startups


2
Nov 11

My Introduction for Reid Hoffman

Last night, Aneel Bhusri, Jeff Weiner and I got to introduce Reid Hoffman for an award called the Innovation Catalyst Award here in Silicon Valley. We each spent about 10 minutes talking about our experiences with Reid over the years — always a fun thing to talk about, since he’s such an interesting, smart & good-hearted person. Was interesting, too, that even thought the 3 of us hadn’t coordinated at all in preparing our talks, they all came back to the same themes of his humanity, intelligence, and great desire to help good people be better. Reid is just a very consistent guy — he brings it every day.

Best line of the night was Aneel’s: “Reid is kind of like the Kevin Bacon of Silicon Valley.” Good stuff.

Here are the remarks that I prepared:

—–

It’s a funny task for me to introduce Reid to all of you since he’s so well known. In fact, I’d wager that not only does everyone here know all about Reid already, but you’ve already had a lunch or a coffee with him at some point.

I was thinking maybe it’d be easier if I┬á just grabbed the 2 of you in the room that haven’t already met him or worked with him and give you the background one-on-one. ­čÖé

His public accomplishments over the last decade are extremely well chronicled — I don’t think I need to mention the fact that he changed the world at PayPal. Or started LinkedIn, changing the way we all do work in fundamental ways. Or that he was an early angel in Flickr, Zynga, Facebook and virtually every other massively successful company that’s come out of Silicon Valley over the last 10 years.

But most of that stuff is well known by everyone here, so instead tonight I’m going to focus on the human scale, and some of the ways that Reid has powerfully and meaningfully changed my life and the lives of so many people around him — I think that might work better to give everyone a sense of how he thinks, and why it’s so important.

The thread that will tie all of this together is that 2 questions dominate the way that Reid thinks and interacts.

The first one is this: “How can I change the world?” But really, every good entrepreneur asks that question all the time. Reid is unusually good at answering this particular question in a variety of different ways, but if that was the only thing he focused on, he’d be a great entrepreneur, but something less than he’s actually become.

The second question that I’ve heard Reid ask over and over and over is very simple: “How can I help?”

I’ve heard him ask it in board meetings, in pitch meetings, at the airport, over drinks — everywhere you can imagine. And in my mind, it’s the pervasiveness of that simple question — “How can I help?” — that sets Reid apart, and I’ll expand a little on that now.

My own working relationship with Reid started off innocently enough while he was still at PayPal.┬á I got an e-mail from an old friend Sean White who I literally hadn’t heard from in 10 years. The mail went something like this: “Reid, John: I think you guys might like each other; hope you can connect; I think it’ll be worth your time.” It’s maybe a measure of my cluelessness at the time, or of just how incredible a decade Reid has had since, but I didn’t know who he was, and he seemed only semi-relevant — a finance guy! from PayPal! but I trusted my friend Sean, so gave it a try.

Sean was right, of course; Reid and I hit it off immediately, starting with a breakfast at Hobee’s that would begin a strong pattern for us. He was at PayPal, I was at my own startup Reactivity then; we just got together and, predictably enough, started talking about who we knew in common. We spent a lot of time in those pre-LinkedIn days — like we still do, really, asking questions of each other like “Have you met X? What do you think?” Or “do you know about company Y? Important?” And: “Who else do you think I should get to know?” That’s Reid, always, always, always building networks, always trying to put people together, see if they might fit.

Over time we started working on various projects together, including Mozilla, and we’d each have lists of things to talk about going into each breakfast. The really remarkable thing about these interactions is that no matter how long we talked, no matter how much of our lists we would work through, we invariably left the meal with longer lists than we entered with — with more things to talk about, covering more shared areas of interst. And really it’s gone on like that since — another Reid characteristic for you: he’s always looking for more ways to help.

The other thing that was obvious about Reid at that point is that he always had a plan, and he pretty much did what he said he was going to do. He was really clear when the PayPal acquisition happened that he would be on to his next thing, whatever it was, soon. I figured he would take a bit of time off, catch his breath. I didn’t know Reid well enough then, obviously — he quickly moved on, figured out that helping other people build work networks was what he wanted his attention to be on. So he got started.

The conversation around LinkedIn was funny — obviously LinkedIn was the ideal startup for someone who thinks in terms of people networks like Reid does — in a lot of ways it’s the exact manifestation of his brain.

I was a little skeptical at the time — I told him, well, this might be good for “B listers with B list networks.” Obviously, folks with A list networks like mine wouldn’t want to participate. Reid gleefully reminds me of that interaction at the most inopportune times. They seem to be doing well enough so far. ­čÖé

But he was off to the races with LinkedIn, and around the same time I was trying to figure out what to do myself, having left my own startup a few months previously. And like he’s helped so many others figure out their path, he was extrordinarily helpful with figuring out mine. In 2005 I had sort of stumbled onto an unusual organization — a non-profit, and open source project — called Mozilla — it was just15 or so employees, but they had just released Firefox a few months before, and it held great promise — it was really starting to catch on. Reid & I both saw the promise right away, but as I thought about joining it, I was on the fence.

Typically, he thought we should discuss it more with someone he knew — in this case Joi Ito, now Director of MIT’s Media Lab. He said “Joi’s going to be in town for about 90 minutes, so we need to meet him at SFO.” I made fun of him a lot for having airport meetings — now of course, the joke is on me, since I schedule them, too.

So we met at SFO and had a conversation that, again, was typical of Reid & Joi, and went something like this: “do you think Mozilla is a place from which we can change the world a bunch for the better?” “Seems like it.”┬á “Well, seems like we should all lean in then!” That’s another very Reid phrase: “lean in” — it means we should figure out how to do something meaningful.

Reid likes to think about Archimedian levers — how to change the world the most with the most efficiency — and when he finds good spots to put the lever, he’s generally all in.

So from that meeting, we each leaned in — Joi would eventually join the Foundation’s board of directors, Reid would join the Corporation’s board of directors, and I joined in an operating capacity.

So for me, and for Mozilla, Reid’s orientation around finding ways to change the world, and to help others do the same, whether as entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs or any other way — well, his point of view changed everything for us.

And then I got to know Reid over the next several years as a board member, which is another great privilege, although a bit of a quirky one. Reid has a tendency to be extra outfitted in terms of his information technology. He’ll typically carry around 2 laptops and somewhere between 3 and 5 smart phones. So when he would come for a board meeting, lots of times he would bring out various of his devices and work away — enough so that you might start to think he wasn’t paying attention. But he is. Invariably during our board meetings, we’d be cruising along, Reid would be typing something or other then he’d pause, look up, and say something like “Really? That doesn’t make sense to me. Wouldn’t it really be more like this other way?” He had a funny way of completely changing the flow of the meeting, of causing us to re-focus on the most strategic items again and again — as usual with Reid, it was him searching for the best leverage possible.

The funniest things were always when you talked about recruiting in a board meeting, though — every time I got back to my desk after discussing an open position at Mozilla, I’d have between 10 and 20 LinkedIn profiles waiting in my e-mail, suggestions from Reid on who to talk with next. His output is amazing that way. Even when dealing with a million other competing priorities, he’s as productive as anyone I’ve ever met.

I talk about these very personal experiences because they’re the ones that I know the best, but, really, you could ask just about any current entrepreneur in Silicon Valley how Reid’s helped — he’s always got suggestions, connections, questions, tweaks to your thinking.

Everyone’s got a “Reid story”, everyone knows his aphorism “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product you’ve released too late!” (Although now that I’m an investor myself, I probably could stand hearing that from a few less startups who actually did release too early!)

Here are a few insights from folks who know Reid well:

Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org (where Reid’s a board member), said this: “In a world where engineers have been the biggest winners over the last ten years, how did a philosopher become top shelf? It’s kind of an awesome winning forumla: the guy loves people. It’s not a mush, emotional thing. He’s actually extraordinarily logical — and to him, figuring out how people can become better is like solving a puzzle.”

Or DJ Patil, Greylock’s Data Scientist in Residence, who previously built the LinkedIn data team tells the story about how he went to introduce himself to Reid in a parking lot at UC Santa Cruz, whereupon Reid responded “Yes, I know who you are, we need to have lunch.” Their first lunch after that was 3 hours long.

And my own most recent example — I saw a pretty early, pretty raw startup this summer for a first meeting, which went well enough. I gave them some candid feedback and made some suggestions on how they might improve their product, at the end of which they said, “Okay, got it. But what do you think Reid Hoffman would think of our pitch?” Hilarious. ­čÖé

Overall though, here’s the thing: I haven’t met a single person in more than 20 years in Silicon Valley who’s more generous with their contacts or time, who’s more willing to listen and learn and brainstorm, or who genuinely wants everyone he meets to become as good an entrepreneur (in their work and in their own lives) as they can possibly be.

His fingerprints are all over today’s business and technology landscape, and increasingly our social landscape.

He’s got some of the flashiest credentials of anyone in the industry, but it’s hard for me to think of a more honest, self-effacing person to meet with.

He’s busier than anyone I’ve ever met, but he will always make time to meet with young entrepreneurs.

He’s smarter and more knowledgable about how the consumer Internet works than just about anyone, but leaves every meeting thinking about what he’s learned that’s new, where his old models don’t fit.

And the guy barely has time to read a book, let alone write one, but that’s exactly what he’s done this year. The focus? Helping everyone become an entrepreneur in their own life, naturally.

So in a lot of ways he’s a bundle of competing priorities and tensions.

But in the ways that matter, he’s a pretty simple guy, always asking “How can we change the world?” and “How can we help?”

As Nancy Lublin puts it, “He’s the best example I know of good guys finishing first,” and so I’m very humbled to be introducing my partner and my friend Reid Hoffman tonight.


9
Oct 11

Steve Jobs

Like many of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about Steve Jobs the last few days — thinking about the man and his legacy. I’ve been having some trouble even understanding the way I feel, let alone being able to put it into words. Lots of folks have asked me what I think, and have been surprised that I haven’t tweeted or blogged about it yet. So here’s a first shot.

I’m finding my feelings to be pretty complex, which I guess isn’t too surprising given who he was. But for a man I’ve never met, I’m a little surprised about how much of my thinking he’s affected, and how many competing feelings I’ve got.

But some of them are pretty simple.

As a designer, I think it’s impossible to feel anything but pure, unadulterated joy that Steve existed at all. And I really mean that: thank god for him, he changed so much. He wasn’t the first to care about design in technology, and he won’t be the last, but he moved things so much.

He made beautiful software and hardware like nobody had ever seen before. Crucially, he built tools that helped — or completely enabled, really — creatives make their own beautiful work that enriched the world. He completely and utterly validated the view that design could be immensely valuable economically, not just culturally.

Mostly he made it acceptable — desirable! — to believe in and practice great, human-centered design in our work and lives. What a gift.

As a people manager and leader, I really struggled with how to think about him. The stories of how brutal he could be on the people around him — employees, competitors, and everyone else — are legion, and they’re not apocryphal. He could be deeply dehumanizing and belittling to the people around him. Like a lot of people of great vision, which he surely was, he did it all in the name of greatness, of perfection — but I have enough close friends who have been in the line of Jobs’ fire to know how personally destructive it could be, and as a manager I have a hard time with it.

On the other hand, he was an unbelievable leader and motivator.

It turns out that I worked at Apple ATG (Advanced Technology Group) in 1994/5 when I was a grad student at Stanford, and then again for all of 1997, when I moved back here from Trilogy.

I remember being at a talk he gave shortly after returning in 1997 as Interim CEO. A bunch of us employees (I was at ATG at the time) were in Town Hall in Building 4 at Infinite Loop to hear him, and he was fired up. Talked a lot about how Apple was going to completely turn things around and become great.

It was a tough time at Apple — we were trading below book value on the market — our enterprise value was actually less than our cash on hand. And the rumors were everywhere that we were going to be acquired by Sun. Someone in the audience asked him about Michael Dell’s suggestion in the press a few days previous that Apple should just shut down and return the cash to shareholders, and as I recall, Steve’s response was: “Fuck Michael Dell.” Good god, what a message from a CEO! He followed it up by admitting that the stock price was terrible (it was under $10, I think — pretty sure it was under $2 split-adjusted), and that what they were going to do was reissue everyone’s options on the low price, but with a new 3 year vest. He said, explicitly: “If you want to make Apple great again, let’s get going. If not, get the hell out.” I think it’s not an overstatement to say that just about everyone in the room loved him at that point, would have followed him off a cliff if that’s where he led.

He was also a gifted, gifted operator. One of the struggles we were going through when he came back was that Apple was about the leakiest organization in history — it had gotten so bad that people were cavalier about it. In the face of all those leaks, I remember the first all company e-mail that Steve sent around after becoming Interim CEO again — he talked in it about how Apple would release a few things in the coming week, and a desire to tighten up communications so that employees would know more about what was going on — and how that required more respect for confidentiality. That mail was sent on a Thursday; I remember all of us getting to work on Monday morning and reading mail from Fred Anderson, our then-CFO, who said basically: “Steve sent mail last week, he told you not to leak, we were tracking everyone’s mail, and 4 people sent the details to outsiders. They’ve all been terminated and are no longer with the company.”

Well. If it wasn’t clear before that the Amelio/Spindler/Sculley days of Apple were over, it was crystal clear then, and good riddance.

As a leader of people, you have to respect how much he (and more importantly, his teams) accomplished. But I struggle with some of the ways that he led, and how they affected good people.

Still.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the outpouring of sentiment about people who want to be like Steve. There’s a sort of beatification going on that I think misses the point. He was never a nostalgic man at all, and I can’t help but feel like he would think this posthumous attention was, in a lot of ways, a waste — seems like he’d have wanted people to get back to inventing.

On Twitter yesterday Naval nailed it, as he often does: “I never met my greatest mentor. I wanted so much to be like him. But, his message was the opposite. Be yourself, with passionate intensity.”

That’s it, I think — that’s the biggest message from Jobs’ life. Don’t try to be like Steve. Don’t try to be like anyone.

Be yourself and work as hard as you can to bring wonderful things into the world. Figure out how you want to contribute and do that, in your own way, on your own terms, as hard as you can, as much as you can, as long as you can.

His most lasting message, I hope, won’t be about technology or management or media or communications or even design. The work he did in those areas certainly matters and will continue to — impossible to ignore it.

Still, I think it’s not the main thing, the essential thing.

I hope the message that people really take, really internalize is that being yourself, as hard as you can, is the way to have important and lasting impact on our world. That might be in the context of technology. It might be in the context of technology, or the arts, or sports, or government, or social justice — or even in the context of your family and close friends.

It almost doesn’t matter. The thing that matters most is to figure out what’s important to you, what’s core to you, and do that. Be that. And do it as well as you possibly can, every single day.


1
Oct 11

Buried (but no excuses)

As an entrepreneur, I always hated fund raising — I hated not being in control of situations, I hated being at the mercy of markets and other peoples’ schedules. It’s a hard thing to take, and a very vulnerable feeling, especially when you’re used to running your own company and being mostly in control (more or less). I always was particularly frustrated when VCs would go dark for a week or two, not responding to something or not delivering on something I thought we had agreed on. So since becoming a VC myself, I’ve been trying really hard to be responsive and transparent.

Well, these past couple of weeks, I became that guy I’ve been frustrated with so often in the past. I dropped a couple of things I was supposed to do with entrepreneurs and they were very frustrated themselves with me — justifiably so. I think I’m mostly caught up on the things that I owe folks, but know that this is an area that I need to — and want to — pay attention to so I can minimize it in the future.

For whatever it’s worth, I now understand why investors can sometimes become non-responsive for a while. [It’s worth noting I’m not talking about the type of non-responsive that some people use instead of saying “no” to entrepreneurs — that type of behavior is a real problem, and not something that I personally think is ever really okay. I’m talking about disappearing for a few days when you’ve got a next step to plan, and then coming back later to follow up.]

This time around, with me, what happened is this: a couple of investments closed, a couple of investments got announced, a couple of companies I’m involved with went through financing conversations, and a couple of boards I’m on went through particularly meaningful discussions and decisions about the future. On top of which we had a bunch of things going on in our family life.

VC life is paced a little differently than operating, in my experience. It’s a lot of meetings with a wide diversity of entities. Entrepreneurs, recruits, recruiters, other investors, PR folks, etc etc. And just like operators, you try to do as much as you possibly can each week. Because of the external-focused nature of so much of VC work, that means a lot of meetings, and your schedule can get sort of jammed up. Which means you also end up scheduling a fair amount of meetings several weeks or more in advance — which means that you try hard not to move them, since people have been so patient with you in setting them up in the first place.

So you’ve got this normal base meeting load, which can get a little packed — and then you’ve got between 4 and 10 or more organizations who depend on you from time to time for significant involvement and decisions at the board level.

So you build your schedule so that when 1 or 2 of those organizations needs attention in a week, you can accommodate on top of that base meeting load. But when 4 or 5 or 6 company biorhythms line up so that you’re critical path on all of them at once, things get a little hairy. And when you add the other commitments of being a parent, child, spouse and friend, the communication load can just overwhelm you.

Which is what happened to me these past 2 weeks. I think I’m mostly on the road to being caught up now, but am bummed I caused a few folks (especially entrepreneurs) to become frustrated with me. As an investor & partner I need to get better about it, and think I’m learning and adjusting to things pretty quickly now.

One piece of advice I would offer though: if you feel like someone’s gone dark — me or another investor — just drop them a note asking what’s up. Generally that’s all the prodding I need to (at least) let you know more clearly what’s going on.


28
Sep 11

Announcing Greylock’s Investment in ClearSlide

We’re very happy to be new investors in ClearSlide, a company that builds tools for sales & marketing professionals to communicate — it’s radically simpler than the cumbersome conference tools we use today, and blends synchronous and asynchronous tools to make it easier than ever for sales people to close business. They’ve been flying under the radar since starting a couple of years ago — except with their amazing & rapidly growing customer list, full of raving fans who say they can’t live without it now. This morning they’ve launched more publicly with a new site and an announcement of new funding led by us and Aydin Senkut from Felicis, who led their initial funding.

What’s special about their products today is how simple they are to operate: you can get on the phone and do a product demo or share slides in under a minute. It’s trivially easy to send information around to customers and be able to understand what they viewed themselves or forwarded along. And it closes the loop by allowing easy sharing of all materials and insight with your coworkers.

And it all works in a web browser, with just a URL. No special installs, no plug-ins needed. I’m not talking about just modern browsers, either: any browser, even including IE6. (I’ll wait for your gasps of amazement to die down on that one. Also, it’s the last time I’ll ever mention IE6 on my blog. :-))

They’ve really thought hard about how to build great tools for sales and marketing people, and it shows.

It was a very quick decision for us — at Greylock, we talk a lot about “our kind of founders” — and Al and Jim are definitely that. Here’s what I mean.

We’ve known Al for some time — he was the founding CTO of Evite — it’s a little hard to remember, at this distance, what a revelation that product was, but it changed everything — it let us interact with each other and collaborate in ways that had just been way too painful previously. And it’s influenced too many startups to count since then.

Well, he and Jim came in to give a presentation to us about they’d done, they jumped right into how their customers love it, how sales are rocketing up, what’s next — and slowly it dawned on me that they were using their own service to present! So I opened up my laptop to type in the URL & access code and bam!, I could see their slides — took maybe 3 seconds. I got sort of excited so pulled out my iPhone, then my iPad — everything just worked. And to Al & Jim’s credit, none of my futzing around with various electronics fazed them one bit. They just kept moving, unsurprised that there were no glitches in what they’d built.

And that’s part of what we mean when we say “our kind of founders” — they’re strong product and operating founders, who after changing the world once with Evite, just put their heads down and did the hard work of building something from scratch these past two years. No hype, no fanfare, just customers that love their products and working with them.

So we’re very excited to get involved in the next phase of their growth, and couldn’t be happier to be leading their funding round. Take a look.


24
Sep 11

Managing & Motivating

Earlier this week I got to spend some time with one of my favorite professors and thinkers, Bob Sutton, in one of his classes at Stanford. I’ve given talks over the years for his classes, but for this one we decided to mix things up, and so he & I just had a conversation. He had a few questions prepared, but, honestly, we have so many shared interests in how to manage people and organizations that it took a first starter question for us to riff on a bit — and that generated plenty of questions from the class for the rest of the hour.

2 questions stood out to me that I thought were worth writing about some.

The first was this: how do you motivate people? I had to think about this for a bit, because my answer is sort of a cheat: it seems to me that it’s too hard to motivate people who aren’t. So what you need to do is to hire incredibly motivated people, take them off the leash, and help them be great. Now, I think hiring great people is definitely hard — but finding motivated people isn’t really as hard as it sounds. My strong, strong belief is that most people really, really want to be good at what they want to do. In life, in work, in sport, whatever. People want to be good. Mostly people are willing to put in work to become good. So in my experience the art of getting motivated output is just helping people understand what good is and how to get from here to there. If you show them and help them get there, the motivation usually takes care of itself.

The other interesting question is something like: why do people think you’re a good leader? This one I had to think through some — because I think there are a lot of details that maybe aren’t the core reason. But I think the core, long lasting reason is that most people I’ve worked with over the last 20 years or so know that I really want to help them win, to help them be good themselves. And that’s helped develop some amazing relationships with coworkers.

I think that’s one of the secrets. I always want to follow people who can help me become amazing and who want to help me win, and I think that’s what people have seen in my own management over the years. It’s the decisive factor in my choices I’ve made over the years, including coming to Greylock.

So I guess that’s the core of my management philosophy: we’re lucky to work in an industry where people are generally very talented, and want to be good — they want to make a difference and change the world — so mostly good management is about helping them see how, and helping them get there.

Fun class with Bob as always. (And he’s working on some new research with Huggy Rao now that I think is going to be awesomely valuable to read and digest.)