Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneurship’
It is perhaps the greatest honor of my professional career to be embarking on my current trip. Less than 2 weeks ago, I was invited by the White House to attend a series of events in Cuba. It is the first trip by a sitting US President since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
I will be leading a roundtable Monday with Cuban entrepreneurs, all of whom are hungry to access investments from a country that has blocked them off since the embargo signed by JFK. They have asked me to speak on accessing capital and the importance of entrepreneurship for Cuba, but I’m pretty sure they already know that the companies they create will have an impact not just on the future of their families, but on the future of their country.
With every passing day as a venture capitalist, my awe, respect, and appreciation for entrepreneurs grows. Often everything is against them: incumbents, families, capital, employees and, in some cases, governments. In fact, Snapdeal, the first investment of my VC career, was founded by entrepreneurs who wanted to stay in America but we denied them a visa. Those who proceed, perspire, and ultimately prevail should be celebrated. What they create can, in some cases, touch more lives than any government.
Thanks to my partners at New Enterprise Associates who come to work every day trying to fight the status quo to make the world just a little bit better. And most importantly, thanks to all the entrepreneurs I get the privilege of working with for teaching me far more about failure, courage, and tenacity than they will ever know.
I’ll try and impart some of their collective teachings in Havana, but what will likely happen is what always happens: I will learn far more from the Cubans than they will from me.
In Silicon Valley, there is a constant debate about whether venture capitalists should have previously been entrepreneurs. While it can certainly be helpful, history shows us that some of the very best VCs took completely different career paths: Mike Moritz was a journalist, John Doerr was a salesperson at Intel, and Arthur Rock was an army veteran who then did corporate finance. Some argue that there are actually more failed entrepreneurs-turned-VCs than non-entrepreneur VCs, but in general the asset class is one where failure is so prevalent that the numbers are likely a wash.
Although I haven’t founded a company (beyond the candy store in my 3rd grade desk, or my nonprofit), my time at Skybox Imaging, which was later acquired by Google, taught me a lot as it relates to building a business: selling a product, scaling an organization, and raising money from the other side of the table. But as a venture capitalist, it gave me something that I’m not sure I could have gotten any other way:
The longer I’ve been in venture capital, the more I admire entrepreneurs. Everything is against them: incumbents, families, lack of capital, and even the government in some cases. Those who succeed are truly remarkable, and often lucky. But nobody gets it right all the time, and even successful businesses go through ups and downs.
Entrepreneurs don’t usually need VCs when things are going well; in fact, sometimes the best thing that we can do is get out of the way. But when things aren’t going well, that’s when the truly best VCs truly show their character.
When choosing a VC, I recommend that all entrepreneurs ask VCs for references not just from their companies that did well, but from their companies that failed or went through tough times. It’s where you will find out the VC’s true colors.
Are they scared, or empathic? Do they resort to drastic measures, or are they more measured? Have they seen ups-and-downs before, or do they believe that everything should always go well? Do they fire immediately, or are they more deliberate?
When we think of where innovation happens in the USA, there is no question that Silicon Valley comes to mind first. But it looks like Mayor Bloomberg – with the help of Stanford, entrepreneurs, and various VC firms – may make it so New York City comes to mind second, in front of the Kendall Square/Cambridge area and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
Mayor Bloomberg came and spoke at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research yesterday. His talk/argument on why NYC is and could be a great hub for innovation included:
- NYC is America’s largest college town, with over 600,000 students. Many universities are under renovation and expansion, including Columbia’s new biomedical research campus.
- New York has significant unused waterfront, warehouses, and old tracks on the west side of Manhattan. With subway construction planned there, it could help attract a wave of innovative companies.
- The NYC Entrepreneurial Fund will pair private VC dollars with public government dollars to help jumpstart innovation – the first public/private pseudo-VC of its kind in any major city.
- Incubator programs, which will help researchers and innovators commercialize their technology, have been created in a range of industries.
The big downside of NYC is the lack of technical talent. A good engineer can live in Silicon Valley and never have to move for the rest of his life irrespective of acquisitions, failings, and buyouts, but only a great engineer can do the same in a place like New York. While there are some great early startups in New York (Hunch, Etsy, Foursquare, etc.), the number isn’t nearly as high as Silicon Valley.
I’m hoping that this changes with the increased focus on entrepreneurship, the possibility of a Startup Visa, and the influx of investment dollars from existing VC firms opening NYC offices (like Accel) and from traditional investment banks trying their hand in later stage venture capital (like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase). Oh, and Stanford potentially opening a graduate R&D and innovation “lab” for information technology in NYC wouldn’t hurt either.