Business

VCs ‘haven’t done sh*t’ and more choice techie quotes from 2013

Above: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Image Credit: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

As 2013 recedes in the rearview, we’d like to take one more look back at our favorite blowhards, loudmouths, and prognosticators to highlight some of the most quotable moments of the year.

Surprisingly, longtime quote machine Tim Draper didn’t show up on this list despite his 11th-hour attempt to nab attention with a preposterous plan to divide California into six states, making Silicon Valley its own standalone state. We did have a chuckle over the plan’s hand-drawn secession map, which looks like Draper just scrawled it with a Sharpie, but it fell short of the choice quotes Draper gave us in 2011 and then again in 2012.

But we did have some remarkable showings, both wise and ludicrous, from a variety of tech executives. Here are our favorite quotes from 2013.

(And after you read this list, let us know: What did we miss? Use the comments below to tell us your favorite quotes from the year.)

“Maybe I’m an emblem of an old era, and I have to move on.”

Steve Ballmer, the outgoing CEO of Microsoft

Ballmer announced plans to cede the chief executive title this year, kicking off a massive headhunt for the next CEO to lead one of the world’s biggest and most successful technology companies. But Microsoft hasn’t kept pace with the times, losing valuable ground to Apple and Google in mobile, and it’s under fire from Google, Facebook, Amazon, and a host of others in its core operating system, productivity, and enterprise markets. Ballmer’s admission was a rare moment of humility from the bombastic CEO.

“Only our company and a handful of others are poised to write the future.”

Steve Ballmer

But that’s not to say that Ballmer was exactly playing a sad song to accompany his exit. He retains immense confidence in Microsoft’s capabilities — and with good reason. Few companies have as much intellectual capital or as many brilliant scientists and engineers. The question is: Can Microsoft regain its mojo in a world that’s moved beyond it?

“They give advice to board members as if they know, and they haven’t done shit. They’ve never been at a startup. They haven’t been through tough times.”

Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures

Vinod Khosla

Above: Vinod Khosla

Khosla, never one to hold back, unleashed his ire on fellow venture capitalists at TechCrunch Disrupt this year. It’s the first time I can remember a VC saying what many of us have been thinking for years: that the primary benefit most VCs provide is capital, not advice, experience, or intelligence. His advice to founders: “Listen politely, and then do what you want.”

But he wasn’t done. Khosla went on to say that the majority of VCs not only don’t add value, but they actually hurt their portfolio companies whenever they give them advice:

“Maybe some percentage, larger than 95 percent of VCs, add zero value, and 70 percent of VCs add negative value in advising.”

Presumably, Khosla wasn’t including himself in that group. As one of the cofounders of Sun Microsystems, he has definitely done some big shit.

“By 2025, 80 percent of the functions doctors do will be done much better and much more cheaply by machines and machine-learned algorithms.”

Vinod Khosla

Khosla took to the stage at VentureBeat’s DataBeat/Data Science Summit in December to explain comments he made earlier in the year that suggested smart machines might soon replace 80 percent of doctors. He did stand by the comment that machines could soon do 80 percent of doctors’ functions. But he also stressed that this is a probabilistic statement, and he cast aspersions on technology journalists, whom he refers to as “English grads who don’t understand English,” who might have trouble with probabilities like that.

“Your cellphone has 10 sensors, and your car has 400. But your body has none — that’s going to change.”

Vinod Khosla

Later in the same conversation at DataBeat, Khosla explained how sensors could provide lots of data for individuals to help improve their health — but also to provide valuable medical data to doctors. Rather than wait for patients to have a heart attack (the first sign of heart disease in the majority of cases), blood pressure sensors could alert doctors to problems before they become serious. Or, Khosla suggested, you might even use those sensors to make life changes: For instance, if your blood pressure spikes every time you have a conversation with your wife, perhaps it’s time for a new wife (or marriage counseling, though he didn’t suggest that option).

“In 2013 you do not get brownie points for using servers. You only get brownie points for serving users.”

Jeff Lawson, Twilio CEO

Jeff Lawson, the likeable chief executive of telephony service provider Twilio, explained what he meant by “software people” in a talk at VentureBeat’s DevBeat conference. Software people aren’t necessarily developers, and developers aren’t necessarily software people: Instead, Lawson said, a software person is someone who understands the transformative potential of software and seeks to use it to solve the world’s problems. With that comes an intense focus on the end user, not the technical means used to serve them.

“Coding is a privilege, but that privilege is not available to most Americans.”

Ali Partovi, a serial entrepreneur and Code.org cofounder

Brothers Ali and Hadi Partovi created Code.org after running (and selling) a series of successful startups themselves. Their goal: to help more kids learn to code, because coding opens up huge new realms of opportunity. The organization hosted a successful national “Hour of Code” in December.

“I don’t like programming. It’s tedious.”

Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP

Rasmus Lerdorf

Above: Rasmus Lerdorf

It might come as a surprise to hear that the guy who created one of the most popular programming languages in use on the Internet today doesn’t like programming. Lerdorf explained what he meant in a conversation at DevBeat: “PHP wasn’t written because I wanted to write a language. It was to solve a problem.” And, like most engineers, because he didn’t have the right tool, he built one.

“Our competition is different: They’re confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they’re trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they’ll do next? I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you that we’re focused.”

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Many people have criticized Tim Cook for being a little more soft-spoken and less showy than his predecessor, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. (OK, a lot more soft-spoken.) In October, Cook sought to reverse that reputation a little with a press conference that includes plenty of jabs at Microsoft, Intel, and their PC manufacturing partners. Sure, these quotes are marketing spin. But we still liked hearing them: If you’re going to be the CEO of a company like Apple, you’ve got to be prepared to talk up your products a bit and maybe throw some shade on the competition. Bring it on, Tim.

“People are starving in the world, not because we don’t have enough food, but because we’re not organized. And computers are part of that.”

Larry Page, Google CEO

Google CEO Larry Page looks to the skyLarry Page overcame some speech difficulties to make a soft-spoken but intense presentation at Google I/O, the company’s annual conference, in May. Some misunderstood his point in this quote, saying that if you’re starving, the last thing you probably need is a computer, and that projects like the Gates Foundation’s efforts to eliminate malaria worldwide are probably going to save more lives. But Page’s comments hark back to the thoughts of computing pioneer Douglas Engelbart, who viewed computers as a tool for augmenting human intellect so that we could work collaboratively to solve the world’s biggest problems.

Later in the same talk, Page acknowledged that tech companies might need to get smarter about working with government. “Many of our laws can’t keep up with the pace of change in technology,” Page said. “Maybe more of us need to go into other areas, and in those areas, improve and understand technology. … We had Google Health, and we didn’t make that much progress with it. The primary obstacle was regulatory.”

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