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February 03, 2005
Thus Spoke Doerr
Yesterday, I braved rush-hour Silicon Valley traffic to hear John Doerr, a legendary VC at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, speak to about 200 engineering students at Stanford University. The talk was full of good advice for would-be entrepreneurs and afforded a glimpse into the current thinking at Kleiner Perkins. So, for all of you who didn't get into Stanford (there are worse things in life), here are the Cliff's Notes.
At one point, Doerr showed a slide that listed nine sectors in which the firm is investing (wireless, consumer content, open-source software, etc.). Beside eight of the sectors were names of K-P portfolio companies working in each respective field. But no names appeared beside the energy sector--just the words "many stealth" (as in secret startups). Historically, K-P hasn't backed energy companies, but it's currently invested in four. Secrecy often raises unrealistic expectations. Nevertheless, I suspect these may be some of the most interesting ventures in K-P's portfolio right now, considering the U.S. desperately needs solutions to its dependence on foreign oil.
One interesting comment came from Kleiner Perkins principal partner Aileen Lee, who accompanied Doerr and answered a question about globalization. "We have historically never invested outside the United States," she said. "But I think we've come to the realization that globalization is going to happen whether we like it or not." In the past, K-P partners have spoken in support of using engineering teams in places like India or China to develop products for U.S.-based portfolio companies. But if the firm were to start investing in companies that are headquartered and managed abroad, that would be a departure. (Read this for more on U.S. VC money flowing offshore.)
For students, Doerr had this advice: be a tuple or a triple. (Yes, tuple is a word.) By this, he means become an expert in more than one field. For example, combine a biology major with a computer science major. Because many fields of study are converging right now, there's danger in developing your expertise too narrowly. For more on the convergence trend, Doerr recommended the book "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" by Edward Wilson.
Those were some highlights. If you want to hear more, fill out the submissions box to the right, and I'll post part two.
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