Thirteen years, I ran into Vinod Khosla at a conference, and jumped on the opportunity to pitch him on what we were working on at the time. He politely listened to my pitch, thanked me, but when I persevered gave me a glare of serious disapproval for pushing on. Nonetheless that remains one of my most memorable career experiences.
The reason why is because he is among the most stalwart defenders of the very bold entrepreneurial vision – a zealot as he describes himself on Twitter. One of my early posts on this blog is worth revisiting. There he explains how he is looking for black swan investments:
“I am only interested in technologies that have a 90% chance of failure but, if they do succeed, would change the infrastructure of society in some radical way.”
You need vision and faith to find those because:
“But these things aren’t predictable. Forecasting is based on assumptions, and technology changes these assumptions. I never compute returns. If you start forecasting cash flows, you lose innovation, you lose instinct. You average yourself down to mediocrity.”
Today, on a New York Times blog post, Khosla writes an opinion piece again defending bold entrepreneurial vision. It starts:
Some people seem to think that getting acquired should be the highest aspiration for an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I disagree vehemently.
In fact, I think that mindset does a disservice to the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and around the world. This is exactly the wrong way to think about building a start-up not only because it develops the wrong company culture, but on a large scale it can poison the unique and innovative ecosystem that has developed in Silicon Valley over the past 40 years.
You want missionaries, not mercenaries – passionate, maniacally-focused founders who believe in a vision. Founders like this draw the most gifted and passionate employees, who maximize the chance of success, even if they ultimately fall short of their initial goals and get acquired.
There are of course mercenaries and people setting up for “acqui-hires” in the valley as well, but that is not what Silicon Valley’s special sauce is about.
In my view, it’s irreverence, foolish confidence and naivety combined with persistence, open-mindedness and a continual ability to learn that created Facebook, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Microsoft, Apple, Juniper, AOL, Sun Microsystems and others.
Here’s to Vinod Khosla and missionaries, motivated by going big, not by selling out and going home.