What Mattered in 2010: John Babcock, Rustic Canyon Partners

All this week, we are sharing the opinions of some of the top influencers in Southern California's high tech communityk. We asked the same five questions of a variety of top technology entrepreneurs, investors, and others, to hear what they're thinking about, and are sharing it here over the next two weeks.

We last talked with Michael Jones, CEO of MySpace. Today, we're featuring the thoughts of John Babcock, a venture capitalist at Rustic Canyon Partners.

1. What was the biggest news for you/your firm this year?

The transition from Tom Unterman to Nate Redmond as Managing Partner of the firm. VC firms often struggle and even fail during generational transfers. Tom and Nate have done it seamlessly. Under Nate's leadership, we have redoubled Rustic Canyon's focus on early stage companies working in Internet and Cleantech businesses. Suffice it to say, now more than ever we're excited about what's next.

2. In your opinion, what events, companies, or people made the biggest impact on the technology world in 2010?

The iPad. It's a revelation. People said "I don't need one. I have a laptop and a cell phone." You put it in their hands for two minutes and they understand that it is something new. It reminds me of using my first PC in 1983. Discovering what I could do with it, I just felt the horizon of opportunities expand in front of me. I'm sure that there will be some great Android tablets next year, but I believe we'll view the iPad as a seminal product.

3. What was the biggest lesson you learned over the past year (good or bad)?

Great people make all the difference. VCs traditionally view investment opportunities as a Venn diagram of management team, market, and technology. I had long believed that being in the right market was the most important of those three. I now believe that great teams trump the other two. Great entrepreneurs are a force of nature.

4. Who are the people here you think will most influence the technology world in the coming year?

I think a few Cleantech leaders are going to emerge in 2011. Those technologies take a long time to gestate, but I believe that people will be amazed at the technical accomplishments that has been happening in the labs. Then once they do the math to assess the economic value of bringing lab results to real-world impact, they'll be even more amazed.

5. What are the technologies, companies, or things you think the community ought to pay the most attention to in 2011?

The combination of disparate datasets and the use of analytics against those. When you take two or more sets of data (LinkedIn, GPS location, lead conversion, PoS, etc.), the result can be much more than the sum of the parts. This is hardly a new trend, but I believe that we'll see an inflection point next year. The growth of Facebook Connect is one of the more striking examples. At some point policy makers like the FTC did earlier this month with its most recent privacy report are going to enter the equation in a meaningful way. Increased Transparency is going to change our industries, our companies and our lives.

Footnote: As an aside, answer #3 about great people is just as true on a personal level. Going through challenging times with good friends and people you respect is sure preferable to easy times with people that you don't. As 2010 comes to a close, I'm very grateful for the outstanding entrepreneurs, partners, co-investors, and service provides that I get to work with everyday. Through their efforts building great new companies, they also enrich my life.

See more insights from the Southern California high tech community in our continued series tomorrow!