For those starting their careers, whether following the path of entrepreneurship or entering a more conventional business career path, a talk by venture capitalist John Doerr at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES2016) offered some sage words of advice. Doerr whose venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has funded successful startups such as amazon, zynga and twitter also offered insight about Silicon Valley and startup funding.
“I think the most important thing you should do is look for opportunities to learn and grow. Whether you're starting a new business or you're building a career at some company with the idea of starting one later on. In doing that I encourage you to build a really strong foundation of experience,” Doerr said.
He urged those in the audience to get outside their “comfort zone”. If someone who is beginning their career chooses a technical path, he encouraged learning about sales, as well. His emphasis was on gaining experience—yet he pivoted and declared: “But more than anything else, network, network like crazy.” He was specifically referring to “person to person” networking, not popular online networks such as LinkedIn.
Doerr also explained where opportunities for gaining experience can be found in entrepreneurship, but not necessarily as an entrepreneur. “Look for the ground floor of a really high growth company… Because in such a rapidly growing company, they are going to trust the people that are there. And there will be more opportunity for you to take on more responsibilities, more rapidly.” He offered as examples Intel, Google and Facebook where those who were hired in the early years may have had a career of opportunities within the same company.
Doerr was speaking to an audience of women and youth entrepreneurs as part of GES+, a full day event held one day in advance of GES 2016 on the Stanford University campus.
“But I do believe you are here because you are entrepreneurs. So you should go for it. Swing for the stands when your gut tells you it is the right time.” Once that decision is made, Doerr acknowledged the urgency that arises in the entrepreneur and he noted an important skill to develop.
“So along the way if you can develop what I call the leadership skills, the ability to make teams more effective, that perhaps is the most important step you can take. In choosing either, where you're going to build your career or how you build your company, there is a really fundamental choice. That is about the culture.”
For Doerr culture is values within an organization. Drawing on his many years in Silicon Valley he described the two cultures often seen in ventures.
“I like to call these the differences between the missionaries and the mercenaries. Now the mercenaries possess tremendous drive...The missionaries in contrast, they are propelled by a compassion, Doerr proffered.
“Mercenaries can be opportunistic… Missionaries are more strategic. They are thinking longer term...Mercenaries employ strength, while obsessing on their competition…Missionaries by contrast, understand they're in a marathon. It's a long term effort. They're going to obsess on their customers,” he explained further.
Doerr assured the audience that both cultures can work. He emphasized the need for the entrepreneurs to be aware of their values and consciously choose the culture for their venture.
Facing a white board that displayed a number of topics submitted in advance of his talk, Doerr ended with a range of comments.
When asked about the ability of women to raise capital and be viewed as leaders, Doerr touched on the controversial topic of diversity in Silicon Valley and the venture capital industry. Both have been criticized for its lack of inclusion and support of women and minorities.
“I think the venture capital industry globally is pretty pathetic when it comes to diversity. I think maybe 6 per cent of the venture capitalists in the US are female…Within my own practice, the last three ventures that I have had, 2 were led by women founders.”
Doerr downplayed gender as a factor in his own decision making: “What mattered to me was their character, drive of the founder, the entrepreneur and the quality of her or his plan to disrupt the marketplace, to create a whole other job.” Yet, he acknowledged “we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”
Doerr touched on the high valuations of some notable startups where billions were paid for an enterprise that was not yet profitable, but was growing rapidly with hundreds of millions of users. If focus is placed on short term profits, such scenarios will negatively impact investors, in Doerr’s point of view, when growth was what really mattered.
He noted areas of future opportunity from on-demand services such as on-demand transportation, global sources of transportation, and improvements in agriculture. “Just as there are millions of people employed today by Uber under contract... we'll see millions of people on the other end of these devices delivering with their own hand power and lots of computer information.”
For an audience of women and youth, most of whom traveled from all over the world to be part of the global summit, Doerr ended with words of encouragement: “Entrepreneurs by definition can be more than what anyone thinks possible, with less than anyone thought possible. Silicon Valley is not a place. Silicon Valley is a state of mind.”