A building blessed with tech success

Maybe it's the location, maybe it's just good karma. But there's something about the building at 165 University Ave. in Palo Alto, Calif., that seems to breed successful tech companies.

4 min read
PALO ALTO, Calif.--Maybe it's the location, maybe it's the water, maybe it's just good karma, but there's something about the building at 165 University Ave. that seems to breed successful tech companies.

The structure, which until recently housed handheld device maker Danger, was also home to Google, PayPal and Logitech during their formative years.

Google's search engine has become one of the most popular ways of finding things on the Internet. Logitech's computer mice have held their own against products from industry giant Microsoft. And PayPal rode its online-currency idea to an initial public offering last February and was recently snapped up by online auction giant eBay.

Located along a bustling shopping corridor not far from Stanford University, the building itself is rather modest. It has a retail storefront--currently occupied by T-Mobile, the first wireless carrier to sell Danger's handheld device--and about 5,000 feet of office space upstairs. That space is typically divided among three companies (but as the start-ups grow, they sometimes take over the whole floor--as Danger and PayPal eventually did).

Still, though it climbs no higher than two stories and is painted a beige that's anything but distinctive, the structure apparently holds something special.

"There is just great charisma about the building," said Pejman Nozad, whose business partner Rahim Amidi owns the space.

PayPal's senior vice president of corporate development, Jack Selby, agrees.

"We've now had four places, and I would say that was the best," Selby said. That's a nice compliment from a man who, because of space restrictions, was forced to set up his office in a closet that had formerly housed the company's fridge.

At its peak there, PayPal had about 55 people in the building, Selby recalled. In spite of limited space, or perhaps because of it, the building let employees easily mix and mingle. That wasn't the only selling point, however.

The location along one of Palo Alto's main streets was also particularly convenient, Selby said, with the numerous restaurants that line University Avenue providing speedy refueling options for engineers pulling long hours.

"It gave them no excuse to disappear for a two-hour lunch," Selby said.

In addition to his role as landlord, Amidi has also been a financial backer of several of the building's tenants, including Danger and PayPal. He has done so through Amidzad, an investment company he set up with his brother Saeed and with Nozad.

Amidi didn't start out looking to be a tech investor. In 1976, he left Iran to study in the United States. When the Shah was overthrown three years later, Amidi decided to stay in this country, eventually bringing over his family, who had been business owners in Iran.

Initially, the family invested in real estate and bottled water. Amidi bought the 165 University Ave. building about 14 years ago, with Logitech being one of the first technology tenants.

Then came Google, PayPal and Danger.

Google even left behind a sign with its colorful logo, which PayPal then left for the next tenant. "Somebody in our office has it," said Danger co-founder Matt Hershenson.

At some point along the way, Amidi decided to set up Amidzad. The small company focuses on providing early-stage funding to tech companies.

Although Amidi has found himself working closer and closer with the companies, he acknowledges that neither he nor his partners are techies.

"Since we are not technologists," partner Nozad added, "we surround ourselves with people who are."

Amidzad is also not a large investor. Using its own money, the company invests anywhere from $25,000 to $1 million in companies, with most of the investment made in the earliest stages of a company's life.

PayPal stumbled on Amidi and Amidzad when the company was looking for office space on University Avenue in 1999.

"They were one of very few people that had space," Selby said.

Amidi's position as a major landlord along University Avenue gives him a good view to spot up-and-coming companies in which to invest.

Amidzad's track record of investments isn't bad. Nozad said that of the 20 or so ventures in which his company has invested, two have gone public and just two have closed their doors. Amidzad also counts several large private companies among its portfolio. The company is an investor in auctioneer DoveBid, which this week again delayed plans for an IPO.

Other companies have used University Avenue as a launching pad as well. Kleiner Perkins leased a couple of suites at 101 University Ave. that served as the starting points for companies such as broadband provider At Home.

As for Danger, it has now moved on to more spacious digs across the street. Amidi said he's not bothered; it just leaves room for the next start-up.

"If you know someone who is the next Danger or Google or PayPal," Amidi said, "let me know."