John Doerr and Michael Moritz, the most prominent venture capitalists in the world, just squared off at the annual meeting of the National Venture Capital Association. Largely on the basis of their investments in Google, the two men have spent the last few years jockeying for the top spot on Forbes’ annual Midas List — Moritz (pictured, below) topped the list in 2007, with Doerr (pictured, above) at number two, but this year, their positions were reversed. For all their success, the VCs — described in the program booklet as “the titans” — were genial and even sounded rather humble while sharing the stage together.
Doerr, for example, emphasized his vision of venture capital firms as service organizations for entrepreneurs. They’re trying to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams, which is one reasons why Doerr says he abhors trivializing their work by calling investments “deals”. (Moritz agreed, but said it’s even worse to refer to a company as “a project”.)
When Doerr asked Moritz what one thing he would change about the industry, Moritz responded, “I think there’s a lot of hot air and arrogance in the business that we would all be better off without.”
VCs could stand to do less talking and more listening, he said. There’s a risk of making decisions based on emotion, rather than “a ruthless evisceration of the facts.”
Moritz took his own advice at the end of the interview, when an audience member asked for thoughts on Microsoft’s failed Yahoo bid, and Moritz (an early Yahoo investor and friend of chief executive Jerry Yang) decided it was best not to say anything.
Those comments seem to match Mortiz’s personality — Doerr confirmed that when the two men serve together on company boards, Moritz tends to say very little. With his focus on careful observation and wanting facts, not opinions, is it any surprise that Moritz used to be a reporter at Time Magazine?
Moritz said he looks for similar qualities in an executive, who should be a “calming, level influence who doesn’t wear his emotions or her emotions on his or her sleeve.”
(Doerr gave a more flippant answer, noting that the founders of successful companies “all seem to be white, male nerds who’ve dropped out of Stanford or Harvard and have no social life.”)
Moritz also asked Doerr to share personal memories of high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Among the tidbits offered: Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen has a soft spot for the Creamery restaurant in Palo Alto. Also, Doerr recalled that many of Amazon’s first orders tended to bundle programming books with how-to sex guides, which should tell you something about the company’s early customer base.
Not only have Doerr and Moritz worked together in the past, but their two firms — Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital, respectively — have a long history of collaboration. In fact, Moritz said the firms have partnered for a total of 50 investments. The company names have started with the entire alphabet except for H, J, Q, V, X, Y and Z, and Moritz hopes to eventually cover all 26 letters. Maybe that news will help prospective entrepreneurs who are still searching for a company name …
Update: Jennifer Jones has sent us a link to her audio recording of the panel. It’s definitely worth a listen.