I was lucky enough to attend the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) Gala and Awards Ceremony last night in San Francisco. The event was an interesting juxtaposition of the venture industry today, with many of the old guard in attendence wearing tuxedos or dark suits, along with some of the new style in the industry with fancy sport coats, open collar ginigham shirts, and jeans.
The program was focused around the three award winners for the night:
- Josh Green (Mohr Davidow) – Outstanding Service Award (outstanding service as an NVCA Board Member or Director)
- Robin Richards Donohoe (Draper Richards) – American Spirit Award (showing philanthropic leadership to make a contribution to society)
- Michael Moritz (Sequoia Capital) – Lifetime Achievement Award (instrumental in the formation and growth of the venture capital industry)
Besides Bruce Dunlevie’s (Benchmark) dry comedic introduction of Sir Michael Moritz, the highlight of the night was the final panel featuring John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, Bill Draper of Draper Richards, Dick Kramlich of NEA, and Bill Gurley of Benchmark. Their discussion was moderated by Moritz, who used his skills as a journalist to deftly guide the discussion. Some of the highlighted comments that I noted:
- Bill Gurley admitted that his biggest mistake in venture was that he didn’t chase the deal hard enough with Google after Larry and Sergey came and presented to their partnership (Doerr and Moritz were the beneficiaries of that blunder);
- Both Doerr and Moritz regret not doing Netflix; in particular, Doerr noted how much respect he has for founder Reed Hastings as a person, and that he would love to have worked with him;
- The panel was almost unanimous (Doerr abstained) in their belief that China will lead the growth and innovation economy within the next 10 years (my comment: maybe they already are);
- Gurley and Kramlich both feel like the venture market is showing similar signs to the 1999/2000 era, with Gurley noting the additional concern that there’s actually no liquidity today as companies are not going public at the same rate that they were in 1999; and,
- Doerr and Moritz seemed less concerned, with Doerr noting Mary Meeker’s comments that we’re in the early stages of a sustained boom economy. See her most recent market comments here at WSJ Online.
The final question posed to the panel was particularly interesting for those with children or mentoring young adults: “What advice would you give to young folks looking to enter the venture capital industry?” The responses were great:
- Doerr – pick two fields, and get to know all you can about them. Then network like crazy in those two areaa; be humble; don’t get confused about competence or skill, because venture is a lot about luck.
- Draper – ask questions and be curious (much like a jounrnalist); work at a small business for a couple of year before going into the investment side.
- Kramlich – be alert and able to change as the environment changes; take your time to listen to those with experience.
- Gurley – have a passion for the industry; be insanely curious (2nd time the word “curious” came up); don’t assume that the game will always stay the same; bet heavy on your strengths as an individual.
- Moritz – remain alert, protective, eager, curious (3rd mention), and hard charging.