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As some of you who've been reading my journal know, I struggle over having a career and a social life (and the latter seems to be losing). Apparently, this issue is on the minds of influential people, such as VC John Doerr, according to this post from Don Dodge, formerly of AltaVista. I'll quote the salient portion of his post:

"John Doerr reflected back on the many successful investments in his career and noted a pattern that is perhaps not politically correct, but a pattern none the less. The most successful investments were in founders that were white, male, under 30, nerdy geeks, with no social life. He rattled off a list of founders that included; Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page, Sergy Brin, Jerry Yang, David Filo, Jeff Bezos, Steve Case, Marc Andreessen, Scott Cook, and Mitch Kapor. He could have gone on...but he made his point. So, he said when Larry Page and Sergy Brin came along the decision was simple. Hmm...I'm sure there was more to it than that, but there is no doubt it worked out well for Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia."

My own ruminations aside, there are some implications of this statement for would-be tech entrepreneurs. In this day of people looking for "formulas" that are likely to yield high ROI, it's pretty obvious that there is a pattern of success here. It's not too much of a leap to conclude to whom tech startup investment money is likely to go.

I'm curious to know at the time that the Google founders decided that they wanted it to be a company, instead of trying to sell their technology, to what extent their now-spouses bought into the concept of the company and supported them. From some others' past experiences I have learned that some people were totally behind their partners' ambitions. In some cases it worked out well. In others, there were some acrimonious breakups and court battles.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 29th, 2008 09:55 am (UTC)
I'm a bit disturbed over the white, male part of the claim. (And I don't think the white part is quite true - lots of Asian nerds with no social lives, too, no?)

Having a life is probably not likely to lead to founding a major corporation, but entrepreneurship is hardly the only form of success there is.
May. 29th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
Agreed on all counts.
May. 29th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
what would you do?
Well, my thoughts weren't about success in general terms – they were about starting a tech (probably software) company in the SFBA. Also, tech startups don't necessarily reveal themselves immediately to be major corporations – lots of them seem destined to be acquired by larger companies, but it doesn't seem less likely (at least to VCs) that the founders should be somehow less focused on what they're trying to do.

But here's a thought for you. Suppose you wanted to start a tech company out here. You had what you thought was a good idea; people lining up to buy the product (or advertise on it); people to do the work. All the ingredients for initial success were there. Also, you were very passionate about it – as much as you are about storytelling or travel. You even had angel money, and the angels were very happy with what you'd done so far, but had no more money to give you. So you pitched your idea to VCs, etc., but no one would give you any money. What would you do? You feel as strongly about the company as you ever did, ie. not getting money doesn't mean you'll decide to just throw in the towel (at least not yet).

Given that tech jobs are harder to come by (for some people), and the only road to employment is through the valley (no pun intended) of entrepreneurship, there are some implications of John Doerr's statements for people who have what they think are good ideas but have trouble raising money. Some people I've corresponded with, e.g. Joe Holcomb (a guy who wanted to build his own search engine with all sorts of advanced AI) felt that he was being passed over by VCs who were more interested in businesses he felt did not have the potential for success his did. Personally, I didn't think his company had much of a chance for success, especially given how much money he wanted (and he did not have a prototype), but he didn't fit the John Doerr mold.

I'm not arguing that everyone is entitled to VC money, but you have to realize that to a large extent, the tech companies that come into existence do so because of people like John Doerr. There's no other easily-obtainable money that can take these companies from their fledgling angel-backed beginnings to the next level. So the kinds of tech companies that are created depend largely on the opinions the VCs have of their founders.

Edited at 2008-05-29 08:15 pm (UTC)
May. 29th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
Re: what would you do?
All of this only matters if your notion of success is founding a Silicon Valley tech company.

And, if so, are you suggesting one should get a young white male to front for you because a lot of VCs are bigots?

I don't buy the notion that entrepreneurship is a necessary path to tech employment since the overwhelming majority of techies are not entrepreneurs. But, given the situation you posed, I'd be putting effort into finding other angels or finding other ways to approach VCs.

I also suspect that there is a great opportunity lurking there for non-traditional VCs, who can see beyond the geek stereotype.

Not that it's ever going to come up personally, because I'm really not cut out for the sort of ventures that require that type of single-mindedness. I've enjoy my work and can get surprisingly wrapped up in it, but only in spurts. I'm not entirely joking when I say I've built my career around having a short attention span.
May. 30th, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
Re: what would you do?
"And, if so, are you suggesting one should get a young white male to front for you because a lot of VCs are bigots?"

No, of course not. As far as the VCs I know personally goes, they aren't bigots. Like most people, they just want to make a living. Unlike most people, they are dealing in the millions and sometimes billions of dollars. Access to this money can be the difference between a startup making it past the two-people-in-a-garage level. Like I said in the initial post, they're just trying to maximize their ROI. It's unfortunate that the pattern that has emerged leaves some potentially equally deserving people less likely to get access to this money.

"I also suspect that there is a great opportunity lurking there for non-traditional VCs, who can see beyond the geek stereotype."

Yes, but because the "data" on tech startups doesn't support this, it's less likely that they'll invest.

For another example of the tech investor mindset, see the former AltaVista VP David Henke's So you want to join a startup. While he's not as explicit as John Doerr in stating his requirements, he's more or less saying the same things.

Wish I had time to give a more thoughtful response.

Edited at 2008-05-30 01:24 am (UTC)
Jun. 1st, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
If you take a look at extremely successful people in any field, you will find similar levels of commitment and sacrifice.
Jun. 15th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
Sure, I realize that. What I was getting at was what kind of support they had from friends, family, etc. For example, did Sergey and Larry's fiancées buy into the concept of Google the startup at the get-go? did they ever feel neglected because Sergey and/or Larry had to work so hard to get Google going? To compare, the Cisco founders were a husband-wife team who (afaik) were totally committed to the company. (They later divorced, but I don't know the reasons.) Some other people I knew who were spouses or SOs of founders were committed to the company at the beginning, but started to have reservations when they saw what it did to their personal lives.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )