Lesson #275: Lessons From the Best VC Ever (John Doerr)

September 25, 2017


This last week, I attended the CED Tech Venture Conference in Raleigh, the leading technology and venture capital conference in the Southeast.  The conference opened with a fireside chat with Silicon Valley legend investor, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins.  John was the initial institutional investor in powerhouses like Google, Amazon, Uber, Twitter and Slack before they became the household names we all know to today.  It was safe to say, the room was silent in anticipation to hear what wisdom this "best of the best" investor would share with his venture capital industry peers. Luckily, for all of you, my pen was scribbling as fast as it could to share all of those learnings with you.

HIS SECRET SAUCE:  IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

Invest in great teams, as the execution is materially more important than the idea.  A good idea with poor execution, is simply "an hallucination".  What he looks for in his teams:  integrity, team first attitude, resilience to get through the bad times, smart, tenacious, an effective recruiter, with a big vision.  In that exact order, which was interesting as the big vision was the last thing he mentioned, normally one of the first things mentioned by others.  He looks for leaders that aspire to be "Level 5 Leaders" as defined in his favorite book, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins: leaders that are driven by "the triumph of humility and fierce resolve", like Sam Walton was at Walmart.

ARE INVESTMENT OUTCOMES PREDICTABLE?

Sometimes, you meet a guy like Jeff Bezos at Amazon, and you know his energy and vision are going to knock the doors down towards achieving his goal, clearly presenting themselves as someone you want to get involved with.  Other times you meet guys like Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google, that "frankly, were cynical about business building", but you knew they were on to something big and would figure it out over time.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF TECHNOLOGY--HIS CURRENT INVESTMENT FOCUS?

He is a big fan of "AI with IA"--artificial intelligence with intelligent agents, as that is going to revolutionalize the way decisions are made and things get done.  He is also a big fan of the healthcare space overall.  He said companies like Google and Facebook are fighting over an $85BN online advertising industry, but the healthcare industry is a $3TN industry, 50x bigger, that is ripe for disruption and much bigger financial outcomes.  Even his portfolio companies, Google and Amazon, are trying to figure out how to play in healthcare related data, artificial intelligence and logistics.

LESSONS FROM GOOGLE AND AMAZON

The two companies were similar in that they both "imagined a world ahead of us".  They were both "moonshots" with 10x return goals.  Amazon was driven by a much more extrovert culture and customer-focused obsession.  Google was driven with a technology and data science first focus.  Two completely difference ways of eventually turning into multi-billion dollar companies.

HIS FAVORITE ENTREPRENEUR:  STEVE JOBS

There was a point in the presentation that John Doerr visibly got choked up, and that was when he pulled out the original iPhone that had been signed by Steve Jobs, who obviously meant a lot to John.  John said that Steve Jobs once told him that "this iPhone nearly killed our company", with the drive to really change the world of mobile computing from the palm of your hand, forever. And, with over 700MM iPhones sold to date, what a testament to that drive and success.

John referred to Steve Jobs as the best entrepreneur he had ever known.  Sound familiar?  He shared stories about Steve being ruthlessly honest in his opinions, with a clear and crisp vision around the product.  But, he kept his "blinders open" to be flexible over time, as Steve originally didn't want third party apps on the iPhone, and we all know where that ended up, millions of apps later.

CLOSING WORDS OF WISDOM

Embrace technology, don't be scared by it.  Stay well-grounded, and close to your family.  And, let's aspire to a technology and venture community that embraces diversity and creates equal opportunities for women.

Wow, what a ton of learnings, in a very short period of time.  Thanks John for sharing your life's lessons with us.  And, thanks to the CED for adding him to the roster of speakers.  It really was the highlight of the event, for me.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


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