(Above: photo by Rick Pryce)
Bill Tai (MBA 1987) is as renowned for his devotion to kiteboarding as for his savvy investments. Ten years ago, the “Kite VC,” as he is known in Silicon Valley, married his two passions with the debut of MaiTai, an invitation-only conference he launched with professional kiteboarder Susi Mai that combines high-level kiting and high-value networking.
MaiTai Global—now a nonprofit with several thousand members and events around the world—has been called the “new TED,” and kiteboarding has been called the “new golf.” “I don’t know if it will ever scale the way golf has,” says Tai, who admits there’s a high barrier for entry into the daring sport. “But anything that draws people together will create trusting relationships that lead to commerce.” Multimillion-dollar deals have been made on the beaches during MaiTai events from Perth to Maui to the Hamptons.
The kiteboarding community—which includes Elon Musk and Richard Branson—is custom-made for startup culture, says Tai. “It’s work-hard, play-hard types with strength, stamina, and willingness to try new things, who take calculated risks repeatedly and fail 99 percent of the time until they hit it.”
MaiTai Global has been called the “new TED,” and kiteboarding has been called the “new golf.” (photo by Quincy Dein)
The attributes of a great kiteboarder:
“It’s just pure attitude. It’s the confidence that you can do it and the willingness to try. It’s like a startup.”
“Processing a multivariate equation in real time, all the time, in a super intense situation. The kite has enough power to change your direction from going horizontal across the water at 20 miles an hour to 40 feet in the air in a tenth of a second. You can experience being shot out of a cannon.”
What your kiting style reveals:
“My style says I’m super-versatile. I’ll do everything.”
“The wind isn’t always blowing”:
Off the water, Tai is focused on harnessing the resources and influence of the MaiTai nonprofit to support ocean conservation, among other charitable efforts. “Everywhere we go, we leave the place better off than before,” he says.
Tai talks about building real-world communities in the digital age on the new podcast Skydeck
Class of MBA 1987, Section H