What was the best gift you ever received?

For these entrepreneurs, the best gift was something that sparked some creative thinking. Monopoly was just the beginning for one; for another, what appeared at first to be the lamest gift ever became the germ of an idea for his company.

1. Nick Hedges, CEO and president, Velocify

"When I was 6 years old, my father bought me a Monopoly set for my birthday. My father had loved the game as a child and I suspect he wanted to be sure I followed his footsteps into business. If that was his plan, it certainly did the trick. I played Monopoly at every opportunity I had, until the board was so worn out that most of the street names became unreadable. My brother and I became so engrossed in the art of the game that we both became competitive Monopoly players and had some success on the adult circuit. Although I sadly did not become a wealthy property tycoon, I do credit Monopoly-playing for my ability to do fast mental arithmetic and my love for making deals. Both have helped me greatly in my career."

2. David Stubenvoll, CEO and co-founder, Wowza Media Systems

"Back in the day, when most toys were not electronic or driven by technology, I received an erector set for Christmas when I was about 4. I was always a curious kid who loved to build things--locks, pillow forts, all that stuff. It was that rugged, original metal style with nuts, bolts, girders, plates, pulleys, and string. I could build stuff with substance that could move and at least I could pretend they were useful. That gift formed my first concrete memories of creating something in my mind, making it real, and finding it useful. That process of ideation and conception to creation and implementation has shaped my career path, how I approach business, and why I have built successful, industry-leading businesses for the last 30 years. Never underestimate the power of play and how it can influence your future."

3. Raymie Stata, CEO, Altiscale

"I got a Honda Accord wagon from my grandfather in 1992, when I was in grad school in Boston. It was my first new car--prior to that, I had (very) worn hand-me-downs. This car led me to Silicon Valley, quite literally. I loved to windsurf and there were good tech jobs in the summer in California, so I would pack up my windsurfing gear three feet high on that car and drive cross country. It helped me get to the Bay Area, get a job, and also meet my future wife. I still have it and drive it today."

4. Jim Barnett, CEO and co-founder, Glint

"The best gift I have received was a book on meditation over 25 years ago. The book, How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery, by Lawrence LeShan, introduced me to meditation, and I began a daily practice that has helped me immensely as a leader. Both the book and daily meditation have enabled me to be as mindful, authentic, and even-handed as possible."

5. Donal Daly, CEO, The TAS Group

"When I met John Cullinane, founder of Cullinet (the first software company ever to have a billion-dollar valuation and be listed on NYSE), he gave me the gift of his book, The Entrepreneur's Survival Guide: 101 Tips for Managing in Good Times & Bad. One of those 101 tips was on the importance of creating true value for your customers. The message truly resonated with me and in each of the companies I have subsequently founded, it's been at the core of everything that we do. I believe customer value is the critical ingredient in a recipe for a sustainable successful business. In our business now, we help sales organizations create value for their customers through the sales experience by embedding customer-focused sales knowledge into software, and I get to see John's advice delivering for our customers as well as for myself. Sales can't happen if your customers don't understand the value your product brings. They don't care about innovative technology or fancy features. They care about how their lives will change as a direct result of their purchase. That realization and that philosophy have driven every decision my business has made and every product we've developed. Definitely a better holiday present than a pair of socks."

6. Jaspreet Singh, CEO and founder, Druva

"The best career-related gift I received was a plane ticket and $1,000 from my father to attend the Fraunhofer Integrated Publication and Information Systems Institute (IPSI) in Darmstadt, Germany. During my five-month stay at IPSI, I researched semantic search technology and in the process discovered my innate passion for technology and entrepreneurialism. I also met people who inspired me at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. My father's gift was more than just the plane ticket and money -- it was encouragement and continued support for me to follow my dreams and gain the experience I needed to launch my career."

7. Marco Peluso, CEO and founder, Qardio

"When I was 8 years old, my father gave me my first computer, a TI 99/4A, for Christmas on the condition that I learn to code. I kept my promise, and fell in love with the magic of technology. Three decades later, that same passion led me to found Qardio, a digital health company revolutionizing heart-health monitoring for people in 42 countries around the world -- my father being one of them."

8. Taylor Umphreys, CEO, Zuli

"When I graduated high school my grandfather gave me his old Elgin A-11 military watch. The watch no longer worked, but he was passing on a piece of our family history that I was honored to receive myself. I ended up taking it apart and fixing it, and in the process loved learning everything I could about how the watch worked. I've always known I loved tech products since I was a kid, but that watch solidified my interest in not just using products, but knowing everything about how they worked and how I can build my own products that someday might be taken apart themselves."

9. Mark Haidar, CEO, Vinli

"Growing up in a refugee camp in Lebanon, I didn't have the same opportunities as typical children. But when I was in middle school, the UN generously donated a fully functioning computer lab to my school. That opened up a world of opportunity. It was the first time I'd ever used a computer, and I was fascinated. I would spend hours in the lab working by myself. That led me to pursue a computer engineering degree, and to start my first technology company at the age of 17. My greatest disadvantage turned out to be my greatest gift."

10. Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO, Clarizen

"The greatest career-related gift I received wasn't a material item--it was the gift of awareness. When I was in my early 30s, I was working as a field service engineer for an Israeli company in Germany. I was proud of my work at the company, and during a check-in meeting with a company leader, I shared with him some of my recent accomplishments in the region. He stopped me and said, 'That's all good, but you have only one problem: You are not listening.' Since then, I always try to listen, and, sometimes, it feels like I'm fighting gravity. The instinct is to start formulating what you are going to say while the other person is still talking. Since that day years ago, I try to listen with intent and listen to understand--not just what the person is telling me but what they mean to tell me. Leadership starts with listening."

11. Josh Breinlinger, managing director, Jackson Square Ventures

"When I was about 5, my grandparents gave me my first investment--a few shares of a utility company in Buffalo, New York, called Niagara Mohawk. It had a nice yield and they taught me about dividend reinvestment and the value of long-term thinking and compounding. It also got me started checking stock prices in the newspaper every day and trying to understand the market. Now, 32 years later, I think about long-term investing--but I can't say I understand the market yet."

12. Hans Geiszler, founder, Japhy Surf Co.

"The worst gift I ever received, a pair of off-the-rack board shorts, turned out to be the best gift for me. As an avid surfer, I immediately tested out the shorts on a surfing trip after Christmas. They were an atrocious blend of neon colors and made from an awfully heavy material. After surfing all day, I'd take them off and hang them out, but they took forever to dry. I'd have to pack them while they were still wet, and 36 hours into the trip, all of my belongings were a soggy mess. After the trip, I looked for board shorts that suited my needs and looked moderately stylish--I found nothing I liked. This experience inspired me start Japhy Surf Co."

Published on: Dec 17, 2015