most Influential People in Seattle Tech and Business

The C-suiters and financial backers who stimulate our job market.

By Benjamin Cassidy December 9, 2021

Image: Daryn Ray

Tom Alberg Sees the Future

The early Amazon investor propels Seattle tech’s virtuous circle.

In the spring of 1995, as a favor for a friend, Tom Alberg started poring over 47 single-spaced pages. The subject? An online internet bookstore. “It does a good job describing our vision,” Jeff Bezos scribbled at the top of his typed business plan.

Alberg wishes he could say he knew what was to come. “It wasn’t brilliantly obvious—at least not to me—that Amazon would be as big as it is today,” Alberg writes in his book Flywheels, published this fall.

Still, the McCaw Cellular Communications lawyer saw enough potential in the idea, and the founder, to eventually throw down $50,000 of his own money and become a full-time investor. Bezos named him an advisory director, beginning a 23-year run on Amazon’s board that gave Alberg a major say in the e-commerce giant’s rise.

Today, Alberg is a force of his own. Shortly after his angel bet on Amazon, he cofounded a venture capital firm, Madrona Venture Group, whose investments now make or break founders’ dreams. Name a successful Seattle startup, like Redfin or Rover, and chances are Madrona’s backed them.

Such funding wasn’t always available. When Alberg and company started the firm, they aimed to fill a critical financing gap in the local tech ecosystem. Despite Microsoft’s success, the area lacked the deep-pocketed risk-takers to foster a thriving startup scene. In Silicon Valley, “success begat wealth, which led to increased investment, which spurred new firms, and begat more success.” Alberg wondered if he could create a similar economic “flywheel” here.

He formed the Alliance of Angels to encourage more seed funders and direct pitches from entrepreneurs. Later, he raised money for the computer science school at the University of Washington. Madrona has invested in about 20 startups emerging from the program. “He’s a guy that can’t fail to see the future,” Challenge Seattle CEO Chris Gregoire said during an interview with GeekWire last year.

So what does Alberg see next? While he hopes the city’s tech and political leaders can move past their squabbles to help solve pressing housing and public safety problems, he’s more confident about the economic developments to come: He believes biotech and artificial intelligence, especially autonomous vehicles, will drive our next period of technological growth. If history serves, entrepreneurs and investors will line up to join him for that ride.

Laura Clise

The Intentionalist founder built a directory to help Seattle consumers find and support local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, or members of the LGBTQ community. Her company’s next move to bolster a more inclusive local economy? Becoming a payment platform. It functions as a gift card intermediary, making it easier for customers to spend money at places that aren’t otherwise equipped for those types of transactions.

Maria Colacurcio

How’s this for a swerve: a tech company that might actually narrow pay gaps. The Smartsheet cofounder earned a GeekWire startup CEO of the year nom for her work at Syndio, which creates software to eliminate unlawful salary discrepancies due to gender and race. Salesforce and Nordstrom are clients.

Chris Gregoire

While the former Washington governor still holds plenty of sway in the political realm, she helms an alliance of CEOs from the region’s largest employers—basically a who’s-who of our corporate elite. The Challenge Seattle leader wrangles collaboration from these competitive types, shaping our economic future in the process.

Andy Jassy

The Seattle establishment shivers every time Jeff Bezos’s handpicked successor refers to Amazon’s HQ1 location as “Puget Sound.” He’s acknowledged that a rough relationship with city council means Seattle’s largest employer will increasingly look to grow in Bellevue, but his attachment to South Lake Union will ultimately determine the fate of many small businesses in its orb.

Trish Millines Dziko

A lack of diversity in the tech world motivated this one-time Microsoftie to cofound a different kind of startup. For nearly 25 years, Technology Access Foundation has equipped children in historically underserved communities with the STEM skills to compete with other job applicants. Because, in this economy, workforce development can’t start soon enough.

Satya Nadella

Self-awareness is hard to come by among the ranks of the Big Five, but Microsoft’s CEO has solidified the software giant’s place among tech’s elite by embracing its nerdiness. Cloud computing has driven the business back from the brink of irrelevance after mobile phone and search engine snafus. A TikTok deal recently falling through was only fitting.

Dan Price

The Gravity Payments CEO isn’t bashful about his decision to pay all of his employees at least $70,000. Seven years later, it’s still right there in his Twitter bio. His credit-card processing company may not be the utopia he paints, but his criticisms of one-percenters and corporate America sound increasingly prescient as more and more workers quit during these Zoom times.

Brad Smith

Satya’s subordinate shapes Microsoft’s public image maybe even more than the man in charge. The company’s president and de facto diplomat finesses relationships with bigwigs in DC and Silicon Valley while backing everything from journalism’s role in democracy to local facial recognition bans. The boss must be happy: The lawyer added vice chair to his title this year.

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