I did a great podcast at Vertical Leap conference with Mark Kvamme of Sequoia at www.PodTech.net
Here is the transcript of that Podcast
Mark Kvamme - Sequoia Capital at Vertical Leap Conference
John Furrier (JF): Welcome to the PodTech.net InfoTalk series. I’m here with Mark Kvamme, with Sequoia Capital.
Mark Kvamme (MK): Great! Thanks for having me.
JF: Welcome to the PodCast. Sequoia Capital, obviously in Silicon Valley
MK: One of the early guys of venture capital.
JF: He’s like a god. I’m young, so he probably doesn’t know who I am, but he did Cisco, he did Apple, LSI Logic.
JF: He built up huge wealth and great companies. You guys have done investments in Yahoo and Google. I mean, Sequoia is a rocking VC company.
MK: Well thank you for saying that. I should say one thing. It’s the entrepreneurs who do that, we just happen to be fortunate enough to work with some great, great people.
JF: Well, some entrepreneurs like me would claim that your rocket fuel has a little bit of extra octane.
MK: I don’t know about that. It’s about working with great people. Great people with great ideas and it’s fun. I have the best job on the planet. Everyday I have guys coming in with new ideas and cool stuff, and on top of that there are young, they’re aggressive. Just the other day we had two young entrepreneurs come in – they are 18 and 19 years old – and these guys… We just say, we’ve got to go do this! These guys are on to something. So it’s just a blast. It’s so refreshing. It’s kind of funny, investing people that are the same age as my oldest son… but other than that.
JF: It’s another generation. I do a whole InfoTalk series with sort of the next generation about all kinds of changes, even with people in the VC community. They say, “Hey, times are changing,” but in the end of the day it’s the same game. You guys invest money into companies to build big businesses. We’re here at the Vertical Leap Conference in Santa Clara
MK: Not at all. I would say in many cases, the best companies we’ve worked with are two guys in a garage that have just tinkered with an idea, and they just need a little bit of help. Really at the end of the day, what we do is help entrepreneurs build companies. In fact our tagline is “The entrepreneurs behind the entrepreneurs.” If they need $100,000, or whatever, that’s the fuel. If it’s $100,000, $500,000, $750,000, whatever the number happens to be…. What we want to do is find partners. People that have the vision, have an idea of where they want to go, and basically our capitals, if you will, is what gets us into the game, if you will.
JF: Well, I love investors who love entrepreneurs, and you guys obviously do that, but a lot of entrepreneurs are scared: “Well, am I ready to go there… They’re going to eat me alive… They’ll (VCs) will dilute me.. Well at the end of the day it has nothing to do with delution, if it’s an early stage deal. It has to do with people, partnerships. You guys have proven that you have done that. Explain in your own words that whole myth about vulture capitalists. The times are changing, the technologies are coming out now are exciting. What is your philosophy and what would you tell those entrepreneurs out there?
MK: It’s funny, I just met a couple of entrepreneurs in the lobby and the fellow said, “Well, if I send you an email it’s just going to go into your junk mail box.” And I said, “No, in fact we just recently funded a company that was a total cold call.” There was this idea in the world that if I don’t get introduced by a venture capitalist by somebody they don’t know real well then the deal won’t get done. Well, you know, if Don Chambers calls us up and says, “Hey, look at this,” then we’ll absolutely look at this. But I’ve gotta tell you, you know, Joe Smith, and this company we funded – a company called InfoBlocks – One, it’s a total cold call, from Stew. Just an email. The guy’s in Chicago Chicago California Chicago
JF: Let’s talk about that. You had mentioned “on to something.” Let’s drill into that. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about, “Well, I have this 20 page document, 20 page PowerPoint, conservative projections.” At the end of the day entrepreneurs need to communicate to you about what they’re on to. Cause that’s what’s going to get your radar, right?
MK: Right. Well, I gotta tell you… Maybe I shouldn’t admit to this, my partners might be listening to this –
JF: They will be.
MK: You don’t really read the whole business plan. Because if you cannot describe what you do in two declarative sentences, you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, if you can do it in one declarative sentence. Take Google, for example. Larry Page said that Internet is about finding people, places, and things, and we do it better than anyone else. Two declarative sentences. That’s pretty good. Yahoo’s the same thing. Cisco: “We network networks.” I got it.
JF: It’s a bumper sticker that summarizes their entire execution roadmap, and technology vision and value to customers.
MK: Exactly. And what we have found many times – a company I saw today… I’m going through the deck and they guy’s explaining the business really, really well, and we come to the mission statement and the guy says – I actually had to stop the guy and say, “I get it, let’s move forward.” Because –
JF: Stop there. The rest is just assumptions, and vagueness…
MK: Exactly, and everyone can do their spreadsheet magic. It’s amazing how every company gets to about $100 million dollars in five years. It always happens that way. The key thing is the guy that’s got the spark. It could be an 18-year old, it could be someone –
JF: Well, to be fair, I listened to your panel and you said that some deals aren’t going to get venture backed because… entrepreneurs will put $100 million in there. But the secret is, you said, is to be on to something, and then extrapolating the possibility that this could be $100 million, not some fake, jammed in spreadsheet that says $100 million because you want to see it. It’s about convincing you.
MK: Well what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to see that there is a market that will emerge. And kind of the rule of thumb – and whenever you do a rule if thumb it’s kind of dangerous, right? – but the rule of thumb is that it’s got to be a $400 or $500 million dollar market, because it’s going to be very difficult for anyone company to get more that 20-25% market share. So if you can feel that it can go that way… And another thing - I’ve got to tell you. The world’s best companies are hyper frugal. For example, Yahoo was done on $750,000 dollars. I mean, our investment on Cisco was $3 million and from what I understand they almost touched none of it, because they were selling product. What are the other names… Oracle. I mean, here’s Google that’s built a multi-million dollar company and they didn’t use much of their venture capital. I mean, they used millions of dollars but it wasn’t that much. So frugality is something that’s so important. Really understanding. And the entrepreneur needs to understand that every dollar they save is a dollar they don’t have to raise in the future.
JF: So there’s a term that I’ve been bantering around, and I’ll just come out first time publicly and say it: seed execution. The role of entrepreneurship and venture capital is kind of changing. With the internet as the standard platform, you were mentioning in there that, with this Web 2.0, you don’t need $3 million dollars to do a prototype there’s no technology tax anymore to go out Oracle, buy the Sun Servers, and then, is there some traction there? If there’s traction you’ll know it right a way. So, in the end of the day entrepreneurs really need to have that seed execution. Do you see that in your investments?
MK: Absolutely. A company I just invested in is a company called Motorsport.com. This guy wants to be the destination to buy power sports equipment, so he’s starting first in the motorcycle business. A guy named Bill Butcher. So he starts the business up in the state of Washington
JF: It’s about tricking the business model. It’s like tricking that business model. I’ve got it, it clicks.
MK: One of my partners, Mike Moritz, says it’s like we’re looking for the matches that start the forest fire. It’s a single match. Anytime you have to pour gasoline on something to start the fire, you’ve got a problem. That’s why in the late 90s, early 2000s the gas was called cash, and we were just pouring as much cash down that pipe as possible, but you know, it doesn’t really happen. You’ve really got to make it start from the ground up.
JF: You really can’t manufacture that. You’ve really got to let natural causes and effects take advantage of that.
JF: Let’s talk about venture capital for a minute. I imagine that Sequoia Capital has had billion dollar funds.
MK: Actually no, we never did. Our largest fund was just under $700 million.
JF: But aren’t you guys getting smaller?
MK: We are. Our last fund was under $400 million.
JF: What does that mean for entrepreneurs?
MK: What that means is –
JF: Less money, or more opportunities?
MK: No, no, no, no, no. What it does is… People thought venture capital was an asset class and all of a sudden all of this money was pouring into the venture capital business. If you really look into the venture capital industry, it’s a cottage industry, and if you take the top kind of… funds, they’ve done very, very well. One of the things we like to say is that we’re only as good as our next investment. Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate to be investors in Oracle, and Apple, and Cisco, and Yahoo and Google and so on and so forth, but we’re only as good as our next one, so we’ve go to be very, very focused on that.
JF: You’ve got to use the return. You’re the investor.
MK: Exactly, exactly. Every single one of our investors, you know, they’re very happy in Sequoia 8, that it was a successful fund, they are very happy to be in Sequoia 7, or whatever it happens to be. We’re investing in Sequoia 11 right now, and those are the investors we have to pay attention to.
JF: And aren’t your entrepreneurs, I mean, some of them don’t get it, but at the end of the day, you’re a financial partner. You have the same goals – liquidity.
MK: Well, yeah, I mean, but here’s a very interesting point. We’ll use Google since it’s everyone’s lexicon right now, Google could have gone public many years ago. They had the revenue, they had the growth rate, they had everything. But they didn’t because they wanted to build a great company. We don’t look at what’s our liquidity event, is it a flip, is it a, whatever, is it going to go public, is it going to be bought, whatever. We don’t look at that. We look at if can it build a world-class company. And if we can build a world-class company then things will take care of themselves. Second, in today’s kind of wacky world …it’s actually kind of better to stay private much, much longer. So I would say, our predisposition, if you will, is wait. Let’s make sure we have a world-class company that can really perform in the public markets before we take the thing public. We don’t need to take the thing public just for a quote on quote liquidity event. We’ve been very fortunate enough to have our returns over the years to do the right thing for the private company.
JF: The nice thing about private companies, too, is that you can really pivot in scale faster once you innovate the business model. Google is a great example. They were one of the classic, great search engines of time, but they were, you know, in the post-dot-com they really mopped up the ad business. I mean, they pivoted on that.
MK: Exactly. And a lot of people, you know, 2002, 2003, a lot of people would go, “How does Google make money? Are they making any money?” Well, they were doing pretty well. It was actually good to keep that quiet. One of the things we talk about a lot is start up companies really only have two advantages over the large companies: speed and stealth. And so, if you can go faster, and you can keep it quiet, and continue that growth rate, it’s even better. And in that case, there are many investments we don’t even announce that Sequoia’s an investor, because if Sequoia’s an investor then it takes of the stealth, it makes it more known in the community.
JF: You get on the radar, because Sequoia’s got a great name. It wakes up the sleeping giant, if you will.
MK: Know with things like Google Alerts, well, if you put in Sequoia Capital on Google alerts then every time something comes up about Sequoia, people are going to know about it, right? So what we do is say, guys, It’s very important for us to stay very quiet. Let’s just grow this thing the right way, and it’s not necessarily the thing -
JF: Yeah, you guys don’t need PR. I saw the thing – I spoke to Greg Macaddo over there about doing a PodCast and he was like, well, we don’t really promote ourselves, cause you guys have a great name. You don’t need promotion. You don’t have to say we did an investment in this company for the sake of promoting it, right?
MK: No, but what we do is, it’s very important to us to have these entrepreneurs come to us with their ideas. So, we don’t want, we want people to know we make $100,000 investments. We want people to know we will invest in an 18 and 19 year old. We want people to know we’ll invest in things that people thing, “Ahh, it’s not completely baked yet. I’m not quite sure.” We want people to understand that. We’re actually in a very enviable position because we’re seeing a lot of stuff. It’s like many people said no to Cisco before they walked into our doors because we were actually investors in 3-Com, so we say what was happening in local area networks, and the fact that people were trying to connect local area networks, so when the Cisco people came in, the man and wife came in and said, “Hey, we’ve got this idea for networking networks.” We say, “Whoa, that’s a huge market, we’ve got to be involved.” So the entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily sometimes see the whole picture, so it’s very important to come in as early as you like.
JF: I mean, my philosophy is, starting this company, is I tell everyone what I’m working on because good ideas will fall on good ears, like Cisco fell on great ears. They’re like, “Well, we’re in the LAN business, we don’t see this, what are you talking about, connecting clouds, what? Networks with networks, what?”
MK: Exactly. “What?”
JF: “Why would someone want to do that?” No one’s talking about that right now.
MK: That’s another thing – you’ve got to be careful. We have these waves. The one other interesting thing I’ve found doing this – I’ve been doing this for about six years – is that an entrepreneur will come in and have this idea that will blow your socks off, and I guarantee you that in the next two weeks we’ll see another company doing almost the same thing. And we’ll see another company. The ideas go in waves. It’s fascinating to see. PodCasting is a great example – you just start seeing all of these PodCasting companies and PodCasting opportunities.
JF: I was at Gnomedex and I heard an entrepreneur, and I won’t say his name – he’s known in the industry, he’s done a couple of start ups – sketching on a piece of paper and he’s talking to a potential investor or partner, and he’s talking “Aggregation… oh we’re going to do this…” And I said two things just as I walk by. And I won’t say what it was, but you get the idea. And he says, “ Who told you about my idea?” And I go, “I’ve been working on that for about a year.” I mean, it’s true.
MK: There’s nothing new under the sun at the end of the day.
JF: I mean, everyone wants to aggregate the blog industry, the PodCasters. “I’m the Aggregator!” Yeah, everyone wants to be, but who’s going to be? Well, Sequoia’s investing, that’s good news. We’re approaching our segment limit, but Sequoia is here, in the trenches, they aren’t in the Ivory Tower, they actually read their emails, doing 100K deals, you’re in the trenches, they are at Vertical Leap looking at Vertical Search. Mark, thanks for the PodCast!
MK: Thanks. Well let me just give you two things. My phone number: 650-854-3927. And my email address: email@example.com and we’d love to hear your ideas – new ideas and new entrepreneurs.
JF: Who said VC’s weren’t accessible?
MK: We’re here.
JF: Thanks for the PodCast.
MK: Thanks very much.